Finding a Literary Agent

I think all artists get to a point in their art where they either want to buckle down and go pro or settle to treat their artform as a means of expression but not a career. I (Keith here) have been writing professionally now for six years. When I say professionally, I mean I’ve been making a living predominantly off of my writing now for those six years. Before that I was in college and made a living grilling burgers and writing traffic tickets while writing for the local newspaper and lifestyle magazine while also penning a column for the student newspaper.

Now it may sound like I’m living the dream: a paid professional writer. But the vast majority of everything I’ve been paid to write is either technical, marketing or trade copy. I’m not saying it’s boring work. In fact, I’ve written some pretty interesting pieces on national news stories. But it’s not he creative stuff that really gets me worked up.

So I’ve been thinking more and more about the prospect of finding a literary agent. I don’t even know if it’s necessary or a good thing to do. All I know is there’s a lot of scammers out there. And I’m not one to be scammed. If I don’t get to retain ownership of my material, if I’m feeling coerced into signing a fishy contract, then I’ll walk away in a heartbeat. So how do you find the legitimate agents? And how to do you get them interested in your work? Especially if you are creative non-fiction writer?

Here’s a great read I found when doing some research on literary agents. It’s from author/artist Neil Gaiman’s blog, and the nuggets of advice his book editor friend provides near the end of the post are priceless. Check it out.

And if any of you out there have any advice or experience regarding “making it” in the business of writing, please share.

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5 thoughts on “Finding a Literary Agent

  1. The first thing you can do to protect yourself from scammers is to only consider agents who are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (http://aaronline.org).

    The second is to never deal with an agent that requires any up-front fees from you. Your agent should only earn commissions on what s/he sells for you, nothing else. The agent works for you, not vice versa.

    You may well be able to sell your work on your own, without an agent’s help, but you absolutely need an agent when it’s time to negotiate contracts.

  2. Agreed, it is absolutely necessary now to have an agent; the “over-the-transom” approach to getting published is dead. (See this Wall Street Journal article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703414504575001271351446274.html?KEYWORDS=death+of+the+slush+pile)

    I took an excellent Nonfiction Book Proposal class at http://www.mediabistro.com taught by the wonderful Jill Schwartzman, an editor at Random House/Villard. Finishing up my proposal now and will be submitting to agents next week, so will have lots more to contribute shortly…

    Elizabeth

  3. I am going to want to pick your brains for information. If either of you want to do coffee sometime to discuss the ins and outs of getting an agent, let me know.

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