This is an update of a list I ran a year ago, when I first started this blog. It was blessed with a recommendation from the editor who blogs as Moonrat and a visit (and added tip) from agent Janet Reid, the QueryShark herownself.
I figure it’s worth posting again—with Ms. Reid’s addendum—since a fresh flock of newbies will have hatched from their writing hidey-holes in the last 12 months—and the predators are still out there, waiting to pounce. Just look at all those ads flashing on your gmail page every time you use the word “publish” in an email to your Mom. (Is it just me or is that Big-Brother creepy?)
Scammers prey on the clueless—especially people who think spending cash up front will "pay off" because their book is a surefire path to fame and fortune—and the ones who believe their superior talent gives them a “Get Out of Slushpilehell Free” card.
The sad truth is that finding literary representation is a long, miserable slog. Most writers query for years—even decades—receiving nothing but rejection after heartbreaking rejection. It's not just about writing well or querying well. It's about hitting the right agent on the right day at the right point in the current trend's curve. The writers who make it have to be in for the long haul.
Don’t blame the real agents. They’re reading their little eyeballs out. But the Association of Author’s Representatives has less than 500 members, while most of the 230 million of us who own computers have at least one novel in progress in the files.
Agent Greg Daniel of Daniel Literary Group tweeted last week “Stats show 80% of Americns want to write a bk, yet only 57% have read at least 1 bk in the last yr. And that's why there's a slushpilehell”
If as many Americans read books as wrote them, we might not be in this fix, so: if you really want to improve your chances of finding an agent, go buy a book. Buy ten. Especially new writers in your genre. (Befriend them. When you do get your book deal, maybe they’ll give you a blurb or a plug on their blog.)
Here are seven pointers to help you hang onto your dwindling cash reserves during this soul-crushing process:
1) NEVER PAY AN AGENT A “READING FEE”
You know this, but do pass it on to the fledglings. Any agent who charges money to read your manuscript isn’t going to help your career. Publishers consider it unethical and won’t do business with them.
If you have to pay somebody to read your book, it’s not ready for publication. When you need professional advice, DO pay a qualified freelance editor or book doctor, but never with a promise of publication attached. They can’t deliver.
2) NEVER PAY “MAILING” CHARGES UP FRONT
A popular scam. Bogus agencies sign thousands of clients and charge them each $250 or more per quarter for “copying and mailing.” But they never make a sale. I’ve seen heartbreaking letters from writers who’ve lost as much as $3,000 before they caught on.
Small agencies may legitimately ask for copying and mailing fees AFTER they’ve sent out your work, but they’ll provide proof they’re sending out your manuscript.
3) AVOID AGENCIES THAT ADVERTISE
A librarian friend once forwarded me an intriguing ad from a prestigious journal--for a literary agency asking for submissions. I visited the agency's refreshingly positive website and almost fell into the trap until I Googled them.They appeared on the list of “20 WORST AGENTS” at the Writer Beware site.
Do the math: real agents don’t have to advertise.
3) CHECK OUT CLIENT LISTS
If there’s no client page on their website, run. Agents don’t keep client lists “confidential.” If they represent a literary star, they’ll pound their chests and bellow about it.
4) CHECK RECENT SALES
Even if somebody in the agency can claim to have represented Steven King, if it happened in King’s pre-Carrie days and she hasn’t sold a book since, she won’t be able to sell yours.
5) ASK HOW OFTEN THEY FORWARD REJECTION LETTERS
A good agent will always send on your rejections, usually every quarter. Some scammers do send manuscripts to publishing houses, but only in mass mailings addressed to no particular editor. Those go into recycling without a response.
6) VISIT WRITERS FORUMS WHERE AGENT INFORMATION IS SCREENED AND EXCHANGED.
AgentQuery is the easiest site to search for basic agent info I suggest any beginner start here. Their forums are useful too.
I also recommend joining QueryTracker. It’s free and has detailed agent info as well as recent feedback from fellow queriers.
And before you contact any agent, make sure you check with those tireless watchdogs at Writer Beware,
…and Preditors and Editors,
…and Absolute Write.
You may have been told to check with the Association of Authors Representatives, but it’s important to note that an agent does NOT have to be a member of AAR to be legitimate and even top-notch. New agents have to work for a certain number of years before they’re allowed to join—and it’s the newer and hungrier agents who are interested in new writers and actively building their lists.
And about those peckish non-AAR agents: Here’s Janet Reid’s useful bit of advice:
7) ASK WHAT LITERARY AGENCY THEY INTERNED/WORKED IN
From Ms. Reid: “Young and hungry agents who are looking for clients may indeed not be members of AAR, but what you can ask them (BEFORE SIGNING!) is what literary agency they have worked in. Interned in or worked in. I'm always rather taken aback by people who decide they can be literary agents without actually having been inside an agent's office.”
And remember Google is your friend. Always check ’em out.