Common Questions about Literary Agents

“Is any agent, by the rules of the profession, obligated to inform you specifically of where  your work has been submitted and give you copies of responses?”

Strictly speaking, no. There are no “laws” about this. Each agent operates differently. There are a few pro’s and cons to getting the feedback:

Pro:

  • you know the manuscript is being sent out
  • you know how many times it is rejected
  • evaluate whether the agent did a thorough job
  • Receive the feedback necessary to improve your work

Con:

  • temptation to micro-manage the agent
  • transfer anxiety about hearing rejections into a negative relationship with the agent
  • temptation to express anger/desperation to the editors that rejected your work
“What should I put in the bio section of my query letter if I haven’t been published before?”

There is no way to hide any lack of credentials. Agents will see right through the fancy language that attempts to make up for it. Simply be forth-coming, admit that you have no education in literature, no published work that is note-worthy and that this is your first work. This being your first story may actually work in your favor, since there is a thrill to discovering the next big author. If you have nothing useful to say, consider skipping that section entirely, demonstrating you mastered word economy at least.

Meanwhile it is worth working on your resume by yourself by sending out your work to magazines and entering competitions where possible.

“How much time should I give my agent to read my work before expecting feedback?”

If you sent in a finished manuscript than three months of exclusive reading time should be plenty. No more than two months would be necessary for a proposal. If your agent does not give any feedback to your work outside of those time-periods, you should discontinue the exclusive reading time and start approaching other agents.

“If an agent advises you to revise your work without a guarantee to represent you if you do, should you do so?”

If the agent is clear and precise in what he wants to see revised (and thus telling you what he’d like to see) then go for it. He will probably want to represent you once those changes are made. Do not confuse rejection letters with revision proposals though. Only revise based on his specific feedback is he explicitly states to want to see the other version.

At the end of the day however, always follow your gut. If the revision request tells you that he does not understand or share your vision, then don’t revise.

“Can I change agents while we are already in the middle of submitting my work to publishers?”

Depends on whether you signed an agreement. If you have no agreement with him, then you can fire your agent at any time you please. If you did sign an agreement then you are bound to the exact conditions you agreed on.

“If you plan on writing several books on the same concept (e.g. a trilogy) should you query about all of them at once?”

It’s an arbitrary situation but the general rule of thumb, is no. Odds are it only makes you seem more scattered. One book concept allows the agent to quickly wrap his mind around the concept at hand. It also gives the concept the attention it deserves rather than splitting up the attention between 10 different concepts.

“What exactly are the tasks I can expect my agent to do for me?”
  • The primary role: help you find a publisher
  • Negotiate a deal
  • Negotiate the contract
  • Possibly help you brainstorm the concept
  • Edit the proposal
  • Work on submission rights

An agent does not interfere with publicity and promotion. That is the job of the publisher.

“Do I make it harder on myself if my debut novel isn’t of average length?”

Yes, very much so. The average novel is 250-400 manuscript pages. A first novel preferably falls within 200(approx. 50,000 words) – 500 (approx. 125,000 words) manuscript pages. Once you are established as an author, there is more flexibility.

“How many agents should I query?”

Aspiring authors should find at least 50 agents who are appropriate for their novel. Sometimes it just takes a large number of people to find that one agent who gets it and shares your vision. Do not give up after a handful of rejections. Publishing is extremely subjective. If you have your heart in your work, then never give up. It may just be a matter of finding the right agent.

“How do you accurately gauge book sales?”

You need to chart out the following four factors:

  1. The number of copies printed
  2. The number of copies shipped to stores
  3. The number of copies returned (stores return unsold copies)The average return rate is roughly 25%
  4. The format of the bookThis determines the pricing (coffee table book, pocket book, hardcover)

The real number of sold copies is the number of copies printed and shipped, minus the number of returns (take roughly 6-9 months for returns to finish). That is your sales number.

The number of copies sold becomes more impressive as the price of a single copy rises. A hard-cover copy is more expensive than a pocket book copy and will be harder to sell as a result. For the total number of copies sold, tally all sales numbers of all versions.

“How do I find out which agents cover the same genre as my book?”

Here are three quick ways:

  1. www.publishersmarketplace.com
    click deals > set category > browse > scan info for agent names
  2. www.publishersmarketplace.com
    click dealmakers> agents > set category
  3. http://books.google.com/
    search for “acknowledgements” and names of authors in your genre

Source: Ask a literary agent (year one) by N. Lukeman 2010