Before You Hire a Literary Agent

A while back, I received an mail from one of our authors, notifying us that he had hired a new literary agent. My first thought was, You’ve got to be kidding! Of all the agents out there, why would you pick THAT one!

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against agents. Not only was I a literary agent for six years, I have been represented by an agent on all of the books I have personally published. And, of course, as a publisher, I deal with agents on a daily basis.A few of these agents are close, personal friends. Many of them add real value to the publishing process. However, some of them do irreparable harm to the author’s reputation. Like most professions, it is a mixed bag. You owe it to yourself to do your homework.

As an author, the most important thing you need to understand about agents is that they represent YOU. If an agent has a good reputation (i.e., a brand), that reputation will accrue to your benefit: However, if an agent has a bad reputation, that reputation will also accrue to your detriment: Frankly, I am amazed that so many authors hire agents without checking references. To be blunt, this is just stupid. You wouldn’t do this with an employee; why would you do it with an agent?

In hiring new employees, I have found that checking references is the single most important thing I can do. Prospective employees will tell you all kinds of things in an interview. They will spin their story to their advantage. But, as Ronald Reagan used to say, “trust but verify.” You never know for sure until you check the references. The same is true in hiring a literary agent.

Before you hire a literary agent, I would encourage you to:

1. Contact at least three authors whom the agent currently represents. Ask the agent for a list, including telephone numbers. Obviously, these will be clients the agent thinks will speak well of him. Regardless, you will still learn a great deal by talking to these clients. If possible, talk with them on the phone. People will tell you things on a phone call that they will not put in writing.

2. Contact at least three publishers with whom the agent has recently done business. Again, ask the agent to provide a list. Ask the publisher, four questions: If you already have an agent, it is important that you monitor how you are being represented. Check in with your publisher from time to time and make sure that you are being well-represented. Keep in mind that the publisher will be reluctant to be candid unless he can count on your confidentiality.

By the way, I maintain a “List of Literary Agents who Represent Christian Authors”.

Question: How do you want to be represented? How ARE you being represented?

Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson CEO