What Is a Literary Agent

Glossary > Literary Agent

💬 Definition of a Literary Agent:

A literary agent works with traditional publishing houses and helps writers get their stories published and sold in bookshops or online. They have to review book proposals and act as a mediator between writers and publishers.

Related questions about literary agents:

What does a literary agent do?

A literary agent’s main job is to find book proposals that the traditional publishing houses will want to buy and then negotiate the purchase. Once a publisher accepts a manuscript, they will pay the author to turn it into a book. The agent gets a share of the profit. That’s why they handle the reading and the selling. 

What is a literary agent good at?

A literary agent has to do more than act like a salesperson. They have to read the manuscripts and identify the potential in each one, then pitch them to suitable publishing houses. They also must be good communicators, as they always keep in touch with writers and publishers. Because they do more than just one thing, they have to have managerial skills too.

How to get a literary agent?

Once a manuscript is edited, the author can start shortlisting agents that seem a good fit for representing their book. Then, they need to send query letters with details about themselves and the book their pitching. Another essential thing to include in the email with the query letter is the market for the book. Agents need to know there’s a target audience for each book they’re trying to sell. These letters can be sent in batches so that you automate the process. After a few weeks, authors can send a follow-up email to those who haven’t responded.

Authors can also play it safe: pitch a book proposal before even writing the manuscript and see if someone wants to publish their story. 

How much do literary agents cost?

Literary agents charge nothing upfront. They work on commission. They generally get between 10 and 20 percent of sales that they help negotiate for the writer they represent. Agents can get around 15% from your book advance, then 15% from royalty earnings.

Who pays a literary agent?

Agents get paid only when they sell an author’s work to a publisher. They receive a 15% commission on everything the author gets with the help of an agent (book advance and royalties). 

Can you publish without a literary agent?

Some publishing houses accept submissions from authors without an agent. If that doesn’t work for an author, or they find it too time-consuming, there’s always self-publishing, for which they don’t need an agent.

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