Monday, January 5, 2009

Guest Adolfo Caso Presents Views on Literary Agents

Literary agents:

In the past 100 years of publishing, the editors of Branden Books and its predecessors have hardly used the services of literary agents, most likely because Branden continues to be small, rarely publishing or re-printing more than 15 titles a year. Exposure to literary agents, both domestic and foreign, has had little impact on the company and even less impact on the authors. Branden Books, however, prefers to work directly with new authors, but accepts agent queries as well.

Notwithstanding the limitations of Branden Books, literary agents have become a reality and a force within the dwindling numbers of traditional publishers and with the ever-increasing number of E-publishers. Being part of the publishing infrastructure, the roles of literary agents are practically established; and, for an author not having an agent would be like a plaintiff going to court without a lawyer.

Having a good literary agent is similar to having a viable passport. Agents open doors; they know publishing, especially the needs of individual publishers. They know how to and where to place manuscripts; they know how to improve manuscripts or make editorial recommendations on behalf of authors. Experienced agents, therefore, play even more significant roles when media publishers accept manuscripts only through established agents. The reason is obvious: publishers find it easier to work with agents than with first-time authors who have little or no publishing and negotiating experience.

Agents, like lawyers, however, can be expensive. Literary agents may require a minimum of 10% to 25% cut from an author’s royalties. They may also want to be the main negotiators and the recipients of incomes which they would then distribute to the author after they’ve taken their part. But, they do remain vigilant in making sure that all parts of the signed agreement are properly fulfilled.

Because a literary agent has an obvious stake in an author’s work, the interest of the agent remains high--the greater dollar the value to an agreement the greater the agent’s share. The agent, therefore, is going to boost his interest; by so doing, the agent automatically boosts the interest of the author.

Agents, like publishers and authors, cannot guarantee the market success of published books. In this trio of actors, however, the agent is the one who stands to profit the most. Whereas authors invest time in completing their manuscripts, and the publishers invest sizeable capital in what really is gambling on a book, literary agents place the least amount of time and of capital, and are assured of their cut. If the book becomes successful, the agents will continue to receive his cut.

Agents, like publishers, have also become more demanding. Because there are so many more authors seeking publishers, agents have become more discriminating in choosing authors. Authors, therefore, have to be better informed and prepared before submitting their works to either agents or publishers.

There are many resources that list all types of literary agents. The more traditional ones are: Writers Market, LMP (Literary Market Place), and of course, Google. After choosing an appropriate agent--one who specializes in specific areas--i.e. fiction, non fiction, travel, poetry, etc. then the next step is to make presentations using the guidelines spelled out by that agent. If, for instance, that agent accepts completed manuscripts, then, submit the completed manuscript; otherwise, if that agent requires only one chapter, submit only one chapter. If agents specify a percentage, authors would probably waste their time and welcome in negotiating a lower one. On the other hand, if agents state that they take from 10% to 25%, then there is room for negotiating.

Preparing manuscripts may be tricky, and both agents and publishers may have specific requirements. Preparing manuscripts in running text, however, is the safest. Authors often make the mistake of formatting the manuscript for reasons of appearance not knowing that each publisher has its own formatting programs. Re-formatting manuscripts can become costly.


January 2009

Adolfo Caso is the publisher of nearly all of the non-fiction books I review, such as Tuskegee Airmen, the latest! Although Adolfo is, as you may guess a busy man, he has agree to a bi-monthly essay of issues, as proposed. If you have questions or concerns you'd like addressed. Please submit them via your comments

And Thanks to Adolfo for helping us face reality--agents are becoming even more important members of the publishing process! Do your research before approaching possible representatives of your work!