I have a friend who just recently secured a top agent to represent her fiction and in 2 weeks, she had a three book deal with a top national publisher. I have another friend who has had an agent for 8 years and has yet to sell a manuscript.
If you’ve ever bought or sold a house, or dealt with a lawyer, you know a little bit about what literary agents do. They act as mediators to negotiate contracts and assist you in protecting your interests. They have specialized knowledge of the field and apply all their experience for a given fee, usually a percentage of what they help you secure. That’s your basic definition. Agents are motivated to get you paid for your writing.
Securing one is a matter of applying effort to your writing. You don’t need an agent if you’ve written a few magazine articles and are thinking of writing a book. Wait until the book is written and you’ve been critiqued and edited. Even better, win a few contests and attend a few writers conferences. Join a national writer’s group like the Christian Writers Guild or ACW. Start the process of making your name recognizable to the agents in the industry through these channels and you’ll have no problem finding interest.
Beyond that, the question of whether or not to employ a literary agent to represent your writing is mainly one of common sense. Virtually none of the top-selling authors opperate without an agent. In fact, I can’t think of a single one. Simply, when you spend your time writing, you don’t have time to know everything there is to know about the book industry. Oh sure, you can adequately secure a book contract on the strength of your writing if you’ve been doing it for a number of years. But when it comes to really getting all you’re worth, a good agent is much more than an expendable commodity.
The question is, how do you find a good one?
Agenting is about reputation. Ask around to editors and authors who they enjoy working with. I recommend the ones in the sidebar, but there are many good ones out there. Stories of bad agents and unsatisfied authors are scary, but typically, fabulous writers will have little to complain about. It might sound trite or unkind, but great writing makes bad agents easier to avoid. It may take a few tries, but don’t give up. Your writing career is worth the effort.
To all my writing friends, agented and not-yets, I wish you all the success in the world and many happy days writing!