Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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What You Need To Know About Agents

What is an agent, and why do you need one? If you are an unpublished author, having an agent promoteyour manuscript to commercial publishers can mean the difference between earning royalties andspending money on self-publication. Agents, otherwise known as authors’ representatives, are essentiallycommissioned business-to-business salespeople whose sole responsibility is to connect publishinghouses with marketable manuscripts. Because agents work on commission, they have a definite interestin obtaining the highest-paying publishing contract for their client, which if all goes well will be you. How do you hire an agent? First, you find agents who have knowledge and expertise in assessing literarymarkets and the marketability your manuscript. Next, you contact them via a query letter. If your queryelicits a positive response, the agent will ask you to forward sample chapters of your work. After readingyour work, the agent will let you know whether it is a property they believe they can sell profitably and willnegotiate a contract with you. WHERE DO I FIND AN AGENT? Anyone can call himself an agent, but those with a proven track record generally belong to theAssociation of Authors’ Representatives (AAR.) The AAR has certain standards of ethics and behavior forits members, including: Agents must not charge “reading fees” to potential clients. Agents must have transparent accounting practices – in other words, a member must provide clientswith full disclosure regarding all monies they have received on behalf of that author. Agents must not have outside activities which constitute “conflicts of interest.” For example, an agentcannot freelance as a book reviewer.The Association allows “guest” visitors to their website to download their member directory for free. Thisdirectory lists members in good standing, their specialties and their addresses. The web address for theAssociation of Authors’ Representatives is http://aar-online.org DONT GO TO A BRAIN SURGEON FOR AN APPENDECTOMY Legitimate agents generally come out of the publishing industry, and maintain connections with their oldemployer(s). Most have been in editorial or acquisitions positions, and tend to be specialized in thegenres they represent. If you have a science fiction manuscript, don’t bother querying agents whosespecialty is publishing books on art history and European culture. Focus your efforts on agents oragencies whose areas of expertise closely matches the genre and content of your manuscript. THE QUERY LETTER A query letter is basically a sales letter you write to the agent explaining why your work is something theagent should sell. Think of it as a cover letter for your book, and write it with the same tone,professionalism and persuasive attitude that you would write to a prospective employer. Remember, thisis a business transaction, not a note to your best buddy. Your letter should include what marketing people call your Unique Selling Proposition. This is a feature ofyour product which differentiates it from other products in the same market or genre. You may have tocompare and contrast it to works by other authors, if it is fiction, or detail the benefits to the reader yournonfiction book offers. Keep it short, sweet and to the point, and don’t retell your story. The agent doesn’twant a book report. WHAT DOES IT COST TO FIND AN AGENT?
It costs you some time to do research, the price of a first-class postage stamp, and the challenge ofwriting a top-notch query letter. If you aren’t comfortable writing sales or marketing material, you maywant to hire someone who freelances in this area to help you craft an excellent query. What happens if every agent you contact rejects you? Well, you have some options. You can have anobjective third-party (editor, book doctor, etc.) critique your manuscript. You can then make the changesrecommended and resubmit to agents. Or you can choose to self-publish, and use the same marketinginformation you submitted to agents as the basis of your promotional campaign. Either way, the time andeffort you have expended promoting your book prior to publication can help you better develop insight intothe realities of promoting and marketing your work, and may end up honing those skills so that self-publication can be fun and profitable. The author is a freelance writer, editor, and owner of JMT Publications (http://jmtpubs.tripod.com), acompany specializing in helping authors become successfully self-published.