A bad agent is worse than no agent at all.
Because a bad agent can ruin all your editor prospects. Editors who may have been interested in your manuscript if it had been pitched in a more skillful manner, or if the agent had worked on edits with you before she sent it out. Once that editor has turned your story down, she doesn’t want to hear about it again. There are plenty of other novels and picture books coming in a steady stream, from reputable agents who the editors trust.
PIERCING QUESTIONS BEFORE YOU QUERY AN AGENT:
- Does she have the kind of contacts you’re looking for? She might be an excellent adult mystery agent, but if you want to write picture books, will she have the editor contacts that you need?
- She may have a slew of clients who love her, but has she actually made any deals for them?
- She may have a slew of clients with published books, but is she the one who made the deals?
- She may have a slew of clients with published books, but when you look them up on Amazon, are they POD? AuthorSource? If you are paying an agent, shouldn’t your books be published by legitimate publishing houses?
- Have you heard of any of her clients? Any awards, movie deals?
- Has she been around the block? If she hasn’t, is she being mentored by someone who has?
- Yeah. I’m a digger.
There are some ways to check the reputability of an agent before you get to the query.
- AgentQuery–depends on the agent filling out his profile. Will tell his background, if he belongs to AAR, the genres he represents, clients, some deals, submission requirements.
- QueryTracker–if the agent fills in a profile, and most do, you can find out genres, clients, how to submit. Also, some queriers leave feedback as to what kind of answers they get from the agent and how long it takes.
- SCBWI–if you belong to SCBWI the new The Book has the Agents Directory in it.
There are a few, elite agents who are not listed on any of these sites. They don’t need to advertise. If an agency is not listed they’re not necessarily frauds, but you have to dig and see who they represent and what their reputation is.
- AAR–check the Association of Authors’ Representatives. It’s an organization that has a set of standards that the members agree to uphold. Not every good agent belongs, but if an agent does belong, you know that they had to jump through some hoops.
- Preditors & Editors–this list is compiled by the site. Rudimentary, lists if agent/agency is legit or not.
- Writer Beware–the muckraker site for writers, in the best sense. Search your agent on the site
So far so good? The only thing left is word-of-mouth. Ask your friends. And also lean over the virtual back fence…
- The Blue Boards–Verla Kay’s writerly community. You can learn all kinds of stuff here. Including tidbits about agents and editors. Search. Listen. See what’s what.
- Absolute Write Water Cooler–another chat board, associated with Writer Beware.
The Internet. It’s a beautiful thing.