Choosing a Trustworthy Agent
Part Three in a Series of Three Special Articles
by Deidre Knight
The Knight Agency
Choosing an agent is an important decision
Question: How can I choose a trustworthy agent, particularly since I don't live in a big city where I might hope to meet my prospective agent in person?
Answer: Choosing an agent is an important decision, and picking a reputable, trustworthy one can sometimes feel like a daunting task-especially if you don't live near any established agencies. However, one need not feel too overwhelmed, as there are a number of ways to find out about good agencies, and actually meeting your prospective agent is hardly a necessity.
First, one of the best ways to find a trustworthy agent is to network with other writers. If you know published authors, ask who their agents are. Find out what the author likes-or doesn't like-about working with them. If the author is pleased with their agent's performance, then that's a good indication that you can feel confident in approaching them for representation. What better source of information than someone who has actually worked with that particular agent?
Unagented authors can also be a great resource in your agent quest. Oftentimes your fellow writers may have done some serious legwork in their efforts to locate an agent, and can give vital feedback, i.e. about fee-charging or non-legitimate agencies, who's looking for what, and such. However, do bear in mind that unagented authors could lead you astray. For instance, if they've been rejected by a particular agency, they may feel embittered for no particular reason, and thus give you an inaccurate impression of an agent you might really enjoy working with.
A second and very important way to meet good agents is at writers conferences. Most agents attend a variety of conferences every year in hopes of finding new, talented authors. The conferences offer a variety of formats to network with agents: individual and group appointments, banquets, and socials. Conferences allow you to meet agents in person, which gives you the advantage of personal contact when submission time comes, and also allows you to see if you connect with that agent.
Create a target list of agents
Another way to proceed in the agent hunt is to simply create a target list of agents who handle your type of material. This list can be formed from a variety of resources, such as the Literary Marketplace, the Writers Digest Guide to Literary Agents, the Internet Directory of Literary Agents, and such.
So long as these agents aren't charging any upfront reading or marketing fees, then query them about your project. If after reading your manuscript they offer you representation, let them know that you're delighted by their interest, but would like to ask them a few questions. Request information on recent sales, as well as client references, which will let you know something more about the agent.
As in networking with published authors, speaking to a few of that agent's clients should give you a good indication of what they're like to work with. However, be sure to note that agents don't appreciate being quizzed about recent sales and clients prior to their offer of representation-it's your job to sell yourself to the agent until that point.
Most agents receive hundreds of queries and submissions each month, so they don't have time to answer specific questions about their agency until they're actually ready to work with you. At that point, legitimate agents should have no problem answering general questions about their agency.
You're embarking on what will hopefully be a long-term relationship
While there are no hard, fast rules on how to find the best agent for you, the most important point to remember is that you're embarking on what will hopefully be a long-term relationship. You should feel comfortable communicating with your potential agent, and have the sense that they're someone you could work with comfortably. Additionally, you should have done some amount of research to ensure that they're reliable and trustworthy-whether that research is conducted at conferences, with other authors, or in speaking with some of that agent's clients.
About Deidre Knight
Deidre Knight is the owner of The Knight Agency. In just four years, the aency has built a solid client list, selling nearly 100 books to major publishing houses in a broad range of categories, including personal finance, business, music, popular culture, African American history, self-help, religion, health, parenting, romance and literary fiction. Ms. Knight is among agents included in the special online agency directory for Authorlink-listed writers.