What does a literary agent do?
A literary agent is someone who represents authors to publishers. Think of them as the middlemen between you and the people who are going to publish your book. They are the negotiators; the ones that shop your book around to potential buyers.
If you’re a debut author and not an expert in the industry, you may think that an agent is necessary, just another step on the road to publication. But we’re here to let you know that this assumption might not be the correct choice for you.
How do you decide if you want an agent?
Hiring an agent is a personal decision that you’ll need to make based on your budget, your book, and your publication goals.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is: how do I want to publish my book?
If you want to go through a traditional publisher (Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, etc.), an agent is definitely something you may have to consider. If you’re going to a hybrid or self-publisher, then an agent might be nice, but is significantly less of a necessary expense. Before you sign on any dotted lines, you need to have an idea of where you want to go with your book.
So, what are the pros and cons of hiring a literary agent?
Connections in the industry
Say you decide that you want to submit your book to a traditional press. Agents are the ones with the connections inside the traditional publishing houses. Most of the larger traditional publishers don’t have open submissions and won’t even look at your manuscript without someone vouching for it. Even if they do have open submissions, then your book has a good chance of ending up in a slush pile for several months. With an agent, you would have a better access to the Big Five, which can be hard to do if you don’t have someone repping you. An agent’s industry connections can get your manuscript on more desks.
Another pair of eyes
When an agent passes your manuscript along, they’re putting their name next to yours. They aren’t going to vouch for a book that they don’t think is ready for publication—after all, your success is their success. Your book agent serves as another set of eyes for your manuscript, and they can catch things you might have missed. They’re a professional in the publishing industry that can give you a valid critique. With an agent, you can count on a certain level of quality, something that the pitched editors will take note of as well.
Industry ins and outs
If you’re new to the publishing industry as a debut author, an agent will help you wrap your head around the process. They’re a great resource in your pocket who can act as a guide. As your middleman, they’re handling contract negotiation and communicating with the publisher on your behalf. It’s always nice to have someone on your side who will advocate for your (and their) best interests.
It’s another check you have to write
Enough said. Though an agent is a handy resource, they’re typically going to take around 15% of your earnings. You have to evaluate if their services are worth the extra expense.
You have to do your research
While there are a lot of incredible agents out there with your best interests in heart, there will also be those who may try and take advantage of a debut author. This is why it’s important to do your due diligence and research. For instance, if an agent is asking you for a ton of extra fees, be wary! The best agents should be paid for their work through commission on your book sales, not with extra fees. Don’t let yourself get locked into a contract that doesn’t feel right to you. These are situations you can dodge if you do the necessary research to find the right agent for you. A great place to start is with the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR).
Another door to get through
When you go the agent route, you have to get their stamp of approval before even submitting to publishers. While this is sometimes a good thing for quality control, it can add months, if not years, to your road to publication. An agent doesn’t guarantee success—hiring one can open doors, but you aren’t in the room just yet. If you don’t like sharing control of your book, or if you’re trying to get published as soon as possible, an agent might not be the best fit for you.