What Literary Agents Really Do


When you’re querying, being agented is all you think about. It becomes an obsession. “When I’m agented, all will be right with the world.”

I’d be lying if I said being agented didn’t make me feel a million times more confident about my writing abilities, but the truth is, it’s only the first step in this crazy business.

It’s interesting and pretty funny to look back on everything I thought agents did before I signed with Carrie.

Thankfully, I can assure you, agents are not at all like Estelle Leonard from Friends.


Here are just a few things that I now know they do (and do really well.)

1. Agents keep you super positive and talk you off ledges.

I like to think I’m pretty relaxed when it comes to the craziness of the pub industry. That being said, after a while, rejection does get to me a little. And this is where your agent takes the negatives and turns them into positives. When my first round of sub ended in all nos, Carrie presented the rejections in such a positive way that I remember telling my family something like “heard back from editors–all nos–but it’s awesome and I’m excited!”


2. They deal with pesky publishing issues for you.

I hate conflict and confrontation. I avoid it at all costs. I’d rather overpay than tell someone they messed up my bill. When waiters screw up my order I’ll probably eat it just to avoid sending it back. It might be wimpy, but it’s the truth.

Agents act as liaisons between you and the publishing people. So if there’s an issue you need backup on, they’re there! Not to mention the best thing of all: they negotiate your contract. This is a good thing, because I know nothing about contracts and without an agent I’d probably sell my book to a publisher for a bag of M&Ms and a high five.

3. They sell your book (duh) but that’s not all: Agents are matchmakers!

Finding an editor is a lot like matchmaking. Forget simply selling the MS–it has to be a good overall fit. If you ask a friend to set you up with the perfect guy/girl, you’d expect that your friend would put some serious effort into thinking through the available options, right? Sub is very similar!

4. They’re people, not robots. And, if you’re lucky, pretty awesome people.

It still sometimes seems surreal that I’m done querying and found my perfect agent match, so right after I signed with Carrie I went through a period of insecurity that I’d be dropped over something silly like a typo, or she’d rethink her decision to sign me in the first place.

That fear took about a month to go away completely. Now I know that it’s a ridiculous fear. In fact, Sarah Dessen recently tweeted that she wrote 13 MSs that her agent didn’t like throughout the course of their career working together! It happens, and as long as you can talk things out and compromise, your agent won’t drop you. Agents are probably in it for the long haul, and besides liking your writing, they probably like you as a person, too!

5.) Some agents are also editorial agents.

(fyi: this is not my agent. This is my kitten, Penny, who has a slight obsession with sitting on laptops, bathing on laptops, and playing on laptops. She’s also a huge fan of highlighting large chunks of my MS and then pressing the “delete” key.)

Not all agents do extensive edits, but editorial agents work with you until the MS is in amazing shape. But to get it there they work on it a lot. They work on it a ton. They work on it so much they may even recall lines of dialogue better than you. There are times, after a revision, I want to include an apology in my email attachment. “Hey! Here’s the latest revision! p.s. IMSOSORRY.”

So there you have it! My two cents on what I now know about the agent world to date. I’m fairly certain this list is just the tip of the iceberg, too!

Did you have any misconceptions about the publishing industry before you began your writing journey??