essential points on literary agents
By Jill Nagle, Founder and Principal
GetPublished, guerilla guidance for your writing adventure
An excerpt from How
to Find A Literary Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar
As an aspiring author, you may have heard,
“if your work is really good, you can get an agent. Getting the work into shape is the hard part. If you get the work into shape, the right agent will
follow”. Is it really that simple? Well, yes and no.
The seven essential points below prepare you for what to expect when seeking an agent, or literary representative.
Point 1: fiction or nonfiction? Differences in
As a novelist, or fiction writer, you need to complete your whole book, format it properly, and find an agent who specializes in selling novels. If you write nonfiction (self-help, how-to, memoir), forget about writing the whole book, unless you want to self-publish. Instead, write your book proposal.
A book proposal is like a business plan for your book.
Its job is to convince the publisher to part with money so you can get paid to write your book.
In either case, to minimise your chances of rejection, you’ll need to have your proposal or manuscript polished before approaching an agent.
Point 2: That someone calls
themself an agent says nothing about what they can do for you
Some things haven’t changed in the century since the first literary agent was born. Today, anyone can still hang out a shingle and say
they’re an agent – many people do. Not all agents are effective, ethical, or even sell any books.
Jill’s Guerilla Caveat
Don’t settle for just any agent. Agents vary tremendously in their effectiveness and in what they sell well. Get your proposal (for nonfiction writers) or manuscript (for novelists) into tip-top shape, then go for the agent who has a proven track record selling work similar to your own.
Point 3: Membership in the Association of Author’s Representatives
(United States) indicates that the agent has agreed to abide by the
AAR’s code of ethics
This professional guild for agents requires, among other things, that an agent:
- has sold at least ten literary properties
(i.e. books) in the eighteen months prior to application for membership;
- does not charge any fees for reading or evaluating authors’ work.
However, not every legitimate US agent belongs to the AAR. Many extremely successful agents opt out of AAR membership. A comparable agency called the Association of Author’s
Agents operates in Britain.
Point 4: Legitimate agents earn their living by selling to legitimate publishers the rights to publish authors’
In return for writing your book and granting a legitimate publisher the rights to print it, the publisher gives you, the author, a percentage of whatever the book makes, otherwise known as a “royalty”. In return for brokering the deal and acting as your advocate, you in turn give your agent a percentage (usually
15 per cent) of this royalty.
This is how legitimate agents make their money. They pick good literary prospects for the publishers to consider, who rely on them to reduce the time and energy it would otherwise take to wade through the enormous amount of submissions the publishers receive.
Publishers know the legitimate agent’s living depends on being able to separate the wheat from the chaff, so they tend to look more seriously at submissions from reputable agents.
To reiterate, legitimate agents get paid through commissions on book rights only, period. If an agent charges you any money, except a small fee for
expenses (and many people believe agents shouldn’t charge authors even for those; they should simply be considered the cost of doing business),
they have little incentive to sell books.
Successful agents use a well-established network of relationships with editors in legitimate publishing houses. They know the right editors to call for the particular projects that come their way. They don’t have time to do anything but sell book rights, because selling book rights is how they make their money.
Aside from selling the rights to publish your book in
your own country, many other possibilities exist for making money from your book both within
your own country and abroad. These include translating the book and selling it overseas, making an audio recording of the book, or having the book used as the basis for a movie. The legal permission to do these things are called foreign rights, subsidiary rights and options, respectively.
To help you make the most money possible from your book, your agent should be able to negotiate for the subsidiary and foreign rights to remain with you, and then work either on
their own or with someone else, to help you sell and make yet more money on sales from those rights.
Jill’s Guerilla Caveat
Apart from those agents who are simply mediocre, watch out for scammers –
there are plenty! Apart from trusting your gut, and not paying an agent, avoid any agent who:
- insists you hire a particular editorial or consulting service (this is different from making a referral, or even better, two or three referrals and letting you interview them and make up your own mind);
- refers you to a publisher who wants to charge you money;
- suggests representing multiple works of yours simultaneously (unless they have a really good reason for thinking this is a good idea –
see Q&A below).
