Agents For Writers: Should You Have One?

As a new author you may haven been frustrated to hear that you need an agent to submit to a publisher; however you can't find any agents who will look at unpublished authors.

As a new author you may haven been frustrated to hear that you need an agent to submit to a publisher; however, you can't find any agents who will look at unpublished auhors. What's going on? Do you need an agent or not?

The answer is different for everyone.

First of all, decide exactly what you want an agent to do for you? Do you want the agent to find the right market for your work and put it in an editor's notice? Or perhaps you've already sold one or two books but you want an agent to negotiate a better contract for you, one that will net you bigger advances and a bigger share of the royalty pie. An agent may also serve as an author's first reader and editor, helping to hone the book into publishable form. Then again, there are authors who want an agent to advise them on building their writing career from choosing projects through promotion.

If you plan to start in category, genre or series novels, byou may not need an agent since publishers' contracts are fairly standard for authors writing these books. They also are quite open to unsolicited submissions. The drawback is that your manuscript will go into a huge slush pile of submissions and it may take a long time to get a response. The same applies to e-publishers although their slush piles are usually not nearly so huge""yet.

If you are writing mainstream, many of the big publishers will not look at unagented material. They depend on agents whose judgment they trust to screen out the completely unsuitable submissions. Agents generally know which editors are looking for which type of manuscript and therefore, may be able to help you target your manuscript better.

Having a good agent is desirable. Having a bad agent is worse than being unagented. Be careful in choosing an agent. You want someone who is reputable and strong, but also-- someone who is a good match for you and what you want in a representative. Attend writer's conventions and talk to agents. Ask other writers what they do and don't like about their agents and other agents they may know of. Look in writer's reference books and websites for guides to agents.

Good, established agents are highly selective in the authors they take on. But it's important for the author to be equally selective. An agent is your representative who will look out for you, the author. A good match is important.

Agents earn their money by negotiating good contracts for their authors. They will receive a percentage of the money the publisher pays the author. Some charge a small fee to new authors to defray the cost of phone and postage. Reputable agents do not charge authors for representation however.

A contract with an agent should be carefully negotiated as well. It should spell out exactly how and when the association can be terminated. It should specify the percentage the agent will charge. (10-20 percent is normal).

For the author, who does their homework, an agent can be the first step on a rewarding career in writing.

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