shelly asks: "This is pretty vague, but I'd love to know how the whole literary agent thing works..."
Well, that's a pretty big topic to cover in one post, but let me start off by explaining where I come into the whole picture. Say that you've just written this great fantasy novel, and now you want to get it published. But you're at a loss to how to do this--you don't want to go with a vanity press, you don't want to self-publish it, you don't want to go anywhere near PublishAmerica (avoid them like the plague), but most of the really big-name publishing houses only take agented submissions. So what are you supposed to do? How do you get your great manuscript in front of the editors at the big publishing houses, so that they can offer you a publishing contract?
You get an agent. Agents are like the magic keys that open doors. We're able to send your manuscript off to a publisher on your behalf, and we also have direct contact with the editors themselves. If we love your book, we'll work our butts off to make sure it gets read, and we'll try our best to make sure that the right editor wants to buy it for their publishing house. Sometimes there are mitigating factors we can't control, like the marketing department at a publisher vetoing a great novel idea, but believe me, we try our hardest.
Then, if the stars and the fates align, and an editor offers you a publishing contract, we're the ones who negotiate it on your behalf. We make sure that your legal rights are protected, that you're getting the best possible monetary deal, and that a number of other things are taken care of, so everything turns out all right.
"Great," you say. "Now I just need to find an agent who will represent me!"
But that's where the hard part starts...
Tune back in next time, where in future posts the mysteries of query letters, the slush pile, and how to get an agent are explored.
I'm going to attempt to get in at least one post every two days, and hopefully one post a day.