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How Literary Agents Get Paid: Standard Commission Practices And Payments For Literary Agents

How Literary Agents Get Paid: Standard Commission Practices And Payments For Literary Agents

Have you ever wondered how literary agents make money? Or how much commission a literary agent makes on the sale of a book or novel? The answer is: It varies! Here’s a brief overview of standard literary agent commissions and percentages of sales.

Most Literary Agents Work On Commission

Industry standard practice is that literary agents are paid for their work through the commission they make when they sell your book and not by directly charging the author(s) they represent. As a client, you may be required to pay for the cost of making phone calls and mailing packages. But, otherwise, a literary agent only makes money through commission on book sales to publishers.

If you receive interest from a literary agent who charges a fee to represent your writing or for anything other than the nominal costs mentioned above, be very suspicious.

Literary Agent Standard Commission On Book Sales To Domestic Publishers

Generally speaking, literary agents take 15% of your total income from the first sale of your book before taxes. For example, if you receive a $10,000 advance on the first sale of the book to a major publisher, your literary agent will take a commission of $1,500. If you make any royalties beyond your advance, your agent will receive 15% of those royalties.

Some literary agents have been known to contract higher or lower commissions, but 15% is currently the standard rate.

Literary Agent Commission On Foreign Subsidiary Rights And Translations

Literary agents tend to receive a 20% commission on foreign rights sales or translations. What this 20% commission actually means to you depends on your book contract and your literary agency contract.

Scenario number one: Let’s say your publisher has retained the right to license translations on your behalf to other publishers around the world. And, now, let’s say a publisher in France has decided to pay your American publisher for the right to create and sell a French translation. You receive half of that payment; the other half goes to your publisher.

But wait! What does your agent get out of it? Your literary agent will most likely take a 20% commission on the amount you receive from your publisher. So while you were paid half of the total contracted payment, your agent will receive 20% of your half.

Scenario number two: If your literary agent has retained your translation rights (so that your agent can find publishers around the world, instead of allowing the publisher to do it), your agent will still take 20% of the amount you are paid. Because many literary agencies have subsidiary partners in other countries to help them sell translation rights, it is likely that your literary agent will split the commission: Your literary agent keeps 10% and the foreign rights subsidiary agent keeps the other 10%.

Literary Agent Commission On Film Rights, Calendar Rights, And Audio Rights

Most literary agents will continue to take a 15% commission on whatever payment you receive.

Self-Publishing Literary Agent Commission

Some literary agents are beginning to help their clients self-publish books—for a fee. In exchange for the literary agency taking on the work of self-publishing a book on behalf of the client, the literary agency may take a commission of 15% on all sales. However, this is new territory at the time of this writing, so there are no industry standards in place.

If Your Literary Agent Charges A Commission That Is Not Standard

If you are considering signing up with a literary agent who is taking a commission outside of the industry standard, we recommend that you proceed with great caution. Learn more: How To Spot A Bad Literary Agent.

Photo by scottjwaldron

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Do you feel that 15% is a fair commission for literary agent?

11 Responses to How Literary Agents Get Paid: Standard Commission Practices And Payments For Literary Agents

  1. I now have an agent after years of self-publishing. Yes, I did well on my own. Sales are steady, I do book signings and LOVE it. I did go with an agent since I needed that PUSH to get more PR. Readers love the books. I needed to go a step further. Her editor is amazing. Much better than the editor I paid thousands too only to find out I need re-writes. 15% is very fair if you ask me. I want to write. Not spend my time marketing and social media 24/7.

  2. I am a new writer and I need an agent. Also on average how much money does an agent make per year?

  3. This is very good. DO literary agents get a % of entertainment subsidiary rights that are negotiated by an entertainment book agent–or do they split percentages?

  4. I’d be willing to go much higher than 15% on my first book. As long as we return to 15% for the four others I have self-published and any others I write.
    Finding an agent has proven to be very difficult indeed.

  5. I find 15% to be acceptable. My story surrounds “Greed & Cheating” by relatives that were to manage an estate.

  6. I find 15% all right. I worked as an entertainer for over 20 years. The egents charged 10 to 15%. Only one of them charged 25% but procured highly paid opportunities.
    As for estate agents, the charge is 7.5 to 15%.

    So, in all I find the rate ok.

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