How Good is Your Agent?

Every day on my Facebook page or in my emails, I hear authors proudly proclaim, “I’ve been approached by a literary agent!” in tremendous excitement, and my first question is “Which one?”

Now, there are some great agents out there. One of my clients was approached by a superstar just yesterday. But then there are some merely good agents. And there are some lackluster agents. And there are some scumbags, and there are plenty of fakes. Being approached by an agent can be a dream come true or it can be a real nightmare.

So you need to ask yourself some questions: Who does the agent represent? How long have they been in this business? Do they have any successes to show for it? Have they got a bad rep or a good one? Do they make their clients real money? Do they have sub-agents in other countries or in Hollywood that they work with? and so on.

Getting answers to these questions can be a little difficult. An agent who is a crook will simply lie about references, telling you that he/she represents superstar writers and has made huge book deals. They won’t bother to mention it if they are under criminal investigation.

So what do you do?

1) Go to www.publishersmarketplace.com and buy a one-month subscription. Then check into their “Top Dealmakers” section. Choose your genre, and then choose agents. The site will give you a list of all of the agents in your genre who have made sales to major publishers. It will also tell you the deals that they made and how much money those deals sold for. There is no hype, no bull. If your would-be agent isn’t on this list, consider telling him or her that you’re not interested.

But do be careful. Some agents are not known for making big deals. You might want to pay attention to whether your agent has made large deals, or if they hold auctions with editors.

Now, to be fair, there are good agents who may be new to your field or who work outside of your genre. If that’s the case, you need to consider carefully whether you want to go with that agent.

2) If you’re still considering the agent at this point, check out a site like http://pred-ed.com/, otherwise known as Predators and Editors. These sites can tell you if an agent has been accused of unscrupulous action. In fact, even some real working agents might be listed on there. After all, if you’ve been working in this industry for many years, some author is likely to be mad at you.

3) Check out the agent’s website and Google his or her name. You might find warnings on the web about that person.

4) If an agent claims an author as a client, you can contact the author directly, usually through a website, and make some inquiries. I’ve known a couple of agents who have claimed star authors as clients long after the author dissolved the relationship in bitter disputes. That might simply be because the agent published a client list, say five years ago, on a website and never bothered to take it down.

5) Last of all, if the situation warrants it, contact the agent directly and have a good long chat to make sure that your goals and methods are aligned, that your personalities don’t clash, and that you feel you have good synergy.

So simply put, just be careful, folks. Make sure that a person who claims to be an agent is genuine. Remember that your relationship with that person is important, too. Your personalities come into play. A great agent for someone else might not be a great agent for you, simply because he or she loses interest in you after a few months. On the other hand, someone that another author thinks of as being mediocre might actually do well for you if that agent gets enthused for your work.

Agents can grow and change over the course of a career, and one that seemed to be a smouldering coal can burst into flame, while even superstars sometimes will trip up. You’re dealing with people here, and there are always a few unknowns.


Coming up in February is my Writing Enchanting Prose Workshop in Phoenix. My classes often fill up so don’t wait to save your space. Learn more here.

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