The Writer’s Block

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Choosing an Agent  

James Weil
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Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 9
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There is an adage that goes: A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. I can definitely attest to that. When my debut novel, Swiss Chocolate, had gone through its final round of editing, it was time to find an agent. I put a lot of work into my query letter, which will be a separate topic, and started sending it out. 

I started a subscription to an online service for writers looking for agents, which could be filtered using different criteria. It kept track of who I sent query letters to, whether or not I got a response, if they requested the manuscript, and whether I got rejected.

What I found out is that there are thousands of literary agents out there. Too many to count, in fact. Right out of the box, an agent from William Morris requested my manuscript. They are huge, but they are mostly known for representing Hollywood talent. Their Literary Agency divisions are based all over the country and abroad.

I sent him my manuscript, and after a month or so, he called me. He said he liked the book, but it needed more tweaking, so he was going to pass. Of course, I was upset. Being represented by an agency that big and established would ensure I would be placed in the right house, although there are no guarantees.

The next agent who contacted me told me she lived in Ohio, was a psychiatrist, a part-time literary agent, and handled writers she felt were good enough to be published. Okay, this is the worst kind of agent you could possibly get, although I didn't know it at the time.

This agent has no experience in the publishing industry at all, probably doesn't have a single contact in any house whatsoever, and would be throwing my manuscript indiscriminately at editors with the hopes that one of them would read it.

Lucky for me, she rejected my manuscript. Then she asked me if I wanted my manuscript back, and when I said yes, she asked me to send her a check for postage. At that point, I shined her on. Any reputable agent will never charge for his services. Agents get paid when your manuscript gets published. The industry standard is 15% of your royalties, after the publisher takes his cut, and 20% of any international sales.

The bigger publishing houses usually don't take unsolicited manuscripts from writers, which means you have to have an agent. In those houses, there is a slush pile for manuscripts from agents they have no experience with. 

Many agents use the shotgun approach and send out as many pitches and manuscripts that they possibly can with hopes of being picked up. Usually, they only end up spinning their wheels. 

If your writing is good enough, you want to sign with a rock star. You want an agent who has worked in the publishing industry for several years, has numerous contacts, and has a solid understanding of how things work.

Look for agents with a proven track record. Usually they are pretty up front about books they have placed and how many of those became bestsellers. And don't be discouraged by rejections. Agents and editors are extremely subjective about what they like. What one agent rejects, another may love, so keep sending out those query letters, and do your research. 

Finding the wrong agent can ruin you.



Love to all!