Literary Agent FAQs

Literary Agent Frequently Asked Questions...

I hope the answers to the most frequently asked questions will give you a better understanding of the agent's role in the Publishing process and will also provide you with some basic information and resources to assist you in your choice. For more in depth information visit the resource sites that are listed.

What Is A Literary Agent?

Generally speaking, he/she is an employee that you hire to handle the business end so you can concentrate on writing. An agent's job is to market your books, negotiate deals with publishers, keep track of rights sold such as subsidiary rights which could include electronic distribution, audiotapes and foreign rights.

Smaller agencies may specialize in a particular type of book, for instance, children's books, non-fiction, etc., while larger companies are more equipped to handle a variety of genres.

A good agent knows what editors are looking for and can target your manuscript effectively. He/she works on your behalf to strengthen your career, not just to sell your book.

Why Do I Need One?

Agents have become an essential step on the climb to publication over the last ten to twenty years. This is a reflection of the volume of submissions and the difficulties of getting published by the mainstream publishers.

Today, many publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Editors rely on agents to "weed out" unacceptable or inappropriate material and to submit books that are good enough to publish and that meet the publisher's criteria.

An agent's savvy in negotiating contracts with publishers, not to mention acquiring and retaining subsidiary rights, make them worth their weight in gold. Contracts have become very detailed and complex and require expertise that most authors or lay persons simply do not poses.

Should An Agent Charge A Reading Fee?

Absolutely Not!. An agent should get his/her money from selling books, not reading them.

What Should I Look For In An Agent?

There are no literary agent degrees, and simply calling yourself an agent does not make you one. Look for experience, either at an established agency or publishing company. Ask for a current client list. Make sure they have sold books to reputable publishers.

Read the submission guidelines. Make sure the agency handles your genre or you'll simply be wasting your time and theirs. Many smaller companies specialize in specific genres and this can be ideal for a beginning author.

Visit their web site. It should be professional and provide specific information about the individual. If it doesn't, look somewhere else. Do remember though, that if an agent does not have a website this is not a reason to believe they are not reputable. You'll simply have to look elsewhere for the information you're seeking.

In today's marketplace with e-Mail, fax machines and the like, locale is not much of an issue. It is simply your preference. New York or elsewhere? There are many successful agents across the country, the choice is yours.

How Do I Find The Right One?

There are a couple of ways to evaluate an agent to see if they are right for you.

Start with Agent Research & Evaluation an online evaluator that provides a free verification search. If the agent is listed, the search will tell you if he/she is a valid. They also have a newsletter and other services at various costs.

Another good information source is Publishers Weekly magazine. It is devoted to the world of publishing and book selling and reports the movements of literary agents. It will alert you to new agencies and agents and highlights those that are beginning to make big sales. Of special interest is the "Hot Deals" section.

Writer Beware is also a great online resource. It provides in depth information on what to look for and what to avoid when choosing an agent. The site also provides many other useful resources.

You might also consider attending writers conferences. Good conferences will invite three or four agents each year and usually new writers are allowed direct access. You'll be in a unique position to learn about these agents first hand. Generally speaking, if they are at the conference they will be considering new clients. The downside to this approach is the cost ($500 and up).

How Many Agents Should I Query?

There is no real rule-of-thumb here. Some say 20-30, some 40-50. The point being that you will probably hear nothing from many, or you may receive a short form letter rejecting your manuscript for any number of reasons and you want to hedge your bet. Hopefully a few will ask for your manuscript. If so, congratulate yourself for getting thru the first hurdle, but remember, even the agents who ask to read your manuscript may still reject it. Being an author is not for the faint of heart!

How Long Should I Wait Before Contacting The Agent?

Allow some leeway. Wait several days to a week beyond the time provided in the agent's guidelines before making a follow up call. After that, by all means call and inquire about their progress.

What Do I Do When An Agent Wants To Represent Me?

Congratulate yourself for a job well done - and then get to work! You'll want to contact the agent and find out if you feel comfortable dealing with this person and if you feel you could form a friendly relationship. You'll also want to consider the following questions:

  • What is your background and training as a literary agent?
  • What do you think makes your agency special?
  • What do you consider your strengths?
  • What are some recent books in my genre that you've sold?
  • What publishing houses were they sold to?
  • Who are some of your clients?
  • How regularly do you keep in touch with your clients?
  • What is your standard commission for sales?
  • Do you handle foreign, film or TV rights?
  • If so, what is your standard commission for foreign sales?
  • What other fees (office expenses etc.), if any, do you charge?
  • Do you require a written contract?
  • Keep in mind that many of your questions do not necessarily have a right or wrong answer - but serve to "get a feel" for the agent in order to make a good match for you.

    You'll also want to talk about you. Tell him/her what you have published (magazine articles for example) or contests that you have won, and ask what questions he/she would like to know about you and your work. Remember, this is a two-way relationship.

    At the end of your conversation, if you feel uncomfortable with the agent, you are under no obligation to sign on. There are other agents out there, so take a deep breath and move on. Remember, a bad agent is worse than no agent at all!

    Once you have established the expertise of the agent, the most important thing is the comfort level. You should feel comfortable with him/her as a person and you should believe that he/she is going to do the best job for you and your career.

    If your lucky enough to be considering more than one agent, and have made a decision to sign on with one, call or send notes to those you did not choose and let them know that your manuscript is out to an agency. Be honest, but leave the door open for further consideration.

    What If I Still Can't Find An Agent?

    Keep trying. Start the process all over. It is possible for your manuscript to be rejected by all the agents on your list. Many talented authors have spent months and even years finding an agent, but have succeeded in the end.

    Secondly, keep working on your writing credentials. Write magazine articles and short stories. Gain exposure by getting published in magazines and journals.

    When Should I Give Up?

    Never give up! The key to finding an agent is two-fold. Perserverance and an undying belief in your work. Eventually you will find someone who believes in you and your work.

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