Agents who profit from upfront fees for reading or handling manuscripts, who affiliate themselves financially with editorial, coaching or publishing services, or who claim to need your money for any other purpose probably aren’t selling the rights to your book for a living.
Why should they, when aspiring writers who don’t know any better are kind enough to bankroll their other enterprises?
Point 5: At their best, agents advocate for author interests, and earn their commissions by:
- using their inside information, reputations and well-oiled relationships with editors to approach just the right publishers for your book –
especially the increasing number of those publishers who won’t take unagented submissions;
- applying their contractual and negotiating expertise to garnering higher advances, more rights and a lot of other stuff you might not be aware of;
- helping you refine both the form and content of your book so that it appeals to the publishers they plan to approach;
- intervening on your behalf if you get into a disagreement with the publisher;
- assisting you with making long-term decisions about sequels, options, subsidiary rights, next steps and other aspects of your career.
Point 6: Agents reject 99 per
cent of all material that comes their way
The best and most reliable way to up your odds of getting published is to a) research your market, b) know and communicate to the agent
via a perfect query letter how your work fits in with and stands out from others in its class, c) deliver an original, well-written, impeccably formatted manuscript or proposal, then d) choose an agent who is obviously interested in and has a record of selling work like yours. Read that again.
Point 7: Don’t initiate contact with a phone call
– really. Approach an agent with a query letter
Unless you are famous (and even then), approach an agent with a query letter. A query letter introduces you and your book idea, and invites the agent to see your book proposal or manuscript. We’ll give you a sample query letter below.
Don’t email unless the agent specifically states somewhere in print or on the
internet that they welcome email queries. Also, don’t call with general questions about their qualifications.
Agents who haven’t expressed interest in representing your work generally will not consent to have you interview them unless you’re a journalist calling to give them publicity.
Once an agent has expressed interest in your work, you can and should ask questions of them, which we’ll cover below, then take up to a week (or longer,
by mutual agreement) to decide whether to accept their offer of representation.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations –
you now have a solid introduction to agents, a crucial piece of the mainstream publishing world. However, as you might guess, finding exactly the right agent for your work, so you can beat those
99 per cent rejection odds, takes a bit more effort.
To learn more about how to up your odds of getting published by joining forces with exactly the right agent, get a copy of
How to Find A Literary Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar
Jill Nagle is a published author and principal of GetPublished,
which provides ghostwriting, coaching, consulting, teleclasses
and more to aspiring and ascending authors. She has been helping
other writers get published for the last decade.
attention to the man behind the curtain
An interview with wizard-like author Gregory Maguire
Interviewed by Byron Merritt, grandson of Dune author,
You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy fantasy stories, and 50
year old author Gregory Maguire proves it. His highly praised
novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the
West (1995) was recently made into a Broadway
musical. It was Maguire’s first shot at an adult fantasy novel
and it turned into a major hit – "An amazing
John Updike in The New Yorker. He’s taken on an icon of
American culture and wowed the literary critics. Well at least
most of them. A select few say he’s borrowed from our
childhood and taken advantage of our affection toward certain
stories (like The Wizard of Oz). I don’t think so. But
this hasn’t slowed down Mr. Maguire. No sir. Confessions of
an Ugly Stepsister, a retelling of the Cinderella story
(1999) – which received starred reviews from Kirkus and
Publisher’s Weekly, and was made into an ABC/Disney film
starring Stockard Channing and Jonathan Pryce – soon followed.
Then came Lost, a ghost story (2001) and Mirror,
Mirror, a take-off of the poison apple symbol in Snow White
(2003). His children’s books include The Hamlet Chronicles,
a seven book series that have thus far resulted in Seven
Spiders Spinning, Six Haunted Hairdos, Five Alien
Stupid Cupids, Three Rotten Eggs, and A Couple of April
And he doesn’t just stick with fantasy fiction either. He’s
contributed articles and essays to the Sunday New York Times
Book Review, The Boston Review, Christian Science
Horn Book Magazine, and many others. He also helped co-found
CLNE (Children’s Literature New England), a nonprofit
educational charity whose mission is “to elevate awareness of
the significance of literature in the lives of children.” You
can find out more about the charity and about this amazing
author by visiting his excellent website at www.gregorymaguire.com.
