The Pros and Cons of Literary Agents

The Literary Agent

Choosing whether to link up with a literary agent can be a difficult choice for any aspiring author. There are many established authors who have succeeded without a writers agent and plenty more who swear by their book agents – but there are others who will stridently curse the day they first signed up with a literary agency. Whatever direction you’re leaning towards, it can only help to look at some of the pro and cons to be considered in choosing whether to get your own publishing agent or not.

publishing agents

Some reasons why it could be beneficial to have a literary agent

• Many of the larger, established publishing  houses – approximately 80% – will only look at manuscripts sent to them through literary agents.

• A good writers agent can be very useful, in that he or she can buy you writing time, as the agent – rather than you – will be the one doing the leg work to get your book into the hands of a suitable publisher.

• An agent, knowing the industry better than the author, will also know which publisher is most likely to accept your book and which would be a waste of time for you.

• Competent literary agents understand the publishing industry thoroughly. They understand the language used in contracts, the pitfalls within the industry and would have the specific know how to get their  client the best deal possible for their  books.

• A good writers agency will be honest with you and if your work has no chance of being published they will advise you accordingly and this could save you time and money in pursuing a futile aspiration.

Some reasons why you might not want an agent

• Many authors manage to get published without a literary agent  and enjoy having the freedom to negotiate their own publishing contracts.

• Literary agents do receive a commission (usually about 15%) on all the writing sold through them.

• If you have written a non-fiction book for a specialised field then you probably won’t need a book agent to get your work published, because it will be easy to identify which publishers would be likely to be interested in your book and approach them directly as they are more receptive to unsolicited material in this less competitive market.

• You might find yourself contractually bound to a lazy or incompetent agent, who does nothing for you and your book, but refuses to set you free to take other measures to promote your manuscript. Indeed, if you are not careful with what you sign, this unhappy state of affairs could apply to all your future work as well and this would keep you in an restricting literary strait jacket for the rest of your writing career.

• Some literary agents are dishonest and may not have your best interests at heart.

How to find a literary agent

• Best option – If you have access to any published authors – ask them how their agent helped them and, if the response is positive, whether they would recomend you as a client to their own literary agency.

• You can always google for “agents literary”  on the internet and then take pot luck – but beware there are a lot of shysters out there and access to a major literary agency is not going to be just that easy. A swanky top agency probably wouldn’t even give you the time of day. They are not looking for run-of-the-mill writers and would not usually need to seek their writers on the internet. However, you may just be lucky and hit on an exiting up-and-coming  publishing agency with the drive and enthusiasm to push your book to the hilt.

• A better scheme than just random googling for “agents literary”, would be to rather target your internet search towards finding some literary agent blog sites. Reading through a publishing agent’s blog, would give you a some insight into the actual experience of that  particular  agent and a fair idea of his attitude towards his clients. Another avenue is to join one or more of the many writer’s forums and seek help to draw up a short list of potential agents.

See also the Blog Post – “Chasing Stars and- Literary Agents

• Another  good resource for finding an agent is the latest Guide to Literary Agents (Writer’s Digest Books) or Agents, Editors, and You (Writer’s Market Books). Agents, like publishers, are very particular about how they are approached and it is best to check their individual websites, or listings in the books mentioned above, for the specifics on how to approach them.


Dishonest literary agents

As in all fields, not all literary agents are entirely honest. Falling into the hands of a crooked or incompetent agency can be the death knell for the dreams of any aspiring writer. Check! Check! and then check again! You need to follow up on references and find out if previous clients were truly satisfied with the service they received and make sure that claims of past sucesses are factual, before anything is signed. A few tips and explanation of the some of the pitfalls for the unwary first time author are noted below: –

• Make sure your copywright is fully protected, before sending your precious manuscript to an agent -or to anyone else for that matter.

• A crude, but surprisingly successful scam, has often caught inexperienced authors. You can fall into the hands of an unscrupulous false agent, through answering adverisements and by entering so-called “literary competitions”. A person masquerading as a legitimate literary agent then contacts you, claiming a string of well known authors as clients and strong relationships with all the major publishing houses. He praises your manuscript lavishly, guarantees publication by one of the big name publishers, but at some point in the discussion requires payment of an up front fee for the preliminary office expenses of circulating your work. If you are lucky, he simply dumps your precious masterpiece in the proverbial “File 13″ as soon as he has the money. There is actually no legal come back on him as he can simply claim that no-one was really interested, or that he is still working on it.

• On the other hand, if you are very unlucky, the crooked literary agent  might just have the intelligence to recognise good work when he sees it and simply peddle your work to some hack-publishing house under a nom-de-plume. If he changes the book title and is content to reap the rewards under a  fictitious name he could never be found out.

• Another damaging scam, is when a person pretending to be a totally independent literary agent, supposedly working solely on your behalf, tricks you into publishing your work exclusively through a particular publication house with whom he has made an undisclosed up-front arrangement, to the benefit of everyone but yourself.

• Particularly beware of any early attempts on the part of a publishing agent to have you sign any so-called “preliminary documentation” that the agent  probably says is “simply a formality to get your details onto his books” . You might find that you have actually just locked yourself into a binding literary contract that is entirely to the advantage of the agent and is open ended and can only ever be cancelled at the discretion of the literary agency.

Don’t sign anything without having your own lawyer check it first.

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