Excerpted from SEAK’s course, “How to Earn Money as a Physician Writer”
So, next slide, “Where to Find Agents?” The good news, as I said, is there are a lot of us. There are a couple thousand agents out there. I won’t say there are a few thousand good ones but there are at least a few thousand. There are many hundreds or maybe over 1,000 pretty good ones. Very good ones I should say. And most of us are accepting new clients. So, we’re looking for people like you. The fact that other people are also sending in stuff shouldn’t really intimidate you, it should inspire you to put forward the best possible work you can, the strongest idea. And, by the end of all these sessions, I think you’re gonna have a pretty good road map to do so.
So, given that there are hundreds or thousands of agents out there, it’s up to you to also do a little researching and vetting to make sure that you’re finding not just the legitimate ones but the good ones. So, what does it mean when I say “legitimate?” or, let’s say, “not so legitimate?” Easiest rule of thumb is the traditional legitimate agents, and there are easily 1,000 or more of us or 2,000. We don’t charge the money, flows through us to you. Publishers pay us, we take out our 15%, we pay you. Any agent who’s asking for money from you, that’s not a legitimate agent. In fact, in publishing parlance, they’re called “schmeagens.” There’s some editors who coined that term and I kinda get a kick out of it. So, money flows to the author, not from, with legitimate traditional publishing agents.
There are also quite a few agents who mean well but they don’t have the contacts. So, the grim truth is that any agent, any person can hang out their shingle and say, “Okay, I’m a literary agent now. I’m open for business.” The problem with working with that…I really don’t know why they do that. I mean you’ll see there are a lot of like small crappy publishers I mean that are a step up, maybe a quarter step up from doing it yourself. And maybe they sell to them but there’s no money, I mean there’s no advances with these small presses. So, I don’t know if it’s an ego thing why some people say, “Well, I’m a lit agent now,” and they don’t do it. Most agents, you can live outside of the Northeast and the New York Area and still be a good agent. I’m just upriver from the city on the Hudson River but for years I had my office in Boston, which is still considered in the gravitational pull of New York. So, most agents are gonna be sort of…oh, Philadelphia…even DC on up, DC on up to Boston, New York, kind of that big triangle is where the bulk of them will be.
There are some fantastic agents out in California, but the most important thing is that…and there’s a few in Colorado and I think there’s one in Texas, one or two in Texas that I know of who are really good, but, for the most part, we’re clustered in the Northeast. And the reason why is that…well, that’s where big publishing is, that’s the epicenter. That’s where all the big five publishers are and many of the medium ones, you know, with a few scattered in Philadelphia and Boston and places like that.
So, so much of what we do relies on what editors we know, what we know about their tastes, what we know about books they love, have lost, getting face time with them. I don’t mean Facebook FaceTime, I mean actually sitting down across from them. And if you’re opening, if you’re hanging out your shingle in Oklahoma City and you’ve never had anything to do with publishing before and you say, “Hey, I’m an agent,” I just don’t see how in the world that person would know who to send which book to, what the precedents are for contracts. It boggles me that people try it. But they do.
So, how do you know if somebody’s a legit agent or not? Well, you can look at where they live. You can look at their bio to see, even if they live in California or Denver now, did they ever have anything to do with publishing? Not necessarily a pre-requisite because the number one way to find out if an agent is legitimate and a good agent is have they sold books? If so, what kind and to whom? So, this is where you’re going to go to a website called publishersmarketplace.com. And after I go through this list, I’m gonna pull up the good old internet and I’ll show you some of these sites. So, Publishers Marketplace, I mentioned it in the first session, that is the sort of central clearinghouse for the publishing world.
