Thursday, May 18, 2017

0 Writing 101: How to Spot a Shmagent

**This post is part of the Writing 101: From Concept to Query (and Beyond!) series. For an overview of planned posts, take a look at the series introduction. Previous posts have explored the drafting processnovel revisions, why you may or may not want to query literary agents, and how to write a query letter**


Your novel is drafted, revised, and has gone through critique partners. You’ve written your query letter, and it’s pretty darn enticing if you do say so yourself.

You’re nearly ready.

The last step to undertake before hitting send on that nerve-wracking first batch of queries is to build a list of carefully vetted agents you’d like to submit to. Carefully vetted is the key here, because not all agents are good agents!

There are two signs that the agent you’re considering is, in point of fact, a dreaded shmagent, and you should run for the hills:

-wants money up front in exchange for representation

An honest, reputable agent will ONLY earn money when you earn money. They make a commission off of your sales (15% is the standard rate), so it is very much in their best interest to ensure your work does sell. Do NOT query any agent or agency that requires money up front, either as a reading fee, or upon signing.

-agency appears to have no sales, or very few sales, in spite of a large client list

As aforementioned, an agent only makes money if their clients make money. So if they’re not selling, either something fishy is going on, or they’re just not cut out for agent life. Note: if an individual agent at an established and reputable agency has made few sales yet, and is relatively new to the game, they may still be a safe bet. It takes time to prep manuscripts for submission and so long as a new agent has the support of a good agency, they can make a great advocate. If they’re part of an entire agency with no track record for sales, though, you may want to skip them when querying.

So where do you find GOOD agents? There are a number of resources available for researching agents, such as:


When researching agents, look for those who represent and are actively acquiring books in your category and genre. We tend to write the sort of books we love to read, so consider researching which agents represent some of your favorite authors, and querying them. Other writers are also an invaluable resource, and generally very willing to share information—if you have friends already querying work in your category and genre, ask if they’d consider sharing their query lists. I found my own agent after a critique partner read her interview on Writer’s Digest and recommended I send her a query.

Be sure that you take note of each agent’s likes, dislikes, and query requirements, and tailor your queries accordingly. While it may be tempting to send out large batches of queries at once to save time, you’ll get much better responses if agents see that you’ve taken the time to figure out what they specifically are looking for. Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for an agent to receive hundreds of queries a month, and often to read them on their own time, after work hours. Courtesy and respect will take you far.


Stay tuned—next week we’ll look at how to survive the querying trenches once you’ve dived in!


About the Author


Laura Weymouth is AYAP's contest coordinator, working to create opportunities for you to get samples of your work in front of agents right here on Adventures in YA Publishing.

Laura lives on the edge of the woods in western New York, along with her husband, two wild-hearted daughters, a spoiled cat, and an indeterminate number of chickens. Her YA fantasy debut, THE WEIGHT OF WORLDS, is forthcoming from HarperTeen in the fall of 2018.

You can follow Laura on Twitter and add her book on Goodreads.

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