What Does a Literary Agent Do?

As a writer, the publishing world can feel large and overwhelming. The process of writing, querying, and submitting work is time-consuming and daunting. However, there is a group of professionals whose sole job is to help you through the process. These people are called literary agents, and they might be the best investment you make in your book.

A literary agent’s primary responsibility is to find an editor who likes your work enough to buy or publish it. They can’t promise to sell your book, neither can they purchase the rights to the writing and try to sell it without you. Instead, literary agents use their wide network of contacts and relationships to find a perfectly suited editor. They often have relationships with acquisition editors at publishing houses, allowing them to get your writing to the top of the pile—rather than allowing a query letter to wilt and fade for months. These professionals know what editors are looking for, and they’re experts at sending submissions to the right people. Additionally, editors understand that submissions by literary agents have already undergone a screening process—the process necessary for you to be picked up by an agent. Therefore, regardless of the connection, agented submissions will nearly always land at the top of the pile.

A good literary agent will also provide essential manuscript feedback. They will often edit or critique your work, offering valuable suggestions to increase marketability. This service is often more helpful than a standard workshop, as an agent will know exactly which tweaks will make your book succeed. However, keep in mind that literary agents do not offer line edits or make rewrites. It is the writer’s job to incorporate suggested changes.

If you hire and are accepted by a literary agent, this professional will be your biggest advocate. They will pitch your book to publishers and try to get the best deal possible. It is their responsibility to negotiate contracts with publishers, and they will often manage your affairs with the publisher once the deal goes through. If you don’t make money, the literary agent won’t make money, meaning it is in their interest to get you the best deal possible.

However, those seeking literary agent help should remember: though these professionals are industry insiders, they are not tax consultants, publicists, writing coachers, or lawyers. Though their duties may include aspects of those roles, they are not experts in contract law or public relations. If you are picked up by an agent, don’t over-rely on their assistance; simply allow them the space and resources to do their job.

 

How to Approach a Publisher

So: You’ve written a book, and you want to publish it. Writers can take several avenues when it comes to publishing their books. We’ve discussed the benefits and drawbacks of both traditional and self-publishing; if you want your book to be widely circulated, you should go through a traditional publishing house. But how does one approach a publisher? This is an essential task all writers face, but it is rarely covered in writing programs. Here is an essential, step-by-step guide to getting you book into the hands of a publisher.

Do your research. Don’t just send your book off to the biggest publishing houses you can think of. Research the types of houses that are most likely to accept your book for publication. If you’re a Science Fiction writer, look for presses that specialize in SciFi and Fantasy publication. If you write about an area or region, or perhaps about life in a particular area of the country, look for local small presses to publish your work. Think of this research as a matchmaking process, then distill your list down to a couple dozen of the best-fitting options.

Send query letters. These letters might be the most important documents you ever produce. Query letters are what stand between you and your traditional publishing dreams. This is often a one-page letter sent to literary agents in an effort to spark interest in your book. You have one page and around three hundred words to convince a literary agent that your book is worth reading—at least, it’s worth reviewing the manuscript. The letter must be short, sweet, and to the point, squeezing the essence of your book onto a single sheet of paper. Think of this as a cover letter; instead of advocating for your ability take a job, advocate for your books success. Talk it up, but don’t oversell it.

Sending the manuscript. You’ve sent your query letter, and a publisher took the bait! Now, it’s time to organize and send the manuscript. The book should be presented in a certain way: use good quality, white A4 paper, use double spacing and print only on one side, and leave a good margin—around three centimeters—on both sides. Always begin new chapters on a new page, and don’t use blank lines between paragraphs. Put the typescript into a wallet-type folder (use more than one if necessary). Finally, never send a hand-written submission. You want to maximize the publisher’s ability to read and notate your book.

Waiting for the decision. In most cases, publishers seem to take an unconscionable amount of time to deliver a verdict on submitted manuscripts. Waiting can feel almost painful, but remember that this is a time-consuming process. There will likely be several readings and consultations with other departments. If you have not heard anything for two months, send a polite letter of inquiry. If you are rejected, don’t expect to receive any reasons or explanation.

