There is a difference between trying to be published without the help of a literary agent, and seeking to be published with the assistance of a good literary agent.
It is true; to get a good literary agent requires the same effort as getting published. Some writers do not see the point of chasing a literary agent. However, there is a difference between trying to be published without the help of a literary agent, and seeking to be published with the assistance of a good literary agent or agency, that has accumulated knowledge of the publishers’ requirements of a submission and more.
The established agents have a special and professional relationship with the editors and the publishers. They are connected on a more personal level and they often know what the editors (from publishing companies) are looking for today and anticipating tomorrow. Statistically, submissions via an individual agent or agency are of a higher quality than those by unassisted writers. Interestingly, writers often underestimate the agent’s or agencies’ professionally respectful cooperation with the editors and the publishers.
Some publishers will never accept your full manuscript in a first submission; commonly, they only accept submission of the first three chapters (50-60 pages). But if an agent or an agency approaches the same publisher, they can usually get your full-length manuscript accepted and read, thereby giving your work more chance to be sold. As a rule, – never try to find agent without having finished your manuscript.
Frankly, if you book is good, an agent or agency will sell it much faster than you can. If your book is bad, the best agent or agency will not be able to sell it for you. Some time, if you don’t yet have an agent, but get acceptance from a publisher, consider finding one at this stage. I would call it “a peace of mind decision” because if an agent or agency negotiates a contract for you, it will mean one important thing – you will get paid considerably earlier, because the agent or agency will make sure they get paid as fast as possible; after all, this is their prime income and they will ‘fight’ for it.
The main effort of a literary agent/agency is to work for a writer in order to give professional editorial guidance, to negotiate a contract with a publisher (they are experts in the negotiable points of a contract: the royalties rates and the process of its accounting), to guard the publishing process and to trace the sale of subsidiary rights (secondary or ancillary rights), foreign rights (foreign language license), reprint rights (different version of printing), electronic rights (digital version), merchandise rights (products based on character/s or story), audiobook rights (exact audio version) and performance rights (movie, play, Television production or Radio production).
Therefore, if you don’t have considerable knowledge or do not understand many different rights (“bundle”) that are involved in publishing business then you need a good agent who does. Just some advice from a writer’s point of view, “Always try to hold merchandising and performance rights yourself. These rights you can always negotiate and sell later; separately or under one contract”.
The agents work on a commission percentage (rated) from the future income (earnings from a sale). When a writer is taken on, he or she will be asked to sign an agreement or formal contract with an agent or agency. Usually, the agent’s rates start from 10% as a minimum and range up to 20% as a maximum. This percentage will depend on the publishing contract (local publishing contract for one country or international contract for a few or many countries).
The agents or agencies are paid by deducting the earlier negotiated rate, and only when the publisher pays, including advance payments or royalties. Once the agent or agencies have retained their percentage payment, they will send the remaining money to the writer.
There are some extra fees that a writer can be required to pay, but never up – front. The only extra fees that a writer could be charged for are: Special Courier fee, photocopying fee, or if sale of sub-rights (subsidiary rights) already in interest and extra copies of a book are requested. Usually, but not necessarily, a writer will be asked to cover these specific extra costs. However, these extra fees are normally imbedded into a formal contract or an agreement with an agent or agency and deducted from the writer’s sum when the publisher pays.
A decent or legitimate agent or agency will never ask a writer to pay a retainer (up-front) fee or an extra fee for a so called presentation to a publisher or editor; or for distributing (placing) your manuscript with publishers. Needless to say, any entertaining fees, local postage or phone calls fees; or agency joining fees; or reading your manuscript fee are not legitimate extras. These types of extra fees will never be mentioned by a genuine agent or an agency; therefore, if you are asked to pay such fees up-front– you better walk away. Unquestionably, the agents or the agencies do not get paid until they sell your book to a publisher. Any other proposal from an agent or agency is most likely a scam or a fraud.