Finding an agent can seem a daunting prospect, but here is a quick little secret: finding agents is not hard at all. Selecting the right one is the trick. In the past this was much harder. To master this process, you have to understand it, so let’s go over it now.

An agent is the person who represents your business interests in terms of the books you write. They will market it to publishers, help you polish it if it needs, negotiate the contract for you, and help smooth any difficulties you might have with the publisher. They will also guide you through the rest of the process and though they do not do marketing they can put you in touch with publicists who do. For this they take a cut of all your royalties.

A person becomes an agents usually, not always though, one of two ways: either they worked for a publishing house and hated the long days, hard hours, little pay and wanted to strike out on their own. Alternatively many are lawyers who have worked within the publishing world and do to a fairly low caseload seek work as an agent due to it being a steadier business.

What does that really mean? Well, those who come from publishing have very steady, solid contacts at their old publishing house. Those who come from the law understand contracts and know what pitfalls to avoid. Does it really matter which type of agent you’re working with? No, not at all.

Now the process works this way: a publisher knows what sells, what trend are coming, and they know what type of book they want. Editors and readers within the publishing house will let their agents friends know. You meanwhile write your book, send it off, and traditionally you hope you get lucky and your book is the exact type that agent is looking for. Traditionally, this was a lottery system.

The good news is now agents are plentiful, and due to so many authors going Indie they can be competitive. As a result most will get very specific about what they are seeking on their websites.

So let’s get out of the way the three best places to find literary agents:

There are many others, but these tend to be the best, more broadest/helpful searches. Now, before you go looking at individual websites, a few cautionary notes:

Do NOT attempt to contact the agent representing your favorite bestselling author. That agent represents that author and only that author, that author is their cash cow. They might have an agency with a younger agent free, but this is why you begin with the basic databases online.

Do NOT think an agent works the way they do in TV, movies, or books. Of all people, you should know fiction is not a reflection of reality, but a distortion of what we wish reality is. You can be based in Montana, your agent in Los Angeles, and never meet face to face. If you do become a bestselling author, have to do book tours, possibly sell the option of your book to a production studio, then you might meet them face to face.

Keep your expectations minimal. This is the person who will advise you on polishing your manuscript. They may recommend using an editor, and yes, this is an editor you have to pay. If your agent is a former editor they may do it and charge you. THAT IS THE ONLY FEE YOU SHOULD PAY OUT OF POCKET. And if you were very careful about editing your book, if you are well read and know how to pace the conflict, you won’t have editing costs at all.

Fees to avoid:

Reading Fee: a charge for reading your manuscript, which is largely done by unpaid interns anyway

Evaluation Fee: a charge for thinking about the manuscript they just read, created when reading fees got a bad reputation

Marketing fees: Also called submission, contract, processing, circulation, preparation, administrative, or retainer fees, a fee to cover their costs of submitting to publishers. In the digital age it is all free.

You should only ever have to pay a percent of your royalty and the same percent of your advance, and NEVER ANY OTHER FEES. Scams are less common these days, but still out there.

Now, how do you choose the right agent? You don’t. You choose a pool and let the right agent in that pool choose you. Find all the agents that are actively seeking new material, that have an easy to read website, a transparent process, no negative reviews or ratings, and an easy and clear submission process.

Before sending off your queries, go and make this list now. Shoot for 20, 50, or 100 names. The bigger the pool, the easier it will be to find one. However, do not EVER email two agents at a time, even using BCC. Email every single one separately.

So I recommend making a list of 30-60 in three groups of 10-20, depending on how many emails you can send in a day. Let’s get real anal here. Put their names and information into Excel. Now, you have to note what format submissions must take, what they ask to be included, and file types.

For example, some may want the first 30 pages of your novel in a *.doc format, some may want the first 3 chapters in *.docx and some may want it all in *.pdf.

Make group 1 be the agents who are actively seeking your genre and seem to be the hungriest and most open with the easiest submission process.  Make group 2 the group actively seeking your genre but have the more complex submission systems. Make group 3 the ones passively seeking your genre that have an easy submission system and an open mind.

That’s all you need do at this juncture. Note names, email addresses, submission guidelines, and requested formats. Organize it into a list. But now you know how to find agents, what to look for, and what to expect.

Now, if you have decided not to get an agent at this time but want to find a publisher, the above rules hold true. NEVER PAY ANY FEES. Do not expect an advance. You will get higher royalties, however. Look for established publishers within your genre that have easy to use websites, sell their books on Amazon and other services as well as their site, and have no negative reviews or scam warnings from other authors.

Consider them carefully. Remember signing with them means they have the rights to the book forever and ever and you'll have to negotiate the contract yourself. Having done this, it's a headache, but you must take the time. We'll come to that later, for now, happy hunting. To get you started you really have to know your market. I reached out to red Sage because I have been reading books from them since they started in 1995 and have every volume of Secrets to date. I avoided Ellora's Cave because I've bought some books from them and not only is whoever does their covers insane and sloppy, in my humble opinion, but their editors seem to be asleep at the wheel. A simple Google search is not enough, to go this route you have to know the market today.

Next time we’ll go over what agents really want to see that they don’t tell you on their webpages. Until then, happy researching, and read each agent website thoroughly!