What, exactly, does a literary agent do? And when do you need one?

If you’re ready to publish your first cookbook, one of the first steps is finding a literary agent to represent you throughout the publishing process.

And while we all know, in theory, what an agent is supposed to do, what they actually do is a whole other story. It’s an important one, too, to make sure you find the best working relationship for you and your brand.

How to begin

The first step before reaching out to agents is to prepare your cookbook. Have the manuscript ready for review.

Research agents who know the cookbook space, and narrow down your list to a group of professionals you think will be a good fit.

Then write a query letter to pitch the content to prospective agents.

“If they think they can sell it to a publisher, and you are a good fit for their agency, they may offer you representation,” says Grateful Ink general manager, Amy Nichols. “If they don’t think they can sell it, they will politely decline or sometimes refer you to another house that works within that genre.”

What to look for

Nichols recommends looking at four things when deciding which agents you should target for your cookbook.

  1. The agent should have sold books in your genre. “A children’s book agent is probably not the best fit for a cookbook, even if that agent is a good friend or referral,” cautions Nichols.
  2. The agent should have an active client list.
  3. The agent should have recently sold and closed deals. It’s important to make sure their contracts are current.
  4. The agent should be a good communicator. “A good agent will take some time to hand-hold and mentor a first-time author,” says Nichols.
How an agent gets paid

“The agent is only paid if a deal happens,” explains Nichols. “They take a commission from the sale of your manuscript to the publisher. So, you don’t pay an agent upfront; and they won’t accept your book unless they truly believe they can sell it.”

Usually, literary agents take a commission of about 15 percent.

Once you find the right representation for your book, it’s your agent’s job to assist in getting it ready for publishers and shopping it around to find the right editor. The agent is in charge of negotiating the best deal possible for your cookbook.

A good literary agent is an important business partner as you expand your brand, so finding the right person for the job is well worth the time.

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Beth Budge Bytes
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