Before You Hire a Literary Agent

A while back, I received an email 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!

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/akurtz, Image #8128807

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/akurtz

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:

  • If the agent is knowledgeable and well-read, publishers will assume that you are a person of literary merit—someone to be taken seriously.
  • If the agent is prompt and responsive, publishers will assume that you are cooperative and low-maintenance—someone they want to work with.
  • If the agent is reasonable in the terms they request, publishers will assume that you are committed to a win-win paradigm—someone they want to invest in.

However, if an agent has a bad reputation, that reputation will also accrue to your detriment:

  • If the agent isn’t well-read and isn’t conversant with your topic or proposal, publishers will assume that you don’t know what you are talking about either.
  • If your agent is disorganized and unresponsive, publishers will assume that you are uncooperative and high-maintenance.
  • If the agent is unreasonable and greedy, publishers will assume that you are committed to a win-lose paradigm and just in it for the money.

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:
    • “Did the agent present a compelling proposal?”
    • “Did the agent provide you what you needed to make a good decision?”
    • “Did the agent respond to your calls and emails in a timely manner?”
    • “Was the agent fair and reasonable in the negotiating process?”

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” here.

Question: How do you want to be represented? How ARE you being represented? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com/ Dennis

    Thank you for this post. Being a rookie writer I fear agents will laugh if I ask for references. It is good to hear this advice from a publisher. Now I realize the agent should be able to sell him/herself to me or else they will not be able to sell my book.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      If an agent will not provide you with references, that should be a HUGE red flag. Either, they are brand new and don't have any or they have burned so many people they don't want you talking to them. Either way, pass. If you move forward, you are asking for trouble.

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com/ Dennis

    Thank you for this post. Being a rookie writer I fear agents will laugh if I ask for references. It is good to hear this advice from a publisher. Now I realize the agent should be able to sell him/herself to me or else they will not be able to sell my book.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      If an agent will not provide you with references, that should be a HUGE red flag. Either, they are brand new and don't have any or they have burned so many people they don't want you talking to them. Either way, pass. If you move forward, you are asking for trouble.

  • Kay Shostak

    Thanks so much.

  • Kay Shostak

    Thanks so much.

  • http://www.colleencoble.com/ Colleen Coble

    What a great reminder, Mike! I have a fabulous agent, Karen Solem. I did what you mentioned before I ever contacted an agent. I asked editors I knew who they would recommend. Karen was on everyone's list. I've been with her since 2001 or so and I don't intend ever to leave her. She's smart, professional, well-versed in ABA and CBA and highly thought of.

    I've counseled writers for years to do due diligence. A bad agent is worse than no agent. Unpublished writers in particular get desperate and are just eager to get ANY agent. Boy, is that a mistake! Go to a conference, meet editors on your own. That's a better route than taking on an agent who is going to tank your career!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is so true: A bad agent is worse than no agent. It's like what I have told my daughters. Being married to the wrong guy is worse than not being married at all. Once a bad agent has damaged your reputation, it is difficult to recover.

  • http://www.colleencoble.com Colleen Coble

    What a great reminder, Mike! I have a fabulous agent, Karen Solem. I did what you mentioned before I ever contacted an agent. I asked editors I knew who they would recommend. Karen was on everyone's list. I've been with her since 2001 or so and I don't intend ever to leave her. She's smart, professional, well-versed in ABA and CBA and highly thought of.

    I've counseled writers for years to do due diligence. A bad agent is worse than no agent. Unpublished writers in particular get desperate and are just eager to get ANY agent. Boy, is that a mistake! Go to a conference, meet editors on your own. That's a better route than taking on an agent who is going to tank your career!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is so true: A bad agent is worse than no agent. It's like what I have told my daughters. Being married to the wrong guy is worse than not being married at all. Once a bad agent has damaged your reputation, it is difficult to recover.

  • S. Pierce Johnson

    Thanks, Michael. I always enjoy reading your blog.
    Since you noted that you maintain a list of literary agents and linked to that list, you might want to make one revision to your list. Terry Whalin has closed his literary agency and has been working as a Publisher at Intermedia Publishing Group since at least January of 2009.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I’ll need to hear from him directly, though.

