What agents can do for us

Just because we have secured the services of an agent, does not mean s/he will manage to sell our work to a commissioning editor.

Most agents are good sales people, confident, very capable and ahead of the field.  If they cannot secure a sale, it does not mean they have failed, or that we have failed.  It only means it is not the right time or place.  Agents will hold on to material they like, and keep trying for it, if they believe in it enough.  If they spot an opportunity, they will make the most of it, since that is what they do for a living.

Find something else to do in the meantime, or the waiting to hear whether your book has found a publisher will drive you slowly crazy.  Get out into the real world, relax, write another book, visit friends, go for a job interview, but don’t obsess about your book.  Let your agent do that.

At the start of any business or legal relationship, before we sign any contract or undertaking, it is essential that we are clear what services a particular agency provides – and, more importantly, those they do not.  When new writers think of agency services, we may assume these include not only securing a deal and collecting royalties, but also support for publicity and promotion, leads and so on.  But post-publication services such as these are more often offered by other agencies that specialise in marketing and promotion.


A writer new to the world of business, contracts and negotiation is very often living in a state of suspended belief, and most unlikely to put an agent offering their services through their paces with a series of searching questions….We have to take our chances where we can, and we cannot know all there is to know, before taking up business opportunities.  Even so, it pays to be aware of the limits of agency services, or else, what I call the ‘expectation gap’ can yawn wide, setting us up for disappointment.

Agents live by earning commission from sales to publishers.  Typically, their commission is 15% of any fees or royalties they negotiate on your behalf.  So, understanding that we are happy with an agent’s services, have we the confidence to trust them, and let them do their jobs in peace?  I do hope so.  If we want to help our agent, it is useful to deliver what they ask for as soon as we can, be clear and with our communications, and trust them to do their best.

Thanks for reading!

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