Writing Wednesdays: Literary Agents, part one - What do they do?

What do literary agents actually do? I talk all about it in this post.

I’ll admit – until a couple of months ago, when my third book from my three-book contract was published and I started thinking ‘what next?’ I had no clue about literary agents, either. Not really. I’d secured a publishing deal on my own and hadn’t really needed to know about them. 

I thought they were just a middle man to the whole process – they were the step between you writing your book and a publisher giving you a book deal, and then they took a cut of what you made. So why did I need one?

Literary agents are so much more than just a middle man.

Most publishing houses won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, as you’ll know if you read my WW post on traditional publishing.

(In case you missed it, you might also like this post on how traditional publishing works.)

This means that they won’t just let anybody send them their book – they have to have submissions via a literary agent. So yeah, that is the ‘main’ purpose, if you will: you need a literary agent, to represent you and your novel, who will help get you a publishing deal.

Publishing a book can seem like a very torturous process for some, if you’re thinking about it: before you can even try to approach the publishers, you’re faced with the possibility of a slew of rejection letters from literary agents, too. But hang in there. There are still a lot of good things literary agents do and reasons why you need one, and you shouldn’t give up hope even if you get rejection letters.

After you’ve sent your submission in to a literary agent and they’ve decided to represent you, they will champion you and your book.

They’ve decided to represent you because they feel passionate about your novel, and they’re going to do their damndest to get you a really good publishing deal. Remember: literary agents don’t make money unless you make money. They’ve got your best interests at heart.

Aside from the money, they’re a huge help with a lot of other things, too.

Don’t like what the editor at the publisher wants you to do to your antagonist but are too nervous to tell the editor? Your agent can talk to them for you. Hate all the covers your publisher sent you for your book but don’t want to insult them? Your agent can tell them for you.

And if you’re struggling with a deadline for some reason or other, your agent can help to negotiate more time for you. Which can be very important.

Most agents also deal in foreign rights and dramatic rights.

So after they’ve secured a publishing deal for your book, they’ll work to sell the foreign rights to your book and earn you even more money as well. They may also help to sell dramatic rights if there’s a film/TV company interested.

Some agents will also give you editorial feedback.

I’m told that not all do, but I know another author who picked her agent specifically because they would help her edit her work, and my agent, Clare, does as well. If agents do this, they help you to try and fix the plot holes and tie up the loose ends and make your book even better before it gets to the publisher. It’s always nice to have another pair of eyes on your work from someone who loves it just as much as you do!

I know some authors who meet fairly regularly with their agents, because they’re not far away from them. I know some authors whose agents are in another country (okay, continent. Like, agent in the States and author in the UK and vice versa. I’m not counting the fact that I live in Wales and my agent is in England here).

Personally, I’ve met up with my agent about three times since signing on with her. I met her once at first to see if I felt like I would like to work with her. I then met her after signing up with the agency to have a chat about where I was with my writing career and what I wanted to do next. And then I met up with her back in November because she came to a meeting with Komixx (the film production company who’ve got the movie rights to TKB) with me.

You may also like this guest Writing Wednesday post by Nikki Kelly on literary agents and publishing.

The important thing to remember with literary agents is that you need to be able to chat to them.

You need to be able to tell them all about your incredible idea for your next book and tell them that the second draft of this novel isn’t going so well, and you just need a little help. You need to be able to talk to your agent.

When I asked authors over the summer about literary agents, they told me it was mostly down to ‘gut instinct’ – how I felt about them and if I felt like I’d be a good fit with them and if they’d be a good fit for me.

I hope that’s debunked some fears and myths about literary agents, and what they do!

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