Do you want to be published by a big-name publishing house like Random House? To do so requires a literary agent. So, what exactly is a literary agent and what do they do for you?
That is the big question you need to ask yourself. What will a literary agent do for me? Remember books and publishing them is a business. Never forget that if you have dreams of being on the New York times best-selling list.
By definition a literary agent is a “go between.” Yes, they “go between” you the author and the publishing house. The bigger the publisher, the less likely they will take any unsolicited manuscripts much less directly from an author. Even if you have become successful as a self-published author and have a big email fan base, they often won’t touch you unless you have a literary agent they are working with.
Literary agents tell people they represent authors, screenwriters, novelists, non-fiction writers, etc. If it is a written word that can be used to make a buck, then a literary agent will sell it. Which is exactly what a literary agent is really. They are salespeople. They take a look at what you have and determine if they can sell it to one of the publishers they work with. Period.
Using a literary agent can be a double edged sword. Like I said before, literary agents propose they work for you; but in reality, they work for themselves and take a hefty bite out of your royalties for their efforts. A good literary agent will negotiate your contracts, fight for your book deals, make sure you get paid, and mediate problems for you. Like I said before, they are the “go between’s.”
Also, like I said before; the big houses, the ones who have the clout to get you on the best sellers lists, won’t talk to an author without an agent. Won’t talk to the author period if they have their way.
If you have a book, you want published the old-fashioned way, then you need a literary agent. There is no way around it. Few, if any writers, can get away with doing their own negotiating with a big publishing house. Many of the smaller ones as well. It simply makes it easier on the publisher and their editors.
I have a hard time with this concept. You have to put your career in the hands of a person you basically have to audition for (yes, you send them your work and hope they will deign to work with you) who then has to produce results. Results which are measured in sales and royalty payments.
For this you often have to pay them twenty percent out of your royalties. The publishing house doesn’t pay them – you do. Twenty percent of your royalties, the royalties the literary agent negotiated for you by the way, is a lot of money. Especially if you are only getting a small percentage of the royalties.
So, what do you do? Easy, shop around. Always remember they work for you, not the other way around like most want you to believe. They are your employee. They have to produce results for you, not the publisher.
Research them. Read the books they helped get published. If the agent refuses to tell you some of the books they helped get published – move on. You are shopping here. Check under the hood, kick the tires, get aggressive. It might irritate the agent, but what do you care? It’s your book and your career. As is aid, they are your employee.
Speaking of which, get it all in writing. Before you do anything with a literary agent, get it all in writing. Get what they will do for you, how much they will charge and what they won’t do in writing. The “won’t do” is equally important as to what they will do. Get from them who they will shop your book around to. If you don’t like the publishers they use, don’t sign the contract. Move on until you find one who you feel good with, whose words match what is in their contract and who work with publishers you like.
Too many people sign with the first agent or don’t read the fine print. I find it so sad when I read stories about music artists or writers or creatives as everyone calls themselves these days in our business who didn’t read the fine print. Who make others rich while they get pennies. Don’t make someone else rich off your work.
Be aggressive. Learn the business. Shop around. Ask questions and learn what questions to ask. This is the most important decision you will make in your career. And if you don’t use a literary agent then don’t be fooled. You will have to do the exact same thing with whoever you choose to publish with.
Many people get shocked when they actually begin to read the terms and conditions of self-publishing on Amazon or other platforms. They forget that Amazon is a multi-billion-dollar business who make their money off you. They set the terms, not you. It is the same for most publishing houses.
Three things you need to learn how to do whether you obtain an agent or not:
- Learn to negotiate. Period. It is your work. Learn your value and how to obtain the best deal whether you are hiring a literary agent, an editor, or a publisher. You have to think like a businessman, not a writer.
- Keep all your copyrights. Make this a part of your negotiations. Don’t let the publishers have blanket rights to your work. Believe me, if they sell your work to someone else (movies, television, etc.) they will get the monster share of the money, not you. The copyright owner owns your work. If it’s not you, then you’ve made a serious mistake.
- Learn the business. Learn who will be doing what. Did your agent sell your book to someone only to tell you that you are responsible for all the marketing? You have to grow your readership, you have to do all the leg work while the publisher and agent sit back and rake in their share. Remember, this is a business; learn it. Learn who does what and what they get paid for. Don’t even talk to anyone until you have done your due diligence.
I’m Ross, the Editor-in-Chief at The Pyrateheart Press and I’m out.