How is a literary agent paid? Do some book agents operate differently from others? Are some literary agencies involved in fraudulent activities that you need to know about? The answer to all these questions is yes… and everything you need to know is below.
This article is part of a 9-part series in our Insider’s Guide to Literary Agents.
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How is a literary agent paid exactly?
Legitimate literary agencies make their living purely off commission, a result of them selling books (not charging authors for other services). In other words, all money that a literary agency makes should be performance-based. That means the literary agency doesn’t get paid anything unless they make money for you.
Some book agents ask for you to share the cost of some operating expenses such as phone calls, photocopying, and courier costs.This is acceptable if done after the literary agency sells your book (more about this below).
How Is a Literary Agent Paid for Selling Your Book?
Most literary agencies collect a standard 15% literary agent commission (more about this in a moment) if and when they sell your book. They charge a slightly higher commission for sales requiring the help of a sub-agent or co-agent, because they have to split the commission. An example of this would be a literary agency that only deals with domestic rights, teaming up with an international literary agency to help sell translation rights for your book to publishers in other countries.
How Is a Literary Agent Paid His or Her Commission?
Literary agencies handle all money paid by publishers, the same way they handle publishing contracts. Your agent will make sure you’re paid the proper amount (and on time). Your publisher will send your advance (and future royalties) to your agent on your behalf. Your publishing agent will then review the payment and corresponding statements to make sure everything is correct. Then your publishing agent will send you a check (usually within a week).
How is a Literary Agent Paid for Expenses?
Literary agencies are entitled to get reimbursed for some operating expenses such as phone calls, photocopying, and courier costs. However, your book agent should only get reimbursed for such expenses after you’ve gotten a book deal. And the reimbursement should be deducted from the payments provided by your publisher. In other words, you should never have to pay your literary agency any money up-front or out of your own pocket.
Two Things to Avoid…
Some book agents won’t even look at your material unless you pay a “reading fee” of several hundred dollars. This is a conflict of interest. How is a literary agency paid? Hopefully not through reading fees. If a literary agency collects money from authors to read (or pretend to read) their books, what’s their motivation to sell books? If a literary agency collects reading fees, the people there aren’t literary agents… they’re “Professional Readers.”
Other literary agencies offer editing services in-house for books and/or book proposals. Or they make referrals to third-party editing companies (for which they collect a kickback). This is also a conflict of interest. How is a book agent paid? Not through referrals. Again, why would a literary agency work hard to sell your manuscript when it’s much easier to collect editing fees from unsuspecting authors?
Conclusion – How Is a Literary Agent Paid?
How is a book agent paid for selling your book?
Most literary agencies charge a 15% commission.
How is a literary agent paid if you don’t end up getting a book deal?
Legitimate agents don’t get paid unless they make you money.
How is a book agent paid for other services like editing?
It’s a conflict of interest, don’t do it!
How is a literary agent paid his or her commission?
Directly by the publisher.
Now, click here to read the next article in this 9-part series to
learn more about the Literary Agent Commission.