What is a Literary Agent and Do You Need One?

by CJ McDaniel // May 27  

You’ve finished your masterpiece and ready to get it into the hands of readers all over the world. A lot of writers think the next step is to find a publisher. Maybe they’ll go online and browse for the top publishers available. The problem is, they’re missing a crucial step if they hope to get published.

The thing is, most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. That means they won’t just accept a manuscript from anyone who mails it to them. Finding a literary agent might seem like a waste of time, but it’s essential if you want to be traditionally published. Think of agents as middlemen between you and publishers.

This is the reality of getting a book published. It’s a long, hard journey that many writers give up on. As tough as it is getting accepted by a publishing house, you have to endure that process twice. These are only for potential authors who want to be traditionally published. Independent authors self-publish so they don’t have to subject themselves to this process.

What Does a Literary Agent Do?

Literary agents are the author’s ticket into the publishing world. Again, unless you self-publish, you have to have an agent. As soon as you’re done with your book, you have to shop around to various agents. They will go through the same process as you can expect a publishing house to do. They will read it, scour over it, and determine if it’s good enough to represent.

Just like a publishing house, an agent will not give your book a second chance if they don’t believe it will make money. This is probably why publishing houses themselves rely heavily on literary agents. It’s really up to you to decide if this is the route you want to go. Of course, having an agent makes the process go smoother but it takes a lot more time.

To understand what a literary agent does, you have to understand the publishing world. How do publishing houses accept manuscripts? The book has to be completed. Print out numerous copies. Write a query letter. You also must know how to write the right type of query letter.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, the publisher will move your manuscript in the trash pile based upon the shoddy query letter alone. A literary agent will undertake that process for you. They’ll actually go out of their way to pitch your book to publishers. The only way they’ll make money is through your book sales.

Is It Worth It?

The main downside to finding a literary agent is you can do it on your own. It’ll be difficult, even nearly impossible, to find a traditional publisher any other way. But if you don’t want to go that route, you can self-publish. Or you can find a publisher that will accept unsolicited manuscripts. It will be difficult, but they do exist.

But there are plenty of good things about finding an agent. Yes, it will require you to have some patience, but that patience can pay off in the end if you get accepted. Finding an agent will allow you the extra time to perfect your manuscript. The agent will do their job to make sure your book is ready for publication.

This is a weakness of many writers. They think they’re ready, but they don’t understand the publishing world. You don’t know what a publisher wants, but your agent well. And now know how to fine-tune your book to attract their attention. Will make the entire process of getting your book published traditionally so much easier.

Agents also negotiate the best deal possible if your book gets accepted. Remember, the agent wants to get paid too. The publisher might even love your book so much, it will start a bidding war between publishers. You’ll need good representation to fight for your interests. A literary agent has the skills and will get you the best deal possible.

Whether you choose to go with a literary agent or not, always keep in mind your goal. The traditional route is longer but usually has better rewards. Self-publishing will take a long time as well as you’re in charge of promoting yourself. This is how new books are written every year.

How To Pitch Your Book to a Literary Agent

Listen to leading agents advise you on the best way to pitch your book to an agent in person. Learn how to identify and phrase comp titles, what you should avoid saying, how to make a good first impression, who the audience for your book is, and more! Learn how to make an agent excited to receive your query by Lily Meade

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About the Author

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!