Starting a Business

How To Become a Literary Agent

Written By: Megan Miller
Reviewed by: Mike Reyes
Last Updated November 1, 2023
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Do you want to be a successful literary agent, but are unsure how to start. It can be tough to break into the publishing industry. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, and it can be hard to know where to start.

This guide is for those looking to become literary agents so that they can make the most of their skills and experience. With this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to make your dream career a reality.

Who is a literary agent?

A literary agent works with writers and their published work to studios, theater producers, film producers, and media markets. Literary agents help authors get their books published by pitching the idea to appropriate outlets and negotiating deals with interested parties on behalf of their clients. They will also ensure that royalties are paid promptly and accurately.

Ultimately, it is the agent’s job to match a writer with the most appropriate publisher or production company for their work.

What Do Literary Agents Do?

A literary agent is responsible for different tasks in the publishing world. This includes finding and signing new authors. Agents will often be in direct or indirect contact with publishers and producers to determine what books and movies are being considered for publication and who their target audiences might be.

Agents also pitch ideas to the media about what they believe will make a good movie or TV series. Often agents will get feedback from these outlets, letting them know what would work well and if they will be interested.

An agent’s job is to find the best publishing opportunities for an author or screenwriter and assist with contract negotiations of different deals. This allows their clients to focus on writing instead of dealing with contracts, royalties, etc. 

A successful literary agent will want to build a good reputation with publishers and producers to first consider their client’s work and not pass up less deserving work.

Let’s discuss how one can become a successful literary agent and make a promising career in the publishing industry.

How to Become a Literary Agent

To be a successful literary agent, you first need to gain experience in the writing and publishing industry.

If you are an aspiring writer looking to become an agent, it will take some hard work. Sending out manuscripts with even good conceptualization is no guarantee of publication. Think of yourself as a product and work on your writing before approaching publishers.

Begin With an Internship

Your first option would be to join a recognized publishing company as an intern/trainee where you can learn the ropes of the business.

You can also offer free work for some smaller publishing companies or websites that are new in the market with limited budgets but good writing experience. In the publishing world, the more, the merrier. And, the more you prove your writing skills, the more places will offer you to write for them at some decent rates.

Start To Build Connections

a group of people looking to become literary agents

It is crucial to start building connections with agents and publishers as much as possible. To get an entry-level position, you should start looking for agents that may be interested in representing you after they read samples of your work.

Create a Portfolio

Writers with experience are more likely to get an entry-level position quickly. To become a literary agent, one should know about the publishing industry and have a solid portfolio to present to publishing houses. A solid understanding of publishing, book marketing, and business skills can quickly help you break into the publishing industry.

Examine the publishing process.

Before you begin to work in the publishing industry, you should understand the publishing process. This will allow you to understand the industry better and offer your input when required. 

You can read agency blogs to find out what’s happening in the industry. This will help you get a solid understanding of the publishing marketplace and allow you to outshine many literary agents.

Decide Whether You Want to Create Your Own Company

Since there is a lot of competition in the publishing industry, it is advised that you opt for starting your own firm, which will allow you to maintain complete control over your business. You can run your agency in the way you want to, with no one controlling your business decisions, etc.

This way, you can become a successful agent in the industry. Try to secure more publishing contracts with independent publishers. Having business skills is an excellent way to get started in the agency.

What Are the Skills and Characteristics of Famous Literary Agents?

Several skill sets are needed to get started as a literary agent and have a chance in any literary agency. We have listed some of the most critical skills and characteristics that one should have to become a successful literary agent and get a break in the publishing world.

Passionate about reading

One should be a passionate reader of books to succeed in this career. A good literary agent has to read many manuscripts throughout the year, and they need to scan them without much bias. Literary agencies prefer people with knowledge about the publishing industry.

Excellent communication skills are a must

One should have good communication skills to be a successful literary agent. Publishing houses depend on literary agents to identify talented authors and make deals with publishing houses. Good communication skills will allow an agent to quickly sign up the best authors.

Creativity and Vision

To become a literary agent, you should have a creative mind. One should be able to spot good writing skills among the manuscripts you receive, and they should be able to market the book well enough to find a place in the market. Most literary agents do not have the time to sift through each manuscript they receive. The best agents have a creative mind who find talent and present it to make it easy to sell.

Knowledge about Publishing

To secure a good position in literary agencies, you should have a thorough knowledge of the publishing industry. You should be able to spot talent and present it so that literary agents find it easy to market the book.

To secure a good position at a literary agency, you should have publishing experience and knowledge about sales, distribution, marketing, editing, and production. This will help you get new clients for the agency and ensure a senior position with business managers.

How Much Money Does a Literary Agent Make?

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According to labor statistics, the salaries of Literary Agents in the US range from $28,060 to $187,200. And the average salary is $62,940.

Having a bachelor’s degree can give you an advantage in this industry. An established agency always prefers employees with a bachelor’s degree. Many online courses are available to help you secure a good position in literary agencies without having too much experience. It also depends upon which publishing house you land your first job with. 

Final Words

A literary agent works with writers and their published work to studios, theater producers, film producers, and media markets. To be successful in this position, you’ll need experience working within the publishing industry. A publishing house always prefers agents who have publishing expertise and literary agency experience. Most agents usually come from a publishing house and work their way up to an agency. Publishers such as Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, etc., have corporate recruiting programs for entry-level positions in acquiring and marketing departments.

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