Wednesday, 29 April 2009

What do agents do?

Part of the standard advice for new writers is to find an agent. Ignoring the fact that finding an agent is often harder than finding a book deal, it leaves the question - what to agents actually do?


The single most important thing an agent will bring to your work is contacts. A good agent, and there are many bad ones, will have good, solid industry relevant contacts. They will not know everyone in the publishing world but they will know everyone in your genre that counts.
The advantage of contacts is that they can get your work in front of the correct people. It has now become common place for most big publishers to completely reject unsolicited manuscripts. It’s no longer a case of ending up on the slush pile. The slush pile has gone; it’s now a case of ending up in the bin.


Once an agent has secured interest from a book publisher, it is in the negotiations that they earn their money. Agents are not writers. They don’t see your book as the literary masterpiece you do; they see a product to be sold. An agent will be able to negotiate a better deal than a writer almost every time. They know how far to push companies. They know how much royalties to expect. They know the going rate for advances. They know what companies have paid in the past for similar books. In short they know everything they need to know to get the best deal possible.


Once the writer has a deal in place the agent’s job is still not over. They still have two areas of expertise where they will prove invaluable. The first is administration. An agent will make sure that your publisher does what they have promised, when they have promised. They will chase advances, check royalty statements and all the other nifty gritty details that distract writers from writing. The second area of importance is in foreign rights. If an agent has held onto the foreign rights (this may or may not happen). They will try to sell your book abroad. This is often where new writers make the most money early on in their career.

Related articles:

How to write a query letter
How to write a synopsis

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