This is a divisive issue; there are plenty of people who will tell you that you don’t need an agent, or that you should avoid them at all costs. They’ll tell you either that they’re blood suckers, or that you’ll never get anywhere without them.
The truth is less clear cut, but certainly there are pros and cons to being represented by a literary agent;
- Experience and Reputation; when you work with a literary agent you’re not only benefitting from the time they put into your manuscript, but the time they have put into every project that came before yours. You’re getting their experience, skill, and know-how as well as the time they actually put into your manuscript; after all, a reputable and experienced agent will have many years of experience in polishing and pitching novels. You also gain a bit more clout with publishers; when they see you are being represented by an established agent you will stand out, and as such have less chance of being lost in the slush pile.
- Contacts and Connections; when you form a partnership with a literary agent it will be because they are confident that they know who they can sell your book to. You benefit from their connections, their contacts, and the relationships they have built in their career.
- Another pair of eyes; before you query an agent your manuscript should be as ready for publication as you can make it, however an agent can offer an extra pair of eyes to really polish it till it shines.
- Someone to fight your corner; your agent makes money when you make money, so when you hire an agent you know that they want to sell your novel. They want you to succeed, and having someone that you know wants you to find success can be a real boost when things get rough.
- More time; when you go to an agent first you’re essentially pitching your book twice. This has its benefits, as outlined, but you will be adding time onto the process.
- Cost; agents, like all professionals, will need to be paid for their services. Generally speaking this means 15% of your earnings from sales, but this can vary. It’s up to you to decide if the cost is worth it.
How to approach/query an agent.
There are a few things which you should definitely never say when querying an agent, but what should you do and say to up your chances of success?
- Finish your manuscript
- Do your research
- Be concise, reasonable, and professional in your query letter
- Be realistic
To expand upon these points a little; make sure your novel is completely written and proofread before you query, look for an agent that represents your kind of fiction, don’t invest in a gimmick when you write your query letter, and be realistic about what you expect from your novel. If you claim to be the next George R. Martin, you may be met with scepticism.
Take as much care with your query letter as you did with your manuscript, and include a one page synopsis which clearly states the main characters and plot points of your novel. Don’t try to get cute and leave them guessing as to what happens; you should be making it easy for them to know whether or not they wish to represent you.
Remember that agents receive hundreds of letters and emails each and every day; be professional and concise in your approach, and you’ll find it’s appreciated.
Three Differences Between Literary and Genre Fiction (know which you fall into if you want to pitch well!)