Are you dreaming of finding the next JK Rowling or Nicholas Sparks? Are you interested in helping new writers get their books out? If you answered yes, then you are in the right place; we are going to show you how to become a literary agent!
Literary agents work with writers. They help these creatives negotiate and get the best contracts from publishing companies. If this is something that interests you, then this article will help you get started on becoming one. It talks about the responsibilities, requirements, and potential earnings of an agent.
What exactly is a literary agent?
You’ve probably heard about talent scouts. They go around watching gigs and talking to unsigned talents that they feel would be a great addition to labels. This is basically what literary agents do. They go through thousands of manuscripts to find and sign promising authors who have the skill to come up with great reads.
As literary agents, they get a percentage of what the authors make from the sales of their books. Unlike publishing companies and editors who get some creative role, agents are more focused on the business side of things. But that doesn’t mean that they do not provide editorial advice to authors.
The bulk of an agent’s tasks is to find and hire new authors, help them perfect their manuscripts, submit their works to different publishing houses, and negotiate the best contracts for their clients. The goal of a literary agent is to help the author get the best deal as remuneration for his or her work.
Other tasks that agents take on involve choosing the best editors for certain clients, knowing which publishing imprints will be best for their work, capably running auctions, and thinking of solutions in case the manuscript is not getting picked up.
Is It Hard to Become a Literary Agent?
Yes, it can be hard to become a literary agent. To be successful in this career, you need to be well-read and have a strong understanding of the publishing industry. You also need to be able to identify good manuscripts and build strong relationships with authors and publishers.
If you're interested in becoming a literary agent, start by studying the publishing industry and networking with people in the industry. Get involved in book clubs, writing groups, and other organizations related to literature. Build your own database of authors and publishers, and keep up with the latest trends in publishing. And most importantly, be prepared to always put the needs of your clients first.
Are Literary Agents Still Necessary?
With the introduction of self-publishing, are literary agents still relevant? Yes, even if more and more writers are publishing their own works, many are still sticking to the traditional publishing route because it poses advantages that cannot be matched by self-publication.
According to an article from the International Association of Professional Writers & Editors, writers who had literary agents received higher advances and earnings. While getting more out of one’s hard work is a great advantage to hiring an agent, having someone to cover other tasks that are not connected to writing is also a good reason.
Since the literary agent is the go-between for the author and the publisher, the author need not worry about assessing how much to ask for as an advance. The agent can also advise the author in choosing an editor. They are the extra eyes that are there to spot loopholes or stipulations in a contract that are not favorable to the writers.
Some writers are great at writing plot twists but are absolutely ignorant when it comes to checking the contents of agreements. It will be the literary agent’s job to push back on terms and get necessary changes made. They are there to ensure that the author gets fair compensation.
How Literary Agents Work
The first thing that every literary agent must do is to scout authors to represent. There are many avenues that they can check. One is reading manuscript submissions. This would mean that you are known enough for writers to submit their works to. However, if you are already working in a publishing company, this is a common starting point.
If you are just starting out, you will need to go to literary events or even go online and read posted content. You may have to resort to checking posts of online writers on different platforms. This is a tedious job but can be rewarding if you find a hidden talent that no other agent has scouted yet.
Once you have found a writer whose work you feel has merit, you need to contact that person and have them sign a contract. In this document, the writer will agree to be represented by you. At this point, you can help the writer polish their manuscripts. You will also put together submission materials to send to publishing houses.
Choosing the right publishing company to send an author’s manuscript to is crucial. You can’t just send out copies of the work to every publishing house. This is going to be a huge waste of time. You need to be able to pick out the publisher that will best serve the author’s interests.
Great works can attract several editors. If this happens, it might be sold at an auction where the editors can put in their bids. It will be up to you to run these auctions. After the rights to the book have been sold, you’d have to coordinate with the buyer to publish the book.
Most literary agents specialize in chosen genres. You can choose to focus solely on biographies, science fiction, young adult fiction, or others. The better read you are, the more genres you can probably specialize in.
Once the editor or company agrees to publish your author’s work, you must negotiate a contract. These are very complex agreements that not only cover the author’s fees. It should also cover the rights to the work and what the publisher and the author can do with it after it has been paid for.
A literary agent’s job does not end the moment the publisher buys the book. You might also be made to deal with the marketing responsibilities. This means helping the publisher promote and sell the books.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Literary Agent?
What are the requirements for becoming a literary agent? While there is no specific degree that will lead to becoming a literary agent, there are some courses that can be beneficial to raise your chances of success. The first one is Business Management. You need to understand the business side of publishing so you have to be able to deal with taxes, handling of fees, marketing, and such.
Other great courses to pursue are English, Creative Writing, Journalism, Literature, and Communications. These will not help you in understanding how a contract works, but they will give you the foundation that you will need to choose a good book.
Given that agents receive hundreds, if not thousands, of query letters and manuscripts, knowing the basics of what a good book is can help you quickly narrow down your options. And the faster you weed out those that are not financially viable, the faster you can get to the materials that you know readers are going to love.
But more than a degree, what will really help you as a literary agent, and could be considered as the most important requirement, is to have the right connections. You can start out by networking with your college professors. Ask them to introduce you to people in the industry. Then you can branch out from that circle.
However, the fastest route to developing a great network is mingling with those publishing people in real life. That is why it will really help if you can become an assistant or an intern at an established agency. If positions are scarce, you can also consider working for an editor.
How Much can a Literary Agent Earn? Literary Agent Salary
The majority of literary agents work on commissions. The amount would depend on the agreement with the author while the rate can range between 5% to 25%. According to the latest data, a literary agent can earn about $60,000 annually on average.
The lowest rate is about $25,000 while those working with big-name authors can take home more than $100,000. The earnings would really depend on the sales of the author that you sign. If you chose wisely and negotiated a good contract, and the author produces a bestseller, you can earn top dollars.
It can go even higher if your client’s book gets picked up for a film. Scripts can be bought for over $1 million. If you charge a rate of 10%, you are looking to bring home $100,000 for that work alone. It is important to note that this is a rare occurrence so don’t base your decision of becoming an agent on this number.
Tips for Aspiring Literary Agent
While self-publishing is becoming a huge deal in the publishing industry, most bestselling authors still require a literary agent. If this is the path that you choose, there are several ways that you can follow to learn more about the field.
The first option to learn the ropes is to become an assistant to a professional literary agent. Getting an internship will let you see first-hand how to do the job. You get to observe how agents sort through manuscripts and learn to gauge which work will sell and which ones won't.
You will also gain experience in submitting proposals to different publishing houses. Watching an experienced agent will teach you more effectively than any class. You’d learn the ins and outs of negotiating a publishing contract much quicker.
Another opportunity for you to learn is to find employment in a publishing company. Understanding the publishing process will give insight into what these companies are looking for content-wise. A good agent will know if a publishing house is the right fit for a particular author. This will help you learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry.
Working at a publishing house will also allow you to make the necessary connections with key players in the publishing industry. If you manage to get an internship with a publisher or with a talent agency, make sure that you network and not stay on the sidelines.
Another thing you need to do is to read as many books as you can. A good literary agent knows which books will sell and which won’t. Familiarizing yourself with bestsellers will give you this insight. Don’t limit yourself to reading your preferred genre or content type. Read everything from short stories to magazine articles.
Familiarize yourself with the market so you know what to look for when you scan manuscripts and query letters. While instinct plays a large role in these things, seeing common elements from books that quickly fly off the shelf will help you spot potential better.