What Does A Literary Agent Actually Do?
Well, what they used to do was to find new writers and persuade publishers to invest in them. They would negotiate between publisher and author to hammer out a royalty contract and negotiate an advance of royalties up front. They would guide on legal issues such as foreign or film rights. For this, they would take a fee usually of ten percent or the author’s payments.
Today however, much of their time is spent nurturing existing clients, encouraging them to produce more and more of the same. That is of course when they’re not fending off the ever growing slush piles from young hopefuls. Publishers want more books from fewer ‘known names’, not one-off novels from ‘new unknowns’, and agents are collaborating in this model.
Many agents are simply not taking on new clients. Of those that are, many will only take you if you already have a publisher interested in your work. But hang on… wasn’t that supposed to be…? Never mind. If you do eventually manage to interest an agent in your work you still have to convince a publisher.
The primary role of an agent is to assist you to becoming published and to secure the best deal for you once that happens. That’s it. To bring your work to the market in the most profitable way possible. If your goal is to be published and to make good money from your work then it is going to pay you to examine the alternatives.
If you publish your work through the traditional route of agent and publisher these days you will be left with much work still to be done. Gone are the days when the author could write the words ‘The End’ then leave it down to everybody else to sort out from there.
Today due to financial pressures, the author is expected to be copy editor, publicist and sales department for their own book. For this the royalties remain pitifully low at around 7.5% and unless you are selling in millions you cannot expect to make a living from writing. The average novel sold through the traditional route only returns around £3,000 for the author. According to The Royal Society of Authors the average novelist earns £7,500 per year.
If the average first print run of a new book is 15,000 then all that remains is to find out if there is a more profitable way achieving this than through the traditional route.