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Hopefull writer
01-07-2006, 08:34 AM
No need to be rude and I feel like an idiot for asking this at nearly 18 yeras of age. But what exactly is a literary agent? And what do they do? And are they/ why are they necesarry to a writer? Your help in understanding this matter would be of great assistance. Thankyou

Cathy C
01-07-2006, 08:30 PM
Welcome, Hopefull!


Don't worry in the least about asking this question. Lots of people don't quite understand the role that literary agents play in writing. Simply put, a literary agent is a person or firm with contacts at publishing houses that attempts to sell your book for the best possible price. Now, in exchange for this, they ask for a portion of the money -- usually 15% of the gross amount (so if they made a deal that earned you $15,000 as an advance, they would want $2,250, leaving you with $12,750.) They continue to earn this commission on any future royalties you receive, as well. Authors frequently say that it's harder to find an agent than a publisher. In a manner of speaking, this is true. Since an agent earns their living from commissions, they only take on those authors/books that they feel will be most likely to sell. So, their standards are strict.

Is it necessary to have an agent? Yes and no. In your case, since you're in Australia, it might be a good idea to have an agent in the United States, since there are so few Australian publishers that you could approach on your own. Also, more and more major publishers are refusing to accept submissions directly from authors. However, lots of authors sell just fine without an agent, though, so a lot depends on your ability to read and understand a publishing contract. That's a lot of what an agent does -- read the contract and negotiate for better terms. Remember that a publisher is going to write a contract that benefits THEM. An agent helps level the playing field so that the publisher doesn't get all of the best bits.

Now, if you want to find out more about how agents work, drop by the Association of Author Representatives FAQ (http://www.aar-online.org/mc/page.do?sitePageId=10336)page. This organization has as its members lots of selling agents (although there are plenty of selling agents that aren't members.) But the nice thing with AAR members is that they've agreed, as a part of membership, to abide by ethical standards in the treatment of authors. This is a good thing for you! The FAQ page gives you some ideas of how an author/agent relationship works, and questions you can ask someone who offers to represent your book before you sign an agreement.

Now, next is what your intentions are with regard to writing. Most agents prefer to take on authors who plan to pursue writing as a career. Novellas are difficult to sell to major publishers, so it will be difficult to find one to take that on, unless you're planning to write many more of them, or continue on into full-length novels (80,000-120,000 words). Only you know what your goals are, so before you start to query, try to focus on what you want for yourself.

Hope this helps you out a bit, and good luck with your writing! :)