When an author sets out to write a book, there are many things they need to consider and avenues to choose from when it comes to almost every part of the process: writing, editing, publishing, promoting, and beyond. Two questions many authors ask themselves at some point is do I need, or how to find a literary agent?” Most have heard about literary agents but aren’t sure about what they do or if working with one make a significant difference.
What Does a Literary Agent Do?
Just as agents usually serve as representatives in other fields, the same is true in book publishing. Literary agencies and their agents represent writers and their work, most often to a publisher. But also sometimes for outreach to studios, film producers, or others who an author might like to be connected to professionally.
Representing an author as a literary agent means a variety of things. Some of the tasks that literary agents can help authors with are things like negotiating contracts, keeping track of royalties and sales once the book is actually published, serving as the go-between while mediating issues with the author and their publisher (therefore preserving that important relationship), and much more.
How Does One Find a Literary Agent?
There are several ways an author finds a literary agent – and sometimes, the literary agent finds the author! Referrals are huge; word-of-mouth advertising within author networks is often how an author and literary agent begin their partnership.
If an author doesn’t have a referral, sometimes they will blind query agents that seem like they would be a good fit. Though these queries occur, they are not the recommended approach to finding a literary agent. Because having a connection is much preferred and will get an author farther – especially when it comes to the top publishers.
It’s worth noting that literary agents also seek out projects themselves depending on their interests and what the editors they are working with are looking for. If they are interested in seeing a particular type of book, for instance, a literary agent might be the one searching for a book and author that fit the bill.
As is often true today’s world, social media plays a role in connecting authors with literary agents. LinkedIn is, not surprisingly, the social media platform that is most likely to be successful in this case.
What Are Literary Agents Looking For?
The answer to this question is: it depends on the agent! Every literary agent is different; some work with only fiction, some stay in the nonfiction genre, etc. No matter what, it’s important for authors to do their research before reaching out to a literary agent – even if they have a referral or another inside connection to kick off the conversation. Literary agents will appreciate the personalized outreach and will feel their time has been respected.
Generally, literary agents want to see a high-quality, edited book – not an outline or a first draft. Once a book is edited and an author is ready to connect with a literary agent, it’s important to keep in mind that the author’s credentials and how professional their platform appears to be will also play a role in determining the author’s success.
Authors should be sure to highlight their relevant credentials, have a quality website, as robust of a social media presence as possible (engaging frequently with followers is the most important!), and a professional headshot. One tip an author might try is to Google their name and see what appears on the first couple of pages: if it’s something they’d be proud for a literary agent to see, they’re on the right track.
What Are the Benefits of Working with a Literary Agent?
Just some of the benefits of working with a literary agent include the polished and professional appearance of the author’s presentation, pitch, and platform overall. Simply put: an author is more likely to be taken seriously in a very competitive industry when an agent represents them. By the literary agent putting their stamp of approval on the author’s work, it serves as one level of a vetting process that big publishing houses would put the book through; there is a certain level of quality of work assumed when one works with a literary agent.
Another benefit of working with a literary agent is that the agent will take on the tasks that often feel like the dirty work or the nitty gritty parts of the process – things that most authors don’t want to deal with – so the author can focus on what they excel at and enjoy most.
Last but certainly not least, a literary agent is a valuable part of an author’s overall support system. By working with one, an author not only gains connections and expands their network, they add another important member of their team who believes in their book and works toward their success.