Identifying Bogus Agents
Before you begin searching for an agent, here’s a list of things you should know about bogus literary agents
- Legitimate agents won’t “specialize” in short stories or poetry.
- Real literary agents work off commission, and represent an author for free. Bogus agents charge writers upfront costs or fees. Be wary of costs like “administrative fees,” “author photo fees” “contract fees,” “critique fees,” “editing fees,” “evaluation fees” or “payment for a critique/review”. If an agent asks for these, a reading or editing fee, seek representation elsewhere.
- Real literary agents don’t use advertising. They may join credited associations to avoid being interpreted as a scam, but that’s different from online ads.
- The standard commission they charge shouldn’t be much lower than what competing agents ask for.
- Literary agents won’t claim their client list (aka their credentials, or track record of sales) is “confidential.”
- A literary agent’s track record shouldn’t consist of unrecognizable publishers (read 1 below). There also shouldn’t be years apart between sales.
- Real agents will TALK with you on the phone, not just through email.
- Legitimate agents won’t sell adjunct services to their client, such as “showcasing” their manuscript on a new website. Literary agents aren’t marketers for anyone besides the editors.
Finding the Good Agents
Below is a list of resources for finding potential agents. Remember to always research these agents before contacting them. You can use websites such as Agent Research & Evaluation or the Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum board by Absolute Write Water Cooler. (I personally recommend B,R, and BC: it includes discussion threads there on literary agents, many of which include hard-to-find information and warnings about nonstandard business practice.
- Check the Association of Authors’ Representatives website, it offers a database of literary agents who don’t charge fees. Every agent in the database meets a requirement or a “proven” track record of sales. A good track record of sales consists of recognizable publishers. If you aren’t that savvy to the book industry go to your local bookstore to double check these companies. Please remember to carefully examine their list of credentials, and don’t believe every claim they write.
- Writers Market is a trusted and supported resource for finding agents and publishing companies. They offer the agent’s location and website.
- Two free online databases that “vet” their listed agents are AgentQuery and QueryTracker.
Some agents might not be out there to scam you, but they might not be suitable for your work either.
- Narrow the list of good agents according to the agents’ literary tastes. What similar works have gotten published through them? What genre do they have the most experience in? What genre have they made the most profit in? Who else does this agent represent? What additional charges will be billed to you AFTER the completion of a publishing contract? What kind of rights does this agent protect?
- Google them by name to see their current business position.
- Organize a smaller list of the agents by priority, or who you want to work with most.
- Research their preferred submission guidelines for future use. When an agent responds to your query letter or synopsis, you’ll need to follow their submission instructions to the exact letter. Good agents will dismiss un-formatted work.
After you chose a few agents, send out query letters customized to each agent’s tastes. Then sit back and wait!