I touched on this briefly in one of my other articles but it’s something that deserves a little more attention. Whether you are a first-time writer or one that has been published previously, the question of getting an agent always comes up. Here I hope to help answer that question by following three easy steps.
Step 1 – Determine whether or not an agent is needed.
The answer depends entirely on what type of work you have and what you want to do with it. For instance, if you’ve written a short story, poem, or an article, an agent is probably not required. If you’ve written a novel, then finding an agent should definitely be on your list of things to consider.
Step 2 – Ensure your material is ready for an agent
If you’ve decided you need an agent, your next step should be to ensure your material is in order. If you’re an established author, you can probably get away with submitting a portion of your manuscript and maybe an outline of the rest. An established author would probably not have read to this point in the article either. If you’re a new or unknown author, then you should be prepared to submit your entire manuscript if it is fiction. Writers of non-fiction may only be required to submit a few chapters and an outline.
Step 3 – Searching for an agent.
Get in the right frame of mind for this. Finding an agent, and finding an agent who will be on your side are two different things. When I buy a car from a dealer, I make sure I know where both his hands are at all times. With that said, you can search for an agent just like you would for anything else, references from friends or colleagues who may have been published, the Internet, and reference books.
Let’s look at the Internet first. There are many sites out there that maintain lists of agents and in most cases, their qualifications, but for the purpose of this short article, I’ll include only one, a big one.
The Association of Artists’ Representatives (AAR)
I include this link because if your work is important to you and you’re looking for an agent who’s above mainstream, you’ll want to check that he or she is a member of this organization.
There are also books you can read that will help in your search. A quick Google search, or a search at any of the major book sites will yield many choices and since I normally rely on the Internet for research, I can’t mention a book that I’m familiar enough with to recommend. I did a quick search for literary agent at Amazon and came up with a few good choices. Some say it is better to use printed guides when searching for agents because Internet lists are often bloated with publicly created list entries. I can certainly see the concern with that, so I’ll say use your own judgment here.
A Word of Caution:
This is the part of the article I hate writing about. Unfortunately, the world we live today is less than perfect. There are people out there who call themselves agents, people who are legitimate in the profession, but know little or nothing about it. I strongly recommend you read beyond this article for some of the things that should trigger a “red flag” during your search for representation. I’ll briefly go over some of the more blatant ones.
Reading fees, handling or submission fees, and evaluation fees should not be considered normal. No matter how someone labels it, a fee is a fee, and legitimate agents will not require one.
Selling Additional Services:
Some agents are affiliated with other service providers such as web designers or marketing specialists and will try to push these services on you. Keep in mind that until your work is published, you have no need for such services and shouldn’t be asked to start paying for them. Any attempt by an agent to get you to sign up for additional services requiring fees should alert you that maybe you should look elsewhere. Legitimate agents are paid a percentage (10 to 15%) of what they can convince a publisher to pay you.
Any agent you contact should have a proven track record and have references readily available. Even if an agent is new, you should check to see that he or she at least has a background in publishing. Editors know who’s out there and new names, with unverifiable track records don’t carry a lot of weight.
If you decide that contracting a literary agent is in your best interest, following the guidelines here will help in your search. By doing a little research and checking credentials, you should enjoy a good relationship with your agent. Remember to keep an eye out for scams just as you would before signing any other contract.