Perhaps you are considering beginning a search for an
agent. If so, kudos to you! Hiring an agent is no guarantee of
a sale, but it is a step in the right direction. Here is a FAQ guide
to various agentry issues. When you're done, you may want to also
check out my Agent List and an article I wrote
called Agent Q&A, a list of
questions to ask an agent who has offered you representation.
Finally, chapters interesting in my workshop entitled
"The Great Agent Search" should click on
My Workshops for more information.
I'm happy to present it in person at local conferences or online.
Before you go off and try to get yourself an agent, you'll
need to ask yourself several questions:
Q: What does an agent do anyway?
A: That depends on the agent and where you are in your
career. It's important to ask those questions
when you have an agent who wants to represent you. If you are
unpublished your agent may provide some editorial feedback on your work,
decide which houses and editors best fit with your "voice", and
contact those editors to get your work in front of them. Your agent
should make the copies of your work and mail it off from their office (you
shouldn't have to do that). They should also do reasonable follow-up
to check on the status of the work you have out there.
Once you get "The Call", your agent will be the
one negotiating your contract. They will also often serve as a
buffer between you and your editor on financial matters.
An agent does NOT publish your book.
Q: Do I need an agent?
A: Maybe. There are lots of well-known authors who sold
without representation. Many negotiated their first contracts on
their own, and some continue to do so. It can be done. It is
being done. But there are also houses that are closing their doors
to unagented authors. Several larger publishers who used to take
unagented partials have now dropped down to query letters only, or even no
unagented material at all.
Here's a great article about
things agents do from literary agent Jane Dystel.
Q: I write single-title romance, so you mean me, right?
A: Yes, I mean you. An agent can help you get your material read
and can even have an impact on the quality of your first contract
(advance, royalty rate, etc).
Q: Good, because I write romance targeted to category
markets like Harlequin/Silhouette, so I'm in the clear, right?
A: Maybe. Harlequin/Mills & Boon/Silhouette seem more apt to
take partials from unpublished authors, probably because they put out so
many books each month for so many lines, so they are always looking for
people to fill a spot. And their initial contracts are also generally
standard, so having an agent may not get your more on your first few
books. But an agent is another pair of eyes to look over the
contract and catch things you may not be comfortable with. However,
a good literary attorney would also be an option. You'll probably
pay less and you don't have to pitch to them, just bring them a contract
and write them a check.
Q: Well, where do I find an agent?
A: This website has an entire page of agent
links. These are agents who actively represent romance and, as
far as I know, do not partake in questionable practices. If anyone
knows otherwise regarding the list I have here, please let me know.
There are also several other places that list agents
seeking romance. RWA, Romantic Times, and several other personal
sites all have this info. Try doing a Google
search of "romance agents".
Q: What kinds of questionable practices?
A: Like publishers, there are several things an agent should and
An agent shouldn't charge a "reading
fee". Reputable agents will not charge you to read your
work. They should read what you submit and then tell you yes or
no, just like a publisher would. AAR won't let an agent in who
charges a fee. Steer clear of agents who don't follow this
guideline, they are probably phonies, just like vanity presses.
Agents shouldn't charge you until you make money.
If you aren't published yet, then your agent shouldn't be charging you.Your agent should get paid for their services when you publish.
Your agent SHOULD keep you informed.
If you have an agent, they should be keeping you informed about who
they're submitting to and sending you copies of their letters and the
rejection letters they are receiving. If you haven't received
these from your agent in a timely fashion, beware.
Agents should never be associated (financially)
with a publishing house. If your agent's webpage has a
publishing house as part of it, run away. They should never be
Q: How do I know which agents are reputable?
A: There are several sites that can help you determine if an
agent you are interested in is reputable:
of Author's Representatives (AAR) -- This is the
comprehensive list of agents who are in the AAR. Although not
all "good" agents are listed here, it's a good place to
start. The AAR has a cannon of ethics and agents are held
accountable. If an agent is in the AAR, they're a good bet.
and Editors -- This site is awesome! I love it.
It is a comprehensive list of most agents and publishers, along with
whether or not they are recommended or charge reading fees. An
agent SHOULD NOT charge reading fees. This is a great
cross-check if you already have some names of agents to query.
Writers of America -- RWA has added a list of RWA approved
agents to its members only section. All these agents take
romance submissions, and have a clean record as far as RWA member
complaints go. If you aren't a member of RWA, then I strongly
suggest you join! It's information such as this that makes the
Q: Before I go off and pitch to an agent, is there
anything I should know?
A: Treat your pitch to an agent like you would to an
editor. Be professional, be courteous, expect for them to take a
while to get to you. And above all else, read the agents submission
guidelines and preferences carefully. This is a person who you will
hopefully have a relationship with for years to come, through successes
(like your first sale) to failures (if you have problems with your editor
or a sales slump). You want them to WANT to work with you.