In the modern publishing market, probably 80% of the books published traditionally reaches to the traditional publishers through the medium of the literary agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry and represent the interests of their author clients. They have inside contacts with specific publishers and know which editors are most likely to buy a particular work. Perhaps most important, agents can secure the best possible book deal for you, negotiate a fair contract, protect your rights, ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, and run interference when necessary between you and the publisher!
The best agents can be career long advisers and managers for the authors. Traditionally, agents are paid only when they sell your work, then they receive a certain percentage of commission (generally 15%) on everything that you get paid, i.e. your advance and the royalties. It is best in the best interest of the authors to avoid such agents, who charge a higher sum of commission as their fees.
Now, the basic question over here is that do you really need an Agent? It depends upon what you are selling. If you want to be published by one of the major global houses like Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan then more or less you need to have an agent by your side and more importantly, you would also like to have one in such a case!
On the other hand, if you are writing for a niche market like vintage automobiles or an academic or literary work, then you might not need an agent. Agents are motivated to take on clients based on the size of the advance they think they can get. If your project does not command a decent advance, then you may not be worth an agent’s time, and you will have to sell the project on your own.
How to find the Literary Agents? This is a research process and a major decision that is best conducted by the authors themselves in most of cases or someone who is trustworthy to the authors!
Well, some of the reputed sites on the internet that can help the authors in finding good literary agents includes – PublishersMarketplace.com, which is one of the best place to research literary agents. As not only do many agents have member pages on this site, but also you can search the publishing deals database by genre, category, and/or keyword to pinpoint the best agents for your work. While, some other resources to consider includes – QueryTracker and Duotrope. Apart from them there are several other websites too, which dedicates their service to the authors searching for literary agents.
What you should submit to the Literary Agents? If you write fiction, the agent will want to see the full manuscript. On the other hand, if you write nonfiction, the marketability of your idea and your platform often matter as much as the writing, if not more so. You have to prepare a book proposal that is essentially a business plan arguing why your book will sell in the current market.
You should finish and polish your manuscript as well as the book proposal before submitting. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is rushing to get published when there is absolutely no reason to rush. Do not expect the agent to help you to the finish line on your manuscript. While some agents may be open to such editorial work, but mostly you will get a much better response if you submit the manuscript and the proposal that you can see no further way to improve.
Now, every agent has unique requirements for submitting your materials. The most common materials you will be asked for are –
- Query Letter: This is a one page pitch letter that gives a brief description of your work.
- Novel Synopsis: This is a brief summary usually no more than one or two pages of your story, from beginning to end. It must reveal the ending.
- Nonfiction Book Proposal: These are complex documents, usually twenty to thirty pages in length (minimum).
- Novel Proposal: This usually refers to your query letter, a synopsis, and perhaps the first chapter. There is not an industry-standard definition of what a novel proposal is.
- Sample Chapters: When sending sample chapters from your novel or memoir, start from the beginning of the manuscript. (Do not select a middle chapter, even if you think it is your best.) For nonfiction, usually any chapter is acceptable.
Well, it is important for the authors to note that almost no agent accepts full manuscripts on the very first contact. This is what ‘No Unsolicited Materials’ means when you read submission guidelines. However, almost all agents will accept a one page query letter unless their guidelines state otherwise. Moreover, if they do not accept queries, that means they are a completely closed market.
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