Why a Literary Agent is So Important to Your Success

By: Steve Manning

Ask any literary agent what they’re interested in and they’ll tell you, without a doubt, literary quality. That’s what they want. They’re looking for high-quality writing. That’s their story and they’re sticking with it.

But if you catch them in an unguarded moment, the truth might just slip out. Oh, they’re still looking for literary quality, and if that’s part of the package so much the better, but that’s not really the determining factor.

The big issue, the one that can really turn it to your advantage, is a lot simpler and, we should have guessed, a lot more predictable. The real question is, will this manuscript sell? Will it sell first to a publisher, and, then, will it sell to the general public.

The answer to the first question is why you’ve got a literary agent in the first place. Will it sell to a publisher? Well, you as an author have no idea. You can hope, you can suggest, you can rationalize and you can predict, you can see no possible alternative. Of course a publisher will want to write your manuscript. But you don’t really know.

Literary agents, the good ones, do. That’s why they’re constantly talking to trade editors at publishing houses, and publishing executives as well. They want to have their ears to the ground to scout out any trends that are developing, or, more profitably, any needs that publishers have.

“What we’re really looking for now, Sam, is a children’s chapter book that touches, gently, on the issue of terrorism and homeland security."

“What we need is a series of gothic horrors."

“The guys upstairs want to take a look at a new genre of romance…"

A lot of authors think that publishers make their decisions based on the manuscripts that come their way. That’s not always the case. Publishers often have their own agenda. They see the needs developing and they want to have books ready to go when the demand is right. Often they’re looking for specific kinds of books and they’re letting literary agents know about their needs so the best manuscripts can be brought to them.

And that’s good news for you. Okay, maybe you’ve spent a lot of time writing that book on science fiction trivia. The agent you’re working with says it’s a great book, but they’ve just been talking with an editor and they’re looking for a trivia book for science. Would you be up to writing it.

Yes, I can just hear all the author’s saying, “just a minute, I’ll check my schedule to see if I can fit that in."

Agents also know, generally, which publishers are looking for which books. True, the information you have may say the publisher publishes horror stories. But you won’t know they’ve got a back log of these manuscripts and aren’t looking for any more. A good literary agent will not only know this, they’ll also know which publishers are looking precisely for the book you’ve got to offer. Getting your manuscript before the right set of eyes is half the battle when it comes to getting your book published.

Agents will also know what’s selling now, and whether this is the beginning of a new wave, or the end of an old one. They make their reputation and their relationships by helping publishers pick winners for the upcoming season. That’s why they’re so important. They have the knowledge and the contacts that you just don’t have.

They know what will sell, why, when and where. And if you hook up with an agent who is committed to their own success, you’ve just formed a partnership with an agent who is also committed to your success.

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