How to Find a Great Literary Agent – Amanda Luedeke

2014AmandaHow to Find a Great Literary Agent

By Amanda Luedeke

Not all agents are created equal

Some agents are wonderful. They work hard, fight for their clients, and believe wholeheartedly in the power of words. They leverage their many industry contacts and are always on the hunt for opportunities for their authors. They’re respected by publishers and editors and other industry pros, because they’re what an agent should be; they’re an asset to the entire process.

Some agents are just okay. They may be lovers of words and they may do a good enough job, but these agents tend to exhibit telltale signs of mediocrity. They may go MIA for long periods of time. Their emails from their clients may always end up “lost” or they may seem to go dark when there isn’t any money to be made. They may also pretend like they know the industry when in reality they don’t have many (if any) contacts, let alone editors who are eager to work with them. So their queries, their attempts may be falling on deaf ears. It could be a lack of training or a premature launch into agenting. Or maybe it’s just a bad work ethic. But whatever it is, these agents do tend to get the job done, but at a price. Their authors aren’t getting what they should be getting…and it can be years before an author realizes this.

Other agents are complete scam artists. They lie about their connections (they may act as though they can get a project in front of so-and-so when in reality all they have is an email address pulled off of Publisher’s Marketplace). They fudge on their track record (I’ve heard agents claim that they have never had a project that they weren’t able to sell…yeah, that’s a HUGE lie). They make promises they can’t possibly keep (they may promise a movie deal or six figures…whatever it takes to get the author to sign with them). And they make it seem like they’re the best thing to happen to authors when in reality the industry would be a better place without them.

Here’s the reality: Anyone can decide to be an agent. There isn’t a test to take or a certification to obtain. You simply call yourself an agent, subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace, create a company email and website, and voila! You look like an agent. Even if you don’t know how to be one.

So how do you weed out the bad from the good?

Tips for Finding the Best Agent for the Job

  1. Do your research

The first step is to find agents who do business within the genre that you write. So if you write romance, you’ll want an agent who has sold some romance projects. If you write Christian living, you’ll want an agent who has done those deals and therefore knows editors looking for that kind of a book.

The best way to go about this is to look in the acknowledgements section of books that are similar to your own. The author’s agent is typically thanked there. Or, you could go to Google to discover what agencies are doing what successfully.

Once you know who handles your genre and you can verify that these agents represent authors who are respectable and doing well, you want to read the agencies’ blogs to get a feel for their approach. Follow them on Twitter. Stalk them. This is the best way to do a bit of “dating from a distance.”

  1. Get on the phone with them

Once an agent expresses interest in your project and seems to be getting more serious about representation, suggest that the two of you hop on the phone. (Many times, the agent will suggest this—a great sign!).

While on the phone, pay attention to how comfortable you are talking with them. Sure, you’ll be a bit nervous, but those nerves should ease up as the conversation progresses. You will also want to ask about strengths and weaknesses and about their policy on staying in touch with their clients. This will help you know what to expect and will allow you to flag anything that you fear won’t work for your personality.

  1. Ask to speak to their authors

If you get the warm fuzzies after the phone call, you may be tempted to sign right away! While there’s no harm in being excited, this is the phase in which you want to be most careful. It’s easy to let emotions take over.

Ask the agent if you can speak with some of his or her clients. Suggest a few names to prevent the agent from choosing the authors he/she dotes on the most, and ask if it would be possible to email those authors (or vice versa). Most agents will readily oblige. If they’re hesitant, and if you haven’t chosen celebrity-style authors that you want to chat with, it’s probably not a good sign.

  1. NEVER pay them for anything

If an agent tells you they will look at your manuscript for a fee, run away! If they suggest that you hire them to edit your book, RUN FASTER. If they tell you that they will shop it around if you pay x number of dollars, PERMANENTLY BLACKLIST THEM.

You should never ever have to pay an agent. Agents work off of commission (15%). We only get paid once we sell your work. Any agent who tries to get you to sign up for paid edits or critiques or who suggests that you will need to pay a fee before they will set you up as a client is scamming you. You should report these agents to the AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives).

  1. Go with your gut.

I’ve talked with many authors who have received an offer of representation from an agent…but they’re torn. They’ve waited for this moment for so long, but through process, they saw some red flags—flags that indicate this agent may not be the best fit.

Remember, agents have reputations. And if you’re getting a bad vibe, chances are editors and publishers are getting that same vibe from that same agent. And you don’t want to be associated with that kind of drama…even if it means going without an agent for a bit longer.

This is your career that hangs in the balance, not ours. So do what it takes to make the right decision here. Read the red flags. Research as much as you can. And if you’ve signed with an agent and feel as though you’re getting the raw end of the deal, talk about it. Tell your agent how you feel. If nothing changes, then it may be time to consider another option. But the first step is to acknowledge there is a problem. If the agent wants to keep you, he or she will change. Guaranteed.

Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Find her on Twitter @amandaluedeke.


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8 replies

  1. And Amanda is one of the best. 🙂 But I may be biased in my opinion (just a little).

  2. Thanks for the practical tips! I’m just at the beginning stages of looking for an agent. Hope it’s not as hard as it was to find the right man to marry. 🐴

  3. Reblogged this on John W. Otte and commented:
    My agent gives some tips on how to get a great agent. Well worth the read!

  4. This was very informative. It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. Thanks, Amanda!

  5. Thank you so, so much for this post, Amanda! I’m bookmarking it for the future in hope that I’ll need to reference it someday. 🙂

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