6 Tips for Working with a Literary Agent image

If you have signed a contract with a literary agent or are considering doing so, you need to know how to create a great working relationship with your agent so you can maximize your chances of success.

Many authors think they’ve got it made once they sign a contract with an agent, but at that point, your book hasn’t even been sold yet!

The sad truth is that most authors who sign a contract with a literary agent don’t actually end up getting a book deal with a major publisher.

Sometimes the book doesn’t sell because it’s not good enough, or it’s not a right fit for the market (according to the publishers), or because the agent doesn’t have the skills or experience to market your book effectively.

But sometimes it’s the author’s fault the book doesn’t sell. If you don’t create a great working relationship with your agent, you could be sabotaging your success from the get go.

Tips for Working with a Literary Agent

When you’ve finally found a literary agent, there are a few things you can do to set yourself—and your agent—up for success.

1. Be Open to Criticism

Your agent is there to sell your book.

That might, from time to time, mean making some hard-to-hear critiques and comments about things that need to be changed.

Agents tell you the tough stuff you might not want to hear, like how that secondary character you adore is really super-annoying. They’re not doing it to be mean; they’re doing it to help you create the best book you can…that will sell like hotcakes.

Your agent is there to give you feedback and constructive criticism. If you can’t accept it from them, you’re going to have a really hard time if the book ever sells and you get a revision letter from an editor.

Get used to feedback and criticism and learn to take it in the spirit it’s given: as a way to make your writing stronger and boost your skills and your career.

2. Be Communicative—But Not Clingy

Agents love hearing from their authors! They want to know how the writing process is going when your book revisions are going to be complete, and what new projects you’re working on.

But you’re not your agent’s only client. They probably have 8 or more other authors who are also checking in—or who need to be checked in on.

So while regular check-ins for milestones are important so that your agent knows everything’s okay, it’s not necessary to email them every day to tell them you’ve managed 1,200 words.

Likewise, have faith that your agent is doing their best to place your book with a great press under a great contract. Don’t call or email them every day to ask if there’s a deal yet, or to insist that all they have to do is call Hyperion and you’ll both be millionaires.

Your agent is doing the very best they can to sell your book. It just might take awhile.

If you’re antsy, schedule regular check-ins. Your agent should be more than happy to give you a brief progress report once a month. In return, consider doing the same—update them once a week or once a month about how you’re coming on your deadlines and the next book in your series, or about what marketing ideas you’re trying out.

3. Don’t Use Your Literary Agent as a Therapist

Your agent is your business manager, not your therapist.

They have other clients and they need to be sending out queries, helping with edits or checking royalty statements—not holding your hand as you agonize about whether Sergio or Danny should end up with Isabella, or, worse, whether you should have the tuna for lunch.

Build a relationship with a local writer’s group, talk to your significant other, babble at your dog, or hire an actual therapist…but don’t lean on your agent at every bump in the road you encounter.

They’ll start to wonder whether you have the professionalism and grit to manage the grueling process of writing, revising, and marketing books and whether your working relationship is really working.

4. Don’t Expect Agents to Do Your Work

Agents aren’t writers.

Well, okay, some might be, but most agents are seasoned business professionals with some editorial experience, some contracts experience, and a whole lot of business savvy.

They’re there to sell your book for the best deal possible, not to ghostwrite it for you or to take over your social media channels to do your promotion.

Agents may give you editorial help, suggestions on what to write, or ideas for how to get out of a corner with your plotline. They may have ideas for how to bust your writer’s block or to improve your marketing.

But don’t expect them to wave a magic wand and solve everything for you.

You’re the writer; you do the writing. Your agent will work hard to sell it when you’re done.

5. Focus on One Book at a Time

Not every book appeals to every reader, and that’s even true when the reader is your agent.

They’re not going to love every word you ever write…and that’s okay! A great agent who just can’t get into a certain book will give you the okay to do something else with it, like self-publish…and they’ll also explain why they don’t like it, in case you might need to rethink what you’re doing.

For instance, if you’re a career author of uplifting children’s books and you turn around and write a gory horror novel, part of your agent’s job is to point out the career consequences of that choice. You can still choose to go publish the novel (maybe under a pen name!), but it’s part of a solid working relationship if your agent can honestly give you feedback about a project they aren’t a fan of.

Similarly, don’t expect your agent to sell every single book you ever write. Sometimes the market just isn’t there when you want it to be. You may have written an amazing book on creating a backyard pig farm, but if publishers aren’t interested, they’re not interested.

6. Ask Your Literary Agent for Advice

That said, even if your agent is having a hard time selling your book, you should be able to ask them for advice based on the feedback they’ve gotten from editors.

Maybe pig farming isn’t a popular topic right now…but chicken farming is. Can you change the focus of your book?

Your agent can also give you advice on what to do with a manuscript that doesn’t seem to be finding a home in the marketplace, whether that’s rewriting it, adapting it for film or TV, turning it into an online course, or self-publishing.

They might not be ready, willing, or able to help you execute on that plan, but a great agent will help you brainstorm about what to do if a book just isn’t getting any industry interest.

Literary agents are your partners in the adventure that is publishing a book.

They help you fine-tune your writing, find a publisher, get a great book deal, and navigate the process of going from raw manuscript to finished book…and beyond.

It takes a lot of time and effort to find the right agent, but it can be worth it in the end when you have someone in your corner, working to sell your book and support your author career.

 

You can also check out our list of literary agents for each genre:

 

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Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.

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