Mr. Maguire was recently married to a very special person in his
life and the two have since adopted three children. They
currently reside outside Boston, Massachusetts ...somewhere over
Now sit back and enjoy a trip down the yellow brick road. But be
warned, it may not be the same road you remember.
First, let me congratulate you on your marriage. I
understand that you married someone very special to you. Can you
tell us a bit about this?
Greg Maguire: We met seven years ago at an arts
colony. He was a painter there and I was working on Confessions
of an Ugly Stepsister. We had a whirlwind relationship for
about ten months and we knew we’d found something special.
We’d both been involved in relationships in the past, but
nothing like this. It felt right. We were married in
Massachusetts thanks to the new legislation regarding same-sex
marriages. We’ve adopted three children and we’re living a
very wonderful life together.
Has your spouse been an important part of your
GM: He’s one of the three people that reads my work
before it goes to print, but all he does is check for
“speed-bumps” in the manuscript. I have very specific
guidelines for him when he looks over my writings. I don’t
want him to comment on whether he likes it or not because I
think that’d be harmful to me in too many ways. My brother,
Joe, and I often take walks together and he’s a great person
to bounce ideas off of and get some feedback from. He’s
stimulated my imagination quite a few times.
I want to thank you for agreeing to talk with me
about your marriage. And now lets talk about what it might mean
for your books (past, present and future). There are some real
idiotic and naive people out there who disagree – fear is
probably a better word – with same-sex marriages. Do you worry
that once certain parts of America find out about your marriage
they might do some form of boycott against your books?
GM: I’d be surprised but not worried. There’s
really no such thing as bad publicity anyway. Boycotting me
would probably stimulate sales. The thing with me being gay,
though – and the people who read my books – is that I don’t
think it’ll matter. A lot of younger people are reading Wicked
and seeing the Broadway musical, and I think they accept
the fact that people in the arts (like me) may be homosexual or
lead a lifestyle that’s outside the “norm”.
In your bio it mentions that you served as
artist-in-residence at several places. Can you tell us about
your decision to write fantasy fiction versus being an artist?
GM: Well I was a "writer-in-residence", not a
painter. But my decision to write fantasy undoubtedly came about
because of my upbringing in an Irish Catholic home. My mother
passed away after I was born and my father was pretty
restrictive. Very Edwardian in nature. I loved reading fantasy,
though, and I started in on the genre when I was ten years old.
The other thing that got me into fantasy (and The Wizard
of Oz specifically) is the fact that we weren’t
allowed to watch much television growing up. But the one thing
that we were allowed to watch – every year – was The
Wizard of Oz.
Okay, let’s get into Wicked, your
most excellent book in my opinion. Did you speak with anyone
from L. Frank Baum’s family (author of the original The
Wizard of Oz back in 1900), or have to obtain
special permission from someone to use The Wizard of Oz as
your setting for Wicked?
GM: This is one of those times when fortune shined
down upon me. As luck would have it, L. Frank Baum’s books
came out of copyright protection right at the time I sent the
manuscript for Wicked to my agent. I did have to
be careful with any references to the film, though, as Ted
Turner’s company still owns the rights to that. So you’ll
note areas where I’m a bit vague on certain items (like the
ruby slippers, which I call “pale” and which Baum mentioned
as being silver).
In the original The Wizard of Oz novel
by L. Frank Baum, the Wicked Witch of the West is a fairly minor
character when compared to Dorothy and her comrades. Why’d you
decide to focus on “Elphaba”?
