So I have been asked about agents – specifically how to know if an agent is good or a whack job.
Here’s a stab at it, in no particular order:
- You will never pay a good agent (GA) to represent you. Agents are not paid until they sell your book. That means they take on projects/authors they believe in. (This is the same for publishers. Never sign with a publishing house that requires you buy copies or pay for editing.)
- A GA will give you edits or suggestions on how to strengthen your manuscript.
- A GA will work on your platform/brand.
- A GA will instruct you on the market and the complexities of publishing.
- A GA cultivates relationships with editors at various houses and imprints and then submits manuscripts according to what each editor likes or is looking for. It is not uncommon for me to get an email every now and then asking what I am looking for. And I honestly appreciate that.
- A GA will deal with all the business stuff so that you as an author can maintain a creative and positive relationship with the publishing house and the editor. Furthermore, a GA will negotiate the best possible contract for you.
Ok so that is the basics for a good agent, but wait! There is more!
How do you find this person who is going to sell your manuscript? The person who is going to be your business partner as well as your guide. Well, it takes a bit of work on your end.
First, think about the genre in which you are writing. Make a list of authors whose work you respect and who write in a similar style. Check out their books and read their acknowledgements. Authors always thank their agents. Take that list of agents and hit the interwebs. Every agent I know has a website that lists their clients and lists their submissions requirements.
Second, talk to other authors you know. Ask them who their agent is and what their experience has been. Then do some more research. (If you happen to personally know an editor, they might also share his or her experience with an agent or agency.?
Third, attend writing conferences in your genre. When agents and editors go to writer’s conferences, it is specifically to interact with authors and get pick up new clients. We all do panels where we talk about our agency or publishing house and how we work. Sign up for pitch appointments and tell us about your manuscript. It’s what we are there for.
Fourth, follow the submission rules to the letter. You aren’t going to get points for submitting in some sort of creative way, such as pink scented paper. Not cool. Remember, the agent is working for free until your book sells. Be professional and respect of the agent’s time and energy.
The non-fiction world works a little differently. Generally the “platform” or the “brand” is more important in non-fiction. But the basics are the same: you never pay an agent, the agent is always working on your behalf, and you need a clear and consistent way of communicating.