What’s a Literary Agent?

I’ve gotten a number of emails over the past week from non-writer friends that read, “Congratulations on your agent! Now what does that mean?” As someone who’s been absorbed in this process for nearly a decade I sometimes forget that others don’t eat, sleep, and breathe publishing, so thank you for those of you who’ve asked. Below and in future posts, I will VERY GENERALLY walk you through the process. Keep in mind that I’m only speaking for fiction since non-fiction is a very different animal.

Once an author has a completed manuscript that she would like others to read on a large scale (and has edited and revised that manuscript to death based on feedback from  savvy, critical eyes outside of her household) it’s time to find a publisher. There are three basic choices (and a million offshoots): self publishing, small press publishing, or large house publishing.

Self and small press publishing do not require an agent. Large publishers generally do require an agent. An agent is an advocate for the author and is able to use her experience and connections to help authors navigate all aspects of publishing, including: providing editorial feedback on a manuscript, finding an editor at a publishing house as passionate about the work as the agent and author, handling contract negotiations with publishers, selling foreign, film, or other subsidiary rights, and many more specialties.

I had many great experiences self-publishing my first novel, Receive Me Falling, and I’m very glad I did it.  RMF had a lot of interest in my hometown, Annapolis, because it was partially set there, so grassroots marketing made sense. For my current novel Hemingway’s Girl, however, I wanted to reach a larger audience.  In truth, I also wanted some sort of external professional validation.

I researched agents, paying particular attention to those who had a keen interest in historical fiction, and was beyond thrilled when my top pick, Kevan Lyon, offered to represent me. It was a dream come true when I got the call from her, and I still get a thrill every time I think of it.

I’m currently working on a final set of revisions with Kevan. Then, with the help of her agency partner, Jill Marsal, we’ll craft a pitch letter. Kevan will pitch my project to editors at publishing houses to try to find a good match for the book and get me started on the process of working with a large house.

The only downside to this set up is the time it will take for Hemingway’s Girl to become available. First we have to find a publisher (in this increasingly difficult market), and then it usually takes about eighteen months before the book hits the shelves. Holding Hemingway’s Girl back from my wonderful readers who keep asking for it is a challenge.

I’ve always used this blog to talk about my writing process and experiences with self-publishing , and I’ll continue to talk about the process now that I’m trying traditional publishing. I want to formally thank my readers and book clubs for their interest and enthusiasm.  Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have them, and thank you for taking this journey with me.


3 thoughts on “What’s a Literary Agent?

  1. Kier says:

    Thanks for sharing the process. The Hidden Garden Book Club is all rooting for you!

  2. Sort of a temporary high when you look at all that has to go on still AFTER you get an agent. But I look forward to hearing all about it and glad you will continue to share your journey for writers and your readers.

    Some of us are living vicariously through you. Think Stage Mom but less wacko. 🙂


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