Abridged by Gina Burgess
Finding an agent is difficult because there are a lot of really great agents, but there are hundreds of amateurs, and agents who are here today and gone tomorrow. There are probably just as many who are borderline or downright dishonest. Those are the ones that urge you to get your manuscript edited before submitting it, or who charge an upfront fee. The key is never assume all agents expressing an interest in your manuscript are reputable.
I know this because a watchdog group called Writer Beware has a list of more than 300 dishonest agents, maybe more by now. Yes, it is part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers group, but it is definitely a great resource when you are a writer.
If you decide to go the tradition publishing route then you really need to beware. For instance, traditional publishers do not require a proofread manuscript, or line editing. (It is a good idea to get some developmental editing, because family and friends do not have the professional eye a developmental editor has. This kind of editing will help you keep your own voice and style, but just make it better. But remember, it isn’t required.)
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to break into one of the big five publishers without an agent when you are a debut author. If you’ve got lots of sales under your belt, and a large, solid platform, it isn’t as difficult, but it is best to have a reputable agent represent you regardless. Your agent is the one who will make sure the contract is good for you, and will explain the small print.
So study and research agents, what they do, how they do it, and search out their reputations.
To get a good list of agents who work with your genre, go to your library and research Literary Marketplace (US based). Other books to search include: Writer’s Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, and Guide to Literary Agents. I’m really not sure about Australia and the United Kingdom, so search and research. Look for complaints and reviews online about every agent you put on your list.
Make sure the agents on your list work in the same genre you write. This is an extremely important key that a lot of writers ignore. Without the right key the publishing door remains locked.
Make sure the agents are members of Association of Authors’ Representatives and in the UK Association of Authors’ Agents. Do a bit of extra research on agents that are not members. Reputable agents don’t have to be members, but check out the reputations of those that are not.
Here is a partial list of abusive practices of un-reputable agents from the complete list at Writer Beware:
- Requiring a reading fee with a submission.
- Requiring writers to buy a critique or manuscript assessment.
- Running a contest that’s a scheme for funneling writers into a pay-to-play scheme, such as a paid editing service or a vanity publisher.
- Placing clients with fee-charging publishers.
You can read a lot more advice at Writer Beware Literary Agents page.