If you want to get your book published in UK or the United States with a traditional publisher, in almost all cases, you need to have a literary agent.
Finding and securing a good agent is a daunting task.
First what does an agent do?
An agent is your advocate. Her job is to find an editor at a publishing house who wants to purchase your manuscript and turn it into a book. A good agent has a wide network and is well respected by publishing houses for having a good eye for a winning book. Often they will also help you with your manuscript so that it is the best it can be before submitting it to publishers. Once your agent gets an offer, she will negotiate on your behalf to come up with the very best deal. Agents also sell sub-rights such as foreign rights, and film and audio rights on your behalf.
They will also keep an eye on the publishing process and follow-up any money owed to you. For doing this they will take 15% of your income from royalties in the books they sell for you.
Where to look for an agent?
There are all sorts of agent lists to be found on the internet. One of the best places I’ve found is Predators and Editors. Trawling through these lists will take time. You should check out the agent’s website. What type of books do they represent? If they only represent children’s books it makes no sense to contact them to represent you and your adult novel. Pick an agent that is working with books similar to yours.
Also try to find out any recent deals they’ve negotiated on behalf of their authors. This information can give you an idea of the agent’s network and power within the publishing industry. This information can be found on the internet if you take a bit of time to find it.
Another place to find agents is to check out the acknowledgements at the front of books that are similar to yours or written by authors your respect. Often they mention their agent’s name in the list of people that they’re thanking. Once you have the name google them and find out all you can about them.
After you’ve found an agent you’d like to take you on, then you need to send out a query. Just like publishers, agents have submission guidelines. Some want only a query letter. Some want a query and the synopsis of the book you want them to find a publisher for, some want that plus the first three chapters. Like always, follow their submission guidelines.
Then you wait. If they are interested in the book and in you and think they are the right people to represent you, they’ll ask to see the entire manuscript. Then again you wait and they will make a decision. It’s important to have the right fit- an agent that suits you and is passionate about your book. You will likely have many rejections before you get the agent that is perfect for you. Be ready for that.
When you’re out looking for an agent keep your eyes and ears open though, there are a lot of scammers in this industry. Dishonest agents come in various forms, here are some examples:
1. They ask for a fee to read your manuscript.
2. They ask the writer to pop out money so that they can hire someone to assess the manuscript.
3. They encourage the writer (strongly) to hire an editor to edit the manuscript and they give you the name of the person to hire, who with little research you will discover is employed by said agent.
4. Encouraging writers to pay for additional services within the agency such as web design.
A writer should not pay an agent anything up front. An agent earns their fee from the royalties and advances publishers pay out. An agent should take no more than 15% of the writer’s money from the books that the agent sells.