Having an agent does not mean instant success. Many pre-published writers think, “If I could just sell a book, everything would change.” Or, “If I could just get an agent, I could just relax and write.” Wrong. Most writers still end up worrying about whether they’ll sell another book. And if they do, whether anyone will buy it!
This is a tough industry. Is acquiring an agent you respect terrific? Yes! But it’s no guarantee.
If you have an agent you work well with, that’s fantastic! Keep that teamwork going, but educate yourself about the industry, too. And if you don’t have an agent yet, know that 1) it is still possible to get published out of the slush pile (particularly with picture books, less so with novels–though of course the competition is very tough with or without an agent), and 2) an agent won’t solve all your publishing problems. In fact, there are both pros and cons to working with agents. It’s fine to seek representation, but the bottom line is that your writing career is your writing career, and you have to be the one responsible for it.
10 Agent Truths
- A good agent is a fabulous business partner.
- A bad agent is worse than no agent.
- It’s as difficult to get an agent as it is to get a publisher.
- A real agent doesn’t charge reading fees or anything other than their commission.
- When researching agents, look at an agent’s other clients.
- And look at who they’ve sold books to.
- Never use someone’s name as a referral without explicit permission.
- You should know to whom your manuscripts have been submitted.
- Even agented, you need to know the business side.
- An agent relationship is a marriage, not a one-night stand.
What an Agent Does and Does Not Do
- Submit your work (only the work he or she feels is marketable)
- Use vast knowledge and network to choose best markets for your work
- Get your manuscripts read at closed houses
- Negotiate contracts
- Take care of all business dealings with an editor
- Earn 15% commission
- Perhaps sell other rights you wouldn’t even begin to mess with
- Send out a manuscript that has already been rejected by 25 editors
- Sell an unmarketable manuscript
- Handle work-for-hire, educational publishing, or flat fee jobs
- Handle anthologies, magazine articles, etc.
- Might not submit multiple works with the same determination you would (if you were a monster at submissions before becoming agented)
Where To Find Agent Names
- Read author acknowledgement pages
- Subscribe to PW Children’s Bookshelf
- Association of Authors’ Representatives
- Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market (Always check for newest edition.)
- AgentQuery database
- Guide to Literary Agents blog
- Writer Beware (to learn about agents and agent behaviors you should avoid!)
Tools for Unagented Writers
- Independent editors
- Literary attorneys for contract review (Note: All three of these attorneys were recommended by the attorney I use for contract negotiation and review. My attorney is no longer accepting new clients, so I asked her for recommendations.)
- Approaching closed houses
- Research and submit on your own—you can do it! (I share the details on my process here.)