A couple of questions came up about literary agents today and I realized it would be a good topic to share with you. It’s easy to get taken advantage of it you don’t know what to look for or even aren’t quite clear on a literary agent’s role.
A student from my most recent Bring Your Book to Life Program is just putting the finishing touches on her self-help book, which has quickly gone from rough idea to a powerful manuscript. She e-mailed me today asking about a particular literary agency I had never heard of.
I looked them up in Preditors & Editors, a free online listing of editors, literary agents and others, which tells you whom to watch out for, and who has a solid reputation. This one was a big “strongly not recommended.” Use this resource if you have any question about an agency. It’s a great place to start. Also ask for references from an agent before you sign.
One of my clients signed up with a literary agent because her friend spoke highly of the agent. This agent promised all kinds of access. While I had some great agents in mind for this author, it seemed her new agent had super relationships with the publisher my client wanted most. So I gave it my blessing.
Later, we learned that these promises were all hot air. The agent first recommended a terrible ghostwriter. A ghostwriter was unnecessary for this book anyway, but the ghostwriter hatched up the book and even the agent agreed it was a mess. Then the agent sat on the book proposal for over a year doing virtually nothing. And this was for a highly marketable book and an author with a very loyal and impressive following.
Once you sign with a literary agent, you have a contract, and you can’t just leave unless you can prove they’ve violated the contract. This is a really important decision–so decide wisely and do your research before signing. And certainly have an entertainment lawyer look at your agent’s contract.
Having said that, I don’t want to scare you off of literary agents. A literary agent is one of the most important people in your career as an author. A good agent will find you a publisher who is the right fit for you and your book–one who shares your vision for the book. They’ll negotiate a great deal and look out for your interests. And they’ll often even help you plan your next books.
On a radio interview on Power Women Magazine today, the host, Deb Bailey, asked me how much you pay a literary agent up front. Nothing. If a literary agent asks for up front payment, run in the other direction. The Association of Authors’ Representatives, the national association that literary agents belong to, prohibits such up front fees. It’s considered a conflict of interest, because it could cause them to take on a book that doesn’t really have a good chance of getting published.
Literary agents get paid when you get paid by your publisher (through your advance and any royalties). A literary agent may suggest that your book proposal or book needs editing. They may even recommend an editor. But their own association prohibits them from collecting fees to make your proposal publisher-ready. You can hire a separate editor to do such work. They won’t have a conflict of interest.
Any more questions about literary agents? Ask away. Want to share your experience with literary agents? Please do.