How to Choose a Literary Agent

What is a literary agent?

A literary agent is a professional that represents an author’s literary properties, including adult, young adult and children’s books in any genre.  An agent sells your work to a publisher and then earns an agreed upon percentage of your royalties for that literary work.  The percentage is usually 15% of everything the author earns on the deal.

Agency Sizes:

  1. Small Agency: These tend to have a more friendly working relationship with their authors.  They usually outsource foreign rights and film rights work to other agencies.
  2. Medium Agency: They offer a good mix of being friendly and offering foreign rights and film departments.
  3. Large Agency: You could get lost in the mix of the much bigger authors on their list, with the working relationship tending to be more impersonal.  They usually have a big film rights department and foreign rights department.

Reasons to use an agent:

  1. An agent should have publishing contacts and shop the literary work around to various publishing houses to find the right editor.
  2. An agent should know how to negotiate a book deal or a publishing contract.
  3. An agent is a buffer between the author and the publisher.

Reasons to Not use an agent:

  • Never use an agent that requires reading fees, agency fees, or sign-up fees.

Tips in looking for an agent:

  1. Look at The Writers Handbook, which lists the literary agents in the USA and the UK.
  2. Look at the Association of Authors’ Representatives website (http://aaronline.org) for legitimate agents.
  3. Look at the Australian Literary Agents’ Association if you live in Australia (http://austlitagentsassoc.com.au)
  4. Look at eBook Crossroads Literary Agents Listing (http://www.ebookcrossroads.com/agents.html).
  5. Look at the Preditors & Editors website for listings or agents and other representation (http://pred-ed.com).
  6. Look at Agent Query’s database of literary agents (http://www.agentquery.com).
  7. Look at literary magazines that have articles on how to get an agent.
  8. Join a genre organization and use the group’s links to lists of agents.
  9. Talk to published authors you meet about their agents.
  10. Find out which agents represent authors in your genre or a similar genre.
  11. Look in similar books to yours in a bookstore, look to see if the author has credited their agent on the acknowledgment page.
  12. Look at the agents’ websites to learn more about them.
  13. It is best to actually meet the agent in person, maybe at a conference.  By doing this, you can get a better feel of whether you can work together.

Tips in contacting an agent:

  1. Know the correct spelling of the agent and agency name. Personalize your query letter to the agent.
  2. Attend a writers’ conference and have an appointment with an agent.
  3. Keep your query letter businesslike, professional, and brief.
  4. Understand the agent’s submission requirements and adhere to them.

© 2010 Starla Kaye

The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.