Literary agents—also known as book agents, play an important role in the careers of book authors. They act as representatives of the authors and their written works to industry members. They may approach publishers, film producers, editors, studios, and other outlets as they attempt to market your work. While the agent may assist you in getting your work into the right hands and perform many beneficial duties, they are not always successful and do not work for all types of writers.
Do You Need an Agent to Get Your Book Published?
Technically, the answer is no. But if you want your book to be published by a traditional publishing house, you want a literary agent to represent you. Literary agents are invaluable in a traditional publishing scenario. It is much, much harder to get an editor to look at your book proposal or manuscript if you don't have a literary agent.
Plus, book agents perform a number of valuable functions besides sales. Established and vetted book agents bring a variety of specialized skills and knowledge to your book publishing experience. The best agents will represent you throughout the sales process and during the contract negotiations with the publisher. They will also advocate for you at critical junctures during the publication process because your bottom line affects their bottom line.
Acting as an Editor Liaison
Book agents know the right editors. Most agents specialize in a few specific genres or interest areas of books—whether it's women's fiction, children's books, political treatises, or cookbooks. They foster and maintain relationships with the book editors who buy books in their areas of expertise.
Understanding Market Trends
Agents have their fingers on the pulse of trends in the book publishing marketplace. The book marketplace changes constantly and, like all media, is affected by technology shifts, cultural shifts, and who just died in Hollywood. Agents know what book-to-film trends are over and what a book editor wants to buy today.
Shaping a Manuscript
A literary agent can help you shape your manuscript or proposal before it gets to an editor. They can also help give your writing the best and most appealing spin, increasing your chances of getting it sold.
Getting the Best Deal
A book agent will get you the best deal. A literary agent has a good idea what your manuscript is worth on the ever-changing book market and will likely be able to negotiate a better book advance than you are able to negotiate yourself.
Literary Agents and Your Publishing Contract
Your literary agent undertakes the contract negotiation after the sale agreement. With many ancillary subsidiary rights at stake—film, foreign, electronic and derivative, among others—and money attached to them all, you want someone who is knowledgeable to translate the book contract language for you. Plus, they'll have your best interest at heart, where the more money you make, the more money they make.
The Bottom Line
Your book agent will hold your hand, guiding you through the lengthy steps to your book's publication. They can explain the strange and Byzantine customs of the book publishing industry. There's still a lot of work to be done after the contract is signed—literary agents know the drill and have a vested interest in seeing their clients successfully through the book editing and production processes to the book's publication launch, book marketing, and publicity.
So whether you're pitching a brilliant book proposal or have just finished writing the Great American Novel, finding an agent is in your best interests.