Do I need a literary agent?

My supervisor strongly believes that parts of my M.A. thesis in music have the potential to be a commercially viable (i.e., non-academic) book. I’m inclined to agree, and getting my name in print would certainly fulfill a life long dream.

Now, a bunch of those writers magazines you see at the Chapters/Borders (which I’ve never much trusted) seem to have ads for people desperate to be my literary agent. I can’t imagine any legitimate agent soliciting himself like this.

The question I then have, particularly for anyone here who has published a book: Did you/would you use a literary agent? What does he or she do? And finally, how do you go about finding one that is a good fit for you?

I have a few of those old “Writer’s Guide” tomes, and flipping through those, I find examples of cover letters to publishers, and how to get a hold of them, etc. etc., but I can imagine the project quickly getting out of hand if I don’t have someone helping me with the task. I’d appreciate any advice or anecdotes on the matter!

I have not published anything but I recall reading an Afterword in a book of a favorite (and at that point) prolific author about his travails as a new author.

Short answer is, “Yes, get an agent.”

Sucks but that seems to be the way of things in the publishing industry.

Not saying you can’t succeed in this without one. Anything is possible but I think your odds are severely diminished. Even with one they are not so hot.

My GF used to work through the slush pile of a publisher (pile of unsolicited works). The chance of getting off her desk? Not good and she was just the first step.

Partly quality but that is subjective even if they are trying to be objective. Mostly it was sheer volume. Apparently it is overwhelming and you are in a sea of mostly shit. The chances that the gem your manuscript might be getting plucked from that ocean of dreck is…minimal at best.

Beat the odds and get plucked? Hope the person reading the slush pile likes it.

J.K. Rowling’s first run of the Harry Potter series was (IIRC) 1000 copies and something like 900 were sent to libraries (those first editions are worth a fortune now).

You never know.

Not trying to dissuade you. Far from it. Definitely go for it! Just realize the realities and to your OP an agent will provide the best chance of success (of course not all agents are created equal but that it another matter).

ETA: I am not a literary agent. Nor is my GF. Do not own stock or otherwise have any interest one way or another, personally, in this. My advice may be crap but is honestly given.

Yes, you need an agent. Finish your work and polish until it gleams. Research the area (music, I guess) and see if you can find an agent who’s been successful in that field, or who’s been successful with a publisher who’s been successful in that field. Ooh, do you know anybody who’s published a similar work? Did s/he have an agent? Can you get a referral? Referrals are good.

Yeah, successful agents aren’t soliciting manuscripts – they’re buried.

My husband recently got a book deal. He does not have an agent. However, his field (speculative fiction) is completely different to yours.