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Starting from scratch: setting up a new literary agency


Jane Dowary

It was quite an endeavor for me to start my own literary agency. You have to find the right name and the right type of projects to work on as a literary agent. You have to find ways to let writers know about your agency and what qualifies you to be a literary agent. You as an agent need to make sure that the websites that list your agency are legitimate and professional, and keep accurate listings of your agency.

When it comes to acquiring clients, you need to have a firm understanding of public relations and what is good and creative writing. The world is filled with writers who all want to be published and they will bang down your door for the chance. You have to swim your way through a sea of submissions and figure out which manuscripts are the right projects for you to be working on. You have to take the time and the dedication to read each manuscript thoroughly, sometimes even with a microscope, to make sure that it is a quality work that stands a chance of getting published.

If you see a manuscript that has potential but is not quite ready for publishing, you should not make the mistake of casting the submission aside and moving on, but work with the author to make it the best work possible so that it has a chance to be published. That is what an agent does for a living - helps writers with their writing and gets them published. I know this can add to the great burden agents face of handling submissions, but a good agent doesn't mind the work. Most agents throw away submissions that they are not interested in after the first read. To find the right clients, the ones who have talent and are dedicated to their craft, I usually read a submission twice before I decide whether to pass or to pursue it.

As a new agent, you have to have a lot of faith that you can make those manuscripts that come your way sell to the right publishers. You have to believe in yourself as well and understand that publishing has been and probably always will be a subjective business based on the opinions of those who work in the publishing industry. What one publisher doesn't want to publish may be the perfect project for another. As a literary agent you have to find out who is publishing what and when, and find the right manuscripts to submit to them so that your clients stand the best chance of getting published.

And you need to be able to not take rejections to heart. If a project you take on doesn't go the way you planned, it just means it wasn't the right project for you. You have to be very determined and strong-willed to make it as a literary agent. There are some agents who give up very quickly and decide to find new careers or give up on a project so quickly that they never make any sales as an agent for their whole agenting career.

Another thing about being a literary agent is that you need to be dedicated, professional and honest, and work very hard. You need to try your hardest to sell the manuscripts you feel are publishable to the right publisher. If you manage to sell a manuscript to a publisher, but they are not the right one, then the book will fail once published.

Another thing I have learned about being a literary agent is that location is something that is very important. You need to make sure you are near enough to the publishing world to be kept in the loop and know who is publishing what and where and when. It is very hard to stay connected to the publishing world and do your job properly as a literary agent if you are so far away from the publishing action that it takes too long or becomes difficult to get your clients' manuscripts submitted to the publishers.

Professionalism is probably one of The Most Important Things a good and legitimate literary agent needs to have when establishing a new agency and making a successful career as a literary agent. You need to know how to handle submissions to publishers properly and the correct way to conduct contract negotiations. No publisher in the world is going to bother to read a query from an agent who does not speak and write clearly about what it is they are trying to submit - and why they think that particular publisher is the right one for that project. It can be quite off-putting to the publisher, and more often than not they will ignore the submission, and, worse yet, may even stop accepting submissions from that agent because they are too unprofessional or even incompetent.

Another thing you need to know about being a literary agent and starting a new agency is that it can be exciting and stressful and wonderful and overwhelming in one jolt. You need to know your limit and make sure you don't bite off more than you can chew. Some agents take on way too many projects and too many different projects all at once, and soon find they are daunted and dazed and confused, and have no idea what they are doing. This is not good for a literary agent. A good agent knows when they have taken on too many projects and need to stop for a while.

Jane Dowary majored in English literature and English Language and then worked for many years as a fiction writer. This developed her interest in becoming a literary agent because she saw how hard it was for writers to get representation for their work. She set up the Jane Dowary Literary Agency in 2013.

Jane Dowary Agency

Jane Dowary Agency website