Agents: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

by Lori Soard

You want an agent but can’t get one until you’re published. You can’t get publishing houses to read your work without an agent. Sound like a catch twenty-two? It is and with the market growing tighter every day good agents are taking on very few new writers.

Many unscrupulous agents are making a fortune off writers desperate to break into the market. Referrals to overpriced, underskilled editing services bring in commissions for these agents and leave their clients with a few thousand less in their pockets and an unpublished manuscript.

So, how can you avoid the pitfalls of this ugly scenario? Here are some questions you should ask an agent before you sign with him/her:

1) Do you charge a reading fee?

* Most reputable agents do not charge a reading fee. For a list of agents who do not charge, consult Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents.

2) What is your commission?

* Most agents charge between 10 and 15%.

3) Do you send copies of correspondence with publishers?

* If you want to keep in touch with where your work in being sent and what response it is getting, this can be an important issue. Some agents send quarterly reports, others only on request.

4) Are you a member of Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR)?

* This organization sets standards in the industry. To be admitted, agents must make the majority of their income from commissions and not from other fees.

5) How many books of your type has she represented or sold?

* It is important that your agent is familiar with your particular sub-genre. It is a waste of both your time and the agents’ time, if the work is sent to publishers who are not publishing your style of book.

6) Is there an author she’s represented that you can contact?

* Don’t just take the agent’s word for it though. Would s/he really give you the name of someone who would give a negative picture? Be sure to check out sites such as Predators and Editors (, post to listservs and message boards asking if anyone has heard of this agent and to please e-mail you privately. Contact any writing organizations you belong to and see if complaints have been filed. Also contact the Better Business Bureau and Attorney General in the agent’s home state.

Most important, trust your instincts. Remember, an agent/author relationship is one of the most important relationships in your writing career. You need to be able to trust your agent and communicate with her. Otherwise, what should be one of the most rewarding accomplishments in your career, could turn into an ugly memory.

Lori Soard started Word Museum in 1997. She’s a published author and has written thousands of articles over the years for newspapers, magazines and online. She has a PhD in Journalism and lives in Southern Indiana with her husband. They have two grown daughters, both animal lovers their house is always filled with pets.

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