An Author Needs An Agent

Missy Parks
Apr 7 · 9 min read

Missy Parks

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I recently learned how much I don’t know about publishing. I have pieces like the one you’re reading that are published online, I also have short stories and such available on Amazon. It took a lot of time and research for me to be able to get my work in front of the public. Now that the time has come to publish my novel, it’s different. I want to be sure this particular story is taken care of and done properly.

As so many of us do these day, I went to social media for advice. Groups and communities for authors and writers seemed to agree that an agent is the way to go. I looked into exactly what an agent would do for me. As I learned more about the industry, I realized how important it is going to be to have someone represent me.

An agent gets a percentage of what they make for you so it is in their own best interest to get the best deal possible. You pay for their knowledge and experience. They work with publishers every day and know how to navigate in those waters. It is their job to know which publishers deal in the type of work you have written, you could spend time sending your manuscript to people that have no interest in your genre. An agent deals with the problems that will come up, they are used to things that could be overwhelming to someone unused to the process. Agents act as a buffer between you and an industry that is unfamiliar and at times unfriendly to those in my position.

Opinions varied widely when I asked for advice on finding someone to represent me. I learned that some authors batch mailed their query to every agent they could find. There are others that pick and choose specific people that handle their genre and there are some that go down a list one by one, waiting on a response from each before moving to the next name.

There were also horror stories of being scammed by both agents and publishers. I’ve learned that a writer should never put up money for anything. Doing your research is important, check reviews and testimonials. There are some that have unknowingly signed away the rights to their work because they didn’t understand the contract and trusted the publisher. Books have been stolen and the author has to spend time and money to prove that the work belongs to them.

I decided that asking an expert would result in the best answers. Searching social media quickly produced several literary agents to choose from. I composed an e-mail and sent it off to a few to see if there was anyone that would help.

Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group was kind enough to respond, he was willing to answer my questions. I asked things that were important to me and I hope they are helpful to those that are like me.

  1. How should an author choose agents to contact?

One of the best ways to research literary agents is through using a website such as Publishers Lunch. It is essentially an online rolodex and contains data regarding the dealmaker rankings of each literary agency and every individual literary agent. For instance, a search performed on that site will show that the Trident Media Group literary agency typically ranks first, both for overall deals and six-figure+ deals, consecutively year-after-year, ever since 2004. A dealmaker page search for my name, Mark Gottlieb, will show that I have performed over 150 book deals and it will show the individual book categories and publisher names associated with those book deals.

2. What is the proper way to contact you and what should and should not be included in that introduction?

The preferred way in which we like to be contacted at the Trident Media Group literary agency is through our online submissions form found here. A writer contacting the agency will get the best result by following those submission guidelines. Our website registers the submission and sends an email receipt to the person writing the query letter. If an author wanted to contact me in particular, then they should select the name Mark Gottlieb from among the literary agents in the dropdown menu on the submissions page.

3. How long does it typically take to get a response?

Every individual literary agent and literary agency will be different in their response time, especially since book publishing is not an exact science. The literary agents at Trident Media Group try to get back to each individual author in a timely manner. The submissions receipt generated by our website, and sent to the query letter sender’s email inbox, states that if we are interested, then we will get back to the author within a thirty-day period. Of course the author might hear much sooner, though. As a part of the Mark Gottlieb brand of literary representation, my personal response time, if I am interested in a query letter, is usually same day or at least within the same week.

4. What questions should an author ask when choosing an agent?

Some of the questions a writer will want to ask their prospective literary agent includes, but is not limited to:

Will we be signing an agency agreement and may I review the agency agreement before signature?

Can you let me know what the literary agency’s commission structure is and does it conform with industry standards?

What is your preferred style of communication like?

Do​ you feel that the manuscript needs any editorial guidance?

What is the submissions process with book publishers like and how long does it take?

Beyond the deal-making stage, do you help with the actual book publishing process?

Does your literary agency have a major presence in foreign book publishing, audiobook publishing and in book-to-film/TV?

5. What happens after an author and agent come to an agreement?

Once I have signed a writer up with the literary agency, and if the manuscript doesn’t need any further polishing, I begin crafting my submission list of book editors at publishing houses, as well as my pitch to those various editors at publishers. The submissions process usually takes at least several months on average but can sometimes happen much quicker. A submission to book editors from Trident Media Group usually goes right to the top of their stack of manuscripts to be read.

