Thursday, January 21, 2016

When Do You Need an Agent?

When is the right time for you to approach a literary agent? For some writers the answer to this question is never.  Okay, maybe I better explain.
First, you should have written a complete book before you approach an agent.

Also, agents do not represent short stories or articles or poems. They do, however, represent screenplays, collections of short stories or poetry.

Second, an agent is an agent is an agent—right? Wrong!! There are all kinds of agents, some reputable, some not. A reputable agent doesn’t charge you fees but instead takes a percentage of the sale, usually anywhere from 10 to 20%.  Anyone who asks you for money upfront is a scammer.

Third, you have to look for an agent who represents the type of book you have written. Some agents only want nonfiction, some are looking for formula romance.  Some are into mysteries while others want literary work. Agents for children’s work might be looking for picture books, middle grades fiction or YA.

 Four, is this agent open to new submissions? You have to find this out before you ever submit a query letter; otherwise you’re just wasting their time and more importantly your own. WRITER’S MARKET can help you. Ask for the latest edition at the reference section of your local library. Also there are plenty of online listings that offer information. All you have to do is use Google to search. Agents list their areas of interest and expertise.

Check out:

What can an agent do for you? An agent will try to sell your manuscript to a publishing house, will handle contract negotiations and will stand as a buffer between you and the publisher. They will also try to negotiate an advance against royalties.

An agent will shop your manuscript around publishing houses, using inside knowledge to (hopefully) place it with the right editor. Maybe the agent was formerly associated with a particular house as an editor. If the agent and publisher are located in the same place like NYC, maybe the agent can “do lunch” with the appropriate editor. The major agents network with editors at the big publishing houses, the ones you really hope will buy your writing. These are the publishers who only look at work submitted through agents.

In addition, before you approach an agent with your well-written query letter, make certain that your manuscript is as polished as possible. This means making certain there are no grammatical or spelling errors. Quality writing is crucial. If you were an English major or a journalism student, that’s great. If not, consider taking a writing course, if you haven’t had at least one already. The competition is tough.

If an agent does consent to look at your work, make certain to read carefully and follow their guidelines exactly. Some will look at a synopsis and sample chapters, others want to see the entire manuscript.

As for me, I currently have contracted with a reputable agent and hope this arrangement will work out. I had several agents in the past that sold none of my work. I myself sold fifteen books of fiction to publishers, negotiated contracts and advances.

So does everyone need an agent? Probably not. Each writer has to make that decision for herself or himself. What do you think?  Any insights or experiences that you care to share are very welcome.