The Importance of Workshops

Before approaching your publisher, you—ideally—want to bring your writing to a few people for review. It could be a friend, a former teacher, a mentor, or a family member. Regardless of their relation, every piece of submitted writing should have gone under a few pairs of eyes before any type of submission—literary journals, publishers, and literary agents.

However, close friends and family might find it difficult to provide unbiased advice. Of course, they should still read through your work to provide feedback, but this should not be the only criticism you solicit. Perhaps your friends don’t know how to talk about literature, or maybe your family members feel uncomfortable providing criticism. If you want honest, constructive feedback, you should get it from a stranger or a professional. The former is always the easier, more cost-effective option. If you find yourself seeking a reader or someone to have a dialogue about writing, there is an indispensable tool you should utilize: the writer’s workshop.

Joining a writer’s workshop is an excellent strategy for getting your work into other people’s hands. These groups meet regularly, either in-person or online, to read and discuss member work. Here’s how it works: prior to the meeting, a writer will send their work to all group members. Everyone will arrive to the meeting prepared to discuss the writing, and a constructive conversation will build around that week’s reading. This is an excellent way to glean a new perspective on your writing. Maybe your character development could be better, or perhaps you’ve written every other sentence in the passive voice. Somebody in the group will point it out, and you’ll be able to address the issue—or think through why you don’t want to change something. This is essential for finding your writer’s voice, learning to respond to criticism, and incorporating new ideas.

Additionally, writer’s workshops meet regularly—either every week or every month. If you want to become a long-term member or take a workshop-centered class, this schedule will impose deadlines. Have you been struggling to finish that novel manuscript? Want to write more than one or two articles this year? Your hworkshop will hold you accountable for doing the work you want to write. Not only will you get excellent feedback, you will write more during your time in the workshop.

 

Thinking About Self-Publishing? Read This First

Self-publishing is one of the easiest ways to throw your written work into circulation. Similar to what we do at Edmonton Small Press, self-publishing imposes few creative limitations and almost no publication drawbacks. However, writers looking to self-publish their work should weigh the pros and cons carefully before making a decision. Below, we have outlined several important factors to understand before jumping into the world of self-publishing.

Self-publishing allows for more creative freedom, but you won’t get any professional feedback. Writers may enjoy the ability to control every part of the creation and publication process, but they will not receive the services offered by professional editors. An editor is an essential tool, as their removed perspective can offer invaluable insight regarding both global and local aspects of your writing.

You control the format and artwork, but you also do all the work. Both small and large publishers work with authors and artists to create the book jacket and cover art. When you self-publish, the task falls on your shoulders (or on the shoulders of the freelance artist you hire). If you don’t know how to use PhotoShop or another illustrating software, you’ll likely have to spend money on the service.

Your market reach will be stunted, but you will receive 100% net royalties. With the aid of Amazon, self-published work can now reach a broader audience. However, this online platform still pales in comparison to the marketing and distribution services provided by traditional publishing venues. However, though your profits will likely be small, you keep everything you make; a published would normally take a share of revenue.

The Advantages of Working with a “Big Five” Publisher

If you want to work with a large publisher, you’re probably in the wrong place; we at Edmonton Small Press pride ourselves on the ability to publish everything and anything. With few limitations and a wide set of venues, we want to make publishing easier for those who are interested.

However, if you want to work with a big publisher, we won’t stop you. In fact, there are several benefits to working with one of the “Big Five” publishers—Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Sion and Schuster. Below, we have listed our top three reasons to work with one of these big-name literary venues.

1. Your book will reach a larger audience. A larger publisher has access to a greater number of sales channels, meaning your book is more likely to be picked up by a reader. Additionally, your work will be in the publisher’s seasonal catalog and available via wholesale distributors, increasing distribution range and efficiency.

2. The marketing and publicity support will be intense. Good reviews of your book can significantly increase its publication life, and these reviews are easily accessed with the help of a big publisher marketing team. Moreover, you’ll receive professional marketing assistance in the form of targeted advertisements, release parties, and scheduled readings.

3. You’ll experience several rounds of diverse editing processes. On the way to publication, a book can go through dozens of rounds of editing; some will concern global changes, such as those relating to plot, whereas other will address only local, sentence-level shifts. The more eyes you have on your work, the more feedback you will get.

All Things Literary