What Every Author Should Know About Literary Agents
- by Bobbi Linkemer
Many publishers will no longer accept a proposal unless it comes
from an agent. While agents don't guarantee your book will be
published, they can ensure that it gets a reading and advocate for
you all along the process. You can find the right agent for you if
you know where to look.
WHY USE AN AGENT?
An agent ...
* will critique your book proposal before it is submitted and make
suggestions or edits to help you improve it.
* knows which publishers are likely to be interested in your
* can garner attention for your proposal and sell it faster than
* is your business representative and, as such, protects your best
interests, secures advances, settles contract disputes, collects
money, reviews royalty statements, ensures that publishers meet
their contractual obligations, and host of other activities.
* is your support system, guide, and cheerleader, which every
* can bring a new editor up to date on you and your book if that
* only earns money when he or she sells your book proposal, which
is a great motivator.
* is your closest ally in the publishing process.
HOW TO FIND AN AGENT
* Start online by looking up The Association of Authors'
Representatives (AAR), a not-for-profit organization of qualified
literary agents. AAR provides resources to its members and protects
the best interests of their clients. AAR agents are obligated to
uphold integrity and the highest professional standards in all of
their business dealings. Do not consider an agent who does not meet
the rigorous standards of the AAR and the National Writers Union
* Check out on line and print directories. Jeff Herman's book,
Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, is
invaluable. His online directory also lists agents' e-mail
addresses and websites. Writer's Digest Books Guide to Literary
Agents and Literary Market Place (LMP): The Directory of the
American Book Publishing Industry are excellent sources and may be
all you need.
* Hardcover and trade paperback publishers produce catalogs to send
to booksellers, libraries, and sales reps, which often include
agents' names and contact information. Browse bookstores shelves in
the sections where your book might be. Check the dedication and
acknowledgment pages of competitive books to see if the authors
have thanked their editors and agents.
* Let agents find you by getting your book published or publishing
it yourself, then making sure the media knows about it.
* And, of course, network, network, network. Go where writers and
agents are likely to be, such as writing classes, readings,
lectures, seminars, book signings, conferences, and book festivals.
Join writers' organizations, and attend meetings. Talk to people
who have been published. Ask if they have used an agent, and don't
hesitate to request referrals. In my experience, writers are
generous folks who are more than willing to share such information
and support each other.
WHAT DO AGENTS WANT FROM YOU?
Agents have different policies about what they want from potential
authors. Most agents prefer the initial contact be made in writing.
They may want anything from a one-page query letter to an entire
manuscript. Check the agent's policy before making any submission.
Obviously, whatever you send should be neat, organized, accurate,
and well written. This is your first impression; make it a positive
A query letter is a one-page document that must entice the
recipient to want to know more about your book. It is by definition
concise, so every word must count. Its job, like that of a good
resume, is to get you in the door. To do that, it must be
informative and inviting -- both steak and sizzle. In essence, a
query letter is a mini-proposal, an encapsulation of your most
salient points on a single piece of paper.
A solid query letter is not something you dash off. It takes a
great deal of thought and often many revisions. The agent not only
wants to know what your book is about and why you are qualified as
the author, but also how well you write. This letter may be the
single most important piece of marketing you will do.
HOW TO DEAL WITH AN AGENT, ONCE YOU HAVE ONE
According to Lori Perkins, author of The Insider's Guide to Getting
an Agent (Writers' Digest Books), there are ways to treat an agent
and ways not to. On the plus side of the ledger are simple
courtesies like saying thank you; keeping them posted on
developments as they occur; educating yourself about the publishing
industry; and, though it should seem obvious, always being
On the other hand ...
* Don't expect miracles or the impossible. It's in everyone's best
interest to sell your book.
* Don't second-guess their decisions. Agents will do everything
possible to make you feel special and to get you a good deal.
* When the deal doesn't meet your expectations, don't shoot the
* Don't be pushy about money or contracts. Pressure doesn't speed
up the process.
* Don't expect your agent to teach you to write, advance you money,
or act as your attorney, therapist, or publicist.
* Finally, if your agent thinks you need to do more work on your
book or proposal, don't be a prima donna. Ridley Pearson, the
best-selling mystery writer, tells a story about a writer he
referred to his agent. When the agent suggested some changes, the
writer took offense and said no. He never got his book published,
by the way.
In this age of specialization, literary agents are no exception.
Like doctors, they have specific niches. When you do research,
begin with your particular genre. There's no sense sending a query
letter or proposal to someone who is not an expert in that area of
nonfiction. Narrowing your search will increase your odds of success.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bobbi Linkemer is a ghostwriter, book-writing coach, and editor.
She is also the author of 14 books. Bobbi has been a professional
writer for 40 years, a magazine editor and journalist, and a
book-writing teacher. Her clients range from Fortune 100 companies
to entrepreneurs who want to enhance their credibility and build
their businesses. Visit her Website at: http://www.WriteANonfictionBook.com
© 2008 Bobbi Linkemer. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.