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The changing role of the agent 4

5 September 2016

The number of emails WritersServices get from authors who have been trying to contact an agent through our agency listings suggests that, even in an age of self-publishing, many writers would still prefer to find an agent than to self-publish their own work. But what exactly does an agent do?

An agent is primarily a sales person and their job is to represent their authors in the sale of rights in their books to publishers. They only make money when a book is sold and all the payments relating to that book will flow through them. A 10% fee used to be the norm but 15% is becoming increasingly popular.

It's the agents' job not only to make the deal but then to negotiate the contract and make sure it is enforced, which includes things like checking royalty statements and chasing up on payments. They have increasingly become business managers for their authors, the best of them with a long-term perspective on their clients' careers, and to offer advice in this area and updates on the changing market.

Some agents offer more editorial input, as previously noted, and this can be very valuable, particularly for a first-time writer. Others see themselves more as salespeople and focus on setting up the best deal possible for their clients. They are sometimes blamed for negotiating very high advance deals for their authors, which may lead to disappointment later on.

Finding an agent can be quite difficult. Many agents have quite full client lists and they may not really be looking to add more writers, unless, that is, they might turn out to be bestsellers! Newer agencies and those with small client lists are likely to be much more interested in building up their lists, and will spend more time looking at submissions from writers.

You can give your book its best chance by researching agents to send it to thoroughly and then following any guidelines on their website, in terms of how submissions should be made and how much material to send.

Finally, there are many considerations involved in working with an agent and you need to make sure that your agent is someone you trust, with whom you can develop a good working relationship, and that they will do a good job.

Finding an agent

Making submissions

Working with an agent