Few major publishers take submissions seriously if they are not received through a literary agent. As revealed by the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, agented authors received substantially higher median advances and earnings. Traditional publishers also depend on agents to be reliable guides for writers.
What Literary Agents Do For Writers
The main purpose of an agent is to sell manuscripts to publishers. Agents are professional salespeople but also career and writing guides for writers. To be successful at their manuscript sales job they need to have great contacts.
Agents provide pre-submission editorial work. This means perfecting the work, not fixing a half-baked project. Afterwards, agents oversee the publication process while advising their writers throughout the process.
As part of their manuscript-selling role, agents need to know which editors are suitable for particular projects, and which publishing imprints are most suitable for the works. Agents must also be able to run auctions capably. In an ideal situation, multiple publishers will bid for the work. The agent advises the best course of action, if the manuscript is unable to attract multiple offers.
An agent must be experienced in negotiating a contract that reflects the best current practice for e-royalties, reversion clauses, and related matters. This technical aspect of price negotiations requires expert knowledge. An agent should know how to organize the sale of other rights, such as foreign language, TV and movie rights, with in-house capability or through partners.
Preparing a nonfiction book proposal or novel synopsis is an important preparatory step for the process of securing an agent.
Nonfiction Book Proposals
Book proposals take time to draft and can be 50 or more pages long. Experienced writers submit the proposal before writing their book. Novice writers may prefer to write the book before drafting the proposal. The proposals explain why the manuscript, or idea, is marketable.
A Novel Synopsis for Fiction
The synopsis reveals what happens in the novel and covers the narrative arc of the story. It reveals how fresh or interesting the story is and may reveal structural weaknesses that need to be corrected before submitting the work to publishers.
Finding an Agent via the Publishers Marketplace
The database of deals at the Publishers Marketplace provides useful information about which agents to target. The database reveals which agents have sold what books to which editors. The deal information also reveals the prices the manuscripts were sold for. The available information is useful for finding appropriate agents, and as a resource that can be used to entice agents’ interest.
Literary agents bring the value of monetary and non-monetary benefits to a writer’s career. If your book is of niche interest, such as an educational or professional work, you may not need an agent. However, you will have the advantage if you are able to obtain an agent.