Last Thursday I announced I have a literary agent. I signed with Mary Keeley from Books & Such Literary Agency. It's a huge step on my journey to publication, one I'm thrilled to take.
When I started on this journey I wasn't quite sure what an agent was, or if I even needed one. But as I learned more and more about the publishing industry, I discovered the vital role a literary agent plays in the publication process.
Without further ado, here are ten reasons an author needs an agent.
1. An agent has the ability to submit your manuscript to numerous publishing houses, simultaneously. One of the greatest benefits to having an agent is their ability to get your manuscript in the hands of editors at publishing houses. Most publishing houses will not accept an unsolicited manuscript directly from an author, but they will from a literary agent.
There are really only two ways for an author to get their story on an editor's desk, without the help of an agent. You can meet with an editor for a fifteen minute "pitch" session at a conference (and you're still not guaranteed the editor will ask for your manuscript), or you can pay a fee and place your manuscript on a website like Christian Manuscript Submissions, on the (unlikely) chance that an editor will see it.
2. An agent negotiates contracts. When an author is offered a writing contract, it will be the agent's job to negotiate for her. Literary contracts are extremely technical, filled with legal jargon the average writer has never heard of. An agent is skilled in this area and will work hard to get it right. Without an agent, an author would have to hire an attorney each time she needed to negotiate, and most attorneys aren't savvy in the publishing world.
3. An agent works with a publishing house, after the contract is signed. Another important role for the agent is to make sure the publishing house upholds their end of the contract. In some situations the agent becomes the mediator between the author and the publishing house (but hopefully this doesn't happen often).
4. An agent helps create a marketing plan. As part of the team, an agent wants to help the author sell as many books as possible. She's also knowledgeable in the industry and understands what has worked in the past, and what has not. The agent will help the author create a marketing plan and then the author will implement it.
5. An agent knows the business. As I was learning about the publishing industry, a handful of agencies continued to show up on my radar. These agencies have excellent reputations in the industry and they represent hundreds of authors, many of them on the bestseller's list. Books & Such Literary Agency is one of the leading agencies in the Christian Book Association (CBA).
6. Agents have the inside scoop on what publishing houses are looking for. Often a publishing house is in the market for a specific genre, era or subject to fill in their publishing lineup and they will call a respected agency to ask if they have an author who could fill the slot. Agents work closely with publishers and they create good relationships. They have connections on a broad range that an author (especially a newbie) doesn't have.
7. Agents are the first step on the journey. Every year thousands of people write books, but only hundreds get published. Publishing houses used to accept manuscripts, but they would sit in a "slush pile" for months before an editor had the time to read them. Agents have become the first step in the process. Now agents receive all those manuscripts and it's their job to find the best of the best. If an agent finds an author who has potential, they've cut out a lot of work for editors. Editors still have hundreds of manuscripts to go through in a year, but it's a much smaller--and higher quality--"slush pile" than it used to be.
8. An agent stays up-to-date in the publishing industry. Agents are constantly attending conferences, going to trade shows and meeting with publishers to stay up-to-date on trends in the publishing industry. An agent will help the author process this information and apply it to their goals.
9. Signing an agent is a career-long decision. Most agents and authors consider their partnership as long-term. An agent has many years in the publishing industry and one of her goals is to use her experience to help the author navigate her writing career. There will be many decisions to make and having her knowledge is priceless.
10. An agent encourages you. The road to publication can be long and winding. I've often heard my writer friends tell me their agent is always at the ready to encourage them when things are tough and celebrate with them when things go well. It's helpful to have a voice of reason to keep the journey in perspective.
This is not a complete list of why it's important to have an agent, but it's a good start.
What do you think? Did any of these things surprise you? If you're an author (or an agent), what can you add to this list?