Understanding Author, Agent, and Publisher Responsibilities

Navigating the different responsibilities of all the players involved in getting a book published can be a little tricky. Especially if it is your first foray into the world of publishing, you’re going to need to do some research to understand all the moving parts. This will ensure you know what to expect, what to demand, and how to protect yourself. Prospective agents and publishers will also appreciate it if you’ve familiarized yourself with the roles in advance, so they don’t have to explain how the whole industry works.

Here is a breakdown of the different responsibilities literary actors each have.

What does a literary agent do?
The number one responsibility of an agent is to find a publisher for the writers they represent. Once this is fulfilled, their job involves specific tasks like negotiating the details of contracts and more general oversight, like managing and planning a writer’s career.

Agents are also responsible for overseeing sales, contracts, publications, and production. In addition, a good agent will be able to provide productive networking opportunities in the writing and publishing industries and have advice and knowledge regarding the current book market and upcoming trends.

Essentially, an agent serves as the middle person between author and publisher and can also be relied upon to provide sound information about legal issues in order to protect the author’s financial and legal interests.

Will agents accept any kind of book?
Although there are some agents who represent a fairly varied cast of writers, most tend to focus on a specific area of genre. An agent could, for example, specialize in biographies, poetry, romance, or nonfiction. When looking for an agent, it is a good idea to find someone who already represents writers doing work similar to yours.

What doesn’t a literary agent do?
Literary agents should not charge a reading or representation fee. Agents take a percentage of sales going forward and should not request payment in the initial stages of cooperation. Agents are also not responsible for editing and manuscript assessment or any marketing activities. Again, they are the intermediary and maintain a backstage role throughout the entire publishing process.

Who polishes and markets the book then?
This is where the publisher comes in. Depending on the size of the publishing company, the book publisher may offer a full-service product and carry out all aspects of publication. Alternatively, some tasks may be assigned to external editors, designers, and marketing specialists.

Regardless of whether it is all done in house or not, a publisher will direct the manuscript editing, design, and production process. They also take care of marketing and should be able to identify opportunities to sell copies of the book to bookstores, schools, and colleges, libraries, or special-interest groups. A publisher is also responsible for negotiating the terms that will provide each party with their share of the income.

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