If your book is published in Botswana, or actually in most places in Africa, you won’t need a literary agent.
But if you want to sell your book to a publisher in Europe or the United States, you will most likely need an agent.
Few big, traditional publishers in those markets will look at manuscripts sent directly by authors; they must go through a literary agent.
So what is the purpose of an agent? An agent can be a fantastic asset to a writer.
First, they read your book and give you advice on how to improve it before they attempt to send it out to any publishers.
They want your book to be the best that it can be.
A good agent knows the editors at various publishing houses and knows the kind of books they like and the kind of books that they’re looking for.
It’s nearly impossible for a writer to have that kind of insider information.
A good agent will build up relationships with editors at various publishing houses and those editors will respect that agent’s advice.
If the agent tells them they have a good book for them to read, the editors will listen because they know this agent has a good eye for what they like and what the readers like.
So after your book is ready, the agent will have a few ideas already of which publishers might want your book.
The agent is the one who sells your book to the publisher.
Sometimes if a book has garnered enough hype and there are a few publishers that are interested in buying a book, the agent might organise an auction.
At an auction the interested publishers will offer their best possible deals.
This will be a mix of the amount of advance they can offer, the marketing and publicity they’re willing to put into the book, and the amount of enthusiasm the publishing house has for the book.
The agent will work with you to decide which publishing deal is the best for you.
The eventual decision is yours though. An agent should never make decisions on deals without you.
A good agent should be completely in your corner; it only makes sense since the agent does well when you do well, since they make a percentage of their clients’ money, usually 10-15%.
Once a publisher is decided on, the agent will be the one to negotiate the contract on the writer’s behalf.
They will try to get the best deal including subsidiary rights, such as film and TV, foreign sales, etc.
In Europe and the United States, it is the norm for publishers to give authors advances, this rarely, if ever, takes place with publishers in Africa.
An advance is actually an advance on your royalties.
Royalties are the percent of the selling prices of the book the author receives, normally about 10% of the net price.
So an advance is money given to the author before the book is sold.
This advance can be small as low as about $3000 and it can be big, well over $100,000.
It will all depend on how much the publisher believes your book can make for them.
Your agent should try to negotiate for the best advance possible.
The advance is usually paid in instalments.
A part is given out when the contract is signed, a part is given when the manuscript is received by the publisher, and the final part is given when the book comes out.
This again is an area where your agent can negotiate.
Once you have an agent, they will deal with all of the money that you earn from the publisher.
The publisher will write a cheque to the agent.
The agent will take out her 10-15%, and then write a cheque to the writer.
If a writer has received an advance, they will not receive any royalties until the advance is paid back from sales of the book.
Once that happens, again all royalty money will go through the agent.
If the book does not earn back the advance, the author does not give that money back.
An agent should never charge a writer to read a manuscript or to edit a manuscript.
There are such people around, beware of them; they are not literary agents, they are shysters who want to take your money.
You should be aware that getting an agent is nearly as difficult as getting a publisher for your book on your own.
They are highly discriminating. They want to be sure that they will make money from you which they can only do if your book sells.
Also, don’t assume that if you do get an agent, they will definitely find a publisher for your book. Sometimes they don’t.