The Push for a Literary Agent: What to look for, what to skip.
My first book, Crystal Unicorns, is self-published on Amazon. But most of us, including me, still have that itch to be traditionally published especially by one of the bigger houses. To do so, you simply have to have an agent. The big publishers don’t read unsolicited manuscripts and unagented materials. Sounds unfair, I know, but publishers look to the agents to thin the herd and send only projects they deem sellable. It doesn’t even have to do with talent most of the time…it has to do with three words: Will it sell?
Okay, that sounded a little cynical. But it is true and it is why we writers have to have a thick skin. Smaller presses tend to support a wider range of criteria and often do not require agents in order to work with an author. Large presses are corporations with their eye on the profits.
So it is no real surprise that one of the first questions an agent will ask themselves about a book is “Can I sell it?” They might truly love your book but feel there simply isn’t a market for it at this time. It would be great if they took the time to send even an automated refusal but time is money and it is easier and cheaper to just not respond to the books they don’t want. Doesn’t do much for closure with the author.Click To Tweet
Working with an agent takes time. Not only to find the agent and make any changes they suggest but to then sell the book to a publisher who will want changes. It could take a year or more to see your book in print. In the self-pub world, it is conceivable to print a book within a matter of days. But will it bring the recognition and respect traditional publishing may?
Literary agents take a commission. 15% is considered the norm with a possible 20% on overseas ventures. So while they won’t cost you upfront, they will get a cut of the profits. It is one of those situations where your weigh the benefits. If you get a larger publisher with extensive publicity avenues, the book may sell more than if you tried self-publishing.
Literary agents help you walk through the contract negotiations, mediate suggested changes, and provide advice and guidance. They also have far more contacts in the publishing community than a single author can garner. Make sure when first speak with an agent that you find out just how much they interact with you as the writer.
Research your agent to make sure they are reputable. I personally don’t even query an agent that is listed on any of the warning sites like Predators &Editors. A reputable agent does not charge reading fees to look over your manuscript. They don’t pepper you with every little office cost. Paperclips are their expense. Now they may ask you to provide copies of your manuscript if needed.
A good agent doesn’t suggest you hire their editing company. There are so many stories of suggesting the editing, getting your money, then, when done, passing on the project. There is an accepted code of ethics and a good agent will adhere to the rules.
If you are going to approach an agent, make sure you do it right. Do your research. If the agent’s bio says she does not represent science fiction then do not send her science fiction and expect a positive response. Make sure you follow the formatting requirements and the specific requests. I think some of the requests are there simply to see if the writer can follow directions.
Learn to let go. If the agent’s bio says she will respond within three weeks if she is interested and she hasn’t, write it off unless the bio specifically calls for you to resubmit. If she calls six months later and you have signed with another agent, then it is her loss.
On the other hand, if an agent has made a comment about your characterization or plot holes, then go back and check on it.
It’s not an easy publishing world out there. Some books will get snapped up and leave you scratching your head as to how they became bestsellers while fabulous books remain unknown. Just keep giving your best.
Have you tried to query an agent? Let’s talk about it.