by Brenda W. Clough
Why, you may ask, do I wait until this latter stage in the process to find an agent? Should this not be the very next step, after I finish writing my magnum opus? The reason is, because publication is slow. Maddeningly slow, glacial — almost as slow as finding an agent. Throw stuff into the hopper to start making its way through the belly of the beast. And then, while you’re waiting, find an agent. Ideally, a hotshot agent can cut to the chase, get you to the head of the line, line up a deal for you in six months, three months. But getting that agent may take you a long time, as long as finding a publisher. And getting an agent is no guarantee of publication. So finding an agent first is, essentially putting another step, a large one, between you and the brass ring.
So, let’s find an agent. Begin by reading up on them at the Writer Beware site, which is run by SFWA. You remember how you found publishers, by looking at the backs of real paper books? By that very act, you eluded many a criminal who’d be happy to take your money and not produce a real paper book. Real publishers can be mismanaged, go bankrupt, welsh on contracts, and in general be toxic assholes. But at least they push out books. Fake publishers never do. When you move to agents the possibility for wickedness increases, because they’re not selling a product. They’re selling a process, without a guarantee of results. There are criminal agents and they look just like bad agents. So click on all the links at Writer Beware, read up on everything, and save money and trouble.
Creating your list of possible agents is harder, because good agents don’t need to advertise. They get plenty of clientele by word of mouth. Nor is it helpful to throw ‘literary agents’ into a search window; that’s a fine way to find losers. You might start by reading Locus, the magazine of the industry, and note who is getting contracts and what agent represented them. Go to cons and ask the authors you admire. Go to Worldcon or World Fantasy or the Nebula Weekend, and attend agent and publisher panels. There is a professional association of literary agents, the AAR, but you’re going to want one of their members who works in your genre. When you have some likely possibilities, send then an email. Learn how to write a pitch letter, and see if they’re interested. If anything hinky turns up, be sure to consult Writer Beware, which keeps a list of the bad actors. Remember, on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog. Any loser can get up in the morning and decide to start a literary agency in his garage. Don’t get into bed with him.
But Brenda, you say. This is all unutterably depressing; why can’t you be more upbeat and blog about musicals? It’s a wonder any new writer gets their foot in the door with a mainline publisher at all. Kindle is starting to look good. So let’s talk about self-publishing — in the next episode.