Is it really necessary to use the services of a publishing agent?
Except for those publishing houses which deal exclusively with agents, authors don’t really need an agent to submit their work for publication consideration. In Canada, just to name one country, very few book deals are done by agents, only under five percent. An author can do everything an agent does, though an agent might have better knowledge of the market and what the publishing houses are buying.
For those writers who might think they need an agent have a look at the do’s and don’ts of both sides:
- Reputable agents will not charge you a fee up front to represent your book. They earn their living by selling your book to a publisher and gaining a commission. That commission is a percentage of the proceeds your book earns. For one thing, this gives the agent an incentive to actually market your book around to various publishers likely to buy it for publication. This is another reason why many agents pick submissions carefully. They know what publishers are looking for and they will not accept anything which isn’t ready for submission or close enough that a few days of editing will make the difference.
- Most agents these days charge 15% commission on domestic sales (USA & Canada). Never under any circumstances should you pay expenses or any fees up front: the agent only receives money by deducting his or her 15% commission from your eventual earnings. An agent telling new writers that she/he was charging 15% commission plus expenses — that’s a rip-off; don’t agree to it. The Association of Authors Representatives (professional organization of literary agents) also forbids the charging of “reading fees.” If an agent asks you to pay a fee for his or her “evaluation” of your manuscript, refuse!
- Agents have differing commission rates though you will not have the option of shopping around as much as you might like. Most important, the agent has to be willing to represent your work. Once an agent offers representation, the author better takes the offer. After having established a great reputation as a novelist, one can shop around for a better deal – if it is to be found.
- If a manuscript is truly marketable in the agent’s opinion but needs editing, most agents will tell so but not recommend a particular editing service. A good agent might name some without recommending any editing service in particular. Some agents have even been known to go above and beyond the call of duty in assisting with the editing themselves when they feel they have a sure winner to represent.
- But authors should have ensured that a manuscript was edited prior to submitting it to any agent or publisher. Remember that the editors of a publishing house are not there to edit out any mistakes, they are the decision-making managers.
- The agent is also the money manager besides being the one responsible for getting the best deal for the author with any publishing house. When the manuscript sells to a publisher, the agent is the one who receives the money. The agent subtracts the appropriate commission and pays the remainder to the author.
- An inquiry letter is not a submission. Use an inquiry letter when contacting publishers who deal by invitation only. If your inquiry letter gains the publisher’s interest, the publisher will then request to see the manuscript.
Market instability or other factors make agents reluctant to take on any new writers, especially not first-time authors, no matter how well the writer writes. However, if you feel you must have an agent, then you must sell both your manuscript and yourself / your platform to the agent. A good query letter is the key to pitch your book.
- Do not send manuscripts to agents unless the agent’s guidelines expressly state that those are acceptable within initial correspondence.
- Email messages should be kept to a length of one or two pages unless explicitly invited to send a manuscript or sample chapters.
- Go to the agent’s sites and follow their submission guidelines to the letter.
Find Addresses of Agents in these Books:
- 2015 Writer’s Market the best Resource for Authors
- Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market
- Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market
- Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market
- Publish Your Non-fiction Book
- Guide to Literary Agents
- Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers
- Writer’s Digest
- Editors, Literary Agents
- The Canadian Writer’s Market
- The Canadian Writer’s Guide for Canadian agents
- Literary Marketplace
Since the US is the largest market with the most potential for sales you should seriously consider getting an agent there, before you commit to anything in Canada or the UK. However Canadian Publishers don’t require always agents, while American Publishers are almost always insisting on it. Important for success is not only perfect writing skills and an enticing story, but also to have more than just one book, and also to show a great Social Media author platform with thousands of potential readers.
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