Recently Nathan Bransford posted a piece entitled “8 ways to know if you have a good agent” (if you want to read it, here’s the link). Given Jodie’s post last week on unethical freelance editors, I thought it might be timely to re-examine what makes a good (and bad) agent.
Nathan provides a list of things to consider when choosing an agent (or, if you have concerns about your current agent, a list to consider when evaluating whether these are justified). Basically he says that your agent should:
- Have a proven track record of sales and/or works for a reputable agency
- Be a good communicator (meaning he/she should reply in a reasonable time to emails and doesn’t dodge or hide)
- Either live in New York or visit on a regular basis
- Be able to explain every question you have about your contract or your royalty statements
- Be completely ethical in how they approach their job (and they should advise you to behave ethically)
- Pay you on time and send you contracts in a timely fashion
- Charge you a commission of 15% on domestic contracts, 20% on foreign contracts and deduct very transparently for reasonable expenses like postage and copying
- Be someone you feel comfortable with (i.e. you should be able to trust and feel good about your agent – going with your gut is key).
Most of the items on the list are pretty self-explanatory (though I’ve included clarifications where needed) but they also underscore the need for writers to research an agent before agreeing to receive representation. Given the number of issues regarding unethical freelance editors highlighted by Jodie in her post last Monday, I wonder how many writers are now falling prey to more unethical agent behaviour.
To the last item on Nathan’s list (feeling comfortable with your agent), I would add that this doesn’t necessarily mean feeling warm and fuzzy all the time. I feel like trusting and being comfortable with your agent means that you not only know that they will champion you and your work but that they will also be your best (and sometimes harshest) critic. I don’t want an agent who is happy to send out just any old material – I want someone who keeps me on the top of my game and who provides editorial input on how to make a manuscript the very best it can be, before it goes out to publishers.
Just as Jodie pointed out when looking for a freelance editor, there are similar pitfalls when searching for an agent. I can’t stress enough that you have to do your homework. As with anything, there are many predators out there more than willing to take your money for very little in return (and who can easily hang out their shingle on the internet based on fraudulent claims/testimonials).
So what do you think of Nathan’s list? Is there anything you would take issue with, or add? How have you approached the issue of researching agents? Have you discovered any further pitfalls that we may not have discussed?