What Are Book Agents and Do You Need One?
On April 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

Writing a book and sending it out in the world to be accepted or rejected is a frightening prospect. This is your creation, your baby, and the sad truth is that you are likely to experience a lot of rejection before you find acceptance. Writers take different paths to getting their books in print, and some turn to book agents, also known as literary agents, to help them through the process. The thought is that an agent can help you get more acceptances and fewer rejections. But what really is a book agent and is working with one the right move for you?

What Are Book Agents?

A literary agent is like any other kind of agent. He or she acts on behalf of a writer, especially when it comes to working with publishers and when promoting that writer’s work. The agent is the representative of the writer. Book agents may work independently or as part of a literary agency. Most specialize in certain types of books and authors, like genre fiction or literary novels written by women.

What Book Agents Do

The job of book agents is to represent and work on behalf of a writer, but that can mean a lot of different things. One of the most important things an agent does is get a writer’s work published. Agents know publishers and they sell their clients’ books to them. They also negotiate the sale, the deal or the contract. An agent may even offer editorial advice or work with the editor of the book.

The agent is the point of contact between the writer and her editor and publishing house. An agent can also work on the writer’s behalf to sell the rights to a book, for example, for the right to make a film. Agents work on commission, taking a percentage of what the authors earn, so it is in their interest to sell and make a good deal.

Do You Really Need a Book Agent?

Not all authors choose to work with an agent. In fact, many writers these days don’t even go with traditional publishing, instead opting to self-publish and self-promote. If you’ve already decided traditional publishing is best for you, now you need to choose whether or not you want to work through a book agent. There are a lot of advantages to doing so:

  • An agent has more contacts in publishing than you do. They can get unknown but promising authors seen.
  • Agents have experience and can offer guidance on how to revise your book to make it more salable to a publisher.
  • An agent can negotiate an advance or more benefits for you in your contract.
  • Agents can act as mediators if you have a dispute with your editor or publisher.
  • An agent will watch out for your best interests and ensure you are not being taken advantage of.
  • Some publishers won’t look at queries unless they come from an agent.

There are some pretty compelling reasons to seek out book agents to help you get published, but it isn’t all rosy. There are some downsides too:

  • You lose 10 to 15 percent of your earnings to your agent.
  • Not all agents are professional or honest.
  • Going through an agent means taking more time to get to a published product.
  • Agents are not always successful. Simply having an agent doesn’t guarantee your book will sell, even if it gets published.
  • You lose some transparency with an agent. You may not always know what is going on behind the scenes, and if you are someone who likes to be in control, this can be troubling.

How to Find Good Book Agents

If you make the choice to try out an agent, you’ll need to find one who is professional and reputable, but who also likes your book. Expect to be rejected by many agents before you find one who wants to work with you. What you shouldn’t expect is to be taken on by a dishonest, unprofessional agent who will take you for a ride. There are a few things to remember while looking for a good one:

  • A real book agent will not charge you upfront fees or a fee for reading your query.
  • A professional agent or agency will be open about their past sales and history in publishing.
  • Look for an agent who has proven success getting books published.
  • A good place to start is with a professional association like the Association of Authors’ Representatives. Search their member database for an agent to query.
  • Beware agents who claim to specialize in new writers. They may be looking for an easy mark.
  • Do look for agents who specialize in the kind of writing you do. A little research goes a long way so you don’t waste time querying a children’s fiction agent for your adult science fiction book.
  • Read each agent’s querying guidelines and do it right. If you don’t follow their rules, your query will get tossed out right away.

Book agents can be writers’ best friends. On the other hand, not all authors find having an agent necessary. The choice is a personal one and will depend on your particular book and needs. Now that you have the information, though, you can make that choice with confidence.

At Coquí Press, we welcome pitches from authors and book agents alike. If you’re looking to publish a book in one of our specialty niches, contact us!

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