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Finding An Agent:
Part II: Marketing Your Work
by Avriel Adler

A literary agent is the publishing industry's equivalent of a marketing director. It is very rare for today's publishers to accept "over the transom" (non-agented) submissions, and if they do, they generally request the author to contact an agent to negotiate the terms of a contract. Most agents charge 15% of an author's advance and all subsequent royalties and subsidiary sales, as well as an additional 15 to 20% on additional foreign sales. The assumption is that the agent's business acumen will result in far greater income than the author could net on his own. Book contracts are complex, and ignorance of the significance of various clauses place an author at a distinct disadvantage.

In my first article, I outlined several strategies for acquiring an agent. Which agent is right for your particular material? This is a matter of research.

Recommended publications: Jeff Herman's Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, issued biannually; The Writer's Market, Literary Market Place, The Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents, all updated annually. The Guide to the Religious Writer's Market is a biannual publication.

These publications send questionnaires to agents. Read the listings carefully to determine both the material these agents have sold in your specified area and the agents' specific submissions guidelines. When querying, explain why your material matches this agent's specific interest. Often large agencies will list multiple agents and their fields. Address your query accordingly. Non-specific queries result in rejection letters.

The best way to reach potential agents is through networking. Who do other writers use? Are they satisfied with their agent's abilities? Most agents are receptive to a writer who has been referred by a successful client. Book fairs and writing conferences are another source of access to agents and may issue lists of agents attending. Come prepared with attractively packaged chapter samples, book proposals and pre-addressed queries and a business card. Slick, professional presentations help make you and your work marketable.

If an agent requests to see samples of your material, submit it promptly with an upbeat note. If you have made multiple submissions, inform the agent. You can request a response within a specific time limit. (Four to six weeks for non-fiction proposals, eight to ten weeks for works of fiction.)

Since anyone can be called an agent, it is worthwhile to research their most recent sales. Most agents will be happy to supply you with a partial list, or their highest-profile clients. These are often available on agents' websites. Check out these authors on Amazon, or other book sites to ensure that they actually exist, and that the sales are indeed recent. Listings of agents published by trade magazines aimed at unpublished or beginning writers usually carry a disclaimer from the publication. Be extremely cautious about agents who advertise in trade journals such as the Writer's Digest. Many charge initial reading, editing and/or photocopying fees that are non-refundable. Also beware of agents who wish to forward your material for author-funded editorial services, usually for an undisclosed kick-back. Real agents make their profits from sales.

There is no industry trade group to regulate literary agents. The Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) however supplies lists of its approximately 350 members, who have met minimum professional standards and adhere to the AAR's Canon of Ethics, which includes the following statement:

All AAR members shall be prohibited from directly or indirectly charging reading and evaluation fees or receiving any financial benefit from the charging of such fees by any other party.

A brochure listing AAR agents may be obtained
by sending five dollars and an SASE to:
Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc.
Ten Astor Place, Third Floor
New York, NY 10003

If a writer has produced a religious Jewish book, this does not necessarily mean that he must seek a Jewish agent. While any topic is best handled by someone basically knowledgeable in a specific subject, your agent's business is to be aware of the publishers and editors interested in your given field. The agent himself does not have to have a comprehensive grasp of halachic issues. He must have a comprehensive grasp of who publishes them. Therefore an agent who specializes in spiritual fiction might best market a religious mystery. Judaica is occasionally listed as a specialty of large publishing houses, academic presses and small specialty presses. Where does your work fit best? Let your agent be your guide.

End of second part. RETURN TO PART ONE

Avriel Adler is a published author of religious mystery novels. She is an instructor at The Jewish Writing Institute.


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