Your novel is finished and polished until it shines. You have written a default version of your query letter, and you are all set to start customizing it for each agent you query. You are fully prepared to start sending it to any person with the words “literary agent” attached to their name. In fact, why not just Google “literary agents” and start sending emails?
Stop right there. There are all kinds of people that tack “agent” to the end of their names. Most are wonderful and accredited literary agents. Some are scammers, and will try to make their money off of you, and not from selling your book. Today, we will start with how to spot the real deal.
A legit agent, one that you want to work with:
-Will not charge reading fees.
-Will not charge you fees for editing.
-Will charge you basic fees for copying and postage once you are a client.
-May be part of a “full service” agency that can provide you editing upon signing with them, without charging you.
-Does not ask you for money to print your book, agencies which do this are referred to as a “vanity press.”
-Often, but not always, belongs to Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR)
As a rule of thumb, ask yourself, “How is this agent making his money?” If the answer includes reading fees and editing fees, then they are not going to be as motivated to sell your book. Why should they? They already have their money. There are certainly freelance editors out there who will edit your book for a price, usually a price per page. That is legit, and certainly there are writers that use this service. But these people call themselves editors, and do not try to trick you by calling themselves agents. They edit your work, they don’t sell it. Keep this in mind while you are looking for an agent to work with.
A couple of invaluable places where you can check an agent’s reputation:
Predators and Editors
A site that lists agents by name, and has a rating/warning system. For example: “Charges fee. Not recommended. Also a Top Twenty worst according to Writer Beware.” Speaking of which…
A wonderful site with loads of information about agents.
Absolute Write Water Cooler Forum
I’ve mentioned this site before. A wonderful place for writers. Want to know about an agent? Google their name, then click on anything that shows up from this site. You’ll get an earful.
So where do you look for agents?
As you may have noticed in my previous articles, I’m fairly frugal in my information gathering. There are so many wonderful and free website resources online for writers that I see no need to spend a lot of money. This is the exception. I strongly recommend you purchase the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents. You can find it on Amazon in paperback for 20 bucks. You can get the Kindle version for 15, but I recommend the paperback because you can highlight and write all over it.
This book is your best friend right now. It has a list of a bazillion agents, and concise information on each. You can also find much of this information online and for free, but the book will save you oodles of research time.
Which agents should you query?
Here’s how I handled it. I looked through the book first to find agents that handle the genre of my book. Agents are specific about what they handle. If you query an agent who does not accept Fantasy novels with you newest tale of elves and magic, you are wasting their time and yours. Remember that these letters take time for you you to research and customize. Don’t waste your time. After finding the agents that would be interested in my book, I read mission statements, and looked for things that drew my attention. I starred quite a few as agents I was most interested in. Then I went on to check their websites, when available, to get updated information on whether they were accepting queries at the moment, and what their specific query guidelines were. Then I started slogging through the list and sending my queries out into the world.
Take the time to do it right and persevere. Searching for the right agents, researching them, and customizing your query letters will take time. Crazy, frustrating amounts of time, but it is well worth it. Take the time. Your work is worth taking the time to give it the best chance it has of being published. Everybody and their evil twin thinks they can write a book. And then they write one. And then every agent’s email is clogged with a few treasures amongst the poorly written trash. Do it right. Get noticed despite the throng. Get published. And most of all, don’t give up. Even if you do everything right, it’s still hard to get noticed. But with a little luck and perseverance, you will have a real shot at it.