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A literary agent is an agent who represents writers and their written works to publishers, theatrical producers and film producers and assists in the sale and deal negotiation of the same. Literary agents most often represent novelists, screenwriters and major non-fiction writers. They are paid a fixed percentage (ten to twenty percent; fifteen percent is usual) of the proceeds of sales they negotiate on behalf of their clients.



Authors often turn to agents for several reasons: Quite a few well-known, powerful, and lucrative publishing houses do not accept unagented submissions; A knowledgeable agent knows the market, and can be a source of valuable career advice and guidance; Being a publishable author doesn't automatically make you an expert on modern publishing contracts and practices, especially where television, film, or foreign rights are involved. Many authors prefer to have an agent handle such matters; The author's working relationship with his or her editor isn't muddied by disputes about royalty statements or late cheques.


Literary agencies can range in size from a single agent who represents perhaps a dozen authors, to a substantial firm with senior partners, sub-agents, specialists in areas like foreign rights or licensed merchandise tie-ins, and clients numbering in the hundreds. Most agencies, especially the smaller ones, will specialize to some degree, representing authors who (for example) write science fiction, or mainstream thrillers and mysteries, or children's books, or highly topical nonfiction. Almost no agents will represent short stories or poetry.

Legitimate agents and agencies in the book world are not required to be members of the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR), but according to Writer's Market listings, many agents in the United States are. To qualify for AAR membership, agents must have sold a minimum number of books and pledge to abide by a Canon of Ethics. Effective professional agents often learn their trade while working for another agent, though some cross over to agenting after working as editors.


Legitimate agents do not charge reading fees, demand retainers, bill authors for operating expenses, or otherwise derive income from any source other than the sales they make on their clients' behalf. They also will not place their clients' work with a vanity or subsidy press. Both these practices may indicate that the author is dealing with a scam agent. Traditionally representation agreements between agents and clients were simply verbal; however, an increasing percentage of agents are offering written contracts to make the terms explicit. Another questionable practice consists of referring the author to a so-called "professional editor" or "book doctor" who is in collusion with the agent. The ensuing edit may or may not be appropriate, or of professional quality, and is almost always expensive.


A client typically establishes relationships with an agent through querying, although the two may meet at a writer's conference, through a contest, or in other ways. A query is an unsolicited proposal for representation, either for a finished work (fiction) or unfinished work (nonfiction). Various agents request different elements in a query packet, and most agencies list their specific submissions requirement on their Web site or in their listing in major directories. It typically begins with a query letter (1-2 pages) explaining the purpose of the work and any writing qualifications of the author. Sometimes a synopsis or outline are requested as part of the query. Often, the author sends five to ten pages of their work. Lastly, for paper queries, a self-addressed stamped envelope must be included to receive a response.

If a written query is rejected (which happens to the vast majority of queriers), the response is sent in the self-addressed stamped envelope. Typically the rejection is a form letter; getting a rejection which isn't a form letter or has hand-written comments (especially a message to the effect of "query me for other projects") is typically taken as a very good, even if disappointing, sign.

Literary agents of the past

Further reading

  • Curtis, Richard (2003) How To Be Your Own Literary Agent: An Insider's Guide to Getting Your Book Published. ISBN 0-618-38041-8
  • Herman, Jeff (2005) Jeff Herman's Guide To Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, 2006. ISBN 0-9772682-0-9.
  • Fisher, Jim (2004) Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell. ISBN 0809325756
  • Glatzer, Jenna (2006) The Street Smart Writer. ISBN 0974934445
  • Williams, Sheri (2004) "An Agent's Point of View". ISBN 0974825255
  • Reiss, Fern (2007) "The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days". ISBN 1893290832

See also

External links



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