Being a literary agent seems like a glamorous job. Discovering the next literary star and inking million-dollar deals, however, is not the daily course of business for the average literary agent, especially new ones.
Most literary agents start small and take time to build their clientele, and therefore their incomes. Salaries of literary agents vary depending on the skill of both the clients and the agent.
Most literary agents take a 15 per cent cut of the writer's income. In addition, some literary agents charge the writers fees for items such as making copies, postage and the like, which they deduct from the writer's paycheck.
The writer's income is a percentage, or royalty, of the book's cover price. How much the writer gets is based on the writer's experience, whether it's a hardback or paperback and various other factors. The 15 per cent agent commission is based on the writer's royalty.
How Agents Are Paid
When the writer is entitled to an advance on a future work or royalties from an existing work, the publisher pays the literary agent directly. The literary agent takes his or her 15 per cent, then cuts a check for the writer.
The agent does not depend on the writer to send him or her a check.
The take-home salary of a literary agent varies according to how much his or her client earns. If the literary agent is new and has only a few writers, all of whom earn small advances, the agent will earn 15% of that income and may need another job to keep afloat. If the agent is more established and has several high-earning writer clients, the agent makes more money. Thus, the salary of a literary agent may vary from zero (if he can't sell a book that month, for instance) to millions of dollars.
The average salary for a literary agent can be estimated using the average advance for new authors. Different types of books earn different average advances. According to Joe Wikert, general manager & publisher at O'Reilly Media, Inc., the average advance for a computer book is £6,500. 15 per cent of £6,500 is £975. Therefore, the agent can expect to earn £975 per book, until the book is actually printed and sold and earns money. Books can take one to two years from purchase to publication. Therefore, if this literary agent sold 10 books in his first year, that year's income would be £9,750. Again, the number of books the agent sells depends on the market, the material and the experience of the agent.
Agents are paid when, and only when, the writer earns money. No legitimate literary agent charges a reading fee to an unsigned writer, for example. Literary agents will lose credibility if, in an attempt to supplement income, they ask writers to pay them fees.
Most literary agents start out as interns, then assistants to full-fledged agents, so they can learn the craft and establish their own clientele over a period of years. Some start as readers for the agency, looking through the manuscripts that come in.
To get started as a literary agent, contact literary agents who represent the types of books you would like to sell and ask if they need an assistant or an intern.