Misconceptions Writers Have of Literary Agents

Aug 17, 2015


We’ve noticed newer authors often don’t quite understand the role of a literary agent. So we asked some of our colleagues at Transatlantic Agency to debunk some of the myths they’ve noticed writers have of literary agents.

We’re just deal brokers.

I think writers believe we hold a set of keys to the literary kingdom, and that if we would just open the doors and send out their project right away, we’ll all ride off into the sunset trailing gold behind us.

It’s not that simple. I attach myself very personally to each and every book I pitch and sell, and it can take weeks (sometimes months) before it is ready to pitch. Most agents I know are incredibly dedicated to their authors and work with them diligently to shape their material so that it is not only well received, but ready for the marketplace if it is picked up.

Good agents are not simply deal brokers, but professionals who usually love their work and must cultivate healthy, working relationships with authors, editors, publishers, and others in the industry.


– Sandra Bishop

When you work with an agent, you give up control of your business affairs.

When chatting with potential new clients, the issue of “authority” frequently comes into the discussion.  Many writers believe that taking on an agent will mean giving up control of their own writing-related business affairs. Nothing could be further from the truth. In our agency contract, we have a provision that states “your representative has no authority to execute or accept any offer on your behalf and you shall retain the sole right to accept or reject any offer.”  Any reputable agent/author agreement will have a similar provision in its pages.

It is your agent’s job to guide you through the publishing process, to “shop” your work to appropriate prospective publishers, to clearly outline the long-term pros and cons of potential deals, and to fully answer all of your questions.  In the best of all worlds you will find an agreeable path forward through vigorous discussion and debate.  But no matter how you arrive at a decision, your agent should never be empowered to usurp or circumvent your authority.  This is your career, and it will be your name that appears on the cover of any work you publish.  Your agent is there to gain access where you cannot and to assist you in navigating the vagaries of the publishing world.  Sometimes a greater personal bond is formed in the process, but no matter what your experience you should never forget that your agent works for you.

– Shaun Bradley

You need a New York agent to get a book deal.

A lot of North American writers think they need a New York-based agent to land a book deal. But the truth is, it doesn’t really matter where your agent is based, as long as she has contacts within the appropriate publishing houses for your work. Those connections are cultivated through an agent’s regular pitches, plus business trips to New York and other publishing hubs, and to the international book fairs. These days most of the work of literary agenting is done through email and phone calls, so location doesn’t matter how it used to. Publishers are looking for original, well-written work for which there is a clear audience, and that work can arrive to them from all kinds of places. Transatlantic, for instance, has agents in Nova Scotia, Portland, and Vancouver, as well as Toronto, all of whom land their clients’ deals in the big publishing centres.

– Trena White, Page Two Principal