How to Know a Good Lit Agent from a Bad One

Someone offhandedly said to me recently that I’d make a good literary agent.

While I do love helping prepare writers for publishing, I had to laugh. Being the punching bag stuck between the rock and hard place of publisher and author is not my cup of tea.

But it did get me thinking about what it takes to be a literary agent. I mean, would I even meet qualifications and know what I’m doing?

So naturally, I started researching. And I knew instantly that what I found out was something you seriously need to know.

What does it take to be a literary agent?

Technically, nothing.

Seriously. There are certain things you want on your resume to be good at what you do. But legally speaking, you don’t have to have an education or any sort of training to advertise yourself as a lit agent. You don’t even have to work for a publisher or a fully formed agency.

You just simply say that you are one.

Now, to be an agent worth anything, with connections and a good reputation that gets books sold, you obviously need previous experience in the field. Most often this comes by internships, apprenticeships, or some other foot in the door.

But how do YOU, as a writer, know how to recognize the difference between the two?

Recognizing credibility

The simplest answer is to research an agent before you submit a query to them. Do some social media stalking. Poke around their website. You’re looking to discover their previous successes, what publishers they are in league with, and what experience they have in the industry.

You should notice almost immediately whether they are actively successful and trustworthy simply by what they talk about and the testimonials of their clients.

But even then, you should pay attention and look out for the following red flags:

-agent works independently

This is not in itself a bad thing. Lots of agents work for themselves outside of a publisher or agency. It takes a lot of smarts and know-how for an agent to be successful with their sole reputation on the line.

But be cautious. Hold them to a high standard and expect to see evidence that they earned the expertise honestly in order to be successfully rogue.

-agent does not speak of previous experience in publishing, nor list why they are qualified

A good agent is going to list their previous experience, connections, and successes as evidence to show you they are worth considering. And to prove that they know what they’re actually doing!

An agent without this most likely lacks the necessary skills to get you a good deal. If you can’t find experience information, just ask! Most agents are more than willing to answer questions from potential clientele. They want your business too, after all.

-agent asks you for money, at any stage

In the world of traditional publishing, no one at any stage should ever be asking you for money. Period.

-agent just doesn’t add up

Scammers are sneaky. Some will even pose themselves as a well known agents, the only tell being a one letter difference in their Twitter handle.

If you’re finding conflicting information or getting suspicious responses to questions, don’t bother. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Follow your gut feeling and ignore an agent you’re just not comfortable with.

Playing it safe

A lot of you that are reading are looking forward to Twitter pitch events such as #PitMad. I strongly advise that you keep all this information fresh in your mind as you get likes from agents. Be sure you research EVERY agent you intend to submit further material to, double checking the legitimacy of their accounts and other media.

And remember, you are not in any way obligated to respond to an agent just because they “like” your #PitMad pitch. Only interact with agents you are confident that you want a working relationship with.

For more information about participating in #PitMad, check out my post- How to Write an Eye-Catching #PitMad Pitch.

Stay armed with eyes wide open as you try to find your place in the publishing world.

And best of luck to all of you planning to put yourself out there!


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