By Sabine Berlin
The End. Two of the most satisfying words an author can write. Unfortunately, they are a big lie. You may be done with the daunting task of writing and editing—which really is a colossal step, so go ahead and give yourself permission to indulge in that piece of chocolate cake—and you may even have come up with a killer elevator pitch, but in truth, this is only the beginning.
Want to be traditionally published? You need an agent! Why? An agent does all the business stuff so that you can do what you want to: write!
An agent is your “Girl Friday.” Besides the fact that most sought-after publishers won’t review your manuscript without an agent repping you, maximizing your book’s sales and your income is pretty difficult without an agent—unless you have an extensive professional background in literary law, rights, and licensing; know everyone in New York; and have a decent wad of cash to hire pay-per-hour agencies to negotiate with foreign publishers or in sticky situations. But my guess is you’ll want your own personal agent for all of these mind-boggling and time-consuming tasks:
- Edit: An agent can guide you through revision after revision (yes, this happens even after your book is perfect and you’ve found your agent) and make sure your book is a match for the publishers it will be sent to.
- Find: Most agents personally know the editors (at publishers) to whom they are sending manuscripts. They know their likes and dislikes. They know what is selling (or not) and to whom. They can spot where trends seem to be going and guide you in which of your story ideas might be the most profitable at the moment. Plus they have the networking contacts to actually get your manuscript through a door and into the right hands.
- Advise: Many literary agencies will have a person who specializes in literary contracts. Even most contracts lawyers are not well enough versed in literary contracts to ensure you’re getting the best deal possible—which can sometimes be the difference between profit in the thousands vs. millions—nor can they determine whether you’ll preserve future rights to your own work as technology redefines the industry.
- Sell: A literary agency with experience and the right networks can profitably sell or protect your subsidiary rights: film, audio, foreign, book club, electronic, and every other right you can think of (and being able to skillfully negotiate these can create the difference between your becoming a full-time writer or slaving away at your 9 to 5 for years to come). If you get more than one contract offer, a skilled agent can even take your book to auction so publishers improve their offers in competition for your book.
Long story short, good agents* are worth their 15 percent.
Wooing an agent like that sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Don’t worry. We want to see your book out there almost as much as you do (after all, we’re always on the lookout for a good read), so check back in next week for the second part of this article where we’ll give you some great tips on finding your dream agent.
Do This Now
- Begin working on a query letter, which is what most agents request before they look at your actual book. (If the thought of writing one scares you to death, check this out.)
- Try to sum up your book in one sentence. You need this for when and if you pitch to an agent in person.
- Mark your calendar to come back next week and find out how to get that perfect agent for you.
*Make sure you are getting a good agent. Know that a real agent will never charge you money up front to represent you. They make a living from a percentage of your royalties only when they make you a deal. If you have fifteen minutes, check out this podcast with guest agent Sara Crowe as she explains even more about what having a good agent means. You can also check out this article about author scams and publishing companies to avoid from Reedsy. Also, the following sites are helpful in ensuring you won’t be prey to a shark: Writer Beware or Preditors & Editors. You’ll also want to make sure your agent is a member of the A.A.R. One last PS: If you are an LDS writer and hoping to publish in that niche market, you do not need an agent. In general, the publishers prefer to work directly with the author.
It’s your turn! What is the best thing your agent does for you? Got any helpful experiences or cautionary tales to share? We’d love to hear from you.