A lot of people ask me: how do I hire an agent? What do I pay them?
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Firstly, an agent needs to accept you, not the other way around. It’s comparable to a job application in a lot of ways. The process of “applying” for an agent to represent you is called querying.
To query an agent, you need to prepare a query letter, manuscript pitch, and unpublished manuscript. You follow the submission guidelines for the agent you’re interested in and then…
It's important to note that not all agents will respond to every query. They get hundreds, sometimes thousands each week so it's important that when you are querying, you stand out from the crowd. After a lot of queries, and a lot of patience, you’ll (hopefully!) find your agent.
Once an agent accepts you, it’s their job to sell your manuscript to a traditional publisher. Once that happens, the publishing process begins. First is editing, followed by illustrations by their in-house professionals. The publisher will handle--and pay for--everything, including your agent.
The publisher will send a check to your agency. The agency will deduct their earnings and then write you a check for the rest. Most picture book agents get about a 15% commission on sales. Some people see that as a downside because the margins in publishing are small but I don’t see it that way. In my most recent contract, my agent got me an increase of 15% on my advance so...she kinda paid for her own commission! If I had been working with the publisher as an unagented author, it is unlikely that I would have been able to successfully negotiate a pay increase. I probably wouldn’t have even asked!
So the moral is that you don’t pay an agent. They don’t get paid unless they help you become a published author. Your success is their success!