Are there literary agents in Indonesia?

Literary agents
How texts get to publishers

Literary agents at the Frankfurt Book Fair | Photo (detail): © Frankfurt Book Fair

Hardly any author can do without literary agencies. They have been mediators between writers and publishers since the mid-1990s.

Katja Buschmann has everything a literary agency could wish for: the author, born in 1987, has been writing prose seriously for many years and finished her debut novel in 2014. She was trained at the German Literature Institute in Leipzig. Your course of study bears the promising name of "literary writing". Now she is faced with the question: which publisher is the right one for my book and how do I ensure that my text does not disappear in the garbage unread? For Katja it is clear: "The next step leads to an agency."

Until the mid-1990s, authors mostly found publishers via detours - through acquaintances, literary magazines or text workshops. Above all, there was the hope that the right editor would hold his own text in his hand at the right time. Then came the literary agencies. In the beginning there were only a few, but now they can be found in almost every major German city.

First pass the taste test

The role of the agencies is clearly defined: read manuscripts, sort them out, with luck come across a good text and sign its author. If a manuscript makes it into a publisher's program, the money is split up: The agency usually receives 15 percent, the rest stays with the author.

As soon as Katja has finished her novel, she will contact an agency by email and attach an excerpt as a file. A short time later she might get an answer: “We really liked the text. Please send us the entire novel. ”The first hurdle would be cleared. One of the agencies Katja could turn to is that of Gudrun Hebel. She is one of the most experienced agents in Germany and founded the Hebel and Bindermann agency in Berlin in 1998. Today she represents around 60 German and Scandinavian authors. If Katja's manuscript ends up on Gudrun Hebel's table, the first thing to do is to pass the taste test: “The text must inspire me,” says the agent.

Then things can happen very quickly. If Gudrun Hebel is still impressed after reading the entire novel, her real work begins. “While the manuscripts and contract negotiations were our main business in the past, we are now working more and more as an editor, coach and manager for our authors.” The agent finishes the text and synopsis. She may clarify why a story doesn't really get going at the beginning and how to solve that problem. Then she selects publishers whose programs are compatible with the manuscript.

Publishers rely on pre-selection by agents

"Literature agencies are very helpful for us editors, because they sift through the many manuscripts in advance and, in the best case, have already edited them together with the authors," says Friederike Achilles, editor at Bastei Lübbe, one of the largest public publishers in Germany. She knows how important agencies have become: “Personally, I can no longer imagine publishing work without literary agencies. Without them it would be much more difficult, in my opinion, to find talented authors from abroad in particular. ”So you could say: agencies make life easier for publishers - but that comes at a price.

Back to Katja. If your agency has sent the manuscript to a particular publisher, the publisher may say: “Wonderful, we want to print that, we offer 1,000 euros.” Not much for several years of work. But the agencies are there to negotiate: They not only convey the manuscript to the publishers, but also ensure that it is not sold below its value. That pleases the authors, the publishers less. Friederike Achilles from Bastei Lübbe: "During the negotiations, you always suspect that you are only being used as a price driver, although it is already clear to which publisher the manuscript is being sold." .

If authors like Katja want to work with an agency, Friederike Achilles advises contacting one of the renowned providers. “You then have a strong, experienced force behind you who accompanies you through the entire process up to publication and who can provide valuable support, especially in contract negotiations. Simply sending an unsolicited manuscript to all publishers is only successful in extremely rare cases. "