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How To Choose a Literary Agent

Choose Literary Agent

If you’re trying to get your work seen by a top publisher when you’re an unpublished writer, then sometimes it feels like any agent will be the best literary agent for you. Unfortunately this gets writers thinking that any agent who accepts them is a good agent and that’s not necessarily true. Knowing how to choose a literary agent means finding someone who will represent your best interests in all things.

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For starters, you should never choose an agent who wants to charge you anything. Agents earn their money by making sales. If they’re trying to cover their costs by charging you fees, then they’re not meeting ethical standards. A good agent will read your query for free, represent your work without advance payment, and then negotiate a solid advance on a sale to take a percentage of that.

Now that we’ve settled that issue, here are some additional factors to consider.

Does the Literary Agent Represent Fiction or Non-Fiction?

Most literary agents will only represent one or the other. Only a few will represent both. Make sure your preferred agent is willing to represent the type of work that you’re producing. In regards to fiction representation, some literary agents will only represent a certain category or niche, like romantic fiction or historical fiction. Choose a literary agent who is experienced in your field for the best results.

Is the Literary Agent Experienced?

There’s a big difference in being represented by an agent who had negotiated a dozen book deals and one that has negotiated nearly 1,000 deals. You want experience on your side. Always look at the track record of a literary agent when choosing who will represent you. A new agent isn’t a bad person to have on your side, but you still want them to have some level of industry experience supporting their efforts. If an agent only has a handful of deals, but is claiming 20 years of experience, that’s someone you’ll want to avoid.

Are There Any Recent Deals Made?

Maybe a literary agent has over 1,000 deals in their history, but their recent track record shows a total of 3 sales in two years. Don’t just look at an agent’s overall track record when considering their representation. Their recent track record must also be considered. In this example, you’d want to avoid this agent because even though they may be experienced, they may not be motivated to try to sell your work. Sometimes a new agent with a couple dozen recent deals is going to be your better choice.

What Kind of Deals Has the Literary Agent Made?

Knowing how to choose a literary agent sometimes means considering the viability of your manuscript. If you have strong commercial potential, then you’ll want to look for a literary agent who has a history of creating opportunities with major publishers. If your manuscript is more of a mid-market option, then you’ll want an agent who has a strong history with small or medium-sized publishers. If you want to go big and your agent doesn’t have that experience [and the reverse is also true], then you will want to look elsewhere.

What Is Their Negotiation History?

If you’re an unpublished author, then the idea of a six-figure advance is probably off the table. Yet you also want to choose a literary agent who isn’t afraid to shoot for the big stuff. After all, their paycheck is determined by your paycheck. If you have an interested agent who has never negotiated a big deal, then  there’s a good chance you’re not going to get a great deal. Most advances for first-time writers might be lucky to reach $10k – there’s nothing wrong with that. Landing bigger deals, however, is still a big deal even at this early stage.

Is the Literary Agent Receptive to New Clients?

Ultimately the choice of a literary agent must boil down to the relationship that can be formed between the two of you. You must be a good match for them just like they are a good match for you. Some agents love to represent new talent. Others prefer to only represent established authors with a long track record of published works. You might want to be represented by the latter author, but you’ll be more likely to find representation with the former.

Finding a literary agent can be one of the most difficult aspects of getting a manuscript from concept to publication. Many rejections can happen during this process. Yet if you are persistent enough and know what you’re looking for in a literary agent, then you’ll know how to choose the right one and eventually become the published author you want to be.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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