How To Be Your Own Literary Agent

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Getting a reliable agent with the right connections can be an arduous task, and often writers are left to represent themselves.  Being your own agent means educating yourself about the publishing industry, negotiating your own contracts, and making sure that your pay is fair and that your contract has been fulfilled.

  1. Submissions: If you are acting as your own agent, there will be many publishers that you simply cannot submit to. The "agented submissions only" policy will mean that your manuscript gets sent back to you unopened. You will have to find markets that will take your submissions without a formal agent. Consulting The Writer's Market in its most recent edition is the best place to find publishers who will accept your manuscript. You will have to follow all of their rules for submission, which may include sending a query letter first before submitting a full manuscript.

  2. Negotiations: Once a publisher is interested in your work, you will have to do your own negotiating for a fair advance and royalty percentage. Before entering into any negotiations, be sure to do your homework online beforehand. Search the web to find what advances other writers have gotten from your publisher and what advance they mention in The Writer's Market. Then do the same thing with royalty percentages. If you come across many sites that say writers have received a $5,000 advance, and you are offered $3,000, come armed with that knowledge in order to get a little leverage.
  3. Contracts: One of the main reasons writers like to work with agents is that publishing contracts can be so complex. The royalty structures alone are maddening in their complexity. But again, you will have to come forearmed with knowledge or risk signing away too many of your rights. Subsidiary rights may crop up in a contract, meaning that the work may be licensed out at a different rate. There may also be different rate for a book club edition. Most book contracts come with first North American rights being signed away to the publisher. In that case, you would be free to submit the manuscript to any publisher overseas. If you want reversion rights, there is some negotiating room. Reversion rights mean that the rights to the work revert back to you if the book goes out of print. Some publishers may want to limit that right by saying it must have been out of print for a set number of years before it can revert, and some will say that the rights will never revert. If there is a clause saying that the rights are gone forever, you might negotiate for the set number of years scenario instead.

  4. Marketing: These days, a book author is largely expected to market the book on her own. Acting as your own agent, you will have to come up with a marketing plan that will get your book noticed. Many writers create a website that highlights their work, with some extra information about the author to give it a personal touch. One trend on writer's websites is to have a picture of the desk at which you wrote the book. If you can get the website address up and running early enough, the URL can be included in your bio to direct readers to the website. If there is enough interest, creating a Yahoo group to discuss your book or books is a good way to build up a fan base and keep people interested in your work.

 

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