The agent’s job is to work for YOU, the author. They should never require a payment up front. They get paid when the work sells. A standard fee is about 15%. That’s a substantial amount of your profits for someone who simply reads your book and then hands it over to the publishing house – but that’s how the traditional system works. A lot of money changes hands ?.
How do you find a good literary agent?
Look at their list of successful clients. Then contact a few of them. Were they happy with the process? Was the agent responsive? Did they think it was worth the investment – over a lifetime – of their book profits?
Don’t rely on the agent’s chosen list of references. Those are of course the ‘best of the best’. Instead, make those contacts yourself. That way you get a better cross-section of people.
Also, keep in mind that the ones shown as success stories are the ones who worked out. For every one name you see there, there could easily be a hundred or a thousand she failed with. Since you’re not paying any money up front it’s not that you lose money – but you lose a lot of time. It could be your book was hot and perfect when you gave it to the agent. A year later, when the agent gives up and the contract ends, maybe the book isn’t so perfectly poised.
I’ve worked with agents before and have never had a good experience. I’ve had far better success contacting publishing houses directly (the ones which allow it) and working with them.
I hear from author after author after author who has been burned by non-responsive, ineffective, and absent-minded agents.
Ever play the game “telephone”? Where things are repeated and misconstrued? That often happens with agents. The fewer people in the chain, the better the communication tends to be.
If you absolutely have your heart set on a publishing company that requires agents, then by all means do your research. Find an agent who pours her heart into your efforts and be happy when the connection is made. Be happy with her 15% on all sales from that point going forward.
Otherwise, I recommend taking a path that doesn’t involve that time commitment and that eternal money siphon.
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