Publishing Agents: Good or Evil?
By Lisa Silverman
I spent about five years of my life as a literary agent, representing both screenwriters and book authors. I wasn’t a scum-sucking bottom-feeder. Then again, I ultimately decided I just wasn’t cut out to be one.
In today’s book business, they are essentially salesmen. Therefore, many of them are, to varying degrees, sleazy, slippery, or even unethical. On the other hand, most do what they do because they love books.
People you’ll come across in this business, whatever their faults, aren’t in it for any other reason. One doesn’t choose a career in the book industry, aka - becoming an agent to become rich.
Do you need an agent? In most cases, an agent can help you go mainstream, so if that's what you want, you may want to get yourself one. How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent can help you get the right agent for you!
Still, though many agents are literary types with excellent taste--and these days, many are former editors–business realities dictate that their choice of client isn’t always merit-based.
They can read great books in their spare time; during business hours, they need to make money. Most successful agents strike a balance between labor-of-love projects and bring-home-the-bacon projects, with that balance being about 15% to 85%.
So if you’re an unpublished writer, without serious connections at a publishing house, you need to take commercial issues into consideration when approaching publishing agents.
You also need to take personal issues into consideration. Look at things from the agent’s perspective: Who’s their ideal client?
A writer who:
In future posts, I’ll provide some tips on how to make your manuscript into one that doesn’t “need work.” By the way, I did have a few successes as an agent, including a mystery series by a wonderful and previously unpublished writer.
It can happen to you, too . . . Lisa Silverman is a freelance book editor and works in the copyediting department at one of New York's most prestigious literary publishing houses. She has also worked as a ghostwriter and a literary agent representing both book authors and screenwriters.
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