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1. “Do I need an agent?”

I get this wherever I go, and I always joke with the writer about how their question just crushed my sense of self-worth. But then I always continue with, “It depends upon what you are writing and what your goals are.”

There are certain types of writing that don’t require an agent, like short stories and poetry. Those you take yourself to the appropriate literary magazines. There are also types of writing that aren’t likely to get an agent, just because of how the market has evolved, like novellas for print outside of romance or sci-fi. But for most full-length pieces, your best bet is usually to seek out an agent. But even then, there are exceptions, depending upon the nature of the work and where you want to see it in print.

For example: I represent memoir. If you have a truly unusual and gripping story and are trying to get it into the hands of Random House, yes, you need an agent. The “Six Sisters” in New York and many of the larger independent presses refuse to look at unagented work, simply as a means of reducing the amount of submissions that are unfit for their particular house.

But if you prefer the close relationship of an independent press, or if you just want to pass your story on to your grandchildren, then no, you don’t need an agent. Instead, you would take it to the independent or custom publishers who would work with you directly to give you what you want. And if you then have commercial aspirations, some of them are equipped to guide you in your search for a place in the market. There are plenty of options out there, but I can testify to the strength and expertise of the good people at EME Press.

2. “What does an agent do?”

This could be its own post. Broadly speaking, an agent will help you edit and steer your manuscript and your presence as an author into the places where they will find the most success in the market. They will be your guide and your publishing guru. They will use their knowledge and connections to find the best possible publisher for your work, pitch it to them in the most effective manner and negotiate the best possible contract for you. They will handle payments and issues and remain by your side for as long as the book is in print.  

3. “How do I know I’m not getting ripped off?”

There are scams out there, and I advise everyone to stay away from any “agent” who asks for payment up front. Thoroughly read the contract that you are offered, and make sure that you won’t be charged for consulting or editing. The agent should either do this for free themselves or recommend a qualified editor with no financial ties to the agent. This is why I list that I will not offer representation to any of my EME editorial or consulting clients. I would not do so anyway, but to make sure my morals are known, I had it written into my contract and bio at EME.

To prevent even running into con artists, you should seek out agents through the regular methods I listed in my previous post, “How do I find an agent?” Make sure that you can confirm their sale of books to reputable publishers, either by looking in the Acknowledgements section of the books, Publisher’s Marketplace or the industry publications I have listed. If they are new, be sure that they or the agent they are working under can be found using these methods and that they are listed on the website of the agency they claim to be a part of. 

4. “Then how much should the agent charge?”

An agent should only charge you 15% of what you make on the book sale as well as any copying and shipping costs associated with pitching. The latter is an antiquated practice that is rarely necessary in today’s world of telecommunications and should only occur with your prior expressed consent.

5. “How will I know an agent is right for me?”

Being offered a contract is a good indicator. I sign far less than one percent of the manuscripts that I have been queried for. I will only work with what is the best possible fit for me in terms of my expertise, my tastes and the piece’s chance of success in the marketplace. Your agent should be able to thoroughly utilize all of those.

Remember that the working relationship between an agent and an author is a very close, very involved one. You will be corresponding with them via email and phone a lot. You will go back and forth with your manuscript and receive a lot of consultation. You need someone that you are able to work with to a great extent on a professional level. If an agent doesn’t appear to know your type of work or just plain gives you the willies, it may be in your best interest to seek another agent. Realize that it is not difficult, but just very unlikely that you will find another agent for your manuscript. But don’t let that lead you into a working relationship that you are not able to feel good about.

This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.