When I’m asked “what I do”, I find it difficult to explain. My husband often helpfully chimes in, literary agents are like Jerry Maguire, but for books. (Although, this is quickly becoming a dated reference).
And I think that’s probably one of the best ways to explain it. A literary agent is an author’s manager. We discover writers and stories, and we sell a writer’s work to publishers and negotiate on their behalf. We negotiate deals with film, tv, with audio, with ebooks; we try to help authors make the most of their copyright and find their readership.
We’re also the author’s main advocate. We negotiate contracts and push for higher royalty rates, and we also push for marketing and publicity from publishers. We’re the ones who pick up the phone and call if we think that a book isn’t being marketed the right way or if a book cover isn’t working.
An agent is often the first reader (and increasingly, the first editor), and so it’s important for a writer to find a literary agent they trust. Ideally, a relationship with a literary agent is a life-long partnership.
Literary agents are readers and lovers of a great story, but they also have to be hard negotiators and salespeople. To be an agent, you have to love to read, and I wish we spent our time in the office reading, but that’s a very rare luxury.
A literary agent makes their living on commission. It’s in an agent’s interest to have an author succeed. It’s also true that with stories changing and the publishing industry evolving, agents are having to find ways to adapt and to find new avenues to share stories.