What is a literary agent? How much do they cost? Do I need a literary agent? Can I even afford one?
These are some of the most commonly asked questions in regards to literary agents, so today we’re here to clear up any residual doubt you my have.
Do I need a literary agent to represent me?
Unfortunately, there’s no concrete yes or no answer to this question. But we’ll start by talking about what literary agents do and what their purpose actually is for authors.
A literary agent is essentially the link between an author and a publisher. Their job is to sell your book to a publisher and negotiate the terms of its publication in a contract.
Essentially, their aim is to ensure you and your book find a suitable publishing home.
The good news is that the cost for literary agents is not an upfront cost. Agents don’t charge authors a flat fee for reaching out to publishers on their behalf.
Instead, once your book is accepted and eventually published, you will then share a percentage of the money you make from it (i.e. your advance and royalties) with your literary agent.
If you decide to self-publish, you generally won’t need an agent because you’ll be marketing, promoting and selling your book yourself. However, you might need one if you’re looking at publishing in audiobook format or in other languages.
If you’re seeking traditional publication, it’s up to you whether you choose to be represented by an agent. Just bear in mind that many publishers aren’t open for unsolicited submissions, and that it’s generally easier to get a foot in the door with agency representation.
Still need help deciding? Let’s take a closer look at what an agent will do for you.
What literary agents do for authors
Make sure your manuscript is right for your intended market
An agent can give you editorial feedback to help you polish your work and ensure it appeals to your ideal audience.
Yes, this will likely entail you having to further tweak bits and pieces of your manuscript, even after you’ve written and rewritten it dozens of times before submitting to your agent!
But in the end it will be for the best, because your writing will appeal to your specific target audience and have a better chance of landing in the right hands.
Approach the most ideal editors and publishing houses
Chances are, you aren’t on a first-name basis with all the editors at your ideal publishing houses. Luckily for you, many agents will be!
Most authors may not be aware of which publisher is right for them, or which editor is perfect to help you turn their manuscript into a bestseller. That’s where an agent comes in.
They’ll use their connections in the industry to get your work in front of the right people.
Negotiate a proper contract
Every author accepted by a publishing house will sign a publishing contract for their book.
Negotiating a good contract is vital so that all of those long hours planning, crafting, writing and painstakingly editing your work were well worth it.
It’s important to ensure you receive what your book deserves, and an agent can make that happen for you.
If you don’t mind sharing some of your profit in exchange for being represented by someone who knows the ins and outs of contracts (and can negotiate yours), then a literary agent is the way to go!
Types of literary agent commissions
Now that we’re more familiar with the role of a literary agent, let’s dive into the numbers and work out how much agents actually cost.
A domestic book sale is a sale to a publisher within your own country of residence (or, if you’re working with an agent in a different country, a sale made to a publisher in that country).
Traditionally, your literary agent will take home a 15% share of your advance and royalties on domestic book sales.
Let’s say your advance is $25,000 USD. Your agent would pocket 15% of that, which would be $3,750 USD, leaving your share of the advance at $21,250.
Your agent will then receive 15% of the royalties you receive thereafter.
Foreign rights and translations
Your literary agent will generally receive a 20% share of the sale of foreign rights (publishing a book in its original language in a different country) and translation rights, and on royalties thereafter.
Film/TV and audio rights
Your literary agent will generally receive between 15–20% of any payments you receive for film/television adaptation and audiobook rights.
We’ll leave you with a word of caution: make sure you do as much research as you can to find a suitable and reputable literary agent.
If your agent is charging any additional fees (such as a fee to read your manuscript), or a much higher commission rate than the industry standard of 15%, be very wary of this – in fact, steer completely clear.
Do your research to ensure that you’re not getting scammed by paying any unnecessary costs, and that you’re choosing the right agent for you and your work!