Get Published! What Is a Literary Agent and Why You Need One?

You are an aspiring author who wants to get your self-help book published by a traditional publisher, right?

Then let me ask you a couple of questions.

First, how many acquisition editors do you know personally? “Um, er, well…I don’t know any” is your reply. Do you know which publishing houses are looking for a book like yours? “No, not exactly…” you say. And how many publishing contracts have you personally negotiated? “Well, none actually” you confess.

Exactly! That’s why you need a literary agent.

Successful agents not only know which publishers might have interested in your book, they know the acquisition editors at each publishing house…by name. They have relationships with some of the most important people in your life-the editors who can make your dream of becoming a published author come true.

Some people are a little afraid to use an agent. But you may already use agents for all kinds of enterprises: You probably used an insurance agent to get your health or car insurance. The last time you bought or sold property, you may have had a real estate agent broker the deal. While a lot of people book their plane flights online these days, it’s possible that you’ve relied on travel agents sometime in your life. And while you might not think of an attorney as an agent, lawyers represent you when you’re involved in contested legal matters. There are all kinds of agents who have special expertise and can represent you in many important matters. A literary agent is no different.

But what exactly does a literary agent do?

A literary agent is a publishing professional who represents you and your book to viable publishing houses. Your agent will probably give you ideas about how to strengthen your proposal and, once it’s ready, submit it to publishing houses that are buying your kind of book. Once you get an offer, your literary agent helps you understand the contract, negotiates changes you might want and ultimately transforms you from an aspiring author into a published author. They have relationships with acquisition editors and knowledge about the publishing industry-both of which you don’t have and both of which you need.

Can an agent in the entertainment arena such as movies, television or music properly represent you and your book?

Short answer: No.

A little longer answer: Would you ask your real estate agent to find you the best life insurance policy? Would you want your travel agent representing you in a court of law? Would you want your insurance agent to sell your house? No, no and no. You need a literary agent-the only kind who can get you a publishing contract and properly protect your interests. Remember, the publishing houses have teams of attorneys who carefully write contracts in the best interests of them, not you. They’re not interested in protecting your rights-they are interested in their own. And believe me, there are a number of ways publishing houses can tie your hands if you don’t know how to read the fine print.

Yes, you need someone who knows who and when to call when it’s time to submit your book, what pitfalls may exist in the offered contract and the ability to negotiate on your behalf.