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Finding an Agent on the Web

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Author: Kristi Sprinkle
Date:   04-29-02

The only necessary persistence you really need with finding a decent literary agent on the Web is a knowledge of what you are seeing on the screen in front of you.

Whether you are looking for an agent to represent your mystery novel, or that great non-fiction piece on the mating habits of the Monarch butterfly, you need to be aware that not all agents are good for you.

I have a method of finding literary agents that works very well. Yes, it may be a little time-consuming, but in the end, I know I'm not being ripped off.

First, write your book and put together a great query letter. Agents get a little irritated with someone who's got a great story idea, but hasn't done anything with it.

Then, go over your query letter many times for errors in tact (writing an agent should be like writing your mother and applying to be her child), errors in grammar and small errors (like not signing on the bottom line).

Many good cyber examples of query letters exist out in the great world of electrons. Find one that suits your style.

Second, I go to a site that lists all agents in my area or all agents - try to find one that also tells you what they're looking for and how to approach them. Fiction Addiction is a place to start. I chose this site because I like to write fiction. I also cherish the off-the-wall sites that list agents such as http://www.publication.com/aylad/agents2.htm. On Fiction Addiction, the advantage is that the listing includes whether or not they belong to the much-respected Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) where agents pay to follow the canons of good agent behavior. Also, Fiction Addiction tells you briefly what the agents represent, as well as how to approach them - whether with a query letter, synopsis or manuscript.

If I have an Internet listing I want to pursue but can't tell what the agent represents, I go a step further. I will copy their name and paste it into a search engine such as Google.

A particular search on Google is good for two things: What I get from a search engine is perhaps, five to a hundred listings for any particular agent. If, at a glance, I can tell that the sites listed are from valued sources such as represented authors or positive news items about the agency, then I know I have chosen well.

The second good thing is that by searching Google, I have a chance to see if the agency is listed with any site, such as Preditors and Editors, that has anything negative to say about them. The Preditors and Editors site is a collection of first-hand experiences from people who have dealt with bad agents or book doctors. The site also collects data on changes of address or whether or not the agent's phone is disconnected. The site isn't totally negative and has a comment next to the listing if the agent is recommended - usually by writers. I pay attention to those listings, especially.

On the other hand, if an agent is listed on the Preditors and Editors site and all the other Web searches conclude the OPPOSITE of what the site says about them, send them your query, anyway. The point is that the more searching you do on an agent, the less likely it will cost you to do business with them either financially or emotionally.

A bad agent is one who charges you fees up front for things like postage or mere representation. I think it is common knowledge to stay away from this type. Any reputable agent will tell you the same thing.

I confronted two of these bad agents in email after correspondence about my work. Both handled the email a little too defensively. However, they never wrote back anymore and I suddenly stopped getting their snail mail and spam.

I was a little embarrassed asking them about their listing in Preditors and Editors, but then realized that these people make their living by being predators.

The other type of bad agent is one that refers you to either a book doctor (when, in actuality, the 'book doctor' works for the agent) who will gladly look at your manuscript for a huge fee. If these book doctors don't tell you upfront about the fee, they will often say that your book looks promising, and, after you send it to them, they send you an elegant note back telling you that for just $49.95 a page, they can make it saleable. Usually, if you do pay them, you never hear from them again.

After I get a list of agents that handle the kind of work I do, I will often discard the ones that aren't listed in the AAR, first. The exceptions for me are those who work in Hollywood or are looking for books that have screenplay potential. Since these agents don't handle books constantly, there would be no reason to join the AAR Even then, I will check them out thoroughly by searching in Google or in one of Jeff Herman's books.

Great, so now I have a list of agents that are listed in the AAR, that don't charge fees and that handle books of my genre. I know what they're looking for and I have the correct addresses for them. I think that's a good start.

Oh, yes. One more thing. When I get my list of agents I promise myself to send out five query letters every day until someone says, "Yes, we'd love to represent you."

Until then, Dogo Culk!

Copyright 2002 Kristi Sprinkle. All rights reserved.

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