Do You Need A Literary Agent – And If So, What Do They Do?
Literary Agents. What do they do and do you need one?
As old Mr Zimmerman once said “The times they are a changing…” and that is certainly true of the book publishing industry. Sorry to use the word ‘industry’ but I’m afraid that’s what it is. And so it does make you wonder if being represented by a Literary Agent is the thing we should all be aiming for….?
Once upon a time…(what a terrific way to begin a story, I must make a note of that)…as I say, once upon a time the only way to get your work in front of a major publisher as an indie writer was through a Literary Agent. And getting yourself accepted by a decent agent was pretty tough. It still is.
However, I’m here to tell you that if your work is any good, I mean really good, and you target the right agency (more important than you know) there is a chance you’ll be accepted into their fold. But it’s not easy. They see hundreds of manuscript submissions before coffee break…..and your work will have to stop them dead in their tracks if it’s to get you a deal. I mean, totally dead in their tracks. So no typos, no waffle, no letter of introduction from your mother, no links to websites where your work is tucked away behind photos of you and your loved one in a bar in Magaluf at five o’clock in the morning last summer. No, not even that one.
So what do Literary Agents actually do? Well, obviously, they are agents and agents make their money by charging you a percentage of your earnings. Terms are fairly standard for new writers, so expect 15% for UK advances and 20% for USA and worldwide.
Don’t forget the agent needs you to be a success to make any ‘real’ money, so it’s in their interests to help you write books that will have commercial appeal. I know several writers who never did get a publishing deal through having an agent, but who derived great benefit from the advice and support they received from their agent.
Most agents will tell you they ‘Advise on career paths, suggesting new directions where appropriate‘…in other words “Listen sunshine, if you wanna make the big bucks you gotta write stuff like Dah Dah Dah.” Actually I don’t think agents talk like that, but you get my drift. They will definitely steer you towards the commercial end of the market, obviously, but that’s why you signed up with an agent in the face place – to make you money!
The really cool thing they do for you is to negotiate you a better deal with publishers and tricky things like foreign rights and up front advances, discount book royalties, and film and TV rights if appropriate. Through years of experience they will also instinctively know when to push and when to back off once they’ve secured the best deal they can get. It’s something most writers would struggle with. As I say, it is in their interests to get you a great deal….
But even if an agent likes your book and thinks your the next big thing, once they submit your book to a top publisher, there is no guarantee the editor of the publishing house will go for it. What the agent can do is secure a deadline by which time the editor/publisher must have read the submission, digested it, discussed it, and made some kind of decision. Agents make sure your submission does not end up on the publisher’s ‘slush pile’.
The UK Writers & Artists Yearbook has all the agents listed….but my advice is ‘be picky’, don’t just begin at ‘A’ and work your way through, emailing hundreds of submissions. If you haven’t bought the book a quick trawl of Google will dredge up (?) most of the top UK agents.
There are plenty to choose from, but as I said, try and focus on the ones that actually are looking for authors in your particular genre. That’s not always such a clear cut case, so you need to do your own research by checking out their websites and looking at who works where and what their background is….it’s well worth the effort.
I just thought I would point you to a couple, in no particular order. Even if you feel they are not the kind of agent for you it will give you a good idea of who they are, how they work, and also submission guidelines. Very important – submission guidelines. Fall foul of those and you’re sunk! Trust me. Get it wrong and it’s the Titanic all over again.
They are all, without exception, extremely approachable, but as I warned earlier, they are in business (it’s an industry) and they will not be amused if your submission is less than ‘perfect’. Even if your mother does write a beautiful letter.
Finally, to repeat, always check that the agent you are approaching actually accepts clients in your particular area of writing…there’s no point sending your book for children to an agent who makes his/her money from authors of gritty adult novels.
So here are a couple of links for you to take a peek at….you should find them interesting if you’ve not looked at their websites before.
Apologies to blog readers in the USA for being so parochial….
If anyone has any interesting comments about previous attempts to sign up with an agency in the UK or USA or wherever, please let me know……oh, and do I personally think you should try to sign up with a Literary Agent? ‘Yes’. You should at least try a couple of submissions to your favourite agents and see what happens. What have you got to lose?