We have briefly covered what a literary agent does, although were a literary agent to actually read the article I wrote they would no doubt be fuming at how I have trivialised them terribly. I would like to apologise and reassure those agents out there that they are a valuable resource in the books world and we would be nowhere without them.
This is why I’d like to mention a little more about the role of an agent in this article.
How the literary agent makes their money
The literary agent, or literary agency, makes their living entirely from the commission off their clients’ work. This puts the literary agent under a significant amount of pressure and also in the unenviable position of representing the author. As you are probably an author yourself you will no doubt know already how awkward an author can be. Well, it’s the job of the agent to get as much cash for the author as possible if he or she thinks that the book is good enough to publish.
If the agent doesn’t do their job properly there are always more agents out there prepared to work a little harder for their client. The short version of what I’m getting at I suppose is that if you get a good one you are pretty guaranteed they’re going to work their fingers to the bone to get you a good deal.
These day’s commissions are around 15% of UK sales and 20% of sales in the USA and translation. This is in order to cover their living and also any overheads they have these days which can extend to quite a fee depending on where your agent keeps their offices.
The relationship between the author and the agent
This is as important as making any money for their client. An agent has to get along with their client or all is lost, quite literally. It isn’t enough to simply write books and sell them anymore; even in the growing world of online bookstores there are only enough shelves for a certain amount of books. Therefore the chemistry (if you like) has to be just right.
Because authors are all very different people, and in my experience, all very difficult people, they all want different things. Some want nothing more than to be famous and considered the next Charles Dickens, and some only want to make money. It is imperative that in order to sell books and make any money themselves, that the literary agent gets to know the author well.
From the author’s point of view, they have to have a closer personal relationship with their agent because they have to believe that their agent believes in them then and they have to believe that the agent is also doing their very best for them, pulling out all the stops to get their books into the bookstore via a great publishing house.
Many of these very important relationships are built to last and this is why it’s so very important for it to be built very carefully and based upon trust and mutual dependence. The literary agent probably has to work the hardest of all in the world of publishing; at least the publisher has the luxury of never actually having to meet their authors!