By Marissa DeCuir
Your manuscript is prepped and ready to go, and now you’re thinking about seeking a literary agent so you can pursue traditional publishing. But where to begin? While there are plenty of helpful articles online about how to find an agent, many how-tos don’t answer some of the nitty gritty questions about what to seek out—and be wary of—during the process.
What if an agent expresses interest in representing you, but requests edits to your book—is that normal? What if they’re requesting you pay a fee for editorial services, or representation? What if you get an agent (yay!)—how long “should” it take for them to sell your book?
Finding an agent is certainly not a one-size-fits-all situation, but here are some answers to guide you in making the process more efficient, transparent, and stress free!
1). How much should I pay my literary agent?
Nothing upfront! If you’re pursuing a traditional publishing deal, literary agents make a commission when they sell your book to a publisher and secure a publishing contract for you. Then and only then do agents make money off your book. A literary agent should not charge an author upfront for representation.
An agent will read your manuscript and decide if it’s “right” for them to represent. If they would like to “sign you,” they will offer you a contract that includes a 15%-20% “agenting fee”: this is the commission they will earn once they’ve successfully sold your book to a publishing house.
Legitimate agents may recommend edits to your manuscript in order to make it more marketable to publishers; this is not uncommon. However, they should not charge you for editorial services. If an agent requests payment to “doctor” or edit your manuscript, that is another red flag.
2). Do I really need a literary agent? Can I pay someone to find an agent for me?
If you’re seeking a major publishing house deal, then yes, you will need an agent. Most top publishers will not accept “unagented” queries or manuscripts.
Remember that a literary agent is your advocate; they are invested in getting the best possible advance and contract for you (this is how they make their commission, after all). They will have a thorough understanding of the nitty gritty details of your contract (rights, sales, exclusions, etc). At the end of the day, publishing is a business—and a literary agent is your negotiator to ensure you get the best deal possible.
If you’re considering paying someone to find an agent for you, be very careful—the chances of falling for a scam are high, wasting your money and time. You might consider hiring someone to help you draft a query letter and point you in the right direction, but you should handle the actual querying.
3). How do I find an agent?
Here are some solid steps for getting started:
- Read the acknowledgements pages of books in your genre that are similar to yours (and have been published in the past 3-4 years). Authors often thank their agents here, and it’s a quick way of finding out which agents are successfully representing comparative titles.
- Subscribe to Publishers Marketplace; this top industry publication reports on new publishing deals, and typically identifies the literary agent representing each recently-sold book. It’s another good place to find successful agents to add to your query list.
- Once you’ve completed and edited your manuscript, identify writers conferences for your genre that are offering agent mixers or pitch sessions in their schedules. These are perfect networking opportunities, and great for personal connections with literary agents.
- If you have friends who are published authors (including connections through social media, book signings, and writers groups), ask them for their agent recommendations. Note that it is considered rude and bad form to ask a published author to recommend your manuscript to their agent. Just let them know that you’re looking and researching; they may offer a referral if they feel like it would be a good fit for their agent.
4). What if my agent won’t respond to me and/or hasn’t sold my book?
Legitimate agents will not take you on as a client if they don’t think they have the right publishing contacts to sell your manuscript, or if they don’t connect with your book. (Hey, they have reading preferences too!) Your agent should keep you updated on their progress, and should at least let you know which publishers and imprints they are querying. (And if they won’t tell you which publishers they are querying, that’s another red flag.)
If your agent hasn’t sold the rights to your book within a year, without a good explanation, it’s time to move on. Agents should have made contact with publishers, sent the manuscript, and received and shared feedback with you before the one-year anniversary of your contract date.
That being said, the process will take time, so don’t hound your agent. The time they spend conversing / explaining / following up with you could be spent sending your manuscript to acquisitions editors, and following up with publishing houses. Your agent is not meant to be your therapist or best friend. They are your business partner, and their professional expertise is an important part of your publishing journey. You may go a month or more without hearing anything—that’s normal.
If they are consistently unresponsive, evasive, or unforthcoming about the progress of your submission over a long period, then it may be time to reconsider your options.
Publishing is a marathon and not a sprint, and if you’re going to go the traditional route, finding a literary agent is a necessary milestone in the journey. With some savvy preparation, creativity, and perseverance, you’ll be on your way to connecting with an agent who is the right champion for you and your work!
A former award-winning journalist, Marissa DeCuir now helps authors share their stories and messages with the world as president of Books Forward publicity and Books Fluent publishing. Under the 20-year-old JKS Communications brand, the companies are committed to elevating voices, breaking barriers, and promoting books that empower, inspire and move the world forward.
Interested in what’s possible for your book sales and building readership? Check out our services, tell us your goals, and get a customized publicity campaign tailored just for you: booksforward.com.