How do you know if your agent is legitimate

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y Deborah Herman

Aspiring writers hear all too many times that they need a literary agent to have a chance at a traditional publishing contract. This is actually true. Having a literary agent greatly increases your chances of landing a publishing contract and there are many reasons why traditional publishing is still the way to go. Self-publishing offers many opportunities for writers, but traditional publishing offers distribution and instant credibility.

Like many perceived glamour careers there are many more people wanting those coveted spots on the success charts that there are places for them. This makes the unaware, unprepared and unprotected writer the perfect target for unscrupulous people. Every one wants to make a buck and many people do not care how they do it. If they can behave close to the line of the lawless yet remain "legitimate enough," they succeed on the backs of other's dreams.

Beware of people who call themselves literary agents who do not have any presence. This does not mean that all new literary agents are unscrupulous. It does mean that if someone advertises that they are literary agents yet have no connection to the publishing industry at all you might want to question their legitimacy. If they ask for a fee to read your work as part of their consideration for representation run away quickly. It is part of the cost of doing business for a literary agent to read material in order to find the gems they want to represent to publishers. If you think about it logically, it would be a nice business for a so-called literary agent to charge a fee, read your work and then not offer representation by saying it isn't good enough or needs work. There is absolutely no incentive for them to do the work it takes to sell a book to a publisher that legitimate agents do every day.

This is not to be confused with agents or people in the publishing industry who do consultation with authors to make their work "submission ready." This is an agreement to provide services for a fee without expectation of representation and should be very clearly stated as such. With the changes in the industry such as ebooks and self-publishing, many agents moonlight as editors.

A legitimate literary agent will be paid for their time only when you are. When you are selected for representation your agent may give you suggestions on how to improve your product but that will be included in the services. If they recommend an outside editor that is strictly your choice to improve your chances of a sale. Agents are paid a standard commission which is typically 15% of the advance and royalties.

Legitimacy of an agent does not mean all agents are created equal. You can learn about agents, their personalities and track records by visiting their personal websites and by visiting their profiles on
Deborah Herman is a literary agent specializing
in project development. She also moonlights as a writing coach
and editor. Herman is a co-founder of Writers, Agents and
Editors Network. 

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