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What Is A Literary Agent And What Do They Do?

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott


Freelance Copywriter


Feb, 2018

All pistons have been firing for the past few months. You’ve been inspired, depressed, elated, and confused for good measure, and now you’ve given birth to your book. A couple of hundred megabytes of blood, sweat, and fears that it’s never going to see the light of a bookstore aisle, so you consider sending it to one of those most mythic of characters: the “Literary Agent”. But should you?

This is the third post in the Final Draft Series.

Let’s begin with an unhelpful truth. Neil Gaiman put it best when he said, “[when it comes to publishing] nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away.” The dark alleyways of the Internet, which used to publish only fan fiction and erotica, are now exploding as viable, money-earning publishing avenues, which offer nearly 100%  royalties, zero overheads , and unbridled creative liberty. Very attractive, especially if you share one novelist’s opinion (in the Guardian,) that Literary Agents’ sole purpose is to demand that you hack at the edges of your beautifully ornate rhombicosidodecahedron so that it fits into their dull, industry-friendly square hole. But, on reflection, there are, depending on the writer, some good reasons to acquire the services one of these “guardians of the threshold”.

Benefits of a Literary Agent

The first reason is a simple one: “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts for anything in this world.” Tragic as it is, it’s pretty much a universally accepted fact. Chances are you’ve been cooped up in your bedroom, making ornate devices to feed caffeine directly into your bloodstream while furiously mashing keys, and you’ve neglected the networking events at your local … wherever publishing bigwigs hang out. Well, there’s one person who hasn’t: the literary agent.

“Literary Agents’ sole purpose is to demand that you hack at the edges of your beautifully ornate rhombicosidodecahedron so that it fits into their dull, industry-friendly square hole.”

She’s been rubbing elbows, braving food poisoning and bearing unbearable anecdotes just so that she can put names to faces and, more importantly, get a good idea of what it is exactly that these publishing powerhouses are looking for. It’s her job to know the lay of the land and to know just what kind of scented stationery you should print your manuscript on so it pleases the nostrils of the person who’s got the industry might and presence to make your work seen (and, hopefully, bought) by the greatest number of readers. If you know nobody, then she’s the one person you need to get to know.

Literary Agents Don’t Do It All

This doesn’t mean that, once you’ve secured the services of a literary agent, you won’t have to worry about self-publicising in the “makes you feel dirty” kind of way. You’re still going to have to hit the binary bricks on every social media outlet, raving like a lunatic about how people will not only enjoy your book, but actually need it. The only difference is that, if you’re not an expert in these matters, you’ll have a team of people slicing off a sizeable chunk of your overall paycheck to make sure that the effort you put into blowing your own trumpet is done efficiently into a room with the very best acoustics.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: If you want your book in hardback on the shelves in Barnes and Noble, a literary agent can clear the way for you and save you a lot of time when you feel like you “really should be writing”. If this seems like an antiquated route laden with the baggage of the previous century, then you need to do is to do some research, find the right platform for you with the right kind of readers for your baby, and then launch it into the ether. Either way, your work will see the light of day, and that should spur you on through the hard times.


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