The agent takes a percentage and exclusive rights. It buys you the agent’s connections, his negotiation skills, his editorial suggestions and his business advice. Agents also handle foreign sales and generally require a lower cut than publishers. The agent can be your best friend and best gladiator.
Using an agent helps your chances of getting read by the publishers because they have a connection. The agent has a good idea of which publisher is most likely to appreciate the manuscript and have an opening for such a work for printing.
An agent does not interfere with publicity and promotion. That is the job of the publisher.
The good, the bad and the fake
A good agent will not make absolute promises about being able to sell your work. It’s their job to get it seen by editors but they can’t make editors buy it if they don’t like it. A good one is willing to let you know who else he or she represents and you will be able to confirm this for yourself. Good agents makes their money by selling manuscripts to publishing houses and getting their cut from the profits. A good agent doesn’t post ads – they’re swamped as it is!
A bad agent makes their money by charging a ‘reading fee’, meaning they want you to pay them to even look at your work. They charge commission rates above 15%. They post Ads in writer’s magazines.
Warning signs of a scammer
- A PO box instead of an address
- Will not tell you who else they represent or give you names that are impossible to confirm.
- Agent claims to own a publishing house. Come on, which are you?
- Charge fees or hide additional fees in legit fees that cover expenses made through copying manuscripts, postage etc.
- Guarantees your work will be published. No legit agent can do that.
- Can’t show sale numbers with legit publishers.
- They refer you to book doctors: people who tell you your work is sooooo close to publishable! But it just needs a tiny little wee bit of work! And they’re super willing to help you, for a price…