• 4-minute read
  • 20th November 2019

What Do Agents and Editors Do for an Author?

To get published, you may need to work with agents and editors, which are important roles in the publishing world. But what exactly do they do? What are their relationships with authors? And how do you find an agent or editor?

In this post, we’ll explore what aspiring authors need to know about both.

What Do Literary Agents Do?

Literary agents are people who represent writers in the publishing world. They are experts in the market and play an advisory role, which can include:

  • Connecting writers with publishers and other industry representatives.
  • Selling manuscripts and negotiating contracts for royalties.
  • Advising writers on choosing the right publishers and other career issues.
  • Mediating between authors and publishers/editors.

Literary agents typically work on a commission basis: e.g. if your book sells, they’ll get a percentage of the advance. This is often around 10-15%, but the exact numbers will depend on the agent in question.

Different agents specialise in different types of writing. For instance, some agents only work for screenwriters. Others specialise in genre fiction. But whatever you write, there will be an agent somewhere who can help you.

What Do Editors Do?

The word ‘editor’ covers several roles, but here we’re looking at editors employed by publishers to oversee the publishing process. These are often known as ‘commissioning editors’. Their duties typically include:

  • Acquiring and reviewing manuscripts for potential publication.
  • Acting as a point of contact for authors.
  • Working with signed authors to develop manuscripts
  • Overseeing the editing and proofreading processes.
  • Managing publishing schedules.

At smaller publishers, an editor may also do some copy editing, proofreading, or whatever it takes to prepare a manuscript for publication! And if you sign a publishing deal, you may build a close relationship with an editor over time, working with the same person on multiple projects.

Do You Need an Agent?

Typically, an agent will be your first point of contact with a publisher. The Big Five publishers, for example, don’t usually read unagented manuscripts. As such, you will need an agent to get noticed by these companies.

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But there is also a growing culture of small press and independent publishers, who sometimes accept manuscripts directly from authors. And it’s always worth checking a publisher’s website for submission instructions.

In addition, many authors now choose to self-publish. This is much more accessible than traditional publishing, as well as giving you more control over the process. However, self-publishing can be more work, and it can be hard to get noticed as a self-published author, whereas a publisher can offer significant help with the marketing and promotion of your book.

Ultimately, it is your choice whether to approach an agent. But agents are industry experts, so it can be a great help in getting published!

Finding a Literary Agent

So, you’ve decided you want an agent. But how can you find one? Here are a few places you may want to look for literary agents:

  1. The Writers’ Handbook and Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – Updated annually, these handbooks list active literary agents and publishers, alongside their preferred genres and previous publications.
  2. Online Directories – You can also look online for literary agents. This includes websites like PublishersMarketplace, AgentQuery, JerichoWriters, etc. You can also browse LinkedIn for agents and message whomever interests you.
  3. Conferences and Events – Networking at writing conferences is the best way to make relevant contacts and meet agents. You can make a stronger impression in person than via an email, after all. Look for any local events in your area, but it’s also worth travelling to bigger events.
  4. Online Writing Groups – If travelling isn’t an option, you can still network with other writers and publishing professionals online. Use these communities to seek advice on finding an agent or publisher.

When you find an agent, you can send them your manuscript or pitch, along with a cover letter. And while you may not get interest right away – few authors do! – it’s worth persisting, as all you need is to find the right person.

In addition, don’t forget to have your manuscript proofread. This might seem confusing: surely the proofreading comes after you’ve found a publisher? But a first draft is rarely polished, so a little help from an expert copyeditor can help you impress agents and commissioning editors.

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