In one of the links on Publishers Marketplace, if you are a $25-a-month subscriber, is something called the deal database and 50% of all deals are reported on there. It’s not always up-to-date. For example, I have embarrassingly over 20 deals backlogged that I haven’t reported yet and I need to. So, somebody looking me up wouldn’t see the last couple dozen book deals I’ve made. So, but, for the most part, people aren’t as behind as I am on that particular thing. You’re gonna get a good sense of where they sold, so, you’re gonna see 100 and some listings for me with…because I think they started capturing deals and reporting deals in 2004-2005. So, you should be seeing though sort of a minimum of 40 or 50 deals for an established agent. Many of them will go up 100 or more. Again, not all deals are reported but you can get a good picture there, you can see who they’re selling to. I will walk you all through that.
So, we’re looking for, “Has the agent regularly sold books to the larger presses?” Easiest, most important thing to look for. If the agent hasn’t and the agent is relatively new, ideally, you wanna make sure they’re working for an established agency. So, that, even if that person’s new, and face it, we were all new at one point, if they work for an established agency, you know that there are going to be others in the agency who have those contacts who are training that agent, have been training that agent. So, on Publishers Marketplace, you’ll see that you could also click on the Agency to see what kind of deals they’ve sold. So, you can do homework pretty easily, $25 a month, you can even just get it for 1 month to make your agent list. You’ll be pretty happy.
You might wanna cross-reference that with…oops, so, Publishers Marketplace. Okay. You might wanna cross-reference that with the next link and lead, which is called AAR, Association of Authors’ Representatives. So, remember when I said anyone, any person could hang out a shingle and say, “I’m a literary agent now and I’m open for business.”? There’s no legal governing body for us. There is, however, the AAR, Association of Authors’ Representatives, and it’s the closest thing to a governing body that you’re going to find in agent land. And it’s not that easy to get into. In order to be a member, you have to have been in business for a certain amount of time. You have to have sold a certain number of books to the right kind of places. And you have to be vetted and referred by two long-standing members or existing members.
So, they take it seriously, there’s a very detailed canon of ethics that we subscribe to. You are not going to find an agent who’s a member of AAR who has some shady side-deal charging authors money for the right to represent them. Remember, money goes to the author, not from the author in traditional publishing. So, cross-referencing with AAR is always a good idea. I’ve been a member since I think my fourth, third or fourth year, and we all know each other too, it seems, it’s a small world for a business with, you know, thousands of people. And it somehow operates in a very small bubble sometimes. Excuse me.
So, the last thing I’ll say about AAR is that there are fantastic agents who are not members of AAR. That’s not a red flag necessarily, it’s just a great place to cross-reference because, if the agent is a member of AAR, then you know that there’s no chance of anything hinky going on.
Why would someone not be part of AAR? Well, their monthly dues, or yearly dues I should say, annual dues, that in part pay for a number of sessions and meetings that we have. So, for agents who used to be in New York, let’s say, and now live in San Francisco or Los Angeles, they get no benefit from it other than having their name in a database. So, a lot of them don’t bother. There are a couple other reasons why agents might not wanna be a part. Again, not a big red flag if they’re not part of it, it’s okay, it’s just a great cross reference for you.
Okay, websites of writers’ conferences. So, whatever genre it is that you’re interested in writing in, from writing a thriller, novel, to a biography of some famous doctor, I don’t know, making this up, chances are there’s a writer’s conference sort of geared toward that genre. And with very little digging on Google, you can find these conferences and usually look at past conferences and what agents were presenting there. Any agent who goes to a conference that specializes in a genre you’re writing in very clearly is looking for new authors and actually hoping to meet them. Because it’s a chance for us, kind of a rare chance for us to interact with authors instead of just getting their work in in an email and sending them a form rejection. More on that later.
Okay, so, websites of writers’ conferences. Great resource, you get their bios, you get a more up-to-date look at what they’re looking for. Agents’ websites, of course, should be cross-referenced. So, once you get your list of maybe your first 40 or 50 agents that you’re keen on, you also wanna just look up their website because, not only to get a sense of who they are and rule out any or get more excited about certain individuals, they’re going to post their submission requirements on their website. So, always check out an agent’s website. You’re gonna need a spreadsheet for this, promise you.
