The role of literary agents is constantly growing and evolving. One of the main things agents do is help you place your book with a publisher, but even before that, many literary agents are involved in editing and will help you get your book into the best possible shape so that it can sell. On the nonfiction side, a literary agent can help you prepare your proposal, tell what you goes into the proposal, and tell you where to submit it. They know who’s buying what, so they can help you hone your proposal to target a specific editor’s interest. Similarly, if you’re writing a novel, literary agents know what’s selling and who’s buying what, and they can say, “You know, this type of ending may not work in this particular market.”
Once the agent has helped you make your book the best it can be, he or she will start sending it out to publishers. Many publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts—you have to have an agents submit your project in order for them to look at it. Hopefully, your agent will be able to get several editors interested, and then you can have an auction for your project. Once the book is sold, literary agents are sometimes involved in public relations and marketing—making sure that it’s not just sold to a publisher but that it sells well once it hits the market. Most agents work on a commission basis, and the standard commission rate with most agencies is around 15 percent. You should ask up front about any additional fees, and if an agent starts to talk about editorial fees or submission fees, you should look twice, because that’s not the way it’s typically done. As an author, you shouldn’t have to pay for that kind of work up front.
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