Agents — Who Needs Them?

By Apryl Duncan

Many authors, especially first-timers, think a literary agent is someone you associate with names like Stephen King, Judith Krantz and John Grisham. Truth is, having an agent handle your work really depends on your own personality.

Before taking on an agent, you have to first evaluate yourself. Are you the type of person that has to do everything yourself or can you hand off important responsibilities to others?

You have to be willing to trust your agent. Trust that he or she is out there negotiating with publishers for you. Trust that your money will be collected, 10 to 20 percent taken off the top for your agent’s fee and then the rest sent to you promptly. You even have to trust your agent to choose the right publisher for you . . . even if it’s not a major one.

Before you decide you’d rather do all the legwork yourself, consider this: Agents are a powerful force in the publishing world.

On your own, you could send out your manuscript to 10 different publishing houses. But an agent has an insider’s view of what those 10 currently need. This helps you eliminate a waste of time and money sending out your manuscript to a publisher that’s not interested from the start.

Agents target the right publisher for your manuscript. They know the editors. Have lunch with them. See them in social settings. It’s a more casual approach than a hard sell.

Publishers also consider agents a valuable resource because they weed out manuscripts that aren’t ready to go. This saves the publisher the extra effort of having to slave through a pile of manuscripts for the one that screams, “Jackpot.”

Another advantage of having an agent is the money factor. Many writers are so anxious to see their work in print, they tell the publisher money doesn’t matter. Be glad that, for agents, money does matter. They’re motivated to get you the best deal. On your manuscript. On advances. Even on paperback and foreign sales.

And they don’t stop there. While turning your novel into a movie is a long-shot, an agent does have connections in New York and Hollywood that can help turn your dream into a reality.

Unfortunately, many authors are scared off by the 10 to 20 percent cut for the agent’s commission. But after the negotiation process, most authors find they do better with an agent even after a 20 percent cut.

Now if you’re ready to find an agent, don’t think it’s as simple as opening the phone book and hiring a plumber. Most literary agents reject 98 percent of materials that come across their desk. The market has tightened so much that agents can literally pick and choose the manuscripts they want to represent.

To increase your chances of landing an agent, research the agents you want representing you and your work. Then prioritize a list of the ones you’re most interested in. Make sure your choices accept the type of work you write. If you like to dabble in the different genres, search for an agent that handles all types of fiction.

Also, consider an agent’s member associations. The Association of Authors’ Representatives Inc. (AAR) keeps its agent members informed of changes in the publishing, movie and television industries. Agents must subscribe to the organization’s Canon of Ethics and meet certain eligibility requirements in order to become a member.

While narrowing your list of agents, pay careful attention to their submission requirements. If an agent says No Phone Calls, they really do mean no phone calls.

You’ll also find out how they want your information. Some may want a query. Others may want to see your sample chapters and book proposal.

Agents aren’t just for big-name authors. With a little research and a strong manuscript, you can find an agent that will help you reap the benefits of being published.

This article originally appeared on Reprinted with permission.

Apryl Duncan is the founder of FictionAddiction.NET, an award-winning site for fiction writers and readers. She is an author, workshop instructor and professional freelance writer who enjoys writing everything from mystery novels to how-to articles on the writing craft.

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