Do I Need a Literary Agent?

Literary agent Vanessa Grossett explains the reasons for needing a literary agent, and the ins and outs of finding one

“Do I need a literary agent?” or “I am looking for a Christian-based literary agent” are the common question and statement I have been receiving lately, especially from new authors. Here is some info about why you might need one and how to find one.

What does a literary agent do?
A literary agent, sometimes called a literary manager, sells manuscripts on behalf on their authors. They manage their authors by making sure manuscripts get delivered on time to their editor; reading through contracts; some negotiate deals, and help promote their clients’ books.

Agents earn their income through author royalties, advances, and TV adaptions. Therefore, agents are very selective about whom they represent, as their income is based on how well the author does. Unless you are a celebrity – or very well known in your field – new authors can find it difficult to get an agent.

Of course, there are some who will take on new authors, but the author would most likely have experience in publishing, a great writing style, and built up a readership.

Even if the agent is a Christian, it doesn’t mean they will represent you! Christian-based agents are selective on who they choose since their income is dependent on the author. Writing is ultimately a business, as well as a creativity.

Now you know the basis of what a literary agent does, here are some things to consider to help you make the decision on whether you actually need one.

Is writing a career you really want to pursue?
Agents are not looking for one-off authors or writers who just do a book here and there; they want long-term relationships with their authors.

To be a serious, full-time author you really need to tap into your creative talent and come up with plenty of book ideas, especially if you are writing fiction, as publishers can offer you deals for more than one book.

Sales are important, but equally important is knowing how to write creatively. If you really want to be a serious full-time writer, it is advised to take a creative writing or English literature course, so you understand writing at a deeper level. Also reading books from authors you like will help you tap into your creative talent.

If you just want to write a book here and there, you do not need an agent. In fact, you can self-publish your book, or send a submission to publishers that will accept writers without an agent.

Publishing is a business:
It is important to know the business side of publishing. Therefore, it is great to build your credibility. Some authors start off as independents in the beginning, so they can build a readership and market themselves.

With the power of social media, marketing has become easier and adaptable today. You can reach a readership worldwide. Agents and publishers alike can only do so much in terms of marketing their authors, so using social media also lets the agent know you take this business seriously.

Even introverted authors have to learn the business side of publishing, and market themselves. If you ever get stuck with how to market, there are online community writing groups you can join, and information to help you.

Word of advice: do not approach an agent with an already self-published book, believing it will produce more sales for you. I have had that many times. This is why it’s important to know the business side of publishing and how to build your writing credibility.

Be professional:
When you are querying an agent, please be professional. This is the first time the agent is ‘meeting’ you. I have had queries that were very informal, and with some queries I could tell the person didn’t do their research.

Research the agency, what they are seeking. I have had queries that start off with “Are you still an agent?” or “I believe God sent me to you.” This is not how you would approach a publisher if you want them to take on your manuscript! Therefore it is advised that you do not approach an agent in an unprofessional way.

There is plenty of information online which tells you how to write a query letter. Also, do not get comfortable with an agent because they may be the same ethnicity as you or a fellow Christian; they are still a business, and relationships take time to build. 

Happy writing


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