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Literary Agents - A Field Guide

Let me get with my agent about that.”

In certain circles, having a literary agent can be the difference between success and failure. But what exactly is a literary agent and do you need one? In this article, we’re going to briefly cover everything about these industry professionals and discover why you may or may not want to have one on your team.


In short, a literary agent is an individual who represents an author or writer and by extension, their work. Though agency is not a regulated profession, most reputable agents will be members of the Association of Authors Representatives or the AAR. Literary agents often specialize in a particular genre and do not require an upfront payment. Generally speaking, an agent will ask for an industry-standard 15% commission. These payments come out of your royalties and are taken at the time of payment from your publisher.


An agent can be found in a number of ways. There are many online resources for an author to shop for a potential agent. These online galleries include sites like and Additionally, for new authors looking to find an agent, I would highly recommend utilizing social media to build a network of professionals within the industry. Public social network sites have revolutionized intrapersonal communication and made the world a much smaller place and making professional connections is now easier than ever before. Be socially interactive and engage with people in the business; Make friends! Also worth noting is that many presses have an inventory of agents that they prefer to work with. Ask if they can recommend one for you!


Good question! As with all publishing industry questions, the answer is very familiar. “It depends.” If you stick to the classical dream of being published by a Big Five house then absolutely. Large publishers won’t bother to look at your manuscript unless a qualified agent brings it home. When it comes to these major establishments, it’s not just easier with an agent. It’s impossible without one. Another factor worth considering is that most agents come standard with a certain level of industry knowledge that an unaccustomed author wouldn’t otherwise have access to. The world of publishing has traditionally been shrouded in mystique and can be quite intimidating for a new player in the game, especially an author. Also, keep this in mind; An agent is likely to have many industry connections that could aid your chances of acceptance. An experienced agent is deep in the field and will have access to individuals with the power to make your book a bestseller. Once you have their ear it comes down to the quality of your work. This rule applies even to newer agents because of the advent of social media. As discussed earlier, modern social and professional networking allows for communication between all levels of experience in the industry.


On the other hand, many smaller presses don’t require you to have an agent at all. Huntsville Independent is one such company. No agent means a higher profit for you, the author and we’re all about that! Then you always have the chance that your agent may be crooked. They may try to charge you exorbitant amounts for their services. They might not have as much skill or experience as they imply or state. A shady agent might also ask for money or charge you fees on top of that already steep 15% commission listed in their contract. If you discover that an agent is doing any of these things, run. They’re a fraud.

All that being said, it’s definitely worth noting that some books and genres are harder to characterize than others and cannot be easily represented by a literary agent. This is why agents tend to specialize in a particular niche or category. For example, poetry and short non-fiction can be this way. To summarize, in cases where a book is an exceptionally good read or has a high earning potential, an agent may be quite a desirable thing. Otherwise, I have found that authors willing to get their hands dirty and do a bit of research are more than capable of representing themselves to a publisher or other interested party. Ultimately the decision will be yours.


Haha! So you’ve read this far and think you might have made a mistake. Can you just send an agent on their merry way? Once again, it depends. Whip out that contract you signed at the beginning of your professional relationship. You’re looking for a Termination clause. It may look something like this:

“After 12 months, this Agreement can be terminated in writing by either party with 30 days' written notice. In the event of termination, the Agency shall remain entitled to due commissions which may result from efforts implemented before the termination of this Agreement, and will remain entitled to all other due monies as stated in this Agreement.”

Most agents will require either some sort of term duration or at the very least will have a stipulation that requires you to give written notice within a specified time that you want to cut ties with them. Unfortunately, you can’t always just tell an agent to kick rocks and begone. If you decide this is the path you want to take then be sure to ask for a registry of any publishers and their editors who have shown interest in your manuscript, just in case you want to follow up with them. Remember, an agent may try to convince you to stay or further inquire about your reasons for leaving - and you are under no obligation to disclose any of this information, but depending on how prominent your agent is may affect how you would want to parry this demand. Word gets around in this business whether from agent to agent or agent to publisher. A well-connected agent can seriously damage your professional reputation if you aren’t tactful with your answers. A smart way to answer this demand would sound something like this:

“Thank you for all of your help, but at this time I have decided to head in another direction for the publication of my work. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with your agency but I will no longer require your services. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”


From wondering if you need an agent or not to learning how to get rid of a bad one, HIP has you covered. HIP has plans to create a directory of preferred agents that is publicly available to all authors. We aim to support all writers in any way possible and hope that you were able to take something of value from today's article. Though you won't need an agent to publish with HIP, this service is vital to our core mission to make the future a brighter place, one story at a time. If you learned something from this article, share it with your friends and as always, thank you for reading!

Written by:

Joshua Adams

Senior Editor

Huntsville Independent Press

This article was brought to you by Huntsville Independent Publishing, a premiere traditional publishing house servicing southeastern writers in any way we can. If you enjoyed this piece or found it helpful, please consider donating to our house @ $HIPHuntsville on Cashapp or by using the GoFundMe link found on the Support Us page. All donations go straight to author advances first and business expenses only. In that order. Together we will build a fair-to-authors company with ethical practice and a supportive passion for the art of the written word. Thank you so very much for your time!



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