Literary agents are agents who represent authors and their manuscripts, ultimately securing a book deal between the author and a publisher. Though their role isn’t essential to getting a book published, it can be beneficial because they have network connections to the best book publishers, and often have worked with successful authors before.
Literary agents do a lot of the leg work that authors may be unfamiliar with, so their expertise is always valued. They help secure fair deals, protect authors’ rights, ensure authors are paid fairly, and act as a liaison between the author and the publisher. Furthermore, literary agents connect authors with publishers in specific genres. Because they know the market, they can guide authors in specific directions that will garner success.
Besides the technical and professional aspects, literary agents also offer camaraderie and support for the authors they represent. They are there every step of the way, encouraging authors and making sure publishers see the authors’ craft.
Because literary agents aren’t always necessary to get a book published, authors must decide if they need one. If authors want to pitch their book proposals to larger publishing houses—especially the Big Five publishers—they will need and want a literary agent to help them navigate the process. However, if authors write for a niche market or if their work is more suitable for a smaller press, a literary agent is not always necessary.
After determining if a literary agent is needed, authors must find one that works best for them. Authors can visit online resources such as Publisher’s Marketplace, which provides logs of active literary agents. Another useful resource is the Association of Authors’ Representatives, an association of over 400 members that authors can choose from and seek a partnership with. Authors can narrow down their search by category and genre to find literary agents who have worked on projects like theirs. There are other online resources that offer more ways to connect with literary agents. Print resources exist as well; the Writer’s Market, published yearly, provides information on over 500 literary agents.
Authors can also use their own connections in the publishing industry to find an agent. If they know anyone who has worked with agents before, they can ask for recommendations of specific literary agents who might be interested in working with them. They can also inquire about places or events where they can interact with different literary agents.
After narrowing down their search, authors can reach out to prospective literary agents. This can be done in a couple of ways. They can attend events that literary agents may speak at—including writer’s programs, book festivals, and conferences—to get their foot in the door. They may also send literary agents a professional query letter telling the agent about themselves, their book, how they know of the agent, and how their work and the agent’s work could create a good partnership.
Literary agents provide a plethora of valuable information that any author can learn from. Thousands of literary agents are as eager as authors to make a book deal; authors just have to start the process of finding the perfect fit.