Finding an agent is difficult. Finding a good agent is even harder. In the general market, legitimate agents are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives. However, in the Christian market, there is no such accrediting agency. Unfortunately, this has led to several cases of unethical and incompetent behavior in Christian agenting.
So, it’s important to get the answers to these questions—in writing—before signing with an agent:
1. Do you have experience in publishing as a published author, editor, or some other publishing-related responsibility? How long have you been an agent?
You want someone who knows the business. And, equally important, someone who is known in the industry. Their Web site should include those qualifications.
2. Do you charge any fees other than a percentage of sales?
Agents used to charge incidental fees for postage and overnight deliveries, but with virtually all transaction made online, these are obsolete charges. If the agent charges reading or editing fees of any kind, do not consider them. A legitimate agent receives compensation only from a percentage of their client’s sales.
3. Do you subscribe to best financial practices?
Do you maintain accurate financial accounts for clients so there is no commingling of clients’ and agent’s funds? Do you deposit funds received on behalf of clients promptly upon receipt and pay authors within ten days of receipt? Are books open for client’s or his/her representative to examine at any time? If there is any hesitancy, do not consider them.
4. Do you recommend rejected clients to specific editing services or self-publishing ventures?
The correct answer is no. Many agents are simply fronts for these kinds of services.
5. Do you have any outstanding or unresolved complaints with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer rights organization?
6. How many books did you contract with publishers during the last twelve months? With what publishers?
Their Web site should include this information.
7. Can you provide a complete or partial list of clients? May I contact them for a recommendation? Again, if there is any hesitancy, run!
Of course, a smooth scammer will tell you anything you want to hear. So, make sure you check them out thoroughly with:
• and anyone you know in the Christian publishing world: editors, authors
Like schemes in so-called “Christian” self-publishing, there are plenty of posers and piranhas in “Christian” agenting, so writer beware!
© 2009 James N. Watkins
Pic: “Flash Fiction: Literary Agent” who made an appearance at the Montrose writers conference