The literary agent is something of a writer’s holy grail, the seemingly unattainable person who will be the deciding factor in whether or not your book finds a home at a publishing house. Since literary agents stand between you and publication, you must find one who will not only enjoy your book, but who will also be an advocate for you and your manuscript.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of disreputable literary agents who offer their services for some other nefarious purpose. Some charge so-called “reading fees” while others have never placed a book and want only for you to pay their counterparts to edit your manuscript, when this is not typical practice.
Avoiding the fraudulent literary agents isn’t difficult, however, if you know what you are looking for. The goal is to find a reputable literary agent who will fulfill your dreams and get your book on the market, so that is who you should be searching for.
Tip #1: Use the Association of Authors’ Representatives
One of the best places in which to start your search for a reputable literary agent is by browsing the listings at the Association of Authors’ Representatives website at www.aar-online.com. You can narrow your search by entering categories such as “Accepts New Authors” and different genres. This is one of the safest resources because literary agents must qualify in order to join the AAR.
Tip #2: Subscribe to The Writers’ Market
You can subscribe to the Writers’ Market website at www.writersmarket.com, which gives you instant access to reputable literary agents worldwide. This is another safe resource because agents who charge reading fees or who have earned negative reputations are not included. They also give extra information, such as advice from the literary agents themselves, which will help you to make a more informed choice.
Tip #3: Ask for a List of Successful Clients
A reputable literary agent will have absolutely no problem sending you a list of their successful clients and the books they have written. In fact, most reputable literary agents have lists of their clients on their website for public perusal. One red flag of a fraudulent literary agent is one who refuses to disclose a list of clients or who offers generalities, such as, “Our clients include doctors, teachers, engineers, attorneys, housewives and parents”.
Tip #4: Find Out Which Conferences They Attend
Reputable literary agents always attend at least one conference each year where writers, agents and publishers get together to network. If the agent you have contacted isn’t involved in any conferences, where is he or she meeting publishing contacts? Your manuscript will be better placed with a literary agency that has a considerable network of editors and publishers.
Tip #5: Ask About Memberships
A reputable literary agent will be a member of several different agent and author associations and organizations. Membership with the AAR is a big one, as well as memberships with organizations such as the Mystery Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and others. Usually, literary agents will give a list of these memberships on their websites.
Tip #6: Talk with Writer Friends
If you have friends who are successful published writers, there is absolutely nothing wrong with soliciting their advice. While you should never ask a writer to recommend you to his or her agent, you can ask for a name and address to query. Don’t jeopardize your friend’s credibility by mentioning his or her name (other than as a reference) in conjunction of your work. However, if your friend has worked with this literary agent successfully, he or she will be a good bet.
Tip #7: Pay Attention to Correspondence
Reputable literary agents all work differently, but you can usually pick out the scammers by the language in their correspondence. For example, if you receive a letter from an agent which mistakenly identifies your work (calls it by a different title or references it in an incorrect genre), then you’ll know that the agent is probably not reputable. Similarly, if he or she mentioned money exchanging hands (i.e. you paying for a critique) this is another red flag that should send you running in another direction.
Following these tips should enable you to easily pick out the scammers and fraudulent agents who consistently pop up in this industry. Make sure that you read any contract you’re presented with carefully and that you always pay attention to what is said. If you get a bad feeling, or if it doesn’t seem right, feel free to find another agent with whom you are more comfortable.