GM: The proper pronunciation of Elphaba is with the
stress on the first syllable (i.e. EL-phaba), by the way. I
should’ve put that in the book somewhere. I felt that the film
left a lot out about her and I wanted to know more about this
person. It all really harkens back to my love of the film and
growing up watching it every year on TV. I dreamt a lot about
Margaret Hamilton and that green skin. It was both terrifying
and intriguing at the same time.
The film The Wizard of Oz has
become an American icon of sorts. More people have seen it than
have read the books by Baum, I’m sure. Was there ever any
worry on your part – while you were writing, or before or after
you’d finished – that you might be tampering with something
almost hands-off when it came to literature?
GM: I wasn’t worried, but some critics were. A
York Times reviewer mentioned that I’d taken a
“sacred cow” and used it to my literary advantage. Some
newspaper in Chicago called it “heretical”. But I had a love
for the material, and that’s why I wrote Wicked.
Some people read the first thirty or so pages of the book and
put it away saying, “this isn’t the Wizard of Oz I know!”
But those who’ve gotten through the book have generally
enjoyed it and told me so.
Let’s talk about differences in the film,
Baum’s book, and Wicked. In Baum’s book
Glinda’s the Good Witch of the South, and in the film she’s
of the North. You have her as North, too. Can you tell us how
much the film influenced your writing?
GM: The film influenced me quite a bit (as stated
earlier). Again, that green coloured skin impacted me greatly.
MGM made her green because Technicolor had just come out (and
that’s why they made the slippers ruby coloured, too). It’s
not really clear in Baum’s book that she’s green, you just
know she’s different. I wanted to know why she was different,
so I decided to write about her and create a believable life for
What is Yackle’s role in the destiny of The
Wizard of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West?
GM: That’s a good question. When I first wrote
Yackle, I imagined her as a type of female demon. Then later I
pictured her more like one of the Greek fates; an agent of the
universe. But I just re-read Wicked myself (after
ten years) and now I see her as less demonic. She’s under no
one’s thumb. I left her character open to interpretation by
the reader so that they could come to their own conclusions.
There are a lot of moral questions that pop up in Wicked
(what rights do animals have, the nature of good versus evil,
the corruption of power, etc.). If you had to pick one thing
that you’d like readers to come away with after reading Wicked,
what would it be and why?
GM: I think it’s important to keep asking the
question "what is the nature of good and evil?". But I think
the one message I’d like readers to take away from this book
is that they need to question authority. Always. With what
happened in the Gulf War when George Senior was president, and
now with his son in power, I think this message is even more
What type of positive and negative feedback have
you gotten from people regarding Wicked?
GM: It’s been ten years since
was released and I still get emails from fans. Ninety-eight per
cent of it is
positive. Most of my negative feedback has been sent to me in
anonymous letters (some are even sexual comments that
immediately end up in the trash). The thing about Wicked,
though, is that the range of people who read it is pretty broad.
I’ve got a lot of women’s reading clubs who’ve read it, as
well as men in their seventies or older and, now that the musical is
out, young girls who range from eleven to twelve years old and
If you could invite any characters (from any of
your books) to a dinner party, whom would you invite and why?
GM: Oh, that’s tough to say. Um...
Elphaba would be
too intimidating for me, I think. She’s like my alter-ego. She
wouldn’t be a good choice. I’m fond of Glinda, but I’m not
sure about the conversation. I think I’d pick Margarethe from Confessions
of an Ugly Stepsister. She’s not a villain, but she is
a complicated peasant with strong moral fibre. She’d be
interesting to speak and eat with.
As mentioned previously, Wicked was
turned into a musical on Broadway. Did you feel comfortable with
this adaptation of your book?
GM: I’m almost unrelenting in my support for the
musical. Almost. I feel that they “Glinda-fied” it a bit,
but the director had to take certain liberties in order to adapt
it. The thing about Wicked (the book) is that
it’s a tragedy. But the stage version really isn’t. They had
to dramatise it, but I’m okay with that. The musical has given
new life to the sales of the book, too.
Are there any more Greg Maguire books coming out
that we should watch for?
GM: I’m always writing my children’s books, so
those come out pretty regularly. But I am working on something.
