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What Can A Literary Agent Do For You?

The relationship between an author and a literary agent is multi-layered and rich. Part muse, part accountant, the agent guides the author through the unknown waters of a writing career, from the sublime to the mundane.

The cornerstone of the relationship is strength in negotiation. Basically, the agent’s commission is 15% and that is 15% of proceeds --- whatever the author gets. The agent should be able to get at least 15% more for the author than the author could get for him or herself. That means that everything else, every other benefit of the relationship is, in a sense, free.

The first benefit, aside from strength in negotiation, lies in being part of a nexus, a web of publishing relationships, the editors that the agent deals with, the other authors and even, independent publishing professionals. This web of relationships brings me into contact with online directories and, as I have time, I fill them out. Once such directory is “Who Represents…”, part of Publishers Marketplace. As I filled out an entry for A Time to Heal, a more than twenty-year old, backlist recovery book by Timmen Cermak, M.D., little did I know that a Polish recovery publisher was looking on the internet for the agent for the book, to arrange a translation.

Directories and entries that list clients, even my web site, are all little showcases of books that I represent and can lead to new opportunities in the global publishing marketplace.

Another, more obvious benefit grows out of being a creative sounding board and helping shape the author’s new work. For this, I often use the Socratic method, sitting with an author and asking questions about their experience with the topic (since I only handle nonfiction) until a mutual “light bulb” goes off and what seems obvious finally reveals itself.

I remember sitting with psychologist and dream expert, Alan Siegel, for six hours, drinking coffee, helping to shape the idea for his first book, Dreams That Can Change Your Life.
Once the idea for a new project is shaped and focused, it becomes necessary to express that idea in a blueprint known as the book proposal. rint known as the book proposal.

The Book Proposal is a convention. It is formulaic. A way of establishing common ground among diverse book concepts so they can be judged. A secondary benefit derives from the fact that if an author goes through the exercise of creating a proposal, he or she will have a thorough understanding of the book they are proposing to write. For structuring the proposal, I prefer the model established by Mike Larsen in How To Write A Book Proposal . An agent, who has written dozens of proposals, assists the author in putting their unique proposal together. Because I have experience as a publisher, I can look at a proposal from that point of view and help make it bullet-proof.

Deciding what publishers should receive each proposal is part science and part art. It is based on past relationships as well as knowledge as to who is publishing what. Today, most submissions take place electronically via email.

Assuming you have done your homework well and that there is interest in your project, you will often have to wade through a minefield of questions and qualifications like “How much is written?” “Can the author beef up their platform?”

Today, an author is expected to take the lead in online efforts and social media used to promote their book. The agent will step forward to tutor the author in social media or to suggest classes or coaches who can help them learn how to promote their book online (blogging, email marketing, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Sometimes the first question an ac acquiring editor will ask is “What is his or her platform”. The conventional wisdom is that creating your platform is at least as important as writing your book.

Negotiating the major terms of a book contract is glamorous and sexy: Advance, royalty rate and subsidiary rights splits. Negotiating the rest of the contract is tedious but necessary. Option clauses, noncompetition clauses, right to audit and so on. Agents will know which publishers can give way on which clauses.

Once the contract is signed, the editorial process takes over. Generally, agents will step back and let the creative energy flow between editor and author. However, every once in a while, there arises a profound difference of opinion between author and editor. At this point, the agent steps forward to mediate the process, essentially becoming the author’s advocate to the editor and the editor’s advocate to the author, until the situation is rectified.

The same conflict resolution function takes place during the marketing phase of the book, something that often resembles “shuttle diplomacy.”

Agents are invaluable in helping authors decide what their next book should be and how this might fit in with a longer term career plan. Nowhere else can an author go for objective advice in either of these categories.

Looked at from this point of view, the agent-author relationship is one of the great bargains in publishing. The agent works on commission. On speculation. You don’t get paid. We don’t get paid. Chances are that the commission rate will be absorbed by the negotiating strength of the agent. That is, they will obtain an offer at least 15% better than you could have gotten yourself.

