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Guide to Getting Published: Literary Agent FAQ

I hope you read my previous post of this series of articles in the Guide to Getting Published. In the last article, I had told you about preparations to be done before sending query letter. Now, we will look at how the literary agents work and how you can get in touch with one. Also, we will look at how to avoid the scam agencies like New York Literary out there.

What is a literary agency or agent?

A literary agent is a business front for you, the writer. The agent carries out all your business transactions with the publisher; guides in legal aspects; selects and manages publication contracts and sale of rights for you; and most importantly, markets and promotes your work. An agent is your best friend, working for you in publication of your work. Since the agent manages your business of publishing, you can relax and need only write.

For their services, the agents take a minor cut (usually 10% and some charge 15%) from your royalties. The publisher sends the checks directly to them and they send you the money after taking their cut.

For minor works like short fiction or poetry, you do not need a literary agent; they are meant only for larger works like novels.

Do I really need an agent to publish my book?

A writer should ask this question to himself. One can of course go about publishing a book without the help of an agent. You may even find a publisher (if you are really good at it) and your book may even do well in sales. However, considering the advantages of having an agent at your side, it is highly recommended that you find one.

Reputed literary agents know the publishing industry inside out. They can negotiate the deals better with the publisher and fetch rights sales for you. Without having an agent, you may sell ten thousand copies less or get a lower-end publisher for your work. Also, most publishers give primary preference to the works submitted by agents than those by the authors.

If you are a reputed author or have built a brand yourself, then you may get preference by the publisher. Still, having an agent saves you a lot of time and money. Hence, yes, I recommend having an agent. You will make more profit than without an agent.

How will I find the best agent for me?

This is indeed a difficult task. Literary agents are so many out there, and many are reputed and respected. There are so many emerging agencies as well. Hence, it is really hard to get the best literary agent for you. First thing to do is check out the local business listings. You may find a number of literary agencies in your area. You can narrow down your search to the agencies that work in your specific genre. Now, you have to research their reliability and business ethics. Things to remember here:

• Literary agents never charge you money for their services or suggest charged editing services for your work. So avoid any such agency.
• The case of agents contacting you instead of the other way round may be a possible scam.
• Don’t work with agents who propose to sell the book to vanity press or self publishing.
• Don’t work with an agent who keeps information of his former clients confidential.
• Don’t work with agents not recommended by SFWA (see below).

You can additionally check with the former clients of the agent you choose. Good literary agents show maximum enthusiasm to publish and market your work, if they consider it.

Please visit Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) website here, which keeps track of good literary agencies. If you found out one in the local business listing, please check it out with SFWA. Also check out the discussion forums of Writers Net.

Here are some discussions and listings about literary agency scams by these agencies:

Read the article about New York Literary agency, a total scam

When can I contact an agent?

Check out my last article. Once you have your work complete, you can contact a literary agent right away through a query letter. Make sure your typescript is formatted properly.

How to contact an agent?

Here comes the query letter part of your business. When you write to an agent, prepare a neat, short, professional query letter.

Many agents still operate in the snail mail, and some have embraced email correspondence. Remember, request representation from the agent for your completed work, and never send only a story idea; they get it all the time.

Agents usually ask you to send some sample chapters from your work and an outline of the plot. Usually, the agency specifies the exact way to submit your work to them in their website itself. Alternatively, you can give them a call and find out.

How about querying several agents at a time?

You can do this, of course. However, keep track of the agents you contact well.

It can take several months to get your agent. So follow-up is very important. Do it in the most professional way.

What if I don’t get an agent?

Ask this question after you have exhausted all possibilities to get an agent. Think about why you failed in that. It may be due to some minor things related to your work. Language and writing errors may be a reason. If you need editing, work hard at it, or hire a professional editor for that. Resubmit your work afterward, and you will most probably interest an agent. However, if you still fail to get an agent, there is no reason why you shouldn’t contact publishers directly. You can even go for the non-recommended self-publishing or vanity publishing way as well.

All the best in finding your literary agent!

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


  1. Those were very helpful tips. Now my answers about publishing were answered. Thanks for them and keep posting.

  2. Jen, many thanks for the comment. Tell others as well.

  3. I have actually added you to the most significant roll in my blog (Gewgaw Writings)- My Favorite Writing blogs. This is the blog's place of honor.

  4. Hi Jen, many thanks for your link.


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