10 Things you should know about a Literary Agent

Answers by Lorella Belli from The Lorella Belli Literary Agency

1. Agents sell third parties (for example book publishers) the right to produce market and publish books, not the books themselves. To put it more simply, they sell various types of rights in the intellectual property created by writers, and manage their career.

2. Most agents tend to charge 15% (20% for foreign sales or film/TV rights) of the gross amounts received for any deal they negotiate on behalf of their authors.

3. Agents shouldn’t charge any reading fees. Agents should make authors money, not make them pay money for something that should be a normal part of the agent’s job like assessing a book. Also the Agents’ Association forbids his members from doing so.

4. The agent is also responsible for collecting the money due, checking (and querying if necessary) royalty statements which publishers prepare twice a year (showing sales and profit/loss); for getting feedback from publishers (sales figures, print runs, marketing plans, etc); for reverting rights to the author if a license has expired; in general promotion of author at every opportunity, attending book fairs etc.

5. It’s reasonable to wait at least one month before chasing an agency (unless there are valid reasons for doing so, like for example if you have received some interest elsewhere). However, before sending out your submission, it would be wise to enquire whether that agency is looking for new material – you can save yourself a lot of time, money and effort this way.

6. If you are writing your first novel, you’d be advised not only to complete it, but to revise your first draft as many times as necessary before submitting it. Because by the time you finish your book, you might well go back to the beginning and change it considerably, and you don’t want to spoil your chances by sending out half-baked material.

7. The covering letter is extremely important: make it brief intriguing clear; the purpose of it is to present yourself and your work in a professional way and whet the agent’s appetite for your work.

8. Editorial services agencies and literary consultancies charge reading fees – you pay for their editorial report on your book. You pay the agent for getting you deals (and preparing your material for submission is part of the process).

9. There is nothing wrong with contacting more than one agent at a time. However, it would be appropriate to state this fact in your letter. Bear in mind that some agents don’t accept submissions unless on exclusive.

10. Do a fair bit of research on agents, find out what kind of books they represent (this is a great way of working out what they are interested in and have been successful with) and what they are looking for. Make your submission personal to that agent and show you have a reasonable understanding of the market.

If, after reading this article, you feel we could be the right agents for your fantastic book, do approach us.

LBLA (Lorella Belli Literary Agency) handles full-length fiction (from literary to genre – in particular women’s fiction, historical, crime and thrillers) and general non-fiction (popular culture, popular music, popular science, popular history, lifestyle, current affairs, memoirs, biography, autobiography, mainstream self-help, travel, sport, women’s issues, fashion, and food/wine). We don’t handle children’s books, fantasy or SF, short stories, poetry, plays, or specialist titles. We also represent American and other foreign agencies in the UK, and we work with associate agents abroad and a film/TV agency in the UK.