For most writers the questions regarding agents are many and big. How do I get an agent? How do I know he/she is reputable? How do I know he/she will/is doing a good job for me? Do I even want an agent? Do I have to have an agent to move my career along?
The answers to those questions are just as varied and sometimes hard to come by. I donít have all the answers, but I do have some, and for the rest I hope I can point you in a sensible direction.
First, you may not need an agent for now. Agents get 10 to 15 to 20 (usually foreign sales) percent of any money earned by their clients. Thus, they need to sell your work or they get nothing. Any percentage of nothing is nothing and while agents frustrate us at times, they do still have to pay the rent just like we do.
Beginning writers rarely contribute to that pool. So, if you are at the very beginning of your career you might want to send your writing around yourself. If itís a novel, send query letters to publishers one by one (or if they accept simultaneous submissions, to more than one). Utilize such resources as Writerís Market or Writerís Guide To Book Editors Publishers And Literary Agents or online resources such as what The Freelance Writing Organization International offers.
Be sure to research a specific editorís name, know what that publisher actually publishes and then scrupulously follow the guidelines. Generally have a complete manuscript to send when requested, but donít be surprised if youíre asked for sample chapters and a synopsis. And remember, I heard from several places over the years, you donít need an agent until youíre making enough for someone to steal. At that point you can take your pick of good agents.
Another downside of an agent (if you want to call it that) is when you have a good agent you are expected to produce and produce a lot. He or she will want to keep your name in front of the public and that means cranking it out. Without an agent you work at your own pace, create only the material you wish and market it in your own time and fashion.
However, if you are at a place in your career when you need and want an agent, then here are a few things that might help.
Remember those two books listed above? They can lead you to an agent. Then thereís a site at http://www.agentquery.com/writers.aspx called Agent Query that can provide leads. That isnít to say you shouldnít investigate further when you nail down a name of an agency that interests you. There are scam artists out there and some of they sneak onto these listing sites or even into reputable publications. In general a reputable agency wonít charge just to read your material.
If one does, thatís a tip off for you to walk briskly in the opposite direction. Then thereís the Guide to Literary agents at http://www.agentquery.com/writers.aspx. The last time this site was updated was March 2005 so you might want to cross check agent info with another source. However the site also offers resources, suggestions and tips. You can locate other sources of agents by visiting your local library and checking out their books and in their magazines ones such as Writerís Digest, and The Writer. Online searches will turn up more lists.
From there youíll want to make a list of possibilities of your own and aim your query to a specific agent at a certain agency. This takes a bit more research to find out what agent handles what writing or genre. Frequently an agency you discover has a website and you can locate the information there. Or it might be in the most current directory you locate in the library. Or you might have to pick up a phone, call the agency and politely inquire to whom your query should be directed.
After all that, youíre ready to put together a query letter. Until then remember, the agent/writer relationship must be a mutually beneficial one. This is not your best friend. This is a business relationship and while you want to be on cordial terms, you are producing a product and the agent is selling it.
Next time weíll get into putting together that query letter.
Author of Doubleday western novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (ebook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating on a animated series. http://www.peggybechko.50megs.com/