The Literary Agent's Role

The Literary Agent’s Role

What is the literary agent’s role when you’re writing a book?

‘And it does no harm to repeat, as often as you can, ‘Without me the literary industry would not exist; the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub-agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the department of literature, the professor, the theses, the book of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages.’ ~Doris Lessing

You do not need an agent. However, it would be nice if you could get one. Agents are an author’s guide to the book-publishing world.

Agents negotiate deals for authors. Agents know the market and they have contacts. They often help an author with practical input. Agents take care of their business while you take care of yours, which is writing.

However, most authors have misconceptions about the role of an agent and it helps to remember these points.

The Literary Agent’s Role

An agent does not:

  1. Teach people how to write
  2. Act as an editor
  3. Ask for a reading fee
  4. Serve as a publicist
  5. Play the role of secretary
  6. Act as a lawyer
  7. Solve an author’s personal problems
  8. Sell work that is not good enough
  9. Lend money

Reading fees. Are they a rip off?

If literary agents offer them, beware. Most professional agents would never offer to read, edit or appraise your work for a fee.

If you want an appraisal or an edit, you should choose an institution or agency who offers these specialised services. These institutions employ experts with no hidden agendas to read the manuscripts. Writers Write has a manuscript appraisal service. Email for more information.

The Literary Agent's Role

Agents or Publishers? 

Most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or submissions from un-agented authors. They do not have the time or manpower to wade through thousands of manuscripts. You CAN get an agent if your work has merit. Persevere. Target the correct agency for your novel.

How do you get an agent to represent you? The best way to do this is to write a killer query letter and a synopsis that sizzles. A synopsis is a sales pitch for your book.

Seven Tips for Writing a Sizzling Synopsis

1. Hook the reader with the inciting moment.
2. Tell us how she intends to solve the crisis.
3. Give us her details, briefly – age, occupation etc.
4. Tell the story.
5. Keep to main story points.
6. Motivation and emotion are all important here.
7. Editors and readers like human drama – It sells.

If you want to find publishers or literary agents in South Africa, please contact PASA, The Publisher’s Association of South Africa – 0217629083 – and look for publishers there. You will find a list of publishers here

Source for Image

Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

© Amanda Patterson

This article has 10 comments

  1. Desmond Frost

    Thank you. I found the above information short and to the point. Can you point me in the direction to get into contact with a literary agent in Gauteng South africa

  2. Malcolm Coombs

    I have written and self published a book on Personal Finance. I need to find a literary agent in order to publish with a reputable publisher. I am in Durban.


    I would like to get a literary agent around Gauteng. thank you for your help.

  4. kutloano

    hy I am looking for a literacy agent around gauteng.Please help me!

  5. katlego mohasi

    hi i have written books and i want to have them published . please help me if you can.

  6. Writers Write

    Please Contact PASA, Web: The Publisher’s Association of South Africa – 0217629083 – and look for publishers there. List:

  7. JB

    What qualifications/experience would one need to BECOME an agent? Where would one start?

  8. Writers Write

    JB, you may find this article interesting:

  9. Tracy Hattingh

    Hi, I’ve self published a novel recently and trying to self promote. The problem is I work full time and I don’t have the money to pay someone to promote my book. You say an agent shouldn’t ask a reading fee. If an agent likes my book, what then. And how do I find an agent who’s willing to help me.

  10. Writers Write

    You would have to continue to approach literary agents until you find somebody who likes your book. You would also have to find out if they would represent you now that the book is published. Look for agents here:

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