The literary agent: VIP of the publishing world

Here’s a little test for you. From the following statements, which would you choose to describe a literary agent?

  1. The person you must pay to get your book published.
  2. The person who promotes your work and gets it published.
  3. The person you must impress with your writing skills to get your book published.
  4. The person who spies out the literary competition in your genre.
  5. The person who represents you before publishers.
  6. The person whose job it is to sell your work.

Did any of these match your thoughts? I had just finished writing my post on the basics of a query letter when I realized that there was a very important person involved and I had only a vague idea of her role. Those statements are the first ideas that came to mind when I tried to define a literary agent. (Okay — I threw in the one about the spy, just for fun.)

So, what is a literary agent?

The role of the literary agent

AgentQuery defines a literary agent in simple terms: an agent for literary works. Look up the word agent and you’ll find “a person who works on behalf of another.” The literary agent is the person who will work for you to help get your book published. Envision him as the bridge between you and the publisher.

Literary agents have golden contacts that you don’t have. She knows people in the publishing world who will buy the rights to publishing your book. She’s there to negotiate your publishing contract, set up your foreign, media, and electronic rights, and take all the financial and business aspects out of your hands so that you can do what you do best: Write.

An agent will also promote your book and handle tasks like author book tours, newspaper interviews, and television spots. All you’ll have to do is sit back, smile, and talk about how much you love to write.

Who needs an agent?

If your goal is to be published beyond magazines and independent publishers, then a literary agent is recommended by sources such as AgentQuery. You, an unknown writer, do not have the resources and contacts needed to make your way into a publishing contract with a well-known firm. Having an agent will give you access to that publishing world.

What does it cost to have an agent?

The literary agent’s work is to sell your book’s publishing rights. She will receive a commission for this hard work, a standard fee of 10-15 percent, after the sale (never upfront). And you will be happy to pay that fee. Thanks in large part to the partnership you have with this business professional, your new title will be published author.

Where do you find agents?

There are many books, websites, magazines, and blogs that offer lists of agents. Here are just a few.

  • Writer’s Digest publishes a book annually with updated lists of literary agents and their contact information. It also will report on new and established agents in its print magazine and on its website.
  • AgentQuery has an online database of agents.
  • The Galley Cat has a Best Literary Agents on Twitter list.
  • Publishers Weekly is the news website of the book publishing industry. It’s a site to watch for new literary agents who will be seeking new clients.

This post is just for starters. In future posts I’ll zero in on the writer’s role in the partnership. You may be thousands of words away from needing an agent, but it’s never to early to learn about the business side of your craft. Be prepared: a motto here at Darla Writes!

Do you have an agent? Tell us about your experience!


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