Have you ever wondered what agents actually do to help you?
Agents are a little like unicorns: surrounded by myth and difficult to find. We are being a little tongue and cheek but if you’ve ever searched for a literary agent, you know how daunting a task it is. Let’s talk about what exactly they do and why finding the right agent is so important.
What is the role of a literary agent?
Literary agents work for you, the author. They represent your writing by pitching your book proposal to editors, negotiating book deals, and acting as a translator between authors and publishers. They focus on the business side of publishing.
Advocacy plays a huge part in an agent's role for you. They are promoting your proposal to editors, cheering you on when you write the book, and helping you during the promotional period after the book has been released. It is a literary agent’s job to find publishers for the writers they represent. They negotiate contracts on the writer’s behalf and can also manage and plan a writer’s career.
At Yates & Yates, we use the sherpa metaphor. To climb the biggest mountains, mountain climbers use sherpas. They are your guide for getting to the top safely. Without them, it would be impossible to climb the biggest mountains.
That’s what publishing is like - a huge mountain. There are many ways up the mountain. Having a guide that’s been there, knows the terrain and how to handle it, will make all the difference.
Okay, so you know that part about what an agent does, but do you know they get paid?
We get this question a lot. In return for working for a writer, the agent receives a percentage (usually around 15-20%) of the writer’s income from advances, fees, and royalties. You should never pay an agent to read your proposal or to consider your book or book proposal. If it feels like a scam, it probably is. Be wise.
“A literary agent should never charge a reading fee or a fee to represent you.”
Don’t confuse literary agents with editors. Editing and manuscript assessment are jobs for editors, not agents. If your manuscript needs work, go hire an editor. While some literary agents might offer both services - editing and agenting - make sure before you agree to anything, you are both on the same page with expectations and deliverables. Here’s a really good way to better ensure a great experience: Ask to speak to 2-3 references. References are a great way to further establish credibility and confidence before you commit to a relationship. Both are true for agents and editors.
Cheap Trick said (sang) it best when they said, “I want you to want me.” The same goes for your agent. That’s why you need to know what they are looking for. Some agents look after a wide variety of writers, others are more specialized, focusing on a genre or area such as poetry, fiction, or memoir. Do your research!!! As much as we love fiction and fiction writers at our agency, we don’t represent that genre. If you send us a fiction book proposal, you’ve wasted your time because we automatically don’t read those submissions. Know what the agents you are querying like.
The advocating on your behalf doesn’t stop once the contract is signed. A great agent will see you through the editing and marketing processes. Agents are not responsible for marketing your book, but they are there to help navigate the consumer marketplace. Whether that’s helping you find trusted partners to assist with marketing or publicity, an agent will actively find new ways to help your book be successful. Remember, your success is their success!!!
Recently during a panel at a writers conference, a writer asked, "Why do I need an agent?" That’s a great question, one that every writer has probably asked on this journey. The truth is you don’t need an agent, you need the right agent. Great partnerships are built on respect and experience. You want an agent that is on your side and believes in you. What do agents do? They help you succeed.
Take Action: Why do you want to be an author?
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