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2005-06-27 14:51:12
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Literary Agent FAQs

What Is A Literary Agent?

Generally speaking, an agent is an employee that you hire to sell your book(s) to a publisher. An agent may also sell subsidiary rights to your book, which could include electronic distribution, audiotapes, film rights and foreign rights. Typically, an agent receives a 15% commission of the book's earnings (royalties).

An agency may consist of one agent or many. Smaller agencies may specialize in a particular type of book, for instance, children's books, non-fiction, etc., while larger agencies are more equipped to handle a variety of genres.

A good agent works on your behalf to strenghten your career, not just to sell your book.

Why Do I Need One?

Agents have become an essential step on the climb to publication over the last ten to twenty years because the job of the editor has changed. Editors now have to spend much of their time selling your book to the publisher's sales representatives (who in turn, go out to persuade bookstores to buy your book) and most do not have the time to actually edit your book.

Today, many publishing houses do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Editors rely on agents to "weed out" unacceptable or inappropriate material and submit books that are good enough to publish and that meet the publisher's criteria.

Should An Agent Charge A Reading Fee?

No. An agent should get his/her money from selling books, not reading them.

What Should I Look For In An Agent?

As a first time author you will probably make out better with a younger, smaller agency that is just coming into their own in the publishing world. These agents are usually looking for new authors and you would most likely be handled by the principals of the agency. A larger firm would have more clout in the publishing world, but you would probably be handled by a junior agent.

Make sure the agency handles what your writing or you will have just wasted your time. Many smaller agencies specialize in specific genres and this might be ideal for a beginning author.

In today's marketplace with e-Mail, fax machines and the like, locale is not much of an issue. It is simply your preference. New York or elsewhere? There are many successful agents across the country, the choice is yours.

How Do I Find The Right Agent?

There are a couple of ways to evaluate an agent to see if they are right for you.

Start with Agent Research & Evaluation an online agent evaluator that provides a free agent verification search. If the agent is listed the search will tell you if he/she is a valid agent. They also have a newsletter Talking Agents ($35 online, $38-$45 hard copy) and other services at various costs.

Another good source for agent information is Publishers Weekly magazine. It is devoted to the world of publishing and book selling and reports the movements of literary agents. It will alert you to new agencies and agents and highlights those that are beginning to make big sales. Of special interest for agent news is the "Hot Deals" section.

Writer Beware is also a great online resource. It provides in depth information on what to look for and what to avoid when choosing an agent. The site also provides many other useful resources.

You might also consider attending writers conferences. Good conferences will invite three or four agents each year and usually new writers are allowed direct access. You will be in a unique position to learn about these agents first hand. Generally speaking, if they are at the conference they will be considering new clients. The downside to this approach is the cost ($500 and up).

How Many Agents Should I Query?

There is no real rule-of-thumb here. Some say 20-30, some 40-50. The point being that you will probably hear nothing from many, or you may receive a short form letter rejecting your manuscript for any number of reasons and you want to hedge your bet. Hopefully a few will ask for your manuscript. If so, congratulate yourself for getting thru the first hurtle, but remember, even those agents who ask to read your whole manuscript may still reject it. Being an author is not for the faint of heart!

What Do I Do After An Agent Asks To See My Manuscript?

First, call them. Try to sound confident. Ask a few questions about their business, such as: Who are their current clients? What do they consider their strengths? What do they think makes their agency special? etc. Now it's time to talk about you. Tell him/her what you have had published (magazine articles for example) or contests you have won, ask what questions he/she would like to ask you. These phone calls will give you a sense of who you feel comfortable with and who you think will provide you with the best deal. Take notes for your final evaluation.

Second, send your manuscript to the agency you have decided is best suited to you.

Third, send notes to those you did not choose and tell them that your manuscript is out to an agency but you would like to remain in touch with them. Be honest, but leave the door open for further consideration. Remember, the agency you chose might not choose you!

How Long Should I Wait Before Contacting The Agent?

Allow the agent some leeway. Having had the presence of mind to ask the agent how long it would take to get to your submission during your original phone conversation, wait several days to a week beyond that time before making a follow up call. After that, by all means call them to inquire about their progress.

What If I Still Can't Find An Agent?

Keep trying. Start the process all over. It is possible to get your manuscript back from all the agents on your list. Many talented authors have spent months and even years finding an agent, but have succeeded in the end.

Secondly, keep working on your writing credentials. Write magazine articles and short stories. Gain exposure by getting published in magazines and journals.

When Should I Give Up?

Never give up! The key to finding an agent is two-fold. Perserverance and an undying belief in your work. Eventually you will find someone who believes in you and your work.

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