A literary agent (sometimes publishing agent, or writer’s representative) is an agent who represents writers and their written works to publishers, thetherical producers, film producers, and film studios, and assists in sale and deal negotiation. Literary agents most often represent novelists, screenwriters, and non-fiction writers. They are paid a fixed percentage (usually twenty percent on foreign sales and ten to fifteen percent for domestic sales) of the proceeds of sales they negotiate on behalf of their clients.
Literary agents perform various services for authors. They connect the author’s work with appropriate publishers, negotiate contracts, ensure royalty payments, and mediate problems between author and publisher. Agents can help new authors get public recognition. Agents also help publishing houses and others expedite the process of review, publication, and distribution of authors’ works. Many well-known, powerful, and lucrative publishing houses (such as the Big Five) are generally less open than smaller publishers to unrepresented submissions. A knowledgeable agent knows the market, and can be a source of valuable career advice and guidance. Being a publishable author doesn’t automatically make someone an expert on modern publishing contracts and practices—especially where television, film, or foreign rights are involved. Many authors prefer to have an agent handle such matters. This prevents straining the author’s working relationship with the editor with disputes about royalty statements or late checks.
An agent can also function as an adviser, showing an author the various aspects of how to make a living writing. Literary agents often transition from jobs in other aspects of the publishing industry. Though self-publishing is becoming much more popular, literary agents still fulfill a useful role as gatekeepers to publishing houses.