Five Things Literary Agents do for Writers
Before I worked in publishing, I didn’t know what a literary agent did. In fact, most people outside the publishing industry don’t know what a literary agent does - even, sometimes, authors who have agents themselves!
So I’m here to explain exactly what the role of a literary agent is - and why, ultimately, it benefits authors to have one.
An agent is a…
Literary agents represent - and sell - the rights to author’s books. This is the most important role a literary agent will play. The types of rights they sell include book rights, film, TV and adaptation rights, audio book rights and translation rights.
An agent will endeavour to sell as many rights to as many companies as possible, because this (usually) means more money and more focused publishing for the author.
Agents are best placed to do this because they already have connections with editors, film people and publishers in the UK and overseas. Additionally, agents have up-to-date knowledge about which editors are looking for which type of books.
Once an agent has sold your book, they will negotiate your publishing contract. Publishing contracts usually benefit the publisher, not the author, so it’s an agent’s responsibility to scrutinise the contract and make sure that the author is getting the best deal possible. Many people think this part of the process is all about the advance, but an agent will spend a lot of time looking at the language used in each clause and considering whether it is beneficial to the author in the long-term too.
Most agents spend time on structural editing and preparing manuscripts for submission. They want to make sure their authors have the best chance possible of securing a publishing deal and often that means undertaking editorial work beforehand. This stage of the editorial process can take anything from a couple of days to many months.
A big part of an agent’s role is to offer advice and reassurance throughout an author’s writing career. Most authors, particularly debut authors, won’t have experience navigating this sometimes confusing journey, so an agent is on-hand to guide them through the process. Even more experienced authors can experience set-backs and need an agent to offer support, brainstorm new directions or simply lend an ear.
An agent is also expected to know the market for their author and have some idea of how they should be published. They can then act as a useful bridge between author and publisher, advocating on their author’s behalf in a way that the publisher is likely to take seriously.
Think you're ready to approach an agent? These tips for submitting might be just the thing to read next.