The agent functions as an editor and helps shape the book idea, offers advice on how to develop and build a promotional platform, helps create the book proposal, researches potential publishers, negotiates the major terms of the contract, negotiates the minor terms, smoothes over the editorial and marketing processes and helps maintain the publishing relationship.

Agents are not just dealmakers, they are midwives to the publishing process.

Peter Beren, Literary Agent and Publishing Consultant, is the author of The Writers Legal Companion, California the Beautiful and The Golden Gate. Formerly the Publisher of Sierra Club Books, VIA Books and VP of the Palace Press Group, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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 My novel The Tragedy of Fidel Castro, published by River Grove Books 10916212878?profile=original was chosen the third best translation published in America in 2013 by the literary magazine ForewordReviews. 

Please see some reviews:

"The Tragedy of Fidel Castro" is very much recommended reading for those who like religious and alternative history reads, not to be missed''
Midwest Book Review

''This memorable satire features fictional versions of JFK, Fidel,
God, and Jesus maneuvering to influence events.''

''''This book is worth a read and I recommend it''
Wilderness House Literary Review

'THE TRAGEDY OF FIDEL CASTRO is satire at its finest.  It’s
thought-provoking, sardonic, ridiculous, engaging, outragerous and
Latina Book Club

‘’Novels like The Tragedy of Fidel Castro are the untamed mustangs of
fiction that, unlike most other books, run wild and free, contemptuous
of the confinement that the corral of ordinary classification would
imprison them in."
The American Culture

"This book has amazing depth and connections that bear repeated
scrutiny and investigation. The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is highly
relevant to our society today, and I highly recommend it."
Portland Book Review

''The seesaw effect and wandering plot line is what keeps this from being a work of genius; as it is, it should become a cult favorite.''


‘’João Cerqueira’s novel is an energetic, bizarre, and extremely
clever take on two heavily fictionalized leaders’ attempts to cling to
power. Check it out!’’
Bullet Reviews -

''The books deals with capitalism, socialism, religion and human
potential, and while written from a satirical viewpoint, the witty and
refreshing language and world viewpoint really draws you in.''
The Ofi Press

"The author brilliantly balances the formal tone and themes of
capitalism, socialism and religion with an appropriate dose of the
Rabid Readers Review

'’The book possesses a lean beauty and a humane perspective,
Fellini-esque in its carnival of excess.''
The Driftless Area Review

‘’As the story developed the writers humour really comes through on a
par with Tom Sharpe. This is an excellent and enthralling read and I
really hope that I can obtain or purchase the authors other
Beck Valley Books

''If like me you are someone who grew up on Monty Python, love magic
realism and enjoy contemplating ideas, then I urge you to go out and
buy this book immediately. ''
Magical Realism Books

''Due to the fantastic elements of this satire, the temptation of some
has been to file Cerqueira's book in the tradition of magical realism.
The mantle quite not fit. The novel echoes Homer more than Marquez''.
 Bibliotekos -

‘’I've read some great satirical novels, from the Hitchhiker's Guide
by Douglas Adams to Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. To this list I
can now add The Tragedy of Fidel Castro by João Cerqueira.''

''La Tragedia di Fidel Castro è, dunque, un romanzo che incorpora alla
perfezione diversi generi, senza mai risultare né noioso né banale, e
che dimostra come si possa fare dell’ottima letteratura anche
ironizzando su argomenti complessi e profondi come il capitalismo, la
rivoluzione e la religione.’’
Fucinemute Magazine

"Joao Cerqueira's Tragedy of Fidel Castro is a phantasmagoric odyssey
through a highly imaginative prose universe of discovery and inquest.
It's a magic realism hybrid of sacrificial lambs and Revolution,
capitalistic decadence, and celestial consequence--in a dimension
where the cogs of time got jammed. I expect that this rich and unique
narrative voice will illuminate a phosphorescent trajectory in the
future annals of the New Millennial World Lit!"
Mark Spitzer - Toad Suck Review Editor, Professor of Writing at the
University of Central Arkansas

''Cerqueira shows potential to be a big name in the future.''
Contemporary Literary Review India

''Joao Cerqueira's writing style is irreverent and full of fun for the
sophisticated reader.''
Reader's Favorite

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