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What You Need To Know: Working With A Literary Agent

What You Need To Know: Working With A Literary Agent

When it comes to publishing, literary agent Wendy Sherman has done it all.

Wendy has been the literary agent for countless best-selling books. She’s held senior executive positions at Simon and Schuster, Macmillan and Henry Holt as associate publisher.

Since 1999, she’s helmed Wendy Sherman Associates Literary Management, making her a go-to source for everything you need to know about working with a literary agent.  literary agent

In this blog post, you’ll learn about the role of a literary agent, agent compensation and collaboration, and how to choose the right one for your book.

Plus, Wendy will give you the inside scoop on how she reviews book proposals to determine a marketable book and author.

Let’s jump right in!

What is the role of a literary agent?

You know it’s essential to have a literary agent in your corner. But did you know how crucial a role they play?

Literary agents are integral in the entire publishing process, from finding and sometimes developing the material to submitting it to the right editors and publishers.

You may assume that the literary agent’s job ends with getting a book deal, but it goes way further than that.


  • provide guidance and support to authors during the writing process
  • deal with conflicts that may arise between the author and publisher
  • advocate for the author during the marketing and publishing process

And what’s more?

Literary agents have become even more critical in recent years as publishers’ roles have become more challenging due to cutbacks.

As a result, publishers have come to rely on agents to partner with them and help make the process work well.

Most good literary agents will also tell you that they fill the role of a confidante, too.

I talk about this a lot because every author experiences fear, self-doubt and imposter syndrome. A good agent will be there to help you persevere.

So, now you know how vital a literary agent is. Next, we’ll get into how the agents get paid.

How does the business arrangement with a literary agent work?

Aspiring authors in my Book Proposal Blueprint often ask me this, so I put it to Wendy.

She explained that a literary agent’s compensation is tied to the book’s success. So, she only gets paid when the author gets paid.

Here’s how it works:

The book is sold -> the publisher pays the author-> the literary agent receives 15% of the money due to the author.

This payment structure continues for the advance, edits, and royalties for as long as the book sells.

This structure means agents have a long-term financial commitment that starts before book sales and lasts as long as the book sells.

It also means that agents may work for years without pay!

So, finding a reputable literary agent who believes wholeheartedly in your work and has the necessary expertise is essential for publishing success.

How Do Literary Agents Review Book Proposals?

The first thing literary agents do when reviewing a book proposal is to determine if the book will connect and sell with the right reader.

That means to have the best shot at scoring a literary agent, your book proposal must sell the essence and substance of the book in the overview. And in a world where time is limited, it’s essential to capture your potential readers’ and publishers’ attention quickly and effectively.

In addition to a clear and compelling message, Wendy assesses how marketable the book is and how the author will show up to sell the book through the pre-launch, launch and post-launch phases.

Then, once she’s decided she wants to represent a book, Wendy makes a list of editors and publishers she’s confident she can sell the book to based on her contacts.

Sometimes she likes the proposal but can’t identify the best editor or publisher for it.

In that case, she acknowledges that the book has merit, and she advises the author to seek out another agent.

That’s why it’s crucial to find an experienced agent who believes in your work, is interested in the subject matter and has aligned connections to help your book succeed.

The agent-author relationship is important as collaboration is the name of the game when promoting your book.

What Happens When The Book Proposal Doesn’t Cut it

Literary agents review hundreds of book proposals a year, and they often see a great idea in a book proposal that just doesn’t cut it.

I have long-running relationships with book publishers and agents, so often, they’ll refer the authors to book proposal coaches like me.

I then help them translate their idea, knowledge and passion for their topic onto the page.

Wondering how a book proposal coach can help you be sure you have a proposal that agents will love?

Click here to check out my signature program with live support!

How Do Literary Agents, Authors and Publishers Work Together

Typically, publishers focus on gaining support for your book through media relations, including setting up interviews, and book reviews.

That means that digital marketing, platform-building and marketing via your business falls to the author.

This is exciting because together with your agent, you can create a creative plan for collaborating with the publisher to reach your target audience.

When advising my clients on preparing book proposals to submit to literary agents like Wendy, I tell them to be specific about how they’ll divide and conquer marketing with the publisher.

I also recommend they count on being responsible for about 70% of the promotion.

Yes, 70%!

Wendy agrees that when authors lay out a plan in their proposal to do the heavy lifting, she knows that publishers will be more likely to work with them.

Epilogue – Working With a Literary Agent

Understanding the role of a literary agent is essential for any aspiring author looking to navigate the publishing world successfully.

From developing material to author advocacy, a reputable literary agent is involved in every step of the publishing process.

A good literary agent can offer valuable insights, connections, and resources. But, as an aspiring author, you must also come to the table with a clear book proposal, a positive attitude, and a willingness to collaborate.

Want to learn more?

Click here to listen to my entire conversation with literary agent Wendy Sherman and literary agents.

When you do, you’ll learn:literary agent

  • What surprises people about the publishing process (26:03)
  •  How long does it take to publish a book in 2023? (28:44)
  •  Michelle’s favorite part of being an agent. (33:59)
  •  How to answer – Who is your book for? (37:04)

There are so many questions about the publishing process, and the role of the literary agent is just one of them.

Members of my Book Proposal Blueprint program have access to me to answer any question on their minds. You can learn more about it here.

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