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Do I Need a Literary Agent?

on May 14, 2015 by Proofreading Pal in Books and Manuscripts facebook in twitter

Almost everyone has heard of literary agents, either as the wonderful people who sell your book for zillions of dollars and make you the next blockbuster hit, or as the jerks who won’t give you the time of day and keep you from becoming the next blockbuster hit.

In reality, agents are businesspeople and creative professionals, salespeople, and partners in this weird, wonderful world of publishing. They’re here to help you get your book into the publishing mainstream and into the hands of readers everywhere.

What Is an Agent?

Basically, a literary agent is an author’s business manager. They help refine the manuscript, write a pitch for it, send it to editors they think would be interested, and eventually handle the contract details and business part of the sale.

After the sale, they help coordinate edits and timelines and collect your royalties on your behalf.

Agents work on commission, which means they take a small amount of those royalties (usually 15%) before sending the rest on to you.

Some agents may also handle subsidiary rights, which means they’ll attempt to sell the audiobook, foreign translation rights, film or TV rights, etc., for you in addition to the regular book.

Do I Need an Agent?

This is a fairly personal question. In the past, almost everyone who wanted to publish a book needed an agent. Agents had the necessary contacts with big publishing houses and editors and were the only trusted sources for finding great new manuscripts.

Today, though, many authors are choosing to bypass publishing houses entirely or to work with smaller presses that might accept direct submissions. So where does that leave the agent process?

You might need an agent if:

  • You want to place your book with one of the big presses, like Harper Collins or Penguin Random House.
  • You have a series of books that may get complex to manage and that you’d like to sell together.
  • You don’t want to mess with all the moving parts of self-publishing.
  • You want someone to act as your business manager.
  • You want to sell subsidiary rights to your work.

Some authors choose to self-publish their work and then later get an agent once they’ve proven they have a fanbase or market. Others self-publish their books and then work with an agent to sell translation rights, TV or movie rights, etc. It’s all up to you and what you’re comfortable with.

agent1How Do I Find an Agent?

By sending out queries. You can find reputable agents through a number of sources, including Publishers Marketplace and Agent Query. You’ll then read their submission requirements and send them a pitch package, typically consisting of a query letter or a query letter plus a sample of your manuscript.

Be sure that you’re sending your best work. That means having both your manuscript and your query letter edited professionally before you send them out to agents. Agents handle a lot of projects, and they’re sending them on to even busier editors of their own. Your work has to be in darn good shape before you even think of sending it out; this isn’t the time to send a rough draft.

A good query letter is vital. It’s the agent’s introduction to you, and you need to shine, much like in a cover letter for a job application. You have to summarize your manuscript, your qualifications, and your reasons for approaching this particular agent, and you have to do it quickly and engagingly. You should always polish and edit your query letter just as carefully as your manuscript.

ProofreadingPal offers plenty of options to get a query letter, manuscript sample, or full manuscript edited and refined before sending out to agents. We’re here to help you put your best foot forward on this crazy path to publishing.

Kate S.

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