Literary Agents as Writers’ Headache?



By  bisi Daniels; Blog:, 08050220700

In traditional publishing, literary agents are supposed to help writers find publishing outlets. But with the process getting more difficult, agents, who insist on the spectacular or exceptional manuscripts, are becoming gate keepers of the narrowing needle’s eye. Below is a compilation of the views of writers and agents from various sources

A literary agent represents writers and their written works to publishers and, producers; and assists in the sale and deal negotiation of the same. Literary agents most often represent novelists screen writers and non-fiction writers. They are paid a fixed percentage (usually twenty percent on foreign sales and ten to fifteen percent for domestic sales) of the proceeds of sales they negotiate on behalf of their clients.

They exist largely to provide services to authors. According to Wikipedia, these services include connecting the author’s work with appropriate publishers, contract negotiation, ensuring payment of royalties, and acting as a mediator if there are problems between the author and the publisher. With the help of Agents especially young authors are able to get known by the public.

Agents also assist publishing houses and others in expediting the process of review, publication, and distribution of authors’ works.

Many well-known, powerful, and lucrative publishing houses are generally less open than smaller publishers to unagented submissions. A knowledgeable agent knows the market, and can be a source of valuable career advice and guidance.

Literary agents are often very experienced members of the publishing industry who usually transition from years of working in the industry before moving on to being agents.

Though self-publishing is becoming much more popular, literary agents still fulfill the role of acting as the gatekeepers to the publishing world. And they insist they don’t make life difficult for writers. Below here, some agents show how access the needle’s eye.

Literary agents speak

Andrea Barzvi, President of Empire Literary, LLC: First of all, “prescriptive nonfiction” basically means nonfiction books that are not memoir or narrative nonfiction. And if you are writing such a book, you must have a platform when you submit your work or else most/all publishers will not even consider your idea. This is because with nonfiction, most of the marketing falls upon your shoulders, and you will be expected to build a platform before you need it—before the book comes out. A platform consists of all the elements you have in place to market yourself and your books right now—such as your blog, website, newsletter, public speaking appearances, media contacts, social media numbers, and more.

Kathleen Rushall, Andrea Brown Literary Agency: As you research agents and build your list of reps to target, you should be giving some consideration to all agents who might consider your work—both established agents and new ones. Both have advantages, and it’s typically new/newer agents who are actively seeking clients right now.

Jacquie Flynn, Literary Agent at Joelle Delbourgo Associates: Many, many agents are on Twitter. And by reading their tweets, you can get a deeper understanding of what they seek as well as what kind of writing excites them. Use an agent’s online footprint and research them. Read their blog interviews. Review their website. This helps you better target agents to query, and it also helps you learn more about each rep, giving you information you can use to begin your query letter.

Sara Megibow, Literary Agent at KT Literary: This is still true in 2017, of course. A friendly reminder that if you are querying fiction of any kind, the manuscript must be 100 percent complete before you send it. But as we’ve already discussed, it should be not only complete but also revised and rewritten as much as needed before submitting. Please note that most agents treat memoir submissions like novel submissions in that they want to see the full, edited memoir upfront.

Abby Saul, Agent at The Lark Group: This is some of the best and simplest submission advice you will find out there. If you want to know how you, an unpublished author with no name recognition, can entice agents (and readers) with your book pitch as well as your first pages, look at those like you who succeeded and learn from them. In the words of agent Sara

Megibow of KT Literary: Go to the bookstore and pick up debuts in your genre from the past two years. Then examine what they did successfully concerning their pitch (found on the back cover or inside jacket flap cover) as well as their first pages.

Renee Nyen, KT Literary, Gryffindor: Before you submit, you should understand basic word count expectations. Someone recently contacted me asking me to critique their 33,000-word novel. But that is not a novel. By definition, that word count is a novella, and much too short to be a novel—meaning that agents will not consider the work.

