Wednesday, September 7, 2016


When you find an agent interested in handling your work, there are specific steps to take or criteria to follow in evaluating them.

  1. Legitimate agents make their money from selling your book to a publisher and collecting their 10-20% of your royalties (15% is average), not from collecting fees from unpublished authors.
  2. Legitimate agents generally do not charge up-front fees. I have found some exceptions to this among the Christian agents listed in the Christian Writers’ Market Guide. Because agents are so new to Christian publishing, many of them are starting out on a shoestring and ask for an up-front fee to cover their expenses. Even so, these expenses should be handled one of two ways. In the first scenario, they ask for an up-front fee—say $500—that will be refunded when the book sells (be sure you have that in writing). In the other case, they ask you to cover typical office expenses, such as phone calls, postage, or photocopying. Those kinds of expenses can be legitimate for a small agent, but you should be paying for actual expenses, not a set monthly fee.
  3. Legitimate agents spend their time trying to sell their client’s manuscripts, not editing their material for a fee. If a potential agent says he wants to represent you but you need to pay him to edit your manuscript first—or suggests you send it to a specific person or company for the editing work—a red flag should go up. Such agents are in it for the editing fees, and often get a kick-back from the editors they refer you to.
  4. Legitimate agents also do not charge reading fees—fees to read your manuscript for possible representation. Reading a manuscript is just part of the job—not a chargeable service.
  5. Check out a perspective agent’s sales record. Ask for a list of books they have sold and to whom, as well as a list of satisfied clients. Watch out for agents who are secretive about such information, which most agents make readily available to potential clients. Unless an agent is familiar with your target market, knows the publishers and is known by the editors, their chances of selling to those markets are only slightly better than yours.
  6. Avoid agents who try to convince you to accept subsidy or co-publishing contracts. Such deals are usually more lucrative for the agent—who gets a kick-back from the publisher and charges the author those up-front fees. Agents should never have any kind of a business connection to the publishers they sell to.
  7. Legitimate agents do not charge so-called “contract fees.” Such fees are assessed when it is time to sign a contract with a publisher. Again, this is part of the agent’s job and the author should not be expected to pay such a fee.
  8. Also beware of agents who contact you and offer to represent you, especially because they “have heard you have a great manuscript.” How would they know what kind of manuscript you have?
  9. Anytime you receive a letter from an agent praising your manuscript, check to see if anything they say relates specifically to what you have written, or if they could be talking about any manuscript. Those letters are often form letters. Also watch out for agents who brag about themselves or have fancy brochures listing all their “services.”
  10. In times past, almost all agents were hired on a handshake. Today, a good number will have their clients sign a contract. Be wary of agents who are not willing to go over the contract with you and answer any questions. These contracts vary, but the average one allows for a 15% commission for the agent, with 20% for foreign sales; and is good for a year, with an option for either party to get out of the contract on written notice. It should also specify any fees that will need to be paid.

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