What Literary Agents Actually Do

After you have finished writing a manuscript and gone through the editing process ready to send to a literary agent to send it to the commercial publishers, you may be wondering what literary agents actually do. You know you have to query literary agents and eventually sign on with one, but why? How can having an agent help you?

Literary agents are experts in the publishing industry, particularly in cultivating the right contacts with the commercial publishers, negotiating rights and contracts, and with market trends.

What literary agents do, first and foremost, is find publishers for their authors. Because many traditional publishing houses do not consider unrepresented books, having a literary agent is essential if you want your book to be published traditionally.

After they agree to represent you and your book, they put together a marketing paper and a synopsis if you haven’t done one, and they present it to editors at the publishing houses that would be interested in your genre of book.  Editors, and publishing houses in general, tend to have specializations in certain genres and topics, so having an agent who understands these specializations and knows the best person to contact,  is essential.

But of course literary agents do much more. After you’ve received an offer from a publishing house, your agent will work on your behalf to create a lucrative deal, which means negotiating for advances and royalties. Because you want to be paid well for your hard work, a literary agent is very helpful to have in your corner, and this is an important aspect of how agents help authors.

If you have queried your manuscript to hundreds of agents and haven’t been accepted, the question is why not, and how can you learn from it?

As people who represent authors, agents must have a working knowledge of the ongoing trends and needs of the publishing market. This changes all the time as readers’ tastes evolve.

So pay attention to the feedback that you receive on your queried but unaccepted manuscripts. Often literary agents will tell you why they’ve rejected your manuscript. Perhaps it needs more editing, or the idea is unoriginal, or the characters aren’t relatable.

Literary agents are experts and as such you can learn from them and improve your manuscript for your next query.

Similarly, if they shop your manuscript to publishing houses that don’t bite, they may pass off the editors’ feedback to you and help you to refine your manuscript further.

What literary agents do, essentially, is help advance their authors’ careers and protect them and their writing.