What you need to know about finding an agent
Published: January 31, 2002
|What do I need to know about getting a literary agent to represent my book?|
Agents' main duties are to assist clients in understanding the ins and outs of publishing, use their publishing connections to reach key editors and handle contract negotiations so their clients can obtain the best publishing deals.
The more money an agent wins for the client, the more money the agent earns. In return for their services, agents charge an average of 15 percent commission on any sales, and the client covers expenses for postage, phone calls or photocopying done on his or her behalf. Agents either bill clients periodically after their sales or subtract fees and expenses from authors' advances and royalty payments. Clients do not pay agents directly to represent their work.
Some agents do charge "reading fees." However, this practice became so abused by scam artists that the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) has adopted a policy prohibiting its members from charging such fees.
According to Brian Richard Boylan of Otitis Media Literary Agency in Minneapolis, a writer might wish to obtain an agent for two reasons. "The first is because publishers routinely offer unagented authors inferior contracts, while an agented contract reserves more of the subsidiary income--movies, TV, serialization--for the author," he says. "The other reason is that a good agent will offer the author's project to perhaps one to 20 publishers at a time--something an author would be unable to do. The agent is on close terms with many editors and publishers and can demand an answer from them in less time than it would take the average author to compose two follow-up letters. Also, agents enjoy the freedom to circulate proposals in many different forms. Your chances of success with a good agent are much better than on your own."
To find listings of agents, you can consult several books, including the yearly Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman (The Writer Books) or the Literary Marketplace (R. R. Bowker).
Entering "literary agents" in an Internet search engine also brings a host of useful sites, including that of AAR. Additionally, you may want to talk to published friends who can recommend their own or another agent.
Since selling clients' work is the way they get paid, agents are choosy about the work they represent. They need to believe there is a chance of a sale in order to agree to represent you. Generally, sending a query to an agent is preferable to sending your whole manuscript. It's OK to send multiple queries, if you let the agents know what you are doing. Be sure to check the agents' areas of representation. If you're writing children's picture books, you won't get far with an agent specializing in college textbooks.
After your initial sale, you might choose to keep your agent to assist in any future dealings with publishers, such as contract negotiations, royalty statements, payment inaccuracies and other business matters.
Is it beneficial to obtain an agent to sell my individual short stories?
In a word, no. Legitimate agents make their money selling your work, and the small sum you might make from selling a short story would not be worth it to most. In fact, you may not even be able to find an agent to represent short stories.
Generally, an agent would represent you for a novel, poetry or story collection, full-length play, or material for television or film production.
This month's question is answered by Noah Lukeman, president of Lukeman Literary Management Ltd. in New York and author of The First Five Pages and The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life.