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
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
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
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.
© 2009 by Jewish Writing Institute. All rights reserved.
Copyright to individual articles held by authors.