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Insight into literary agents

Jacinta di Mase, of Jacinta di Mase Management and secretary of the Australian Literary Agents Association, helps us answer some common questions about literary agents.

What is a literary agent?

A literary agent is a writer’s representative in the commercial world: their manager, their business representative, protector of their copyright, the one who weighs in on the side of the author/illustrator in all dealings. An agent represents an author/illustrator in all commercial dealings with publishers, film producers, Translations rights and other subsidiary rights such as audio, film and television, dramatic, enhanced e-book and interactive digital adaptations of works are also actively pursued by an agent.

An agent is familiar with and keeps abreast of changes in:
• copyright and contract law
• general industry practices and trends
• contractual practices of Australian publishers
• staff in publishing and related industries

Why should a writer consider taking on an agent?

All creative people have agents – cabaret stars, opera singers, musicians, comedians, radio announcers, film directors, cinematographers, stage and set designers, costume designers, cartoonists … the list is endless – so why would it be otherwise for writers and illustrators?

Now perhaps more than ever a writer or illustrator needs an agent. Publishing is in a constant state of flux with new technologies presenting many radical changes to old publishing models. Editors leave publishing houses; Publishing houses are sold, or taken over, or sometimes abandoned. A writer needs a buffer to protect them during times of change. An agent knows the publishing industry and can offer this protection. Other professionals, such as lawyers, can help writers with contracts and legal issues, but an agent is in the industry at the ground level; an agent is there for the writer.

How should a writer approach a Literary Agent?

Look up a suitable agent from the list provided on the ALAA website from Australian Writers’ Marketplace and then check their submission guidelines before making contact – if these guidelines are not available on their website, phone or email them according to their stated preference. Some agents prefer you to make a phone call first; others prefer email.

Third, if an agent wants to look at your writing, they will generally ask you to send in an initial submission by email or post, according to their guidelines. They usually do not want to see the whole work at first. [Please note: if sending hard copies, send copies and not the originals. Always keep the originals in a safe place. Agents cannot be responsible for loss of material.]


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