Publishing Advice: 6 Things to Expect from Your Literary Agent

by | Jul 2, 2014 | Get Published, Publishing | 14 comments

The idea of working with a literary agent is always appealing to debut writers, but what exactly does an agent do?

And if, after pitching and querying, you do manage to sign with one, what can you expect from this professional relationship?

As a literary agent, I’d love to demystify this process for the authors out there. Here’s what you can expect from your literary agent.

1. Honest industry feedback

An agent’s job is to be the voice of the industry for a writer. We explain what the market looks like for a genre, what editors are looking for, what’s happening on the business side of things with acquisitions and mergers and what all of it means to you, the writer.

We can’t always tell you what you want to hear, but we’ll tell you the truth, straight from the trenches.

[bctt tweet=”Literary agents can’t always tell you what you want to hear.”]

2. Timely responses

Agents usually have a lot of clients on their rosters at any given time, but you should always expect a timely response. If your request isn’t urgent, they should get back to you within a week or so. If it is urgent, your agent should get back to you within 24-48 hours.

Each agent has a different communication preference, whether it’s phone or email, so know what that is and work together to connect in a way that’s best for you both.

3. Contract negotiation

An established agent is considered a publishing contracts expert. It’s our job to know the ropes about contracts with each publishing house and be able to negotiate them well for the author.

When you buy a car, you have to know what the deal points are and where you can negotiate, right? Same with books! Agents know exactly what all those deal points are and where we can maximize our clients’ potential for revenue.

4. Attempt to sell subsidiary rights

I love talking about subsidiary rights. Sub rights cover audiobooks, translations, adaptations to film and TV, dramatic stage performances, and merchandising like toys. Writers don’t have do much more work to benefit from these other channels of income.

Agents licence sub rights for our clients as often as we sell domestic print rights. Once a print deal is in place, agents start to reach out to all our sub rights contacts and build excitement in other areas. We aren’t able to get all sub rights for all clients, but we always try.

5. Royalty vetting

When royalty statements come in, usually twice a year from traditional publishers, agents read them all very carefully — with a calculator handy — to make sure our clients are getting all the money they are entitled to.

6. Prompt payments

It takes seven to 10 days for most checks to clear, and money in the foreign market takes forever to be sent, but as a general rule, once your agent gets the check for your work they should disburse it within 30 days.

Now that you know what to expect from your agent, stay tuned for the flip side: 6 Things You Shouldn’t Expect From Your Literary Agent.

Have you worked with an agent before? What else do you expect from your partnership?