If you have decided to try traditional publishing, you will likely need a literary agent. As mentioned in my last post, this is especially true if you want to approach a mid-sized to large publishing house. Even if you opt to approach a small independent publisher, though, in the end, you may wish you had an agent as well. In fact, there are many reasons to need—or want—an agent if you traditionally publish a book.
How to Find an Agent
An agent becomes your business partner, so select carefully. I’ve had several…
If, like me, you write in many genres or categories, it can be difficult to find one agent to represent all your work. You can, however, try to find an agent who will believe in your projects and approach all-sized publishers for you. (Some only approach the large publishers; after all, they only make money when you earn an advance or royalties.)
Agent roles are changing, and some are expanding their job descriptions. You may find an agent who helps authors self-publish when their projects don’t find a traditional publishing “home” or who has started a publishing company. Some agents today also edit manuscripts.
Just as an agent interviews you, don’t be afraid to interview an agent. You hopefully will work together for a long time to come. And you will be sharing the money you make with your agent—15% normally. (This should be the only “fee” you pay your agent.) So find someone who fits your personality and whom you feel good about having as your business partner.
Look for agents who are members of the Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR). You can find them in such resources as:
- 2013 Guide to Literary Agents
- 2014 Writer’s Market
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2013
Another great place to find an agent is at a writer’s conference.Often local writer’s clubs will have a pitchapalooza event or some other type of pitchfest, much like those offered at conferences. This is a great chance to meet agents and find out if they are interested in having you send them a query or a book proposal. You get to spend 3-10 minutes with an agent discussing your project. This also means you get to find out if you like them—at least upon based upon first impressions.
Two other good resources are:
Seven Reasons You Need an Agent
- Publishing Contacts: Publishers rely on agents to vet the vast amount of submissions they receive. If they trust the agent, your query letter or book proposal not only gets in the door but also moves to the top of the pile. In other words, it will get read and responded to—and usually in a timelier manner.
- Appropriate Pitches: Agents know which publishers—or acquisitions editors—are the most appropriate for your work. They know their likes and dislikes and the small nuances of the types of projects they prefer to purchase. That means they pitch the ones with the highest likelihood of accepting your projects first. This lowers the likelihood of rejections and the need to submit your work to hundreds of publishers.
- Strong Negotiation: Agents know how to negotiate publishing contracts specifically, which has become an ever-changing area. With digital rights, apps and other new issues constantly entering the industry, contracts look different from day to day. It can be difficult even for agents to keep up. Plus, there are option clauses, noncompetition clauses, rights to audit, and more. Agents will know which publishers might give way on which clauses, and negotiate the best contract possible for each author.
- Book Proposal Development: Some agents will help you craft your book proposal. They will at least tell you what needs to be corrected, acting much like a consultant, and let you know if you need a proposal editor.
- Career Planning: A good agent will help an author plan their writing career. If you aren’t sure what book to write next or how this will build a brand or a business or fit in with your longer-term career plans, an agent can help you plan this out. An agent offers object advice on how to get published and continue publishing your work. They also will tell you which books to self-publish vs. traditionally publish to support your career.
- Author Advocate: Should something go awry once you’ve landed a contract and begun working with your editor at the publishing house, your agent steps in as a negotiator. The agent then serves as your advocate until the situation is rectified.
- Miscellaneous: I’ve had or seen agents do a variety of miscellaneous odd jobs, from getting permissions for contributions to their author’s books to serving as beta readers to brainstorming ideas for new books to being the devil’s advocate for an author’s ideas. They often serve as networkers, mixing and matching clients with people they “should know” or putting their clients in touch with people they “need” to know.
For all these reasons you will likely need an agent if you traditionally publish your book.
If you decide to go it alone, you might want to read this book: Be Your Own Literary Agent: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide to Getting Published. Or read it, review your contract, if you get a publishing deal on your own, and then hire a literary attorney to answer the questions you still have about the contract.