The convention floor at Book Expo America - photo by Ashley GrillSo you think you need an agent? Most agents do not represent poetry, short stories, non-fiction or material suitable for academic or small presses. If you have written a novel or a memoir, you might consider finding a literary representative. The best reference guide is Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents published annually by Writer’s Digest Books and the 2014 issue has just been released. Before you seek representation, it’s important you do some initial research on potential agents before you send a query.

Here’s a few questions you need to answer before you contact a specific agent.

  1. Is the agent a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR)? Self-identified ‘agents’ may not be members of AAR and are not bound by their code of professional ethics.
  2. Are book deals this agent has sold to publishers reported in Publisher’s Marketplace?
  3. What comes up when you Google your agent’s name, or the name of the literary agency?
  4. How many years has the agent worked as a literary representative? Does the agency have a website?
  5. What did they do before they became an agent? The agent’s website should have a bio.
  6. How many books has the agent sold to publishers? Many self-identified agents are ‘packagers’ or ‘book producers’ who work for imprints of self-publishing companies. Investigate the track record of the authors’ books. Look at publishing houses, sales rankings, reviews, and news coverage of the agents portfolio of published clients.
  7. How many authors does the agent currently represent? The more authors an agent represents may mean the less attention your project receives. Too many means too many unsold manuscripts.
  8. Who are the two or three authors whose books are most like yours that the agent brokered their publication deal? Identify the publishers, editors, sales rankings, reviews, and news coverage of their books.
  9. Have you read their blog, tweets, Facebook postings, LinkedIn profile, and know why you think this agent is the one to become the champion of your book?
  10. Do you have a book manuscript that will sell 10,000 copies in the first 90 days? If not, you may have a hard time finding an agent. Agents traditionally work on a commission, usually 15%, of your advance on royalty payments. With much lower advances offered by publishers, agents simply can’t make enough on many book projects to make your book worth their while. Many agents today offer services for hire to writers who may or not be represented by their agency, including proposal editing and writing, manuscript editing, contract consultations and negotiations, platform building, and social media marketing. Contracting for these services with an agent is no guarantee of representation or publication. Rates for these services can be much higher than for a development editor.

No agent can be better than a bad agent. Why? If an inexperienced agent shoots your book out to all the editors in all the publishing houses and has no relationship with editors or track record, your manuscript lingers in the purgatory of a slush pile and months pass. Once you wise up and dump the agent, guess what? You’re damaged goods. Your book has already been submitted to publishers and ignored; other agents won’t touch your book. Your ship sailed and sank. They may pity you, but they won’t represent you.

If you are ready to find an agent or an acquisition editor for your manuscript, Swenson Book Development llc may be able to assist you in finding the one that will champion your project.

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