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Working with an Agent

Help for writers

How to get the most out of working with an agent
  • It can be hard work finding an agent to represent you. Make sure though that, when you set up the relationship, you do so in a professional manner Don’t let your eagerness to find representation mean that things are left vague. You will be depending on the agent to process all your income from the books they sell, so you need to have a written record of your arrangement, preferably a contract.
  • Be wary about agents who charge you upfront for any services. Charging fees for reports is frowned on in the agency world and your agent should only charge you for direct costs such as photocopying.
  • It’s important for both of you to meet before deciding whether a particular agent is the right one for you, so make sure you do this if at all possible. You might loathe each other on sight and this is no basis for a productive working relationship.
  • Make sure you are clear about what the agent will charge and how this will work. All your income flows through them. They usually charge 10% or increasingly 15% on most income – advances and royalties – you earn, but they will also charge a higher percentage on translation, film and some other rights to allow for paying a sub-agent (who would sell your work to be published in another country or form).
  • Don’t ever take on an agent you don’t like or don’t trust, however desperate you may feel. You have to be able to work with them in what should be an extremely important relationship for you as a writer. You must also feel confident that they are competent, enthusiastic about your work and can be trusted, both in terms of the advice they offer and in relation to handling your money.
  • Be honest and businesslike yourself in dealing with your agent. Don’t shop your work around if you already have an agent. Tell the truth about progress on your work and your knowledge or qualifications. Make sure you tell them if there is likely to be any delay in delivering the work on time.
  • Keep in regular contact, even if it’s only an occasional email to update them on your progress with the current manuscript, but don’t feel you need to phone them every day. They have other authors to represent and will tell you when there is any news.
  • Take their advice about the market and your work. Your agent is the expert working for you and if you don’t think they are competent, or if you have a major disagreement about your work, then you should look for another agent. They should be your literary adviser, business manager and trusted friend, but you should also feel you can respect their professional knowledge of the book world.
  • If there’s anything you don’t understand about the way your book has been handled, your royalty statements or the financial side of things, make sure you ask to have this explained to you.

    See also

    Finding an agent

    Agents listings

    From the Inside Publishing series:

    Advances and Royalties

    The relationship between publishers and agents

    Subsidiary rights


    © Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage. 2006-7