Stacey Donaghy, Literary Agent and Founder at Donaghy Literary Group: First of all, understand that when people use the word “exclusive,” they can mean 1) contacting only one agent at a time while submitting, or they can mean 2) when an agent asks to review your full manuscript but be the only one reviewing the full thing for a limited length of time.

Taylor Martindale Kean, Literary Agent with Full Circle Literary: Understand your genre before you submit. If you’re confused, do research and ask questions. Saying it’s “women’s fiction/sci-fi” does not make sense. Probably the most common confusion is whether a book is middle-grade (for readers 8–12) or young adult (readers 12–16). Saying it’s both, or worse yet saying it’s “middle-grade/young adult/adult” will only come off as amateurish. Yes, material can cross over from one age category to another, but fundamentally, it is starts as just one category.

Marlene Stringer, Literary agent: Before you submit, you need an independent analysis of your work—i.e., you need other people to critique it. This means either having talented writing peers/friends review it (look for people who are smart, critical, and honest) or hiring a freelance developmental editor. You should have your manuscript revised, overhauled, and battle-tested before submitting it for publication. Or else you’re essentially sending out a work in progress that will not reach the finish line.

Julia Weber, Freelance fiction editor. Literary agent: It’s unwise and risky to self-publish your book just to see how it does, and then plan on submitting it to agents later if sales do not materialize. Once you self-publish a book, you’ll have to disclose that decision to an agent, and then an agent will be wondering why the book did not sell. Your query letter will sound like this: “I wrote a book and self-published it. It went nowhere. Would YOU like to rep it???”

Marisa Corvisiero, Literary Agent, Attorney, Speaker, Publishing and Mindset Coach: No matter what you are writing, you will need a query letter. Not all queries or the same or are trying to achieve the same thing. A novel query tries to suck you in with the pitch and voice. A nonfiction book query puts massive emphasis on the platform and bio. A picture book query is short and sweet, almost more like a cover letter. But in all cases, you will indeed need a query letter. Do not try to skip this step and instead just send an agent a hyperlink to something, or attach your manuscript.

Jane Friedman, writer

Understand Your Work’s Commercial Potential: There are different levels of commercial viability: some books are “big” books, suitable for Big Five traditional publishers (e.g., Penguin, HarperCollins), while others are “quiet” books, suitable for mid-size and small presses. The most important thing to remember is that not every book is cut out to be published by a New York house, or even represented by an agent; most writers have a difficult time being honest with themselves about their work’s potential. Here are some rules of thumb about what types of books are suitable for a Big Five traditional publisher:

Genre or mainstream fiction, including romance, erotica, mystery/crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, new adult
Nonfiction books that would get shelved in your average Barnes & Noble or independent bookstore—which requires a strong hook or concept and author platform. Usually a New York publisher won’t sign a nonfiction book unless it anticipates selling 10,000 to 20,000 copies minimum.
If your work doesn’t look like a good candidate for a New York house, don’t despair. There are many mid-size houses, independent publishers, small presses, university presses, regional presses, and digital-only publishers who might be thrilled to have your work. You just need to find them.

Decide If You Really Need a Literary Agent: In today’s market, probably 80 percent of books that the New York publishing houses acquire get sold by agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry. They have inside contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editors or publishers would be most likely to buy a particular work. Perhaps most important, agents negotiate the best deal for you, protect your rights, ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, and run interference when necessary between you and the publisher.

The best agents are career-long advisers and managers.

Traditionally, agents get paid only when they sell your work, and they receive a 15 percent commission on everything you get paid (your advance and royalties). It is best to avoid agents who charge fees other than the standard 15 percent.

So … do you need an agent?

It depends on what you’re selling. If you want to be published by one of the major New York houses (e.g., Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster), then you more or less need to have one—and want one on your side.

If you’re writing for a niche market (e.g., vintage automobiles) or wrote an academic or literary work, then you might not need an agent. Agents are motivated to take on clients based on the size of the advance they think they can get. If your project doesn’t command a decent advance, then you may not be worth an agent’s time, and you’ll have to sell the project on your own.