6. Any advice on things an author should not do when trying to find an agent?

There are so many things an aspiring writer can do wrong in approaching a literary agent, that it’s easier to simply discuss the things an author can do right in approaching a literary agent:

-Write a knockout hook and query letter and personalize the address in the letter.

-Read about a literary agent on their company website and see the books they represent.

-Follow the literary agency’s submission guidelines.

-Make sure the manuscript conforms to things such as normal book length and genre conventions/norms.

7. Are there any red flags that should warn someone away from an agent?

Writers should avoid agents that charge fees for reading manuscripts since that is not normal in our industry. Again, it is also important to review an agency’s commission structure to see if it conforms to industry standards and norms. I also mentioned before that writers should also look at the amount of deals, and amount of money for deals, agencies are performing to see if they are really up to snuff or not.

8. Is there any one thing you look for when deciding if you’ll work with an author?

In evaluating a potential client, I research them online to see what their online presence has to say about them. For authors of fiction, I tend to focus on the quality of the writing and the strength of the plot, followed by the writer’s relevant writing experience and writing credentials. In evaluating authors of nonfiction, I first look at the strength of the author’s platform to see if they have a very big following, before evaluating the subject matter of the book and the author as an authority on their subject matter.

There you have it, answers from an expert.

Now I’m aware there are websites that list agents and agencies, using these lists you can choose someone that fits your particular niche rather than sending to people that generalize. Whereas a general internet or social media search may produce results that are less than reputable.

Agencies will have submission guidelines they expect you to follow and you can find these listed on their website. Once you submit your query most have an automated system that sends a response letting you know they have it and that you’ll hear back from them if they are interested along with an estimated time frame.

When you hear from someone interested in working with you there is information you need from them. A reputable agency will have a standard agreement for you to read and sign. The percentage as well as any expenses expected to be paid by you and payment arrangement should be plain and easily understandable, you should have the right to audit the account. The specific piece of work you are agreeing about should be named. There should be a specific length of time the agreement is valid as well as if it will automatically renew. Read it carefully and get answers about anything you don’t understand.

Once you have signed on the dotted line, ask questions every step of the way. Be sure that you and your new agent have established lines of communication going both ways because I’m sure there will be times when they have questions for you.

Once the legalities are taken care of, your agent becomes a salesman. Their job is to sell your work. It will be tempting to check in with them often but realistically they have to write a sales pitch and do research just the same as I’ve had to do in preparing to write this piece or those like me do everyday in order to create their work. The market and your subject matter will also contribute to the timetable. Give them a reasonable amount of time and try not to be overly annoying.

Remember that the creator should never put out money, if something feels wrong or you are being pressured find someone else. Use verified sources when deciding where you want to submit your query.

The agent will be evaluating you as well. A total newbie does have a chance, there are pages of testimonials from people that hit it big with the first thing they ever put on paper. Reality for most of us will be many tries and many failures before we have anything that gets noticed. That will be taken into account. What you already have out there will be looked at. What does your online presence say about you?

Hopefully this will help anyone trying to decide if they should self-publish their masterpiece or if it would be a good idea to get help. There is also a chance it will help an agent or two if a few writers reading this submit to them following the rules and having a basic idea of what to expect.

Time for me to find my own agent. Wish me luck.

A very special thank you to Mark Gottlieb for taking the time to answer the questions of this ignorant newbie author.

This exclusive interview comes by way of literary agent Mark Gottlieb of the Trident Media Group literary agency in New York City. Trident Media Group literary agent Mark Gottlieb has ranked highly among literary agents across publishing in overall volume of deals and other individual categories. Using that same initiative and insight for identifying talented writers, he is actively building his own client list of authors of fiction and nonfiction. Mark Gottlieb is excited to work directly with authors, helping to manage and grow their careers with all of the unique resources that are available at book publishing’s leading literary agency, Trident Media Group. During his time at Trident Media Group, he has represented numerous New York Times bestselling authors, as well as award-winning authors, and has optioned and sold numerous books to film and TV production companies. Mark Gottlieb is actively seeking submissions in all categories and genres.

Missy Parks

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Hi, I’m a 50+ grandmother living in middle Tennessee.