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Most Important Things To Know About Literary Agents

If you have written a book and want to publish it using a commercial publisher, you must get an agent to introduce your work to the publisher. Agents significantly increase your chances of landing a book deal and they are well worth the 12-15% commission they charge. The following are some things you should know about literary agents.

What can they do for you?

A literary agent represents you in the literary world. He/she is charged with several tasks including: finding contacts of editors and publishers; giving editorial guidance; simplifying contracts for you and negotiating the best terms; selling your work to publishers; and finding new publishing opportunities.

How do you find the right agent?

You should collect books that are most similar to your new book and find out the agents that represented the authors. Make a list of the agents and research their requirements for accepting manuscripts. Narrow down to the agents with submission requirements that you can fulfill and send them query letters, then wait for a response.

Query letter: What is it?

It is essentially a letter you send to a literary agent to introduce your book and convince the agent why he/she should consider representing you and your book. It must be very well written as it should not be more than one page. The query letter should have three paragraphs. The first one should explain your reason for contacting the agent. The second paragraph should have a synopsis (summary) of your book. The third paragraph should have your bio which includes information about you and some of your previous works.

Things you should know before signing a contract

The process of finding an agent can sometimes be tiresome and you might be tempted to get into bed with the first agent that accepts your manuscript. However, you should first know which books the agent has helped get published and with which publishers. Find out how much commission the agent charges and whether you should be signing a contract with the agent at all or if one contract from the publisher will suffice. You should also know how the agent plans to pitch your book to editors and which publishers he/she will target.

Should you look for an agent if you are a poet?

Literary agents rarely deal with poets and short story writers primarily because poems/short stories don’t generate as much money as book-length works. However, they do sometimes help poets with substantial publishing credits from literary journals to publish their poems/short story collections with big publishers. The point is that if you are a poet/short story writer, you should not approach an agent with individual works. Instead pitch only collections of related poems/short stories.

What about agents who charge upfront fees?

Traditionally, agents are not supposed to charge you any money upfront. You should be wary of agents asking for payment upfront but there are certain legitimate expenses that you, the author, might be required to cover. These expenses are extremely rare.