Literary Agents

It used to be that in order to get a book published you had to have an agent, more formally known as a literary agent.

The number of agents is now 90% fewer than it was ten years ago. The reason for this is that agents take all of their projects on spec – meaning that if the project doesn’t sell, they don’t make any money.

The typical agent will take 15% of the author’s royalties. The publisher pays the entire royalty to the agent and then the agent will pay the author, minus his or her 15%. This has been a problem occasionally because agents are not licensed. They do have a fiduciary duty to protect the money of the author, but without licensing or monitoring there have been many stories of agents taking money from the author.

However, this whole discussion is more or less moot, with the exception of very well-known authors who sell in the millions. Almost all nonfiction authors sell their books directly to publishers. It is very rare for a new or lesser-known nonfiction author to have an agent.

You are much more likely to find a publisher as a new nonfiction author than you are to find an agent, and it is expected when you create a book proposal that you will send it directly to a publisher.

Fiction is a different story. Because a fiction book must be read cover-to-cover to determine whether it is good, agents are still involved. But it is still difficult to find an agent for a fiction book. Your best strategy is to meet an agent through another successful author if you need one because you are writing a fiction book.