It is a literary agent’s job to find publishers for the writers they represent. They negotiate contracts on the writer’s behalf and can also manage and plan a writer’s career.
In return for working for a writer, the agent receives a percentage (usually around 10–15 per cent) of the writer’s income from advances, fees and royalties.
Literary agents are responsible for managing sales, contracts, publication, production (and reproduction), as well as maintaining good contacts in the writing and publishing industry, and knowledge of the current market and trends.
They act as a middle person between authors and publishers to sell the author’s work. Many publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, which are manuscripts not submitted by agents, or not specifically requested by the publisher. A recommendation from an agent will help your manuscript out of the “slush pile”.
Agents also provide their clients with a sound knowledge of legal issues in order to protect the author’s financial and legal interests.
While some agents look after a wide variety of writers, others are more specialised, focusing on a genre or area such as poetry, fiction or memoir. Make sure you do your research; you want to make sure you get the right agent for your work. Find out whether they represent writers who write the kind of book you’ve written.
What doesn't a literary agent do?
A literary agent should never charge a reading fee or a fee to represent you.
Editing and manuscript assessment are also jobs for editors, not agents.
Agents are not responsible for marketing your book. This is the role of the publisher and (increasingly) the author themselves.