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So... How Exactly Does This Whole "Literary Agent" Thing Work?


What exactly is a literary agent?

A literary agent functions as the middleman between you—unpublished writer of a brilliant first book—and the major New York publishers. Literary agents have the contacts in the New York publishing world (and beyond) to get your book sold. Literary agents negotiate publishing contracts, sell subrights, foreign rights, and media and electronic rights, and just plain manage your financial and business affairs so you can focus on your literary business of writing.

How do I approach a literary agent about representing my book?

There is a definitive, tried and true process for approaching agents about the possible representation for your book. There are hundreds of books written on this topic, so we won’t bore you with endless regurgitation of the same old same old. We simply aim to give you the highlights of the process: preparing a query letter, requests for partials or full manuscripts, email versus snail mail query etiquette, the exclusive conundrum, playing the waiting game, and other nerve-racking questions regarding the submission process to literary agents.

What is a query letter and how do I write one?

Hunker down, boys and girls. Prepare yourself to write the best one-page letter of your literary career. Truly, this is do or die. Take us seriously on this. We recommend spending one-month writing and revising your query letter. Yes, that’s a whole month to write a single one-page letter. Trust us. You’ll need the time and every ounce of patience you can muster up. Be prepared to rewrite, rewrite, show every friend that doesn’t care one fig about your book, and see if you capture their interest. Then rewrite some more.

So, what’s the big deal about a stinkin’ one-page letter, you ask? The big deal is the difference between a form letter rejection versus a “Send me your first fifty pages” invitation from a literary agent. You’ll either be filled with elation that you took our advice and worked your butt off, or you’ll drown in sickness and dread when you realize that your query letter isn’t as foolproof as you thought. If your query letter is stellar, you will get positive requests from literary agents to review your book. That’s a fact.





Beware of con-artists and scammers:

Unlike the real estate or insurance industries that require their sales agents to pass courses and maintain state licenses in order to conduct business, literary agents aren’t regulated by laws or government agencies.

As a result, naïve, inexperienced desperate writers praying for one little break will invariably attract circling piranhas looking to cash in. Melanie Mills and Janet Kays are two notorious literary agent scam artists. They routinely are investigated by the FBI for charging upfront fees for client services, only to take the money and run—literally. Janet Kays closes shop and sets up a new one every three months, using different names, in different towns, but always the same old bags of tricks to solicit cash out of the pockets of wide-eyed wannabe writers. Melanie Mills actually faked her own death in an European car accident when the Feds got too close. We wish we were making this stuff up, but we’re not. The point is—beware. Watch your back, be smart, and do your homework. We’re here to help.

What happens when an agent offers to represent my book?

Here at AQ, we'd like all our AQ users to be prepared for the best case scenario: that all their hard work and research will pay off in the form of an offer of representation from one or more agents. It's not a fantasy. It can and does happen, and we've certainly witnessed it more and more, especially now that so many agents are reaching out to so many new writers through our website by updating their profiles and letting writers know exactly what kinds of work they want to represent. We often receive emails from our AQ users, asking for advice about the exciting, esoteric, and coveted process of receiving an offer of representation. And now, AQ offers the following answers to all writers: everything you've ever wanted to know about getting an offer of representation, but were afraid to ask...