The book is written and polished and you’re ready to find a home for your baby. Authors have two choices. Either find a publishing house on your own, or acquire a literary agency to do it for you. Finding a literary agent is usually the best choice, as many of the larger publishing houses won’t look at manuscripts unless submitted by an accredited literary agent. But before you dive into the latest edition of the Literary Market Place or Guide to Literary Agents to find one, be aware of several things.
First, don’t assume that if a literary agent expresses interest in your work that they are trustworthy. The old standard, ‘Let the Buyer Beware’ holds true for services offered in a variety of professions. How to protect yourself? The best way is to find information sources regarding a particular agency. Are they a member of the AAR (Association of Artist’s Representatives)? Do they belong to the National Writer’s Union? The Internet makes finding the answers to these and other questions quite simple. In addition to accessing these various resources, there are several points and questions that need to be considered.
Such things as experience are important, but many new authors will find that getting such an agent or agency to represent them is difficult. Most already have a full clientele list or will only take references from published authors. Past sales records should also be considered. Is the agent or agency new to the business? If so, they will not have accrued a hefty listing of published works, and may not have the industry clout that more experienced agents or agencies have. Still, that’s not to say they won’t, someday. Another question to consider is fees.
Most literary agents make a living by receiving a portion of the profits from a sold work; they won’t charge you to represent your literary masterpiece. They may, however, charge for office operating fees in regard to photocopies, postage and telephone expenses. Each agent or agency has different guidelines; so make sure you’re aware of them before you sign anything. The same goes for critique fees. It’s up to the author to research and decide what is appropriate for them. In addition to these guidelines, there are several others that should be considered. These, however, are warning signs and should alert potential clients that perhaps everything isn’t as above board as it should be.
· If responses from an agent or agency are riddled with typos or faulty grammar, you can assume that they are not the right agent for you.
· If a literary agent promises to get you published, step away. No agent has the power to predict a promise of publication, not matter how great your manuscript is.
· Never, never, never pay money up front.
· Examine the contract carefully. Have someone knowledgeable about such contracts read through it if possible. The contract should be a professional, straightforward document that covers all the bases, not just some of them.
· Watch out for the ‘Form Letter Acceptance’. If an agent or agency agrees to represent you, the letter will not be a generic form letter that has fill-in-the-blank tendencies. More often than not, an agent will send you a personal note or even telephone you.
· If you ask questions and get no answers, avoid that agent or agency. No legitimate agent or agency is offended by questions from their clients. They are never rude when asked to explain certain clauses or answer questions.
Finding a literary agent is a slow process that requires patience and determination. Authors must develop a pretty thick skin in order to weather the rejections and form letters they will inevitably receive while trying to find someone to represent them and their work. Many authors tell of having their books rejected dozens of times before finding the right agent or agency to represent them. While waiting to find a home for your manuscript, start researching another project or take a break. Continue to research agencies in your quest to find the one that suits you and your work. This might also be a good time to start thinking about self-promotion and, if you don’t already have one, building a website to help promote you and your book. Whatever you do, don’t remain idle, watching for the mailman every day. Be proactive and remember; never give up. If your current work can’t seem to find a home, that doesn’t mean your next one won’t.