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What is a Literary Agent and Why Do You Need One?

To aspiring writers who are new to the world of professional book publishing, literary agents may seem like parasites, taking cuts off their hard work all for the seemingly simple task of showing their manuscript to some publishers. But this couldn’t be more wrong. It is easy to make such an assumption about literary agents if you are new to the industry and have no idea how it works. In reality, however, a good agent can be a god-send to a struggling author who has tried everything but still hasn’t gotten published. If you are wondering exactly what an agent can give you back and whether or not you should even find a literary agent, read on.

Literary agents add more value to a manuscript than most authors realize. With the kind of publishing network they have acquired throughout their years of working in the industry, they can easily connect you to the right people looking for the exact type of book you can offer. An agent typically sends your working manuscript out to their publishing network to see who would bid on it. This, however, is never done blindly. Literary agents can identify almost instantly which publishers will most likely want to get their hands on your work. They are highly effective because they have insider knowledge about publishers, editors, and literary professionals and what each one is looking for. A literary agent knows exactly which publisher is searching for the next best graphic novel, which editor has too much going on, whose publishing list is full, and who wants a screenplay—therefore allowing them to make submissions in a targeted manner. This works both ways because publishers also know what a particular literary agent is likely to be bringing to the table.

Once they are able to match your work to the best publisher, a good literary agent will work hard to negotiate the most profitable contract possible. It’s important to note that the ‘best’ publisher is not necessarily the one that offers the biggest advance. In most cases, a good publicity commitment has greater value than cash up front. Your agent will advise you on such matters, too. The key is to find a literary agent to handle all the complex aspects of publishing your book so you will reap the benefits of a wide publishing network, knowledge and expertise on tricky intellectual property, territorial, and electronic rights, high volume discounts, and so much more—things that are best left in the hands of literary agents who understand them fully.

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