Another place you can check out is Twitter. So, I mentioned it briefly in the first session, I know this gets eye rolls when I’m there in person with you, Twitter is the type of social media that is probably most used by publishing people. And on there there’s a whole thing that uses the hashtag, that pound side, #MSWL, Manuscript Wishlist. So, this is probably more for the agents and editors under, I don’t know, 35 or so. They’re probably most active posting on Manuscript Wishlist but you’ll get kind of to the minute or, well, to the month, let’s say, updates on what editors are looking for. Sorry, what agents are looking for. And I’ll show you a few of those when I scroll through.
Another place you can find agents, similar books. So, you’re going to need to look at what books are comparable to the book that you want to do. Take a minute and check out the acknowledgement section, we’re usually thanked in there, as I think we should be. We appreciate being thanked in there. So, you can usually find out who an agent was by looking in the acknowledgement section of the book. And usually you’ll see some nice things, although I had [inaudible 00:12:37] relationship that went a little south. I just don’t know what it is, there’s like a diva button that gets hit sometimes once an author gets a book deal. Where they were really reasonable before, they completely aren’t after their book deal. And there’s no clues, like I can almost never tell ahead of time who has a diva switch in them and who doesn’t.
So, in this case, this author was a year and a half late. She only had to write 14,000 words for…it was a big lush photography book on these mansions of the Thousand Islands in New York State. It was a beautiful book and she was a hoity-toity travel writer. Actually I shouldn’t say anything more because I’m gonna give her name away. But I had to hound her so much to get these 14,000 words in. That’s like one-tenth of, or one-eighth of a normal book. And she was so late and I had to salvage this contract so many times that things were a little tense. And I didn’t see the acknowledgement page until the book was published, so, I get these beautifully finished poppies in my office and I, of course, turn to the acknowledgement page to see what my lovely author wrote about me. And all she wrote was, “And I suppose I should thank my agent Sorche Fairbank,” period. That was it. Nothing else. So, she was a little passive-aggressive. At any rate, you might find some funny things in the acknowledgments but, at the very least, you should find the agent’s name.
So, then there are a series of yearly publications usually put out by “Writer’s Digest.” So, there’s “Writer’s Market” and there’s “Guide to Literary Agents.” And those are annual compilations of who’s buying what and who’s repping what. So, we’re in both of those, “Writer’s Market” has a section on lit agents, and, of course, lit agents is a whole book dedicated to agents. I will just caveat this by saying that, a year ago, a little over a year ago, the publisher of “Writer’s Digest” was bought out by “Penguin Random House.” So, big publisher number one. Up until I think last November, there was a website you could go to as well for “Writer’s Market” but it’s temporarily offline while “Penguin Random House” figures out what they want to do with the website. But you can still buy the annual book. The only thing that I will say about that is never rely on these books by themselves because our information and our lists of what we’re looking for is usually about a year old by the time the book comes out. Because they get that from us so early and then they’re assembling the whole book, printing it, shipping it, getting it into bookstores ready for…I think it comes out in…I can’t remember, it’s August or November. It might be November. But, at that point, you know, we’ve had it in since almost a year before then. So, always cross-reference with an agent’s website.
And then there’s another great little compilation. Jeff Herman most years puts out a guide called “Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents.” And he’s much more conversational in them. So, I’m sure you can check it out of a library if you just wanna take a quick look. You might find out what somebody’s cat’s name is or what kind of beer they like to drink, he will rotate the questions. So, it’s not just, “Here are the genres I represent,” there’s just a touch of, “here’s the sort of person I am.”
Okay. So, that’s where to find them. I’m going to escape this screen for just a moment so that I can show you some of these websites. Okay. So, I’m just going to walk you through a couple of the resources that were on this last slide. So, first one was Publishers Marketplace, you see it up here, publishersmarketplace.com.