The role of a literary agent

The Agent’s Role

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When I worked as a literary agent I often experienced difficulties with being all things to my clients and thus, as time went by, got into the habit if beginning a new client-agent relationship by outlining the role of an agent and the role of a publisher so that everyone was clear of what their job was.

What is the role of a literary agent?
Writers on a publishing journey need a lot of assistance, it’s a convoluted and complex industry and this is where an agent comes in and can be a massive help and support. An agent is the liaison between the writer and the publisher. There are many things an agent can do and each agent will outline the parameters of their role to their client directly but in general the role of an agent is to:

• Support and develop writer’s career
• Sell their work to publishers
• Negotiate contacts
• Market the rights to the work
• Review and advise client’s on their work
• Manage their contracts and finances
• Provide some editorial support
• Advise clients on current trends, practices and attitudes in the industry
• Monitor publishers a writer has contracts with
• Bring writers and publishers together
• Act as filter for publishers, many refuse to accept submissions from writers directly

What an agent is not is almost as important to understand!
Here I’m outlining some of the important things writers should realise in their writer-agent relationships. Some of this might seem harsh but trust me when I say it is worth noting!

1. An agent is not a counsellor or a baby-sitter, they are not your friend not are they your life coach. Their job is to manage your writing and publishing business affairs and do the best for you professionally. I say this because I often found the personal nature of a client-agent relationship would inadvertently lead to a sense of intimacy on the writers part that could get in the way of the professional side of things. Writing is such a personal, creative and often emotional endeavour that an agent’s role can often become confused for the writer.
If you have an agent and keep them busy concerning them with your personal affairs then that is less time they will have to deal with your business affairs.

2. An agent is not someone who will give unsigned writers free opinions and advice on their work. Yes they will do that for their clients but if they are not already a client then don’t expect a review of your work. It’s important to remember this when querying agents, their job is not to work for you and give you advice on your book but to work for their existing clients first.

Why do you need an agent?
• Unless you know the publishing industry very well an agent is a good idea
• You may not get to submit to a publisher without an agent. Although many Irish publishing houses still allow writers to submit directly few UK ones do.
• Contracts, rights, publishing processes etc are complicated and require good advice and knowledge from a professional.
• An agent acts as a champion – someone who can direct your career in the right direction.

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