Although I’ve sold 15 novels, several nonfiction books, and countless games, I haven’t worked with an agent for any of those. I’ve considered it a lot over the years—at least for my fiction—but I usually figure that my experience in publishing and negotiating means I don’t especially need one, so I’ve managed to avoid it. (I did sign Christi Cardenas as my agent for an original series of YA fantasy novels a couple years back, but I’ve yet to get around to actually writing the first book. Maybe in 2010.)
Still, people ask me all the time about how to find an agent. For most first-time authors, an agent makes a lot of sense. They serve as middlemen between the author and the editor. They know how to sell your book and how to get the best deal for it, and they can play the bad cop to your good cop. Excellent agents earn every dime of their commission.
The number one rule with agents is this: The money always flows to the author. If an agent asks you for money of any kind, keep your hand on your wallet, back away slowly, and bolt as soon as you get the chance. A good agent collects your money from the publisher, along with a statement, and forwards it on to you, less the agent’s 15%. There should be no other costs to you.
There are a number of fantastic agents out there, but there are plenty of rotten ones too. You’re best to not have an agent at all rather than have a bad one. At worst, a bad agent steals your money, but even at best such an agent wastes your time. If you can’t find a good agent, go without.
To get a good agent, you need to research the field of top agents in your chosen genre. Start at Publisher’s Marketplace and see what comes up. You should also check Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware for warnings about bad agents or other scams. Then send out your queries to the ones that seem like good fits. Aim high and work your way down.
If you can’t find a good agent willing to work with you on your first novel, write your next book and try again. Don’t get stuck on revising that first book forever. Some things aren’t meant to sell, often for reasons beyond your control, and you’re better off trying something fresh rather than stalling out on an earlier effort. Once you sell any of your novels, you can dust the old ones off and try them again.
Keep writing, keep submitting, and be patient and persistent. That’s no guarantee of success, but it will keep you from failing for sure.