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Advice and tips on literary agents

How to contact an agent

Here are some tips on how to approach an agent:

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What agents do

An agent will work on your behalf and see that you get a fair deal. They will:

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What they cost

Agents operate on commission. This is only due on sales actually made. The amount charged can vary but should be between around 10% and 25% of total earnings. Many agents charge extra for overseas sales.

You should be careful, too, to find out exactly what is subject to the commission and what is not. For example, some agents will want commission on prizes you win for a book the agent has sold.

Warning! Be very careful about people acting as agents who charge a fee for selling your book. This is not the normal practice and such 'agents' are not generally respected by publishers.

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Which are the good ones?

There are two ways of finding out if an agent is any good. The best way is, probably, to ask other writers. However, there are also professional associations of literary agents, membership of which should ensure commitment to certain professional standards.

There is a New Zealand Association of Literary Agents (NZALA). This site has contact details for NZALA members

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Finding an agent

Here are some ways of finding a New Zealand agent:

If you want to find an overseas agent, your best possibilities are:

Handbooks and reference works can be found in a good public library.

Be aware, however, that it may be as hard to find an agent as it is to find a publisher. An agent will only take you on if she or he thinks there is a good chance of a publisher taking your book.

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Will they give comment?

Agents will not usually give you detailed comments on your work unless they take you on as a client. Agents see lots of manuscripts and they don't get paid for reading them. In the harsh world of commercial reality, they can't afford to give comments to every writer who comes along. The best place to get comment is through an assessment service or a mentoring scheme.

On the other hand, if you do get comment which indicates that an agent has read your book and thought about it, you should take this as an encouraging sign.

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