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9-2 About That Agent

(c) 2010 Mona Leeson Vanek

You'll find many answers to your questions about agents by visiting The Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR), AAR's site explains the organization and tells what to expect from a reputable agent. Before you begin your search for an agent to represent you, explore the wealth of information offered to learn such things as etiquette, what questions to ask an agent, etc.

You'll also find very good links to help you understand many aspects of writing at Dan Perez' web site,, including an article on what to look for in an agent.

Many agents prefer cover letters that demonstrate your writing ability to query letters. Sound assured and be very clear. If they enhance the focus of your manuscript, it’s okay to include clips (your previously published material).

Your query should clearly ask, "Do you want to see my book proposal about [ xxx…]?”.

When you receive an affirmative response, send the proposal with a cover letter saying, "Here is the proposal you requested for, “working book title.”

Just because an agent asks for exclusivity on your proposal doesn't mean she necessarily thinks it’s saleable. It only means she doesn't want to waste her time looking at it if someone else is also looking at it. Agents get as high as 300+ queries a week.

On Natalie R. Collins' web site,, scroll to the bottom where you'll find Agent link. The agents listed have a verifiable track record of legitimate sales. It's updated about every three months. Each agent is researched before being added. No additions are made without her approval. TIP: The Agent page will give you instructions on how to download the list that's grown to large to display on a web page.

Collins says,
"I will not claim every agent on there is good, because I have heard of some writers having HORRIBLE experiences with A-list agents, but it's a good place to start. One big plus, you will not find scam artist agents on this listing."
Collins is the author of Wives and Sisters, and Behind Closed Doors, from St. Martin's Press. Find Suspense Fiction Behind the Zion Curtain here:

You should never be shy of asking questions about the agent's background and way of working.

  1. About the agent's background in publishing, Hollywood or the law.
  2. Which clients and/or types of books the agent represents.
  3. Which publishers the agent works with regularly.
  4. Does the agent visit New York (if he or she doesn't work there).
  5. How will you be expected to pay the agent (is he or she asking any reading or editorial fees beyond the commission?)
  6. Whether the agent will forward publishers' rejection letters (if any) to you upon their receipt
  7. Whether you'll be consulted on all deals that go through on your behalf (you must be!)
  8. To what extent the agent is experienced and aggressive in selling subsidiary rights (or engaging co-agents to do it for him or her) and negotiating points on your contract.
When a publisher accepts your proposal, you should always be able to get a list from the agent of where she submitted it and copies of rejection letters.

Alternative to having an agent
For some books, you’ll do well by dealing directly with a publisher. Do your homework to find an appropriate publisher who accepts manuscripts from writers. Then query the publisher’s Acquisitions Editor.

When requested by the AE, send your formal proposal. Be sure to follow the publishing house’s template if you get one. It will include an overview of other competing books on the market, with publisher, author, ISBN, etc., and a few paragraphs that detail how your book is better, or adds value not found in those already available.

When dealing directly with a publishing house, be sure to have your Intellectual Properties Attorney review and explain the contract details so you clearly understand them. After the publisher makes you an offer, it’s legitimate to get an agent to represent you.

Above all, make sure you have a sense that the agent likes and understands your work and knows the market (the specific editors and houses) for it. If your genre is a newer area for the agent, that's not necessarily a bad thing (it may make you the agency's "star client" in that genre), but just be sure the agent knows who the right editors will be. And be certain that the person seems like someone you could work happily with. Your agent doesn't have to become your closest pal, but he or she does need to be someone you can trust, respect, and feel comfortable with.

One last point: it's diplomatic to reserve these questions for your interview or discussion with the agent, after the agent calls or writes to express interest in representing you. Agents can more comfortably discuss them over the phone with you than in writing (either by email or by letter). Don't put them in your query letter or you'll probably alienate the person.

Also, check out QueryTracer,

Contracts resulting from an agent's efforts
Look at a contract as a business proposition, not just as an opportunity to publish books. Your agent might help you get the best contract, but you will want your Intellectual Property Attorney on board, too.

Novelists, Inc., keeps its members connected, communicating, and well informed while striving to better the status of fiction writers: This fine web site has excellent articles. Use tabs at the top to locate. One article, written by Laura Resnick about negotiating a book contract, has some relevance to magazine contracts.

Chapter 18 - Book Publishing:

Next: 9-3 Audio Book Publishing:

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