Saturday, March 1, 2008

Agent Check

by Darlene Ryan

You’re looking for an agent. You know you need to do some research. You’ve been to the websites of authors who write in the same genre as you do, to see who their agents are. You’ve checked out the acknowledgements in your favorite books to gather more agent names. You’ve checked the names at Preditors and Editors and the AAR site.

You’ve asked every writer you know about every agent on your list. And then… meet someone at a conference, or a workshop, at a signing or on-line and she tells you about this fabulous new agency that’s looking for writers to represent. Writers of paranormal haiku or Aztec thrillers, exactly what you’ve written. “It’s a brand new agency,” your new friend tells you. “But they have lots of contacts.” At this point you should be hearing a little warning voice in your head, your own personal, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!"

New literary agencies open fairly frequently. Just because you’ve never heard of someone doesn’t mean they aren’t legit. Doesn’t mean they are, either. This is where playing Super Website Sleuth comes in. We’re going to check out a couple of websites—The Nelson Literary Agency, a well-respected, legitimate, reputable literary agency, and The Scammit Agency, a not so legitimate, not so reputable agency whose name has been changed to protect the guilty.

[Disclaimer alert: The Nelson Literary Agency is not affiliated with anyone here at Poe's’ Deadly Daughters, especially me. But if they’d like to be, I have pages I can email.]

Okay, let’s go look at The Nelson Agency’s home page. It’s colorful, the font is easy to read, and there are no typos. All good. There’s a photo of Denver, where the firm is located, at the top of the page with the company address in the upper left corner. Just from this page we learn where the agency is, when it was established—2002, and how many deals they’ve completed in the last five years. Since there are several cover images on the page we even know some of the authors The Nelson Agency represents.

Now, let’s go to Scammit’s home page. It’s bright and professionally put together as well. But there’s no indication on this page of where the agency’s located. There’s no cityscape photo and no address. And there’s nothing that says how long the agency has been in business or how many deals they’ve made. But to be fair, all that information may be elsewhere on the site. Scammit does say they represent self-published and unpublished authors but there’s nothing about their published clients—no names, no deals, no covers. However, they do have a link to all the positive emails they’ve received.

Time to check out some other pages on both sites. Back to The Nelson Agency. What are our choices? We can find out more about the agency by clicking on About Us, or learn how to submit by clicking on Submissions. I’d like to know more about the agency. On this page there’s a brief blurb about Kristen Nelson and a list of the associations she belongs to. Note the SFWA membership. Sounds like a woman who would appreciate a good paranormal haiku.

[Disclaimer alert 2: Very few people actually appreciate paranormal haiku. I don’t know why, they just don’t. Please don’t send Kristin any paranormal haiku just because you read about her here. Please don’t send me any paranormal haiku either.]

Now what? We can click on a link to learn more about Kristin’s staff, or another to see who her clients are. But let’s go back to Scammit and see what we can learn About them. There’s no information here about the agency, either. Who owns the company? There are no actual agent names, or street address for the firm and no link to more details. And there’s no list of deals or clients. You can find a link to those emails from writers who’ve been taken on by Scammit, but what about the book sales? Making deals is how legitimate agents make money.

But Scammit is aggressively looking for new clients. It says so on their home page. And that should make you wary. Most reputable agents get zillions of submissions a month. They aren’t doing a lot of trolling for manuscripts. Manuscripts are falling out of the trees on their walk to work.

We could keep looking on both sites, but I think you get my point. Legitimate agencies, like The Nelson Agency, tell you who they are, what they’re looking for, and what they’ve sold.

Do your homework. A good agent, like a good bra, can lift you to the next level.


Jean said...

I think a good agent might be easier to find than a good bra. Good article. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

translucent posting
floats to spring unsuspected
ghost-reader beware

Darlene Ryan said...

Sharon, you never cease to amaze me. Is there any form you can't write In?

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

werewolf footsteps fall
in the literary woods
trampling rotten prose

Darlene Ryan said...

I'm sensing a paranormal haiku anthology in the Daughters future.

Julia Buckley said...

Liz's Haiku scared me.

And I'm still looking for that good bra.

Anonymous said...

Obtaining good bra
Fruitless quest of a lifetime
Needs patience and cash

Susan Evans

Sandra Parshall said...

Your haiku scared me too, Liz -- but nothing scares me more than the thought of ever having to go through the agent search again. Never, never again, please God. I feel so sorry for beginning writers who are doing this for the first time. You can see the joy of being a writer fade away as the form letter rejections start coming in, and you can see them making terrible mistakes in their choices, but it's very much like being trapped in a nightmare, watching somebody step into the path of a train and being helpless to stop the devastation.