What makes a good literary agency website?

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We’ve recently completed several projects for literary agencies and we thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the anatomy of an effective agency website.

From experience, we think that most agents’ sites will need the following core elements:

  1. An introduction to the agency and its specialisms
  2. Information about the agents themselves, along with their supporting team
  3. A list of their clients, with a certain amount of information about their work (from book covers through to more detailed publication information)
  4. Clear and detailed information about how to submit, perhaps with a form to facilitate the process

Let’s look at those four things in a bit more detail.

1. Introducing the agency

The key thing here is to convey the personality and values of the agency, including its specialisms and passions, as well as its track record and key successes. It’s important for the team to think about what makes the agency special and really try and get that across with good, punchy copy. We will then work with the client to reflect the brand values and character of the agency through the site’s design.

2. Information about the agents

In a multi-agent setup, different agents are often focusing on building their own lists and representing different types of clients. So it’s important that each agent has their own profile, which clearly signals the kind of submissions they are looking for.

We built the MBA site so that each agent could quickly update their ‘Currently focused on’ information; this will probably change more often than their main profile. For example, Sophie Gorrell Barnes is currently focused on “Middle Grade Humour and Authentic Characters”.

Having a professionally shot set of headshots will be an excellent investment for this section. Agenting is a ‘people’ business and it will help people to know what you look like (on a practical level it may be very useful if contact through the site leads to a face-to-face meeting later). Felicity Bryan had a new set of photos taken as part of the redesign we undertook for them, and they really look smart. Of course, when the team changes it will be important to ensure that the same style is followed for new team members.

Both MBA and Felicity Bryan like to list each agents’ clients on that agents’ own page. We built these sites so that when a client is added, there is a field allowing their agent to be selected. This streamlines data entry and means that the agent pages update automatically to reflect the client database.

3. Client listings

For established agencies it’s the client list which represents the agency’s focus and work, so we think this should be as engaging and visual as possible. Although the use of client photos does make work for the agency, as clients will often need to be contacted to obtain up-to-date images, it’s far more impactful and engaging than a simple list of names.

Most sites choose to organise clients alphabetically, which is no surprise, but it’s also possible to filter them in other ways – for example, MBA allows the filtering of clients to show only Authors, Scriptwriters or Playwrights.

How much detail each agency wants to include about their clients can vary. For example, adding website and social media links takes effort to collate and maintain, but it’s very helpful for site users (and it’s great to have lots of outgoing links from a search engine perspective as well).

We tend to build sites so that books (or other works) are added independently and then associated with clients. This makes it possible to associate a book with multiple authors, and to do other clever things – for example, on the Susanna Lea Associates site, a different cover can be uploaded depending on whether the book is shown on the Paris, London or New York office page. This means that the Paris page shows the French edition, the New York page shows the US edition, and so on.

4. Submissions

There are essentially two approaches here:

  • Form-based submissions have a number of advantages. The minimum information that is associated with a submission can be defined (by making some fields compulsory). This reduces the risk of incomplete or inappropriate submissions. In addition, the submission can be sent from the site via e-mail, while the information is also stored on the website as a backup, reducing the risk of losing e-mailed submissions. The other advantage is that the site can automatically generate a confirmation that the submission has been sent, and explain to the potential client what happens next. Felicity Bryan Associates use form-based submission.
  • On the other hand, free-form submissions may feel less daunting to some potential clients; if this route is adopted, the website is the place to spell out, in detail, the agency’s submission criteria for either electronic or physical submissions. Susanna Lea Associates use the free-form submissions approach.

In addition to these four core elements, the site needs the flexibility to accommodate the other content needs of agencies, which could include:

  • Rights lists
  • News (from the agency or its clients)
  • A blog
  • Social media feeds
  • Contact details
  • Recruitment

Bookswarm use the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) to develop website, and this makes it easy to manage this content, and to allow the site to evolve as the agency’s business develops.

Take a look at our work for literary agencies using the gallery below, and if you think we can help you apply these lessons to your own website, please get in touch.

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