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The relationship between an author and agent is one of representation, in that a literary agent assists an author with finding publishers, selecting and organizing marketing or promotional activities, and negotiating contract terms on behalf of the writer. Typically, a literary agent has connections and established relationships with professionals in the publishing industry. An agent uses those connections, presumably acquisition editors, to find a buyer for an author's unpublished manuscript. Once a publisher accepts a manuscript, the agent proceeds with negotiating contract terms. In return for helping an author, the agent receives a percentage of the author's royalties.
Unlike other representative arrangements, writers do not hire agents but rather attempt to garner the interest of a literary agent or agency. Agents review full or partial manuscripts submitted by unpublished or previously published writers before deciding whether to represent them. Should a particular manuscript or style of authorship appeal to the agent and stand a good chance of being accepted by a publisher, the agent will offer a contract to represent the writer. Upon contracting with an agent, the author's manuscript is presented to various publishers in an attempt to sell it. Agreements between the author and agent determine under what terms the agent agrees to shop the manuscript around to publishers and what compensation is due the agent once a manuscript sells.
Literary agencies, firms comprised of several agents, typically represent writers in a wide variety of genres. Solo agents, on the other hand, typically represent writers with manuscripts in specific genres where the agent has the most contacts in the industry. Finding representation and establishing a relationship between agent and author is usually the first recommended step after a writer finishes a particular work or works of literature, whether fiction novels, short stories, poems, or nonfiction books.
Aside from shopping around a manuscript for sale, literary agents may also assist writers with marketing and promotion activities designed to increase the chance that a manuscript finds a publisher. Between the author and agent, specific activities intended to build the writer's platform are developed while the agent shops the manuscript. Writer platforms are the basis for proving to publishers and readers that a particular author has the knowledge necessary to write on a given topic.
For example, an attorney writing legal dramas uses his experience in the field of law as part of his writer platform. Popular bloggers use their experience building, writing, and promoting a website as a platform for how-to books on the topic. It is in the best interest of both the author and agent to focus on such talents, resume inclusions, and past experience not only to encourage publishers but to also help with marketing the book after publication. When a writer's platform needs additional credits or hopes to build a following for a writer before publication, the author and agent must devise a plan of action. Here is where the relationship between author and agent becomes one of student and teacher, with the agent offering considerably more experience and expertise to help guide an author's pre- and post-publication marketing activities.
An agent really has to be one of the author's biggest fans, too. There are times when a writer hits a creative block or starts feeling less than talented. Sometimes a good literary agent will put aside the professional hat and just become a coach or counselor for his or her client. Creative people often have fragile personalities, so any professional or personal setback can have a serious effect on their output. If a deadline is approaching and the author is falling seriously behind on a new novel, then a literary agent can also become a bit of a drill sergeant, too.
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