New Girl on the Book(s)

An Internship Experience in a Literary Agency

You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Why an Agent?

With my internship nearing the end, it sadly means that my very first experience in the publishing world is, too. In these few short weeks, I have learned so much about the industry. More than I could have ever imagined. However, of course, I’ve especially become familiar with the role of a literary agent in the publishing process.

But, there’s a question that my adviser posed to me in the comments of one of my previous posts: Does an author necessarily need an agent to get published? The answer to this is no. In today’s world, self-publishing makes companies, such as Amazon, directly accessible to writers. So, essentially an author no longer needs to go through an agent.

Here are all the alternatives to traditional publishing!

Here are all the alternatives to traditional publishing!

Yet, this question got me thinking a little deeper and reading more articles on what exactly the purpose is of an agent today. I came to the conclusion that a few qualities set an agent apart and give authors an advantage in the industry.

1.  The Matchmaking Business

First of all, it’s the agent’s responsibility to know the industry. An agent works to build connections to editors in various big and small publishing houses to find a great fit for the author. Agents know their authors and they know editors. Playing the role of matchmaker, an agent should automatically be thinking about what editor a manuscript would appeal to while reading an author’s work (as I talked about in this post). By querying an agent first, an author essentially already submits to multiple editors that will most certainly be a good fit.

2. Submissions

Going off the first point, a lot of big publishers refuse submissions that don’t come directly from an agent. So, not only do agents know the preferences of editors, they give authors access to even more publishing houses. Moreover, an agent helps editors by saving them time. By reading through all of the submissions before they reach editors, agents weed out the manuscripts that still need revising before taking the next step toward publication.

3. Contracts & Rights

This advantage is very straightforward. Publishing houses look out for their own interests in the publishing process and it’s the agent’s responsibility to ensure that the author maintains rights to his work. Plus, agents specialize in the language of book contracts, and thus, know what to look for when negotiating it.

And last, but most certainly not least…

4. The Author/Agent Relationship

From my experience this summer, I’ve realized that one advantage truly sets the agent apart in the publishing process: the author/agent relationship.

The biggest difference between an editor and agent lies in how deep the relationship goes. While an author may have great rapport with both an agent and editor, the relationships differ greatly. With an editor, the end goal is to read and revise the manuscript, sculpting it into a finished product ready to hit bookstore shelves. The author and editor work together to edit the book and ensure its success, but that’s about as deep as it goes. Of course, the focus of the editor/author relationship should be the book. But, after the book is published, then the editor’s work is done.

On the other hand, the relationship between an author and agent goes much deeper. When an agent makes the decision to take on an author, she is in it for the long-haul, so you better get comfortable. This summer, I got to witness this specifically by being an in-office intern. Hearing Paige talk about some of her authors like old friends showed me exactly what an agent’s main role is. While an agent works to get a manuscript ready to submit, her main responsibility is not to edit the book. Rather, her primary purpose is to befriend and take care of the author.

On the CMA website, Paige provides a guide to a good agent/author relationship. In short, however, an editor works with the book; an agent works with the author.

Until next time!

1 Comment

  1. Hannah, I really enjoyed reading this post. I can’t believe your experience is almost at an end – perhaps it actually is at an end by now. I was very interested in your discussion of the different roles of the editor and the agent. But doesn’t the agent also help the author revise the ms and get it as good as possible before submission? Presumably, agents also know what the market needs and can help an author submit as strong a ms as possible. Thanks for allowing me to follow you on this journey and looking forward to seeing you next semester!

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