What does a literary agent do?
Aspiring authors send a submission to literary agents who will normally read a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters of the book. If a literary agent takes on an author they send the manuscript to publishers that they think the book would suit.
An agent looks out for the interests of the author and tries to negotiate a good deal with a publisher so the author will get a better advance (if offered) and a greater proportion of the royalties.
Does every author need a literary agent?
It depends on the goals an author has for their book.
Some publishers such as Penguin Random House do not accept unsolicited manuscripts and will only look at proposals that have been put forward by established literary agents. If being published by them is the author’s aim then they will need to work with an agent without exception.
Not all publishers demand that authors have representation from an agent. That doesn’t mean one isn’t useful, just that it’s not a prerequisite for success.
Literary agents also have limited space on their lists for authors so they may also limit applications. Getting representation from an agent doesn’t guarantee success, but it can certainly add validation to your submissions as a third party believes the work has commercial merit.
Agents may be able to exploit rights to the work that a publisher can’t reach. Film, TV and foreign language rights, for example, may be sold via an agent even though the book is signed to a publisher.
Self-published authors do not need an agent to get published, they are doing it for themselves.
How much does it cost to get an agent?
Most respectable literary agents don’t get paid until they sell their clients work to a publisher. Literary agents normally receive 15-20% commission on sales.
How do I choose a literary agent?
Most literary agents work as part of an agency with a number of different agents. It is important that you approach an agent who would be a good fit for you.
For example, Madeleine Milburn from Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency specialises in uplifting and thought-provoking stories. She will have connections with publishers who are looking for fiction and narrative memoirs. It would be inappropriate to approach her with a manuscript for a technical instruction manual.