How To Become a Literary Agent

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A literary agent sells unpublished author manuscripts to publishers. Agents are hired by writers who are interested in getting their books published for the market and they try to sell the books to a publishing house. These agents do not earn a salary; rather, they receive a sales commission when they successfully sell a manuscript. Since publishing houses can be very selective about which books they purchase, literary agents must be very persistent and dedicated.

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Education Bachelor's degree[1]
Starting pay Varies
Median pay 15 percent commission[2]
10 yr growth Slower than average[2]
Related professions Publisher, author, sales agent
Author Selena Robinson

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Literary Agent Job Overview

The job of a literary agent is to serve as the middle person between an author and a publisher. The agent acts as a broker by searching for unpublished works that have market potential, signing the authors to a contract, and then trying to find a publishing deal for the authors. To do this effectively, literary agents often spend a large amount of time with authors, finding out what their desires and hopes are for their manuscripts. They may choose publishing houses to approach based on the author's desired market. Literary agents work on commission, so effectiveness as salespersons is directly tied to their income.[2]

However, a literary agent does not just accept the first offer that becomes available. He or she works to find the best possible publishing deal for their clients and often has to negotiate for better offers than those originally received.[3]

Literary Agent Education

To become a literary agent, most individuals need to obtain a bachelor's degree. Useful degree majors include English and Journalism - both fields that involve learning how to write, speak, and conduct interviews. During their education, these students often take courses in creative writing, public speaking, and fiction writing.[1] One of the most important things for a literary agent to learn is how to read quickly. In a typical week, an agent may read up to 200,000 words.[4]

Literary Agent Training

Following graduation, aspiring literary agents need to gain experience in order to move up in the company. Many accept entry-level positions at publishing houses or firms and then receive on-the-job training about how to select a good manuscript, how to perform basic editing, and how to meet up-and-coming writers.

Working at a publishing house also gives a hopeful literary agent an inside look at how books are selected for publication. They can use this knowledge to make effective sales pitches to publishers after becoming an agent.[1]

Literary Agent Interview

Kristin Nelson talks about becoming a literary agent

Also See: How to Become an Author, How to Become a Publisher, How to Become an Editor, How to Become a Copy Editor


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