What does an agent do?
Could an agent help you get your writing published? Find out everything you need to know about them here.
What is an agent?
Literary agents are the intermediary between writers and publishers.
They have a network of contacts and have close relationships with editors, so they have a strong feel for what the market wants. The benefit of having an agent is that they can get your book straight to editors without having to rely on the slush pile.
How do I get an agent?
Getting an agent to represent your work can be difficult if you just post or email your book to them. They're busy people and often have tons to read, and they aren't always looking for new clients. However, there are lots of opportunities to meet agents in person, whether it's through Q&A sessions online or at literary festivals and other events.
Follow as many agents as you can on Twitter and see if they're doing any events. Organisations like writer development agencies or organisations for writers like The Golden Egg Academy or Writers and Artists run events quite frequently for new writers and writers looking for agents. It's a great opportunity to go along and ask questions and meet agents in person, which will mean you get a better idea of what they're looking for, how they expect a manuscript to look in terms of presentation, and how they work. Also, they're more likely to remember you when you submit your manuscript to them.
If an agent reads your work and is interested in it they'll usually ask to meet you (or talk on the phone or Skype if you're far away) and see if they think they can work with you - if they haven't already. They will also probably give you suggestions on how to improve your manuscript. Don't be insulted by this: it's completely normal, and agents are experts, so their advice is well worth taking. However, if you feel they genuinely don't get your book, don't be afraid to say no. You have to find the person you believe will best represent your book.
What happens next?
Once you have chosen your agent, you'll sign a contract with them to enable them to represent you. Once the agent is happy that your manuscript is ready (and remember, be prepared for rewrites!) they will send it to a selection of their contacts at publishing houses.
An agent will probably continue to represent you and your work over a long period of time; agents have some writers that are working on new books, some that are under contract and some that aren't. They will support you during both periods and will probably help you develop new work and give feedback and, in some cases, professional guidance and even development opportunities.