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What Qualifications Do You Need to Become a Literary Agent?

Apr 23, 2017

If you’ve ever tried submitting your book to a major publisher, there’s a good chance that you were told to come back when you got an agent. And if you’ve ever gotten a rejection letter (or a hundred), you’ve probably wondered who these gatekeepers were.

So, what do you need to become a literary agent?

Nothing. No degree, no qualifications, not even a background check. Even a cook making minimum wage at a fast-food place requires a food handlers card, which is still more licensures than what a literary agent needs.

That’s not to say that it’s an easy industry to break into. Because the barriers to entry are low, it’s fiercely competitive. Most of the established agents in the industry have worked hard to network with publishing houses and negotiate to secure the best deals for their clients. Also, most have begun their careers as interns for other agencies or publishing houses.

That being said, if one is looking for an agent, it is important to be careful who you work with. There aren’t any required skill sets or even, to the annoyance of authors everywhere, personality requirements (though a good literary agent will be an effective salesperson).

Back in 2016, I pitched The Divinity Bureau to a literary agent as a “new adult dystopian romance.” I hadn’t even finished my sentence when the agent interrupted me and said, “New Adult?”

Me: “Yes.”

Literary agent: “Do you even know what that is?”

Me: “It’s a step up from Young Adult, designed to target people that are out the house. I chose this genre because my main characters are between the ages of 19 and 24 respectively -”

Literary agent: “That’s wrong. It’s basically hardcore sex.”

Me: “… Okay.”

(I had done my research beforehand, and I knew that that was incorrect. If you don’t believe me, here’s proof).

The literary agent will be taking 15 to 20 percent of your sales, and it’s easy to end up in bad deals. It’s also important to pay attention to any termination clauses if the agent is unable to sell your book. Earlier in 2013, Harper Lee sued her agent for depriving her of royalties. As said by Terence Blacker, “There are many more bad agents than good ones.”

Fortunately, Asset Creative House does NOT require submissions to be agented.

When I founded this company, the experience that I had with a literary agent stuck out in my mind. While I respect their sales skills and negotiation skills, I wanted to found a company that was so dedicated to protecting both the author and the work that a negotiator wasn’t necessary.

At one point (before the internet), a literary agent would be needed to get one’s foot through the door. But fortunately, the internet has made publishing accessible to anyone that can finish a book.

I think that’s wonderful. If you have the drive, the skills, and the dedication to complete a novel, you deserve to have your story told. And companies like Asset Creative House aren’t here to block you from getting it out into the world. We’re here to connect you with your readers.

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