For new writers, approaching a literary agent might feel like attempting to speak to a fierce, mythical creature shrouded in secrecy. And it doesn’t help boost your confidence when you hear the various myths, misunderstandings, and outright lies about literary agents that tend to swirl around at writers conferences and in critique groups. If you want to successfully submit your book query, it’s important to separate the facts from the fiction about literary agents.
8 Common Inaccuracies About Literary Agents
Literary agents only work with established authors. While building your publication credits before approaching a literary agency can certainly attract an agent’s attention, many literary agents are also thrilled to represent new (aka undiscovered) writers. Don’t let a lack of publishing credits keep you from sending out submissions (and here are a few ways to build your author bio).
Getting a literary agent guarantees a book deal. Although signing a literary agency contract brings you one step closer to getting a book deal, there’s no guarantee that your agent will be able to sell your book to a publisher.
Literary agents will manage your book’s marketing and promotion. Literary agents are not publicists; they don’t handle marketing. They won’t update your author mailing list or your Facebook page. And they won’t handle advertising for you. What they will do is act as a liaison between you and your publisher.
You have to know someone to get an agent. While there are advantages to networking and to referrals, you don’t necessarily need to have met an agent in person or to have scored a recommendation in order to make a successful submission. Many literary agents take on new projects based on “cold call” query letters. In fact, most of our book author clients have scored their literary agents this way!
Literary agents only want projects that are going to be bestsellers. While agents do work for a living (and need to represent projects that can pay the bills), a great many are also willing to represent books that aren’t obvious bestsellers. Why? Most agents go into the publishing industry for the same reason: They love books and sometimes take on projects that are labors of love.
Literary agents aren’t worth their standard commission. Actually, a literary agent can help a writer make more money than he or she would otherwise make—because good agents are experienced negotiators and have the inside scoop on editorial budgets. Also, an agent’s reputation can lend a writer some clout, sometimes upping the ante for publishers to offer big deals. Finally, agents can save writers lots of heartache. We get many, many letters from writers saying, “I got a book deal without an agent, and now the publisher is giving me the runaround and I can’t get out of the contract.” Agents can help prevent sticky situations from happening— and smooth things over when they do happen.
New York City agents are the best ones. In an age when connections are made at digital speed, agents no longer have to live in New York to develop close relationships with publishers.
The bigger/more prestigious the agency, the better. Whether you query a boutique agency or a multi-agent firm, what’s most important is that your writing career gets careful, expert attention. And new literary agents can be worth their weight in gold if you ask the right questions before signing a contract.