What Does a Literary Agent Do?

If “talk to my agent!” is something you’ve always wanted to shout, then this article’s for you.

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There are many reasons why self-published authors may want to hire a literary agent. Maybe you’ve been disappointed by your book sales, or are having a hard time finding readers. 

But the most common reason why self-published authors hire literary agents? To land a great publishing deal with an established publishing house. 

A vetted and established literary agent can help you: 

  • Make sure your book is as polished as possible before approaching publishers
  • Talk to the right editors for your book’s genre
  • Negotiate the best book deal you can get
  • Walk you through every line in your contract
  • Guide you through the book editing and production processes
  • Coordinate the publication launch, marketing and publicity campaigns and more

Despite the return, a literary agent can be no small expense. And as a self-published author, everything you do for the success of your book comes out of your own pocket.

But a literary agent can help your book get a larger advance and more book sales than you could have on your own. It’s in their best interest to get you as much money as you can for your book because your returns are their returns, too!

So how do you know whether a literary agent is right for you? Read on to find out if you should hire a literary agent, and how they can help you get the best book deal you can.

Why Do I Need a Literary Agent?

Not all self-published authors need a literary agent for their book. However, a literary agent can help self-published authors achieve the following goals:

1. If You Want a Traditional Publishing Deal

It’s hard to get an editor to look at your book proposal or manuscript if you don't have a book agent. If you want your book to be published by a traditional publishing house, you’ll want a literary agent to represent you.

2. You Want to See More Book Sales

Just because you’re a great writer doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a great marketer. 

In an increasingly digital reader landscape, marketing your book takes a combination of social media savvy, effective email campaigns, a great author website and more. 

Whether you simply don’t have the time to market your self-published book effectively or are feeling lost amidst the marketing to-do’s, an agent represents your book to major publishers. 

Once you land a deal, your publisher and agent will help steer the distribution and marketing of your book, which will ideally lead to more sales (and a higher chance of getting a second book deal). After all, your bottom line affects their bottom line, too!

3. You Want More Readers

No reader wants to pour their heart out on the pages only to have their book neglected by bookstores and left unknown to readers.

An agent will help your book garner the attention it deserves by publishing houses, bookstores and readers alike. 

They’ve got the right connections to get your book into the hands of your target audience, so your story will be read by the people who want to read it most. 

How Does a Literary Agent Help You Get Published?

Okay, so maybe the idea of more readers, book sales and a book deal is sounding pretty great to you. 

But how exactly does an agent help you get a great publishing deal, or help your book get more sales?

An established and vetted book agent will represent you throughout the sales process, and during the contract negotiations with the publisher. They’ll advocate for you at critical junctures during the publication process (because your bottom line affects their bottom line).

Literary agents are invaluable in a traditional publishing scenario.

1. They’ll Help You Polish Your Book

Although it’s important to do everything you can to thoroughly edit your book’s manuscript, a literary agent can help give your writing the best and most appealing spin to increase your chances of getting it sold. 

That can mean feedback on your cover design, back cover copy, the title and even the words between the covers, too.

2. They Know the Right Editors

Most literary agents specialize in a few specific book genres. That means they maintain longstanding relationships with publishing house editors who buy books in their areas of expertise.

You’ll want to make sure that you choose an agent who specializes in your book’s genre, so they’re an expert in your target audience and have connections with the editors who will be most interested in the content of your book.

3. They Get You The Best Deal

Think of your literary agent like your own personal negotiator.

A literary agent has a good idea what your book is worth in the current market. It’s their job to negotiate a better book advance than you’d likely be able to negotiate on your own.

And the negotiation tactics don’t stop with your advance. Your agent helps you make sure you’re getting the best deal throughout the entirety of your contract, which leads us to the next point.

4. They Scrutinize & Translate Your Contract

Weeding through a publishing contract can be overwhelming on your own. Your literary agent will help you manage your contract negotiation after the sale agreement with your publisher. 

The right literary agent always keeps subsidiary rights in their periphery while looking over your contract. Things like film rights, foreign printing, eBooks, audiobooks, sequels and more can all help to make you (and your agent) more money. 

A literary agent will be able to translate the contract for you and ensure you’re getting everything out of the contract you want.

5. They Know What’s Trending

The book marketplace changes constantly and, like all media, is affected by technology shifts, cultural shifts, and who just died in Hollywood. 

Your literary agent has their fingers on the pulse of trends in the book publishing marketplace. Agents know what book-to-film trends are over and what a book editor wants to buy today.

The bottom line is, a literary agent can be your guide to getting more eyes on your book and more dollars in your pocket.

Your next step is to figure out where and how to find an agent, and how to write a book proposal that will have them dying to work with you. Here’s how to find the perfect literary agent for you »

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.

Leave a comment

Robert Meyer
10 months ago
1e6d0e0e876a3e1a37d4ab9f1770289f

hi Adam, Sounds good. Do you have any agents in mind for my book, "Sunrise Over San Antonio"? Best, Bob

Andre Renee
10 months ago
7c42e8f0e1e73b23f144c79786b2a141

I live near Chicago, I’ve been promoting well however I do want to go high. What’s the name of good agents here. Thanks Andre Renee

Ronald Gerstl
10 months ago
Ec981b8dcfd98a3076cb2154f7f845b8

In the best of circumstances, I have found that literary agents won't take on an unknown author. I was even willing to pay for their services (without guarantee).

Stephanie
10 months ago
6aee96ca0a1019db6ddb1f37c6c29ed5

So, how do I find the right agent for my book, Adopted Love Forever After?

RONI LAMBRECHT
10 months ago
3cee607da7843718b6182bd6105a56f4

Great article, but it ends on, "Here’s how to find the perfect literary agent for you »" with no link or more info. How do we find the perfect literary agent?

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