I write this blog entry from a position of ignorance, which is often how I like to live my life. I was lucky enough to get my literary agent very quickly and I struck gold when I did (I know I'm bound to say that, but in this case it is true). As a result, I don't have a huge list of hints and tips to impart regarding the long road traveled to finding an agent and how to keep positive and enthusiastic as to do so. However, I did attract the second agency I approached, as it turned out, so I suppose there is something in that to share.
The bottom line is that if you want to become a published author in the traditional sense of having a publisher publish your own work on your behalf, you will need to get an agent. Publishers very occasionally announce they are taking open submissions directly from writers, but the usual state of affairs is that they will only accept those submitted by a literary agent. The reason is simple. The agent will (on the whole) have filtered out the dross.
Publishers are busy, understaffed, overwhelmed places. They simply don't have the resources to read and review every single submission from every single source. So literary agencies will give them the assurance that what they are being made to read is probably worth reading.
So, primarily, your agent will get your work published. This is, of course, the most important aspect of their work for the author at the beginning, but it's certainly not the only one and, once you're secured with a publisher, your agent becomes an essential part of your armoury - your right hand man.
It's hard enough to write a book, let alone understand all the legal ramifications behind the contracts which go with it. The agent will, on your behalf, fight for the best deal they can for you, including the size of your advance, your royalties, when you'll be paid and the size of your deal in terms of the number of books you have to write for the publisher.
When you first win the publishing deal, you tend to slip into a dimwitted ether sniffing manner. Nothing quite makes sense anymore, everything sounds wonderful and any deadline is achievable with your all conquering pen and imagination. Agents will help agree exactly what's required of you and make sure that what you put your name to is fair you, as well as the publisher.
Once all the nasty paperwork is done, your agent will often become your own editor. I say 'often' because I've heard of agents who do not get involved with this side of things. I hope you get an agent who rolls their sleeves up and does help with editing because writing books is a lonely business and having someone who is, in many ways, your number one fan but without the sycophantic leanings, is such a godsend. My agent is my own editor and will review, correct and comment on everything I send them - and I send them a lot, much of which never sees the light of day! They are the safety net before you send further work to your publisher and you will hopefully come to appreciate their input immensely. I certainly do.
Agents will also look out for other deals for you and your work; foreign rights, audio books, TV deals, film deals. After all, selling your work is how they make their money - usually 15%. They know who's who in the market. They know them well enough to pick up the phone and talk to them candidly about your work, or go out for a beer with them and insist that they sign you up. They are your sales team, your editorial team and your baton twirling, pom pom waving team, rolled into one.
Trust me - you need an agent, if only to keep you sane down this long lonely road all writers travel.
So, now you know why you need an agent, how do you go about getting one? I'll discuss this in my next blog entry.
By the way, my agent is LAW and if you've got a book in you, they're well worth contacting.