– by Tim Beals, Credo Literary Agency
Look for a literary agent when you are in the process of writing a book and have prepared a well-written book proposal that includes two or three sample chapters, not after the book has been completed. You serve your own interests best by taking this approach. If a publishing house is interested in the book you propose to write, the editor will likely want to work with you to shape the rest of the book, and that is made a lot easier if the manuscript is not already written.
If you already have a complete manuscript, however, don’t offer that information to an agent or publisher unless you are asked. Instead, develop a great book proposal and present that. You can then edit or modify your manuscript as necessary to meet the agent or publisher’s needs.
You will also want to seek out a literary agent when a publisher offers to buy a book that you have submitted on your own—to protect your interests and help work out the best deal possible. (A great agent can add up to 30 percent more value to the contract compared to negotiating a contract on your own.) Publishers will frequently recommend or require an agent before they agree to buy your manuscript.