So, the Sharkly one, myself, Agents Brooks Sherman and Sarah LaPolla were chatting about Schmagents. "What is a Schmagent?" You ask? A Schmagent is someone who claims to be a literary agent, but has no real skills, work history, clients, sales, contracts, or resources. It's not like pretending I have a medical degree; I can't go around saying "I'm Victoria Marini, M.D." because it's crazy illegal! But anyone can say "I'm John Doe, Literary Agent."
So if anyone can say they're a literary agent. How do you know they really are? First, read this post by Janet. It's not about avoiding scam agencies: the ones who charge you "reading fees," this is about knowing that you're signing with a legitimate agent who can offer you a positive experience.
Here are some questions to ask:
1. How long does the agency representation last?
Some agency agreements are per book or per X month period, and others are for the duration of an author's career unless the agreement is terminated.
2. Is the agent a sole practitioner or part of an agency?
MANY SOLO AGENTS ARE TOTALLY LEGIT and COMPLETELY KICK-ASS and working at their own agencies (Hello Elana Roth, the late great Kit Ward, and Michelle Wolfson), but there are others who aren't so awesome. Some schmagents truly want be a literary agent, but they have zero guidance.
Additionally - and I know it's morbid - is there a contingency plan for what happens if the agent dies or is disabled? Keep in mind the answer may be, "you've got to find a new agent" and that's okay, but it's something you should consider. Particularly if you have multiple offers.
3. What are the agent's goals?
This is two-fold. First, you get to find out if this agent wants to be the next Andrew Wylie or the next Kristin Nelson. Both goals are legitimate, but you might have a personal preference for one or the other.
Second, this can help you determine whether a hugely successful agent might be retiring soon or whether a newbie just wants to go back to grad school.
4. What is the subsidiary rights set up?
Film, Foreign, Audio? In-House? Co-Agents? It's important to find out what the agents plan is for exploiting all of your sub-rights.
5. Does your agent maintain an online presence?
Here I am blogging! Does that bother you? Then you probably don't want to sign with me... 'Nuff Said.
6. Is the agent hands on or hands off?
This is about connecting with your agent, and find someone whose professional approach and communication style mesh well with your own.
7. Can you contact the agents' current client(s) for a reference?
I am happy to provide prospective clients with contact info to clients I represent (with their permission of course). If you were interviewing someone for a job and you asked for references and they refused, that would probably throw up some red flags for you, wouldn't it?
Some agents won't be comfortable giving out the contact information of their clients (and you can usually find contact their authors online anyway) and that's reasonable. But the agent should feel comfortable and even confident knowing you're doing your homework.
9.) I'm going to get flack for this, but consider asking how long the agent takes to turn around a payment once they receive it.
Again, this is once they receive a payment. Most established agents and agencies can tell you an approximate turn around time between when they receive your payment and when they send it to you. It could be anywhere from 3 - 15 days or even beyond, depending on the type of payment, but you should feel confident that the agent has the sufficient funds to pass on your payments in a timely manner.