Book Chapter

The modern literary agent


The literary agent is prominent in trade book publishing in the UK and the US, whilst the role is rarer in other publishing markets, such as in continental Europe. What started as an intermediary between the author and publisher has developed into a much broader function, acting on behalf of the author, with elements of business, editorial and marketing. The agent is a key gatekeeper into the mainstream publishing world for authors, especially in the area of fiction. Literary agents champion authors, offer them invaluable support and advice, and may be the single point of continuity throughout their writing career. There are significant challenges to the established media gatekeepers: authors may find an audience through social media, podcasting, fan fiction, or self-publication in e-book form. Yet there remains the cachet of publishing with an established publishing house, plus the publisher has access to high street retail for the print edition. Agents carry out a valuable function for publishers, acting as a filter for new authors and projects, and undertaking considerable editorial work. As diversity has become such a live issue in contemporary publishing, questions arise as to how the agent’s gatekeeping role is exercised. Possible threats to the role of the agent come not only from self-publishing but also from the continuing consolidation among publishing companies, publishers dealing directly with authors, and the erosion of authors’ incomes.

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Phillips, Angus

Oxford Brookes departments

Oxford International Centre for Publishing


Year of publication: 2020
Date of RADAR deposit: 2020-03-04

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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