Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Good and Bad of Literary Agents

The essay below is a reprint of comments I contributed after a member of a list-serve came to the defense of agents and admitted that some of her agent-friends critiqued her work but "couldn't/wouldn't" sell it.)
Ms. X, I'd like to add something to your comments, even though you did a great job on your defense of agents and, admirably, admitted that some manuscripts deserve to be put in a drawer or at least rewritten. That takes courage when it is your own manuscript (-: ; it not only takes courage but shows that writers do grow and get to be better writers if they work it. When that happens they can see the flaws in their own writing. That's not an indictment. It's the way we improve.

Now, back to agents.

I had the privilege of working with several dozen of the nation's top agents for my new release The Frugal Editor. They helped me help other writers by sharing with me what they find in query letters that mark writers as amateurs. They did it with humor and some with a certain sweetness of soul. They did it because it helps them if writers submit professional, helpful query letters but also because the more we all know about good editing and publishing in general, the better off the industry is. Some agents asked I not use their names but more than 20 let me quote them, and they were supremely quotable. They gave me a gift (a great chapter on writing and editing queries!). Through me, they gave writers in general a gift.

Having said that, these were all reputable agents, not the fly-by-nighters who charge for reading manuscripts, have editing businesses on the side that they try to pawn off on writers for an additional charge as well as a subsidy-publishing business that they hawk (at a hefty fee!) after they've roped writers in under the guise of being an agent.

There are scoundrels everywhere. And there are ways to avoid the ones who call themselves agents, something else I address in The Frugal Editor. The number one way on my list in TFE is -- surprisingly -- not to check complaint sites like Preditors and Editors. Too many naïve authors who know nothing about the publishing industry and didn't do their homework choose to go there and berate their agents who have really committed no other sin than taking their books on and working their bottoms off trying to sell their books so they can both make some money.

Nope, the number one best way to avoid them is to get references from someone experienced, like writing department instructors at universities, or some of the people on my favorite ( ) who give lots of their time to help other writers.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, is the award-winning author of the HowToDoItFrugally Series of Books for authors. She is introducing The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success, now available for pre-orders at .

Please sign up for my "Sharing with Writers" newsletter: Put "Subscribe" in an e-mail to Learn more at . The next AllTips Edition will be issued in September.

Search This Blog