Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Do I Need A Literary Agent?

Self-publishing may be easy and affordable, and it’s certainly gaining respect within the publishing industry. With a good story, practically any author can have her book published and begin the process of marketing and promoting the book and the author. But there is another publishing option that authors might consider. 

If you believe your manuscript has what it takes to gain the attention of traditional publishers – you know, the big guys you hear about who operate from the hi-rise office buildings in New York City and force writers to produce under unbelievably tight deadlines with the promise of a sales and marketing dream team to help you make millions in the big leagues among the ranks of Michael Creighton, Toni Morrison, J. K. Rowling, and Stephen King (yeah, those guys) – you might consider hiring a literary agent. 

What is a literary agent? These are the people who represent authors to big publishers. They are often former authors themselves, who have been in the publishing business for years. Many have worked for large publishing houses, they know the marketplace and know what makes a successful book. They know what publishers are looking for, how to pitch manuscripts to publishers, and how to negotiate contracts for the benefit of the author and the publisher. Before you get too haughty and think, “heck, I could do that myself,” think again.

Oh sure, you could try pitching your manuscript to the big publishers with an immaculately produced book proposal. And then you could try your hand at negotiating a contract that ensures you, as the author, get every bit of what’s owed you, no strings attached – from a seven-figure advance to a whirlwind international book tour to film and foreign rights, and royalties that’ll keep you writing from your vacation villa in Tuscany for years to come. You do have the skill to pull that off, don’t you? Most likely you do not, and that’s okay; most authors don’t. That’s why those who aspire to be represented by a traditional publishing house typically use a literary agent.

Anyone can claim to be an agent, and there is no watchdog service to monitor potential scammers. A good agent will not need to advertise, will have a client list with recognizable author’s names that have been published through large traditional publishers (not with a vanity or subsidy press), will want a manuscript that has been professionally edited and is ready to go to press, and will not require payment from you. The agent’s job is to represent you and to find a publisher that will publish your book and pay the highest advance and royalties possible. After all, it is in the agent’s interest to find the best deal for you. The agent is your ally and a knowledgeable, experienced force to have on your team.

A literary agent has relationships with many large publishers, and will know the best company to publish your book. A good agent is well known and trusted by publishers and any book they recommend will often jump to the front of the line for the publisher’s attention. The agent acts as project manager for your book – negotiating contracts, managing the schedule, and earning anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the royalties on the sale of your book. Before you gasp in horror, consider the work that a literary agent does on your behalf and you’ll realize that your gaining 80 percent of royalties is well worth having a literary advocate on your side.

Guide to Literary Agents

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