Friday, December 2, 2011

Literary Agent v Literary Consultant: What each will do for you

By: Marisa A. Corvisiero, Esq.

If you are an author who would like to get published and get the best possible placement and deal, you should consider getting a literary agent... if you haven't already. Much like the agents that we've heard about in movies like Jerry Maguire or shows like Entourage, an agent is a person who agrees to act as someone’s representative in getting them work, making deals, etc. A literary Agent is an agent that represents a writer for the purpose of selling their written work to publishers. More often than not an agent will start to work with a writer on a per project basis.

How do you know if you need one? Simple, if you want to sell your work to traditional publishers, you should know that they don't even consider work that isn't represented. So if that's your goal, that's your answer right there. But even those who are content selling to smaller publishing houses, need a good agent to help them in and along.

Note that 'smaller' does not mean that they are small. They are just not the top tier of New York houses. Having an agent will open doors for you and get your work looked at faster. An agent will not only have the contacts and know who to send your work to, but they are also likely to know who likes and is looking for the type of work that you have written. A good agent will have good insight about the industry's ins and outs, and a pulse on trends. An agent will be able to tell you that your manuscript is ready, well written, and interesting enough to be pitched. Although most agents don't have the time to edit work, many do have enough knowledge and insight to give you guidance on points that need to be polished before it can be sent to publishers. After all, they have read it, or should have, and they will undoubtedly have an opinion and will point out a couple of things in your no longer perfect work, even if they loved it. Or maybe that's just me, and my many opinions, but I doubt it :-) If the agent likes it, or you, enough to take it on, even if it isn't ready, then the agent can get you in touch with, or recommend, a consultant or editor to help you where help is needed.

When time comes to accept an offer, your agent will be best suited to explain the terms of your contract to you, to negotiate them for your, and to help you decide between publishers if you are talented and lucky enough, and your agent is good enough, to get you multiple offers. The more knowledge and experience the agent has at this, the smoother the process and the better the outcome. If your agent has some legal knowledge or contract experience, even better! I have to say that my years as a corporate lawyer in New York City have truly come in handy several times when drafting or reviewing contracts. The problem with lack of legal knowledge or experience with contracts is that the reviewer will tend to focus on the industry or money clauses, such as duration of the contract, royalties, advances, sub rights, submission of manuscript, editing, out of print reversion, authors use of work, etc., and may not even know that there is an issue with a guarantee, or non compete, copyright, venue, etc.

Contrary to popular belief however, most literary agents do not stay involved with the process past that. Only some agents continue to provide services after the book is sold. This is because when the book is sold it is now in the publisher's hands, and the author pretty much just does what the publisher and its editors tell the author to do, from edits to promotions; and agents only get involved if there is a problem with the terms of the deal that was struck, or if someone is behaving badly. Once in a while a client will come to me and say, when are we setting up the book tour? or they'll give me the info for the launch party and say, "how do we do a press release for this?" Unfortunately, publishers aren't helping authors with these things as much as they used to. So people are left with three choices, they have to take what they can get from the publisher and do the rest themselves, hire a publicist, or hire a book coach to teach them and help them to do it themselves. Ideally, I would suggest that you do all three.

There are gaps in the process. We can say - write a book, have it edited, find an agent, the agent will sell it, and then the publisher will sell to the public, and all you have to do is show up at signings. This couldn't be further from the truth. Sure, for some this simple plan works. But most people need help, direction, guidance, and advice. Even if you write a something and know that you need an editor, how do you find the right one? One that will actually help you and not take a Thousand dollars for reading your book and tell you that you need to work on showing and not telling. And once your ms is complete, how do you choose the right agent? How do you prepare the query? the proposal? or that dreaded synopsis?...

There is a lot of information out there to help with each of these, but it takes time to learn and to sift through the muddle until the necessary answers are found. This can be time consuming, frustrating and often expensive. This is where Literary Consultants come in. Many agents now a days, including myself, are thankfully starting to provide consulting services. Editors with publishing experience and agents are the best-suited folks to offer these services, because of their vast knowledge about everything that it takes to make a manuscript good, how to present it and pitch it, how to package it, and how to sell it. They have the contacts to get you the help and expertise you need for your particular project and are often able to match someone to complement your temperament.

