Life as a New Author: Finding a Literary Agent Who Will Work for You

in Non-Fiction by

Author and BookTrib contributor, Walt Gragg discussed life as a new author and the publishing process— from writing your manuscript to promotion your book and handling film/TV option requests. In his first piece for 2018, Gragg discusses how to find a literary agent that will work for you and help you reach publishers for your book.

It’s a joyous day — an agent you queried has requested the full manuscript for review. You quickly email it, with dreams of seeing your novel in the window of your favorite bookstore soon. Despite your efforts to resist doing so, you constantly check your email, hoping for good news but still fearing the worst. A week passes, then a month and maybe even sometimes three months or more, still, you’ve heard nothing. Your concern grows. A published writer you know tells you, ‘Relax, agents are extremely busy and it’s not unusual for the process to take this long.’

Finally, the email you were hoping for arrives, and the agent asks if you’re available for a phone call. Your published writer friend tells you that’s good news because in this business bad news comes by email and good news comes by phone, so you are hopeful.

The agent calls that evening to tell you they love your book. You have a lengthy discussion about how their agency operates, what they have in mind for edits, as agents are expected to do complete story edits prior to shopping your work, and their plans for how they will attempt to sell your book to publishers. However, they make it clear that even with their representation, the process of finding your manuscript a home can easily take a year and it is not unusual for a book they believe in to never be sold.

Satisfied that you appear to be someone they can work with, the agent will likely send you a representation agreement. While every agent has their own approach, you can expect the essential terms of the agreement to be standard across the industry.  Typically, a new author will be expected to share 15 percent of the book royalties, and a few first issue rights, such as movie/television options where the royalty share is then 20 percent. It is in your best interest to never sign with an agent who requests a fee in addition to royalties to represent you. All reputable agents earn their living off of what they receive from selling manuscripts to publishers and never ask for payment up front from a writer.

After a while, the agent will send you their suggested edits which can include anything from minor changes to significant rewrites. After you make the requested changes and send the manuscript back to them, they’ll begin shopping your book to editors and publishing houses they think will be a good match. The manuscript is usually sent to two or three places at a time as a simultaneous submission, but this will depend on your agent and what they think is best.

It is rare to sell a manuscript to the first editor to read it, and you should expect a few rejections. Your agent will pass those emails, with the editor’s comments, on to you as feedback. Getting picked up by a publishing house isn’t easy. Even if an editor loves a novel, the chances of it being published are relatively small. There are various people that have to approve the acquisition first and if any of them say no, the house will reject it. With the help of a good agent, some new writers find their way through the maze, and if luck is with you, you’ll get an excited email from them saying, ‘We need to talk!’

Your dreams have come true — your agent and editor have agreed on the basic terms, the publishing house has given their approval, and your book is going to be published. Each publisher will have their strengths and weaknesses, so the most important thing is to find an editor who is excited about your work, and an agent willing to fight for it.

 

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Walt Gragg lives in the Austin, Texas area with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He is a retired attorney and former Texas State Prosecutor. Prior to law school, he spent a number of years in the military. His time with the Army involved many interesting assignments including three years in the middle of the first Cold War serving at United States European Command Headquarters in Germany where the idea for 'The Red Line' took shape.