I was troubled by some letters I got from young girls asking me
what had happened to Liir, Elphaba’s son. They want to know
and I feel obligated to give them a good answer. So I’m
writing a new novel that takes place ten years after the death
of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s entitled Son of a
Great title! Thank you for the interview, Mr
Maguire. I’m sure our readers will enjoy it, too.
GM: You’re welcome.
This interview was first
published on fwomp.com
and is available to view at http://www.fwomp.com/int-mcguire.htm
writers at firstwriter.com
for the following invaluable resources for writers:
on this newsletter for as little as $30 / £20 click
uses English spelling conventions.
Spellings such as "realise"
differ from other spelling conventions
but are nonetheless correct.
Lights competition launched
A bright new writing competition has
been launched, entitled "Christmas
Lights" – with no entry fees
and only 250 words to write.
offered and publication of the top
stories is a real probability.
here. "Christmas Lights"
should not be interpreted as shallow and
forgettable: the competition seeks a
short story with sparkle and perhaps a
This is an email only competition with
full details here.
details of over 100 competitions click
publicity for book authors and
a new website for book authors, writers,
and publishers, is inviting authors to
promote their newest books through its
book newswire section.
"Book News Releases" section
lets authors post their press releases
for free; it also allows authors to
include up to three images, such as a
book cover and author photo.
author submits their book details,
BookCatcher.com automatically formats
the information into a newsworthy press
release. Each press release gives a
summary, a description, contact info.,
images, as well as details on the book's
publisher, agent, author(s),
distribution, genre, and price. Authors
also have their own accounts where they
can manage, modify, renew and upgrade
their press releases at any time.
who are seeking content to reprint can
peruse the newest book releases via
NEWS WIRE. Publishers also can also
sign up for a free account to track and
filter press releases according to
subject, genre or keyword.
is in its beta-testing phase, with a
launch date in December 2004. In
addition to showcasing new and upcoming
book releases, the website also will be
a portal of book industry news, book
reviews, commentary, how-to articles and
To visit the
true stories sought
A collection of inspirational true
stories is being put together about
amazing, unexpected, extraordinary,
events that seemed to happen against all
odds or laws of nature. These are events
that seemed like a miracle.
have a story like this the compilers of
this collection would love to hear about
will retain full copyrights to their
work and get full credit for it in
inclusion of a short bio with contact
information about them.
outstanding Miracle story is one that
creates emotion and gives the reader a
feeling of hope, inspiration, or faith.
involve anything (animals, cars,
weather, people, etc) and it doesn't
have to be a huge event.
need not be perfect. The compilers are
willing to edit and refine work
submitted, even if it is only a few
sentences that convey the general point –
compilers can work out the details.
with suitable stories should contact
Ryan Azevedo at ryan@actual
newspaper archive launched
claims to be the most comprehensive
archive of newspapers from all
countries. It has recently been launched
in four languages and more are soon to
come, says Danish journalist Hans Henrik
Lichtenberg, who has collected and
revised the newspapers.
ensure that the sources are of high
quality I have only listed newspapers
that are daily updated, free to use
online and are written by an independent
editorial staff. Moreover the newspapers
have to write about politics, breaking
news, economics and society."
has chosen not to list sources that deal
with gossip, celebrities and sports.
similar projects have not kept their
focus on general news, politics,
economics, etc. but unfortunately
included news sources of low quality and
sites with very specialized media. And
what is worst, the links have been
broken or the URLs have been hard to
typically lists 10–20 Medias in every
"The project is not about
collecting as many links as possible,
but about giving the reader an opportunity to
quickly and easily get an overview of how the most influent newspapers in a
specific country handles a topic."
could prove an invaluable resource for
writers seeking suitable newspaper
markets for their writing, both at home
Geoffrey Brown Agency closes
The M. Geoffrey Brown Agency has
closed down. The agent has not responded
to our request for information as to why
the agency has been closed, or what the
status of clients and submissions
currently under consideration is.
Concerned parties should contact michael.gbrown
details of over 550 active agencies, click
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