The Rise of the Literary Consultant

If you’ve tried to pitch a book to agents recently, you might have noticed a new term cropping up in the submission guidelines. I’m used to seeing something like this:

The submission list is currently closed. Please check back again in a few months.

Fair enough.

But has anyone else seen this?

The submission list is currently closed, but we will still accept submissions through a literary consultancy.

Now I admit I’ve only seen this three times, but I’m already starting to wonder if this is the way things are moving.

A literary consultancy is pretty much what it sounds like: an expert (we hope) who will look at your book and, depending on the level of service you’re paying for, will advise you on style, content, readibility and marketability. (I’m not a hundred per cent sure, but I think we used to call them editors.)

So now agents have agents. You have to wonder how far this can actually go. In a couple of years random reader consultant, might, if she likes it, pass it on th the literary consultant, who, if he likes it, might pass it on to an agent, who . . . anyway, I’m sure you get the idea: The industry has dropped another barrier between you and the millions of book fans who haven’t discovered you yet.

Well, it’s not as bad as all that. To begin with, something like this was inevitable. More people are seeking to get themselves into print than ever before, and due to falling sales and the success of Amazon, the traditional publishing industry has less cash to nuture new writers. When you submit to an agent, your book has to be ready to go, polished and done.
Most writers work on their own while holding down a full-time job and/or raising a family. This leaves little time for writing classes or groups, so the book might be finished with only a spousal seal of approval. Now that might be okay, but most of the time, it won’t. If you have the nagging feeling that your book isn’t all it could be, then perhaps you should consider a second (or third) opinion.

As far as being a wall between the new author and the agent is concerned, I don’t see it that way. If the consultant can help you add the polish then you stand a much better chance of getting your foot in the door. If she tells you that the book is just not good enough, then you probably have some thinking to do; maybe that writing class we talked about.

As you can imagine, literary consultants aren’t cheap, and you might not like what they have to say, but, for me anyway, the expense was worthwhile. At the end of it, I got a much better book.

Besides, the way things are going, I think more agents are going to start insisting that your book is given a professional once-over before they’ll even take a look at it.