Do You Need a Book Agent to Get Your Book Published?

Man standing in front of a table with magazines and books and reading a book
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Do you absolutely need a literary agent? What does a literary agent do to get your book published? Here's what you need to know about the roles that literary agents play in the careers of book authors:

Do You Need a Book 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. It is much, much harder to get an editor to look at your book proposal or manuscript if you don't have a book 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. 

What a Book Agent Does to Get Your Book Published

Literary agents are invaluable in a traditional publishing scenario.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Full disclosure, my Cookie Craft co-author and I sold our first book to a publisher ourselves, but then we got an agent who was able to negotiate 50% more of an advance than originally offered.
  • 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.
  • Your book agent will hold your hand, guiding you through the lengthy steps to your book's publication. He or she 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 and book marketing and publicity.

    So whether you're pitching a brilliant book proposal or have just finished writing the Great American Novel, learn how to find an agent.