A literary consultant can be an author's best and most useful guide through the entire process. Depending on the scope and level of expertise literary consultants can offer authors guidance, advice, and sometimes hold their hand to get help on anything from the creation and development of an idea, to writing, editing, pitching and promoting a book. Some of these consultants offer their own time and advice, and others have a team of specialized people to help you through each phase. So if you need help finishing your book and getting it ready for submitting it to an agent or publisher, you can reach out a literary consultant to get your work in the best shape it can be, then they can help you prepare your query letter, synopsis, outline, proposal etc. and they can help you chose the right agent for you and your work.

Once your work is agented, a consultant with the right experience and knowledge can help you start promoting your book by getting you ready and helping you develop a platform or following. A good consultant can facilitate the information and instruments for you to get your social media tools, book tour, blog tour, book launch, book reviews, contests, conferences, etc. set up before your book has even hit the shelves. Why do you need to do all of this work? If you want to have sales, you need to promote, and your agent and publisher will only help so much. Especially if you are not James Paterson (I think I saw him on TV and ads about 30 times during the few hours I actually watched TV during the Thanksgiving break). Most publishers, even the biggest ones, push their bestselling authors first. So it's up to you! And you want to generate as much buzz as possible so that the bulk of sales take place in a one to three week window. This is how you get on the bestseller lists!

I have a strong suspicion that if you're reading this, and you're an author that wants to get published, it would probably make you very happy to become a best seller. So go get the help you need, if you need it! But remember to be careful before hiring someone to provide these services. See if you can get recommendations from someone that has used them. Talk to them extensively and make sure that you know what you’re getting for your money. Remember that an agent should not be charging you reading fees. But if an agent is offering consulting services that are specifically tailored to your needs, then it is ok to retain them to help you, as long as their representation of your work as an agent is not contingent on you paying for consulting services. In other words, don't pay them to represent you as an agent. Pay only for the help that you want and need.

So keep in mind that help is becoming increasingly available out there. Be smart and take advantage of the expertise that are available to you. The publishing industry does not have to be a frightening beast. Don't let the unique guidelines intimidate you. Get out there and network, and find the right team to help you.

Happy hunting!


  1. Great read Marisa.....and damned good advice!!

  2. Marisa, you're the best. Great post and helpful advice. Thanks!

  3. Excellent information for writers seeking acceptance by traditional publishers. What about all the others who choose to submit their work to small, e-book only publishers, rather than fight for the cherished few new-author contracts in the traditional publishing industry each year. These writers often have no agent because the smaller publishers allow direct submission, or they lack confidence to approach agents. How can these people benefit from consultant services?

    Also, the hardest part of finding credible consultants is distinguishing competent and experienced services, from the myriad of offerings that serve only to separate hopeful writers from their cash. Yes, I speak from experience, having once paid a "professional" editor to review a manuscript and getting ripped off. How would you suggest aspiring authors go about the search for quality advice and guidance?

  4. Wow Dean, Thanks so much for posting this! The answer, I'm afraid a lengthy. As an attorney, an agent and an author, you can imagine that can be a little long winded sometimes. So I will, with your permission, use your question in a new blog post and will answer it in detail. Good Questions!

  5. Marisa, this is really great information for not just the authors but also their spouses. We can get frustrated with how long the process takes because we don't understand the steps.
    Thank You.

  6. Marisa, Thanks for this information. It's really helpful to not just authors but for their spouse's. We sometimes get frustrated because we don't understand the steps involved in the editing and publishing process.

    Thank you,

  7. Sure, feel free to use anything I post if it will help my fellow writers. All I ask in return is homemade chocolate covered eclairs from your pastry-chef husband when we finally meet one day.

  8. Wonderful post Marisa! Thank you so much for taking the time to give us this information. The more I go into this journey on becoming published the more I realize I don't know as much as I hoped.

    I do hope to be published and I will bookmark this page for future reference.

  9. Great post, Marisa. I am wondering if you have any advice for authors like me. I'm a successful self-published author who recently was approached about selling foreign translation rights. Do you feel this is something that is better negotiated through an agent or a lawyer and, if so, how would an author find the right representation if they've never worked with an agent before.


  10. Wonderful post, Marisa. On such a journey, writers need support like this. Thanks for all your info and insight!

  11. I had no idea. (And not for nothing, I love "long-winded".)

    Thank you for such a thoughtful share.

  12. Oh, bless you. All us babes in the woods thought it was all about the writing! This all sounds like slaying the dragon with a dull pen knife. But i, for one, need to know this stuff, written on the insides of my eyes. Thank you for so much info in terms that make sense.