Monday, December 10, 2007

The Elusive Agent

One thing I love about blogging and doing my newsletter, Doing It Write, is that it takes this huge world we live on and makes it rather small and intimate. To illustrate: One time I received an email from a woman living in the U.K. who, on the advice of a friend in Israel, had written me here in the U.S.

She wanted to know how to get an agent interested in her books. Her experience in querying agents here in the U.S. and in the U.K. was that, unless you were a big "name," you couldn't get in the door.

I don't know a lot about agents in other countries, but here in the States, she's not far off in her evaluation. It is quite difficult for most writers to find an agent.

Having an agent is pretty much essential in the States. It used to be that you could query the major publishers directly. Not really possible anymore, although you can go directly to most of the smaller presses. In some ways, it’s even getting harder to query an agent! A few of the big agencies won't even read your query letter unless you have a recommendation from an author they know or represent.

As far as a new author finding an agent:
First off, do not pay an agent up-front money to represent you. If he (or she) asks for money to sign you up, run the other way. Chances are, it's a rip-off or scam. It tells you that agent is not making money selling the works of his authors, but on signing up authors. Yes, you will probably have some expenses along the way with a legitimate agent -- mailings of your manuscript to editors, for example. Until he sells you, he's not making any money and he has overhead. He won’t ask for a lump sum of money, though. You’ll get a detailed listing of where the expenses were incurred. And some agents are part of an editing business, but that's separate from their services as an agent and should not be a requirement for him to represent you.

Secondly, don’t be surprised if you don’t make headway with the "big" agents. They represent the major authors and usually don't even consider anyone that's not recommended to them. So, unless you know one of their clients or an established author who will recommend you, look for smaller, newer agencies; they're hungry for clients. Now, I’m not saying never query the big agencies or that agent who represents your favorite author. Just recognize the odds are against you. A safe place to start your search is with those who are members of AAR (The Association of Author Representatives). Members of the AAR agree to a code of ethics and don't charge up-front fees. Choose agents not on that list at your own risk, although there are a lot who are not members of the AAR who are legitimate – but without that “seal of approval,” it’s harder to tell.

How do you find them? We’ll start exploring that tomorrow.


  1. Great stuff Helen, look forward to your next post!

    It's the same here in the UK.
    A couple of years ago an agent wanted to represent me as long as I paid an upfront fee for expensives of £300. It was hard as I was at that time starting to feel the pain of rejections pouring in! But common sense prevailed and I walked away.

    A narrow escape!

  2. Good for you, Mike. I'm sure that was a very hard decision on your part. Scammers -- all scammers, not just the ones in the publishing world -- prey on those who are desperate or those who don't know any better. At least, in today's world of the Internet, blogs, and newsletters, more people are learning not to be easily taken advantage of.

    Thanks for the personal story.


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