#SmartAuthorTips: 5 True, Amazing Facts about Literary Agents (Guest Post from Joseph Durepos)

Joe DureposIt’s a little-known fact that some of the most influential publishers and editors started out as agents. Ave Maria’s publisher, Tom Grady, is a good example of this. When I sit with him at meetings, I am always struck by his ability to sift away the trite, the “under-baked,” and the overblown in order to hone in on the gems.

Today’s guest blogger is another stellar example of how the gifts of  good agents and good editors have substantial overlap. Joseph Durepos understands the art of the deal. As a literary agent and executive editor for Loyola Press, Joe has  acquired or published more than 200 books, several of which have appeared on The New York Times Bestseller List or been awarded Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of the Year. I was delighted when he agreed to share his insider’s perspective about literary agents with us . . . Take it away, Joe!

First the good news: If you’re writing for a Catholic publisher, or a smaller religion publisher, you don’t need an agent. But if you want to be published by most medium and large trade houses, you do. Why? Good question. I can think of at least 5 reasons …

Major houses don’t look at un-agented manuscripts—including most children’s projects. Want to write a best seller?! 90% of the books onThe New York Times Best Sellers List are published by 5 large publishers. These publishers no longer read unsolicited manuscripts or proposals. Successful literary agents today primarily function as first developmental editors, fiduciary partners, and career advisors.

An agent can help get your manuscript or proposal into professional, sellable condition. Agents know how to identify the promise and potential in your project. They also know how editors think. The best ones invest in you as a writer and want to coach you through a successful career in publishing. Agents only make money when you make money, so when they choose to work with you, you need to return that investment of time and trust with the same level of professionalism.

An agent can match your book to the right publishers and editors. It’s an unusual writer who knows the best editor or best publisher for their work. They may have good ideas and helpful suggestions, based on anecdotal information gleaned from other authors, or from books or websites. Agents, on the other hand, keep tabs on who is up or down, what’s hot (or not), and when a trend is dead. They follow shifts in the retail sector, in technology, and in the industry itself (editors promoted or downsized; imprints dissolved or started up). Agents track these details like day traders watch the stock market. Their very livelihood depends on it.

An agent understands the art of negotiation. If you have an agent, you can be the good guy (and stick to the writing) let your agent be the bad guy (and do the fighting). Successful agents are skilled negotiators. They have basic publishing contract literacy. Whenever I read the deal news about a successful writer who is or was an editor or publisher—without fail, they always have an agent.

An agent sees the “big picture.”You want to get your book published. An agent wants you to get your book published—and so much more. They may see potential TV or film rights. They may see a series. They may know a publisher who is so right for you it’s almost a guarantee you’ll be successful. In other words, good agents know the landscape, and intuit how your career fits within that panorama. With traditional publishing (except perhaps with smaller presses), you almost always need an advocate to help you through the process. Can you do it on your own? Sure. Should you? Probably not.

Coming Up: How do I find a literary agent?

Joseph Durepos is Executive Editor at Loyola Press, where he has worked since 2002. At Loyola Press he’s acquired and published over 200 books, including best-selling authors Fr. James Martin (My Life with the Saints), Joan Wester Anderson (In the Arms of Angels), Fr. Richard Rohr (On the Threshold of Transformation) and Pope Francis (The Church of Mercy).

Before coming to Loyola Press, Durepos was an independent literary agent specializing in religion and spirituality titles.  He sold over 200 books in six years, including No Greater Love by Mother Teresa and The Mystic Heart by Brother Wayne Teasdale.

As both an agent and editor, his books have been The New York Times Best Sellers (The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly and The Gift of Peace by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin) and Publishers Weekly Religion Best Sellers (The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and I Like Being Catholic by Theresa Borchard & Michael Leach); they have also won Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of the Year awards twice (Prayer is A Place by Phyllis Tickle and My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J.).

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