The Evolution of the Literary Agent

The October 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest features the annual round-up of agents looking for new writers. Chuck Sambuchino does an excellent job as usual in curating this hot list.

Just as important, the October issue features standout queries that worked for authors in landing literary representation, including:

  • A masterful and basic literary fiction query
  • A young adult query that conveys the voice of the book
  • A mainstream fiction query that targets the right agent
  • An urban fantasy query that concisely summarizes the story
  • A romantic suspense query that emphasizes a fit for a well-defined genre

I also contributed to this issue with an agent roundtable discussing “The Evolution of the Literary Agent.” Click here to read the piece online.

A small excerpt:

Given the volume of agents
today, it doesn’t seem likely they can all continue to make a living
under the traditional commission-based model. What do you anticipate
will happen?

Richard Curtis: It is absolutely true. There are too many
agents for not enough business. What will happen? There are many
scenarios, most of them grim. Here, with apologies to Darwin, are some:
1) The unfit agents will not survive; 2) Mergers and acquisitions among
agents will thin the herd and a smaller number of super-agencies will
evolve; 3) The old breed of agents will have to learn new skills to keep
up; 4) The “commission basis” you refer to will transform into
something closer to the Hollywood model, in which the talent pays
managers to handle such business as public relations, website management
and contract negotiation. Such an agent-manager might even be called
upon by a client to help the client self-publish a book.

As I completed the editing for this round-up, Andrew Wylie announced that he was striking a deal with Amazon for exclusivity to sell his clients’ e-books. While this deal later fell through, it further illustrated what a time of transition we’re living in, and how a lot of old rules don’t apply any more. Click here to read a recap of the situation at the LA Times blog, Jacket Copy.

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2 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Literary Agent

  1. Bob Mayer

    As we used to say in the Infantry: lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. That’s the future of everyone in publishing. Writers produce the product; readers consume the product. Everyone else has to figure out their role or be looking for a job. Mega-agents with brand name clients will continue to do well, except when clients start realizing the brand is what sells and eBooks take a larger and large chunk of the market and the 70% royalty rate looks better and better and, can we say Covey? David Morrell just went exclusive eBook on his backlist and a new title– was it agented? What would the agent have done in such a case? If there was an agent involved isn’t it more of a case of the agent being the publisher then? Which was the issue with Wylie. A tipping point is coming.
    An agent trying to survive on a bunch of midlist authors is in trouble right now, because midlist authors are in trouble. The question is: what role can an agent play in eBooks? We just received an agented query at Who Dares Wins Publishing. Which means that agent is willing to go with a no advance royalty-only model if the book is picked up. The long tail is the future of the midlist author. I’m making more money off my backlist right now at Who Dares Wins than my royalties from front list at traditional publishers. I take that as a sign.


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