Agents are often seen as gatekeepers, the middlemen and women who stand between an amateur author and a book deal. But this is doing them a huge disservice. It’s no lie to say that my agent changed my life, she is in many ways a partner in what I do, and I couldn’t have achieved any of this without her.
So, what does an agent do?
Literary agents pitch your manuscript to editors at publishing houses. But back up a bit. Before this happens, a good agent will give an author critical notes to help improve their manuscript. Many – like mine – come from an editorial background. In my case, my agent wrote me notes in the form of a wonderful essay when she first took me on. The letter talked about what she liked about my debut manuscript Try Not to Breathe, what could be improved and what needed to be ditched. She was absolutely spot on, by the way.
A good agent will work with you until the manuscript is ready. Not only do they know what works editorially, they also have an excellent knowledge of genres, reader behaviour and the industry. They live and breathe books, and it shows.
Once a manuscript is ready, they will submit it to editors at publishers that they know could be a good home for your work, and your future work. They negotiate contracts and terms – for example whether the contract will be for two books or more, for a series, for UK publication or other rights such as ‘Commonwealth’.
Although writers develop a close working relationship with their editor and other team members at the publisher, your agent is the one who is planning your career with you, talking through future book ideas before you take them (a little more polished) to your editor. Your agent and their wider agency will handle any payments made to you by publishers and will advocate for you in every situation. They have your back, in other words.
How do agents get paid?
Agents will take a cut of your earnings, normally around 15%. Because payments from publishers will normally be made to the agency, and the agency passes it onto you minus commission, you never have to actually hand over cash! It’s very seamless, and – in my experience - totally worth it.
How did I get my agent?
When I was ready to submit to agents, I looked at similar books that I’d enjoyed, flipped to the acknowledgements to see who the agent was, and then made a little shortlist. Top of the list was Nicola Barr. I sent her my three chapters and a synopsis and basically screamed and ran around when she replied and asked to read the rest. (Then I got The Fear and stayed up all night re-editing it but shhh, that kind of mania is probably normal – I hope).
Why it such an important relationship?
If things go well, and people still want to read my books for years to come, then this is a relationship that could last decades. That’s longer than the average marriage.
Tips for submitting to agents
- Read and re-read the submission guidelines on the agency website. Agents get inundated with submissions and they’re busy professionals, don’t waste their time by sending the wrong thing or the wrong format.
- Look carefully at who you would like to work with, and who would be a good match for the books you hope to write as well as the book you have written. You need someone who ‘gets it’ and if they don’t ‘get it’, they won’t be interested. And that’s horrible to hear!
- Trust your gut. You have to respect, trust and like your agent.
- Don’t submit to anyone who claims to be an agent but asks for payment to read submissions. They’re not an agent, they’re a scam artist.
Holly’s first novel Try Not to Breathe came out in 2016 and was a bestseller. Her follow up, Don’t Close Your Eyes, has just been published.
Now, in her early 30s, Robin lives alone. Agoraphobic and suffering from panic attacks, she spends her days pacing the rooms of her house. The rest of the time she watches - watches the street, the houses, the neighbours. Until one day, she sees something she shouldn't...
And Sarah? Sarah got what she wanted - the good-looking man, the beautiful baby, the perfect home. But she's just been accused of the most terrible thing of all. She can't be around her new family until she has come to terms with something that happened a long time ago. And to do that, she needs to track down her twin sister.
But Sarah isn't the only person looking for Robin. As their paths intersect, something dangerous is set in motion, leading Robin and Sarah to fight for much more than their relationship...