With the new year, come writers' conferences. Many of these offer agents who travel to the hinterlands to meet authors and to, allegedly, recruit authors.
Often, junior agents are sent from the big agencies to big national conferences because the agency needs a visible presence and the newby is low man on the totem pole.
Keeping It Real
Some agents go to conferences in popular cities because it's as near a relatively nice paid vacation as can be had or they just want to touch bases with their existing clients or whatever the reason that justifies going.
The sad truth is that many agents who go to conferences really aren't looking for you, Brilliant Writer. They're just doing what they're told or what they must for whatever reason.
On The Other Hand
Still, some agents do actually go with the hope of finding some solid writers to add to their client list. A lot of one-agent shops build a client list this way.
If your goal is to break into traditional print publishing, or maybe you're an indie with sub-rights dreams, it's a good idea to check out agents and meet a few. However, getting the right agent is supremely important.
Titanic Deck Chairs
A bad agent is worse than no agent. One anonymous wit once declared: "Changing literary agents was like changing deck chairs on the Titanic." This is definitely a "let the buyer beware" situation where you don't want to do something stupid.
There are a lot of flakes in this industry because anyone can hang out a shingle that says Literary Agent. Getting a flake, or worse, a crook, can cost you precious time, money, and self-esteem. The best course of action is to do your own research into agents. Draw up your own A (first choice) list as well as a B (second choice, etc.).
To begin your quest for an agent--either for now for print work or for the future when you have a sub-rights deal offer, learn how to research agents. Here's part 1 of a multi-part series dealing with agents.
5 Ways To Research Agents
1. Post to all your writer lists and forums and ask if anyone has information about the prospective agent. Request contact by private email, not on the list or forum. Swear a blood oath that what someone says will not be repeated or published anywhere. And mean it. Loose lips have sunk some writer's ships.
2. Plug the agent’s name into a couple of search engines and read whatever you find. Follow the research trail as far as possible, even to contacting the the person who posted the information if at all possible.
3. Check out the agent on Preditors and Editors, a group that's been publishing information about publishers and publishing services for writers since 1997.
4. If you are a member of Romance Writers of America or another professional writers’ organization, contact the main office and tell them who you're researching and ask if there are any complaints filed against said agent. RWA keeps records like this.
5. If the agent passes this basic scrutiny, add them to your list. That's when you contact them regarding representation. It's pointless to contact an agent without knowing their rep.
When one you've researched expresses serious interest in you as a writer, ask for references by asking for a list of the agent's clients and if you may contact some of the clients. Then do it. You wouldn’t hire someone to replace your roof or renovate your kitchen without references would you?
Tune in next week for more about agents.
Being a professional writer is often like tiptoeing through a minefield. One misstep, and you're history.