Start a literary agency by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your literary agency. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a literary agency?
If you are willing to start simple, then there are very few costs involved in opening a literary agency. For example, many agencies start with the owner as the sole agent, and that agent typically works from home. This is because it is very easy to correspond digitally with various editors and writers through things like email and Skype. Thus, you could open your business for less than $5,000. Almost the entirety of that money can go towards designing a professional website and advertising your services via newspapers and trade publications. Other forms of advertisement (such as social media) are essentially free, and there is no special licensing requirement for opening your business. You should also print some professional business cards to give to the various clients, potential clients, and editors you will meet.
What are the ongoing expenses for a literary agency?
Functionally, there are almost no ongoing expenses if you work from home. You may periodically have business lunches with clients and editors (which can later be written off via taxes), but just about everything can be done from the comfort of your home, and most of your best advertising will be done via online venues, just as most of your communication will come from email. Effectively, the only job-related expenses each month will be business lunches, gasoline for business-related travel, and the cost of hosting your website (which should be less than $250 a year).
Who is the target market?
You will have a diverse array of clients, but the best ones will always be those who react well to criticism. A major part of your job is discovering the most marketable angle of clients' work and recommending changes, and clients who are receptive to these ideas are much easier to work with.
How does a literary agency make money?
Most literary agents make money by working on a set commission. Therefore, whatever payment their clients eventually get from a publisher, an agent would typically get about fifteen percent of that amount.
How much can you charge customers?
As mentioned before, you can charge your clients up to fifteen percent of whatever they get for the sale of their book, though you may go as low as ten percent. This commission model creates a natural writer/agent synergy as you are both invested in getting the highest payment for the book possible!
How much profit can a literary agency make?
Your exact profit will be dictated by the number of clients you have, the number of sales you make, and the amount of money those sales make. Some veteran agents guess that between $50,000 to $75,000 is the average salary, but successful sales (particularly sales that may eventually translate to major Hollywood movies or television shows) can propel your business into a six-figure income. Regardless of the profit, the virtually non-existent overhead means that most of what you bring in translates to profit for you!
How can you make your business more profitable?
Make sure you are familiar with how to sell and market books as electronic texts; this allows for another revenue stream regarding the books you sell. Make sure your marketing of your own business emphasizes your close and personal relationship with authors; this allows you to distinguish yourself from major agencies that may make their authors feel like virtual strangers. Finally, don't be afraid to steer your agency towards the most profitable genres: if mysteries and romances are the hottest sellers, make sure you are actively seeking those books out rather than trying to market a dynamic new genre of a book that has no proven sales value to publishers.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Literary Agency Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your literary agency is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
In most states, it is necessary to obtain a literary agent license. Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a literary agency business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A literary agency is generally run out of an office. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease an office location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a literary agency.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build an office location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your literary agency will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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How to promote & market a literary agency
As mentioned before, it is vitally important to promote yourself via a professional website and a social media page. To a lesser extent, you may advertise your services via things like local papers, but many of your clients will not be local. Instead, you should make sure you are visible in various agent databases such as AgentQuery and QueryTracker, and you should also be visible on sites like Writers' Market. These sites make it easier for writers to find agents, so it's important that your name is on there.
How to keep customers coming back
In addition to the promotional methods mentioned above, you may consider specializing in certain writing niches. For instance, establishing yourself as predominantly focused on science fiction and fantasy novels may help you gain more clients in a particular field. You may also tweak your commission to be more competitive: with fifteen percent being an industry standard, your willingness to work for less (but not much less) than that can help you instantly stand out. Retention takes care of itself: get your clients published and paid well, and they will always come back to you rather than risk starting over with a new agent!
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Start A Literary Agency In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
It should go without saying, but this is a business for those who love literature. This is not only because you will be doing so much reading, but so you can understand the literary market into which your clients are trying to publish. It's also a good job for those who like to help others, as you will essentially be your client's only advocate in the intimidating processes of publishing and selling their work.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a literary agency?
In no particular order, your daily activities include discovering new clients as well as communicating with the clients you have. You will also have meetings with editors from different publishing houses that may eventually buy the works of your clients. The job also involves writing things like pitch letters for these editors and submitting formal copies of manuscripts to them. You will also be in charge of reading your client's’ books so that you are prepared to properly market them to publishing companies and the public.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful literary agency?
Prior experience as a writer can help you in dealing with writers. Similarly, formal education as an English major or a related field can help you pick out some of the best submissions from authors. Finally, if you already have relationships in the publishing world, it can help you hit the ground running when it comes to helping your clients.
What is the growth potential for a literary agency?
The growth potential for this business is modest, with a projected three percent growth projected between 2014 and 2024.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a literary agency?
Spend as much time around publishers and publishing houses as you can to get an idea of how they work. If you are not already an expert in marketing and technology, study everything you can: it will help you stay on top of your own game and better represent your clients. Finally, study the literary marketplace whenever you can: it is vitally important that you have your finger on the pulse of emerging trends (and, conversely, that you know when a once-hot trend has become yesterday's news).
How and when to build a team
Team-building for a young literary agency can be tricky. Working by yourself is a major key to having almost zero overhead and retaining the entirety of your profits. However, if you have more texts coming in than you can reasonably read and represent each week, you may consider taking on a partner or establishing a small team.