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Guide to Literary Agents: What's a Literary Agent and Do You Need One?

  • By Dee Power
  • Published 10/25/2009
  • Writing

Traditional publishing houses, or commercial trade publishers include major players such as Warner Books, small publishers such as Algonquin Books, niche publishers, and regional publishers. Traditional publishers pay the author, usually an advance and royalties based on the actual sales of the book. There is a range between small and large publishing houses as to these payments. But the key is the author gets paid. The author has no upfront fees to pay the publisher and isn’t under any obligation to purchase any books. Traditional houses are very selective when acquiring books. Estimates have been made that only 1 out of 1000 books written gets published. Writers Digest has said that there are 24 million people in the US who describe themselves as creative writers. Less than 5% of these writers have actually, ever, been published. Publisher or Literary Agent?

Literary agents represent the author’s work to publishers for a percentage, usually between 10% – 15% of the author’s earnings from the title the agent sell, both the advance and royalties. An agent is up to date on which editor at what house is interested in what subjects, or in the case of fiction, which genre. Agents act as a screening device for editors at the publishing houses, filtering out the uninteresting, badly written, or boring manuscripts and only presenting the professionally polished saleable wor

ks to the appropriate editor. Or that’s how it works in theory. A (good) agent can quickly get the attention of book publishers. They spend time and energy developing relationships with publishers. Do You Need An Agent? NO All three of our nonfiction books were placed by us directly contacting the publisher. Small publishing houses and niche publishers are more open to being contacted by an author. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean their standards are lower. An entertainment, or literary, attorney can negotiate the contract for you, or review it for far less than the 15% agent’s fee. Editors at major houses attend writers’ conferences and will consider pitches by authors at those conferences. Romance publishers will often accept queries from authors directly. YES An agent can guide you in putting together a book proposal. An agent is a buffer between the editor and the author during negotiations. An agent knows what is reasonable in a contract and what isn’t. An agent knows which editor has changed houses or is looking to broaden a list or add a new category to their list. When there is a disagreement between the editor and the author, the agent can step in and resolve the differences.

Concerning fiction, nearly every major publishing house says they work only through agents. Unsolicited manuscripts are returned unread.


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