Because so many publishers have been moving to an 'agented submissions only" policy, it is more important than ever to find a good agent for your work. Finding a good and trustworthy agent is one of the best ways to get your work noticed, but there can be pitfalls to the process.
- Find a reputable list of agents. The Writer's Market now contains lists of agents, both in their print editions and on their website. There are also numerous books with agent lists that include reputable agents, such as Jeff Herman's Guide To Book Publishers, Editors&Literary Agents. This is a popular book series with yearly updates for changes in guidelines and contact information.
- Check credentials. A reputable agent should have authors who have published through them, and should not withhold that kind of information. If an agent refuses to disclose clients or book deals he has done--run.
- Make sure there are no fees. It used to be that there were many agents content to make money by simply charging reading fees, submission fees, and sometimes just plain fees to be the writer's agent. In the last couple of years, that practice has come under fire, and agents who charge reading or submission fees are no longer considered reputable. An agent should only make money if you do, and that should be limited to the 15 percent cut of the money you made for the book.
- Check the agent's connections. The agent you choose should have connections with publishers that are in your genre. If you are marketing a sci-fi book, don't choose an agent that has only had romance novels published. There are many agents who specialize in certain genres, but the ones who don't may not have the connections that you need.
- Find out how to submit to your chosen agent. Once you have found a few agents that seem reasonable and reputable, you must find out what their submissions policy is. Agents, like publishers, sometimes want a query letter or synopsis before they are willing to read a full manuscript.
- Check the agent online. There are several good pages that list agents who have been caught in unethical practices. The best of these is the Preditors and Editors site, which collects information about agents who ask for upfront fees. A google search for the agent's name may also bring up information that you need to know about that agent.
- Sign a contract. Most agents will have a writer sign an exclusive contract that lasts a set amount of time, such s one or two years. During that time, the agent should be submitting your work and getting you published. If the agent can't accomplish it in that time, you are free to find a new agent who can. Just make sure the contract you sign is reasonable and does not unduly take rights away from you. A contract with an agent should never say that he gets the rights to the work submitted, or that the agent owns the pen name that you use when you are published with that agent. The contract should be straightforward, and feel free to walk away if it is not. There are plenty of great agents out there, so don't be afraid to leave a questionable one.