About Agents

Copyright 2001 by Shirley Jump

Everyone has an opinion on the need for an agent. I have sold a book without an agent and sold a book with an agent. With an agent, I got a FAR better deal, had two publishers vying for me, and was much more pleased with the results. Without an agent, I kind of floundered around, hoping I was getting a good deal. Here are my thoughts on agents:

  • The best book for finding a good agent is not Writer’s Market, but rather Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide (see title at end). It is really detailed and only lists reputable agents.
  • Don’t go searching for an agent until the book is done. An agent is like a car salesman he can only sell the whole car, not the engine first, then the windows, then the frame. He wants to see that you can A., complete the book and B., write strongly from beginning to end. Agents also respond MUCH faster than publishers (weeks as opposed to months) and if they want to see the whole thing, you better have it ready.
  • Your query letter to the agent needs to be really powerful. Remember, an agent is not an editor he wants someone he can SELL. So you have to do a good job of selling your work and yourself as a writer in the letter.
  • Agents don’t guarantee sales. They are there to represent your work, get you onto an editor’s desk and negotiate your contract. If you don’t have a quality product, the editor won’t buy it, no matter who your agent is.
  • NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go with an agency that wants to charge a reading fee or send you to a book doctor or editing company.
  • Remember, the agent works for you, and not vice versa. If you are unhappy, you should go elsewhere. Try not to get tied into a long binding contract with an agent and don’t pay fees for anything more than photocopies and long-distance calls (most agencies deduct those or remove them after you sell).
  • Whatever you do, try to only deal with agents who are members of the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives). This is a self-policing agency that bars the charging of reading fees and other scams. They have a website www.bookwire.com/aar and a Canon of Ethics page (http://www.publishersweekly.com/aar/)
  • Some agents don’t belong to AAR but do ascribe to AAR principles. Check them out carefully. You don’t have many safeguards when you go looking for an agent. ANYONE can hang out a shingle and say they are an agent, take your money and run. My first agent did not belong to AAR when she first started out several years ago, because she was new, but she ascribed to the principals, *put all of that in writing* in the contract and signed on as a member as soon as she was eligible.
  • There are many fine agents out there who don’t belong to AAR. However, before signing with them, think about this:
    • If they haven’t been in business long enough to qualify, are you sure they really know the market and what editors are buying?
    • If they have been in business long enough, why not belong? Why not offer that extra assurance to clients?
    • If they aren’t members, why not put all those policies in writing?
  • You’re talking your career here, always remember that. If you get a horrible agent who burns bridges for you, it will make it harder to get in the door later on. I have heard many, many stories of non-AAR agents who didn’t send out anything, never followed up on a manuscript, and strung their clients along for months, sometimes years. You need an agent who is a partner with you, not a hindrance.

Recommended Books:

Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, 2002-2003: Who They Are! What They Want! And How to Win Them Over!
by Jeff Herman

Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why, 2nd Edition
by Deborah Levine Herman, Jeff Herman

2002 Writer’s Market : 8,000 Editors Who Buy What You Write (Writer’s Market, 2002)
by Kirsten Holm (Editor)

Writing the Breakout Novel
by Donald Maass

How to Publish Your Articles: A Complete Guide to Making the Right Publication Say Yes (Square One Writers’ Guides)
by Shirley Kawa-Jump

How to Publish Your Nonfiction Book (Square One Writer’s Guide)
by Rudy Shur

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