Perhaps you are considering beginning a search for an agent. If so, kudos to you! Hiring an agent is no guarantee of a sale, but it is a step in the right direction. The majority of the agent FAQ on this page is taken from romance author Jess Michaels / Jenna Petersen from her site The Passionate Pen. Some is specific to romance authors, but applies to authors of most genres.
Here is a FAQ guide to various agentry issues. When you’re done, you may want to also check out the Agent List and an article I wrote called Agent Q&A, a list of questions to ask an agent who has offered you representation.
Finally, Jess Michaels also has a workshop entitled “The Great Agent Search.” Please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Jess is happy to present it in person at local conferences or online.
Before you go off and try to get yourself an agent, you’ll need to ask yourself several questions:
Q: What does an agent do anyway? A: That depends on the agent and where you are in your career. It’s important to ask those questions when you have an agent who wants to represent you. If you are unpublished your agent may provide some editorial feedback on your work, decide which houses and editors best fit with your “voice”, and contact those editors to get your work in front of them. Your agent should make the copies of your work and mail it off from their office (you shouldn’t have to do that). They should also do reasonable follow-up to check on the status of the work you have out there.
Once you get “The Call”, your agent will be the one negotiating your contract. They will also often serve as a buffer between you and your editor on financial matters.
An agent does NOT publish your book.
Q: Do I need an agent? A: Maybe. There are lots of well-known authors who sold without representation. Many negotiated their first contracts on their own, and some continue to do so. It can be done. It is being done. But there are also houses that are closing their doors to unagented authors. Several larger publishers who used to take unagented partials have now dropped down to query letters only, or even no unagented material at all.
Here’s a great article about things agents do from literary agent Jane Dystel.
Q: If I only want to self publish, do I need an agent? A: The short answer is no. At least, if you are not looking to sell to a publishing house, there is no foot to get in the door and no contract to negotiate. There are several self-published authors that do have agents, but use them for things like movie and foreign rights.
Q: I write single-title romance, so you mean me, right? A: Yes, I mean you. An agent can help you get your material read and can even have an impact on the quality of your first contract (advance, royalty rate, etc).
Q: Good, because I write romance targeted to category markets like Harlequin/Silhouette, so I’m in the clear, right? A: Maybe. Harlequin/Mills & Boon/Silhouette seem more apt to take partials from unpublished authors, probably because they put out so many books each month for so many lines, so they are always looking for people to fill a spot. And their initial contracts are also generally standard, so having an agent may not get your more on your first few books. But an agent is another pair of eyes to look over the contract and catch things you may not be comfortable with. However, a good literary attorney would also be an option. You’ll probably pay less and you don’t have to pitch to them, just bring them a contract and write them a check.
Q: Well, where do I find an agent? A: This website has an entire page of agent links. These are agents who actively represent romance and, as far as I know, do not partake in questionable practices. If anyone knows otherwise regarding the list I have here, please let me know.
There are also several other places that list agents seeking romance. RWA, Romantic Times, and several other personal sites all have this info. Try doing a Google search of “romance agents”.
Q: What kinds of questionable practices? A: Like publishers, there are several things an agent should and shouldn’t do:
An agent shouldn’t charge a “reading fee”. Reputable agents will not charge you to read your work. They should read what you submit and then tell you yes or no, just like a publisher would. AAR won’t let an agent in who charges a fee. Steer clear of agents who don’t follow this guideline, they are probably phonies, just like vanity presses.
Agents shouldn’t charge you until you make money. If you aren’t published yet, then your agent shouldn’t be charging you.Your agent should get paid for their services when you publish.
Your agent SHOULD keep you informed. If you have an agent, they should be keeping you informed about who they’re submitting to and sending you copies of their letters and the rejection letters they are receiving. If you haven’t received these from your agent in a timely fashion, beware.
Agents should never be associated (financially) with a publishing house. If your agent’s webpage has a publishing house as part of it, run away. They should never be publishers, too.
Q: How do I know which agents are reputable? A: There are several sites that can help you determine if an agent you are interested in is reputable:
Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR) — This is the comprehensive list of agents who are in the AAR. Although not all “good” agents are listed here, it’s a good place to start. The AAR has a cannon of ethics and agents are held accountable. If an agent is in the AAR, they’re a good bet.
Preditors and Editors — This site is awesome! I love it. It is a comprehensive list of most agents and publishers, along with whether or not they are recommended or charge reading fees. An agent SHOULD NOT charge reading fees. This is a great cross-check if you already have some names of agents to query. It’s not as up to date as it once was, but is still a great resource which is why we’ve included it.
Romance Writers of America — RWA has added a list of RWA approved agents to its members only section. All these agents take romance submissions, and have a clean record as far as RWA member complaints go. If you aren’t a member of RWA, then I strongly suggest you join! It’s information such as this that makes the membership worthwhile!
Q: Before I go off and pitch to an agent, is there anything I should know? A: Treat your pitch to an agent like you would to an editor. Be professional, be courteous, expect for them to take a while to get to you. And above all else, read the agents submission guidelines and preferences carefully. This is a person who you will hopefully have a relationship with for years to come, through successes (like your first sale) to failures (if you have problems with your editor or a sales slump). You want them to WANT to work with you.