What Is a Literary Agent, and How Can You Get One? By Jevon Bolden

July 10, 2020


Literary agents can be an author’s best friend. Like traditional publishing in-house editors, they are professionals who know the book publishing industry well, and they are solely the author’s advocate. Bringing an agent on to be your partner in finding the right publisher for your manuscript could be the best thing you do for your writing career.

How Can an Agent Help You? 

A good agent will be an objective, proven, and experienced voice for all you do in pursuit of becoming a successful traditionally published author. Oftentimes, agents will have gained their high-level expertise by having served as acquisitions editors or on sales or marketing teams.

An agent will:

  • Vet your book concepts
  • Help you determine a publishing strategy
  • Direct you on how to write an outstanding book proposal
  • Advise you on how to strengthen your platform 
  • Represent you to publishers who do not accept unsolicited manuscripts 
  • Help you brainstorm ideas for a marketing and increasing social media engagement
  • Negotiate publishing contracts 
  • Give you personalized information about the publishing landscape

An agent will not:

  • Charge a fee to read your manuscript IF you are querying them*
  • Charge a fee to represent you. Agents are paid when you are signed to a contract they negotiated for you. They receive 15 percent of both the advance and future royalties.
  • Edit your manuscript or provide manuscript critiques. Those are jobs for editors not agents.*
  • Market your book. If you are signed to a publishing agreement, the publisher will do some of this for you. You will share in the responsible for marketing your book as well.

How to Get an Agent

  1. Do your research. Educate yourself in publishing, writing, building a platform, and finding an agent. Google can be your best friend here.
  2. If you are writing nonfiction, have a significant author platform or one that is visibly or actively growing
  3. If you are writing fiction, write exceptionally well within the conventions of the genre you are writing
  4. Have a clear, concise, and compelling book idea aimed at a right and specific audience
  5. Write a phenomenal query letter or follow the agent’s submission guidelines to a T
  6. Only pitch to agents who are seeking to represent books like yours

Why Publishers and Editors Love Agents

When I was an acquisitions editor, it was always a burden-lifter when an author had a literary agent who I knew had done the heavy lifting for me. I could feel confident that the agent and author had done their homework, invested in the book proposal before approaching me, and had a package that was complete and ready for me to take to the acquisitions board. I write about why I loved working with agents when I was an in-house editor here. The acquisitions team always had a hard time saying no to those authors.

Now, after serving as an in-house editor for more than fourteen years, I am a literary agent who hopes to partner with great authors to help them find the right publishers, so that, together, we can publish great books that make a big difference.

To see the kind of books and authors I am searching for, click here.

To read more of my thoughts on getting published, editors, and agents, click here.

To download my free ebook, Get Published: Seven Secrets to Getting Your Manuscript Accepted, click here.

* Because some agents have extensive publishing experience, they may offer a menu of services that any author can benefit from and should not be confused with their literary agenting work. For example, some may offer PR, marketing, or book launch services; editing or writing; consulting and workshops; and more. If an agent does not directly provide additional services, they may have industry contacts who can serve you well in any of these areas.

About the Writer

Best-selling editor, writer, and literary agent, Jevon Bolden is CEO of Embolden Media Group, a boutique publishing consulting firm. With sixteen years’ experience, Jevon shares the best of what she knows at conferences, workshops, and in individual service to passionate, creative, and influential people who desire to publish exceptional books.

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