I've been investigating the wonderful world of literary agents in recent months. What's a literary agent, you may ask?
A literary agent represents writers and their written works to publishers, theatrical producers, film producers and film studios. They receive a fixed percentage of the proceeds of sales as they negotiate on behalf of their clients.
Most people have assumed that I will send my book straight to a publisher. Why send your book to an agent when they'll take some of your earnings? Well, because sending an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher is a huge gamble. The big publishing houses received hundreds of manuscripts from wannabe writers every year. It has to be very, very good to grab their attention. Most never get read properly.
It is much better to go through an agent first. An agent will read some sample chapters and assess your book for marketability. In other words, they won't take you on as a client if they don't think you're any good and that they can make money out of you. They will send your manuscript to publishers on your behalf with their endorsement. A reputable agent will NEVER ask you for money upfront or charge you to become their client. If an agent asks for money, BACK AWAY.
I think it is well worth going through an agent. Yes, they will take a cut of your earnings, but they will also help you get the best deal. For me to approach publishers on my own is like going to court without a lawyer, or trying to sell/rent out your property without a real estate agent. I know too many people who've tried to save money by doing it themselves only to have their investment property trashed by dodgy tenants. If the publishers were interested in my book, I wouldn't have a clue on negotiating contracts etc. I want someone there who knows the tricks of the trade, who has my back.
Steps to seeking an agent in Australia:
1. Visit the webpage Australian Literary Agents Association which lists reputable agents.
2. Agents usually only accept certain genres (i.e. some may only do children's books, or adult fiction, or travel etc.). Choose an agent which accepts the genre of your work.
3. Visit the agent's website to determine their requirements for sending your material to them. They will usually want a cover letter and synopsis (Google examples of these so you know how to write one. DON'T copy it word for word though). Make sure your work is in the correct format (i.e. font, line spacing, margins).
I have a 2-10 week wait to see if I've been successful.