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A Word About Literary Agents

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

What is a literary agent and why do I need one?

This is a question many book creatives ask themselves at some point in their career. I have been part of the writing community for some time now and I have found that the answer can vary from person to person and is not always simple.

Whether or not you choose to work with a literary agent honestly depends on what direction you’d like to take your career. I’ve seen creatives thrive both with and without an agent. So let’s dive in to exactly what a literary agent is and how to determine if working with one would be good for your career.

What do literary agents do?

A literary agent is a publishing professional that represents you and your intellectual property within the publishing world. They, ideally, should represent your career as an author and/or illustrator and help shape what projects would be suitable to pursue in the current market.

An agent will also work to sell your work to a publisher who will turn that work into a book. Agents juggle a lot. They read manuscripts, sometimes provide editorial feedback, sell publication and other rights, and guide their authors’ careers.

Literary agents usually work on commission, earning an industry standard of 15% of the author’s advance and sales. Keep in mind that figure can increase for certain rights sales such as foreign rights or film rights since they will usually have to split their fee with a co-agent.

Do I need a literary agent?

I’d say it’s best to have a plan in place and knowledge of your career goals in order to determine how an agent would be beneficial to you. For instance, if you would prefer to concentrate solely on the writing and/or illustrating part of your career and would rather not spend time searching for a publisher or negotiating contracts, then an agent would be beneficial to you. Also, many larger publishing houses will not even consider your manuscript for publication unless a literary agent submits it. Therefore, having an agent will open additional doors for those wanting to proceed with traditional publication.

For those wishing to pursue self-publishing, an agent may not be necessary. Self-published authors put in all the work and shoulder the expense of publishing their projects. This allows them full control over their careers, what they write, and how their work is presented. They also keep a larger share of any profits they earn from sales. If you’d rather keep this control, then signing with an agent may not be for you.

Some authors combine self-publishing with seeking traditional publication and partner with a literary agent to help guide their decisions. Again, researching the industry and how your work can fit into the market is best when determining whether or not to work with an agent.

Where can I find a reputable literary agent?

There are many ways to find a literary agent. Here are a few links to websites that have compiled lists of agents and what their specialties are.

QueryTracker - A free database of literary agents and the genres they work in.

Publishers Marketplace - Includes a list of literary agents and their most recent sales data.

Manuscript Wish List - A helpful database of agents and the types of manuscripts they are currently seeking.

The bottom line is, there is no one right way to building a profitable career in publishing. However, knowing how an agent can assist with your plans can make all the difference in deciding what course of action is right for you.

I hope this information is helpful. If so, please subscribe to our newsletter for more tips on publishing, industry news, and forthcoming projects from Phoenix Media & Books authors.

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