The Literary Agent’s Role

For many years, I’ve been teaching writers about the book business, book proposals, magazine writing and the craft of writing. I shudder to think about those first few writer’s workshops where my own background was limited and what I could actually give to others was limited as well. Those writing tapes are probably still floating around some place. Occasionally someone will write and tell me they are listening to one of those old sessions. If that writer gets something out of it, then great but I’m a little unsure about that information because I’m constantly learning and growing in my craft.

I’ve met and worked with a number of outstanding literary agents. Also I’ve fired a few of them. There is great diversity among agents and each writer has to find the right match for their project and their particular needs. Many people have encouraged me to become a literary agent and I’ve resisted with all sorts of excuses which were mostly lame as I look at them. I’m in the process of telling people about Whalin Literary Agency. It’s taken me a few weeks to get some of the business structure for the agency in place (and that will continue to improve).

For most publishers, agents are serving as the developers and refiners of writer’s ideas. As an editor, I’ve often seen book proposals or manuscripts which could be improved–and maybe seriously considered for my publisher. Yet with the flood of submissions (which numerous people estimate to be in the millions), the editor can’t do much except send a form rejection. I’ve attempted to help writers through articles, these entries, Book Proposals That Sell and other venues such as teaching at writer’s conferences. As a literary agent, I will be taking on the role of helping writers shape their ideas and proposal packages into something compelling. I’ll be working back and forth with these authors to refine their proposals before sending them to various editors. I’ll also be looking at the big picture of their career and discussing where they want to go in the long run and planning the steps to get there. Then I’ll be fulfilling the other roles of a literary agent such as negotiating the contract, handling the business aspects and stepping in to help the writer if there is any problems in the process.

My personal vision about how I will handle my role comes from years of working with many literary agents. I continue to learn from these colleagues. I’m glad for the opportunity and expectant about my future. I’d encourage you to check out my agency website.

5 Responses to “The Literary Agent’s Role”

  1. David A. Todd Says:


    Best of success in your new endeavor.


  2. Helen Bratko Says:

    Hi Terry, I am currently reading Book Proposals that Sell and have spent hours browsing the websites recommended in your book. I am a new writer and am amazed at the plethora of information to sort through to consider becoming a published author.

    While it seems overwhelming to me, but I am soaking it up as best I can. I hope to meet you when I attend the Mt. Hermon Writing Conference.

    I’m glad to hear you are becoming an agent. I “get” your heart to really help writers become published authors, and appreciate that!

    ~ Helen Bratko

  3. Anita Says:


    I am on the Writers View and have followed your career from the wings as a freelance editor for many of the main houses (including Howard). Now I’ll hop into the light long enough to say good luck in your latest challenge. How exciting for you and your authors. God bless!

    Anita Palmer
    The Strong Word / Communication Services

  4. Bonnie Calhoun Says:

    Congratulations…you’re on the road to success! LOL…not that your not already a success! But new paths are always fun and challenging when the Lord leads!

    I’d send you a welcome plant for the office but they don’t translate well in email! 🙂

  5. Terry Whalin Says:

    My appreciation to each of you for the kind words about Whalin Literary Agency. Now the proof is in the pudding–send me some great material and some dynamic authors.


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