Saturday, August 10, 2013

What to look out for in a literary agent

I had recently decided to query literary agents again. Now for you who do not know this, I had been a victim of a literary agent scam. Having been through all this I now know what I should be looking out for the second time around. I thought I would share my thoughts about what to look out for, just in case there are other writers querying as well, who could do with the information.

What to avoid:

  • When an agent asks for fees upfront – Never pay any fees upfront. I had known about this rule when I had paid my agent an editing fee. I made the mistake of paying an editing fee anyway, because she had me truly convinced that I needed the editing. Trust me, they can sound really persuasive and when you feel really desperate, as I did, it will all makes sense at that moment in time. But do not pay any agent any fees of any kind in advance. They will get their final fee after your book is sold.

  • When an agent offers representation, but shows no interest in your work – Looking back, I should have known something was wrong, because an agent should be excited about your work. They should ask you questions about your book or characters or offer suggestions on making it better, or perhaps suggest certain changes that would make it better suited to a certain market, as they know what works. If your agent does nothing and just accepts your work as is, then you know something is fishy.

  • When your work has not been edited too much – An agent knows what potential publishers are looking for. They know what a finished manuscript should look like and if you only get a minimally edited manuscript back, that looks a lot like the one you originally submitted, be worried. I was not asked to do any rewrites, just to delete a few unwanted words. I don’t think my work was that perfect. I know a few writers whose work was much better than mine, but their work had been drastically edited.

  • When there is no regular communication between you and the agent – Obviously your agent can’t be in contact with you everyday. But during the submissions process, you should at least hear from your agent once a month. Just so that you know he/or she had not forgotten about you. If you never hear from your agent again after you submitted your submission package, be worried. I would never have heard from my agent again, if had not been the one to constantly contact her for information.

  • If your agent does not want to communicate – I had once asked my agent if I could call her to talk about a few things that I was concerned about and she had all kinds of excuses as to why I could not get in contact with her. She said she would prefer an email. Emails are good, but this was my career on the line, I had paid her a lot of money and I wanted some information. If you are a client and you are willing to pay for the phone call, there is no reason why an agent would refuse to talk to you on the phone. Just as long as you make arrangements upfront, like finding out when and if your agent is available to talk on the phone.

  • When your agent is super nice and never has anything negative to say about your work – The only negative information I had gotten from my agent, regarding my manuscript was that it needed lots of editing. But when it was time for the editing, not a lot was changed. An agent sometimes has to tell you things that you don’t want to hear, like this manuscript might not work for a certain genre, or it is not right for the market you chose, unless you change this or that. But saying everything is always perfect, is highly unlikely.

  • When an agents feedback about your manuscript is vague – My agent had said that my work was intriguing and that my characters were complex. That is it. Now these words could describe any manuscript in the whole wide world. She never said anything that made me think that she was talking about my actual work or characters.

  • When an agent makes things sound too good to be true – When an agent is super nice and tells you that you do not have to worry, that your book will be sold soon and that everything will be as you expected, run. Life is never perfect, nothing ever is. So you should always expect a few setbacks. When things sound too good to be true, they usually are.

  • When an agent does not ask you what you wantThinking back, my agent never asked me about whether I wanted to pursue traditional publishing or if I was considering self-publishing. Though she did want to push me more towards self-publishing. She never even asked me whether I was open to e-publishing. The conversation about whether I wanted a writing career or just a one time book deal, also never came up. Though I had told her my book was part of a series, she never asked me about what the rest of the series was about, or how many books I had planned to write or if I had finished any other books in the series. She never asked anything. Actually, just that once, for the editing fee.

These are the things that when thinking back, really ticks me off. I hope it will be of some help to others. 

8 comments :

  1. Interesting. My experiences with agents have not been good. Two of them got in trouble with the law, and one did jail time. I have given up on agents after so many discouraging experiences. I hope you find a really good one!

    Mary Montague Sikes

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  2. You gave excellent comments, Murees. I'm sure this post will be helpful to anyone considering hiring an agent. I have never had one, perhaps because I've heard so many bad things about them.
    Hope you're having a lovely weekend.

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  3. Mary Montague Sikes - That is just awful! I had a run in with one bad agent, I cannot imagine you having to go through it twice! I am so sorry to hear that. But you are amazing for not allowing it to stop you from writing. Way to go! Thank you for sharing this with me. I was starting to think I was the only one with a bad experience.

    Deanie - Thank you. I am feeling a little less trusting. But I think I need an agent to get my work out there. However, I will be querying publishers too, to maximize my chances of getting my work noticed. After reading both your comments I am rethinking this whole literary agent thing.

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  4. Wow, this is a great list. Espcially because you speak from experience, you know exactly how to help people. Good for you for turning this bad situation into a positive!

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  5. Are you familiar with the Query Shark website? A great place to learn how to hone you query letter.

    http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

    She can be brutal, but it's a brutal business. She can also be encouraging and a big cheerleader.

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  6. Wow, that's really awful to hear, just shows how much our desires can blind us, because you're clearly an intelligent woman.

    I suppose it's hard to stay rational and detached when it comes to our biggest desires.

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  7. I've never been tempted to try for an agent to represent me and after reading this I'm sure glad. What a headache.

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  8. Katie - Thank you. I did try. I did not know if anyone would find it helpful or whether they would be thinking that I was just whining.

    John - Thank you, I will pay her a visit, as I can really do with all the help that I can get.

    Noonebutabloghead - Thank you. Yes, wanting to be published was a pretty temping idea. I should have known that it was all too easy and when it is, something has to be seriously wrong.

    Karen - I am having serious doubts too. Thank you for visiting.

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