  • S. Pierce Johnson

    Thanks, Michael. I always enjoy reading your blog.
    Since you noted that you maintain a list of literary agents and linked to that list, you might want to make one revision to your list. Terry Whalin has closed his literary agency and has been working as a Publisher at Intermedia Publishing Group since at least January of 2009.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I’ll need to hear from him directly, though.

  • http://www.paulwallis.net/ Paul Anthony Wallis

    Gee I hope I wasn't that author!! Actually I have had a lot of positive comments about my agent Les Stobbe from editors. You might remember I mentioned a few months ago that over a few years of putting out books – The New Monastic, Be Thou My Breastplate, My Dinner with Anton, Men Behaving Bodly, Rough Ways in Prayer – I found it a whole lot easier to get the attention of editors than of agents. I think a lot of rookie writers find that agents tend to "get to pick" a whole lot more than aspiring writers do.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      While that's probably true, no agent is better than the wrong agent.

  • http://www.paulwallis.net/ Paul Anthony Wallis

    Gee I hope I wasn't that author!! Actually I have had a lot of positive comments about my agent Les Stobbe from editors. You might remember I mentioned a few months ago that over a few years of putting out books – The New Monastic, Be Thou My Breastplate, My Dinner with Anton, Men Behaving Bodly, Rough Ways in Prayer – I found it a whole lot easier to get the attention of editors than of agents. I think a lot of rookie writers find that agents tend to "get to pick" a whole lot more than aspiring writers do.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      While that's probably true, no agent is better than the wrong agent.

  • Pingback: Literary Agents Who Represent Christian Authors | Michael Hyatt

  • http://www.higherlevelgroup.com/danieldecker.html Daniel Decker

    Great insight. Seems to me that many authors, new authors especially, are tainted by hearing stories of other authors who could not get an agent or who were turned down repeatedly by agents. I think this leads to a situation where authors feel like they should accept any agent who is willing to represent them and do so without question. If they question then the agent may get offended and back out (at least that is their perception in many cases).

    Agents are plenty but definitely fewer than the vast amount of authors and proposals out there, which does create a selective process. It certainly has become more of a case where authors have to sell themselves to agents versus agents selling themselves to prospective authors, at least authors without big names and brands already established.

    Not sure if there is a fix to that scenario other than what you said… reminding authors that they need to be smart. They need to believe in themselves and their work enough to do homework and not just accept the first thing that strokes their egos and offers a hint of acceptance. Their future is worth much more than that.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Daniel, it is a sort of dance, isn't it? There are no easy answers. However, in my experience, no reputable agent will be offended at being asked to provide references. If there is ANY hesitancy, that's a great sign that you need to keep shopping.

  • http://katieganshert.blogspot.com/ Katie

    Wow – this is incredibly helpful! Thanks for sharing.

    I just want to make extra sure…. when I get to this point, if I get a call from an agent…it's not presumptious of me to ask for references? I don't want to step on any toes! I wonder if the agent will be thinking, "Why did you query me if you're not sure you'd like me to represent you?"

    • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I would say something like this, "It sounds to me like you view the agent-author relationship as a partnership, and that's exactly how I am approaching this. In any kind of partnership, it is critical to know about the people you are getting into business with. I am happy to supply you with a list of references if you like. And if you don't mind, I would like to get a few from you. That would be very helpful to me." Then pause and don't say another word.

  • http://www.higherlevelgroup.com/danieldecker.html Daniel Decker

    Great insight. Seems to me that many authors, new authors especially, are tainted by hearing stories of other authors who could not get an agent or who were turned down repeatedly by agents. I think this leads to a situation where authors feel like they should accept any agent who is willing to represent them and do so without question. If they question then the agent may get offended and back out (at least that is their perception in many cases).

    Agents are plenty but definitely fewer than the vast amount of authors and proposals out there, which does create a selective process. It certainly has become more of a case where authors have to sell themselves to agents versus agents selling themselves to prospective authors, at least authors without big names and brands already established.

    Not sure if there is a fix to that scenario other than what you said… reminding authors that they need to be smart. They need to believe in themselves and their work enough to do homework and not just accept the first thing that strokes their egos and offers a hint of acceptance. Their future is worth much more than that.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Daniel, it is a sort of dance, isn't it? There are no easy answers. However, in my experience, no reputable agent will be offended at being asked to provide references. If there is ANY hesitancy, that's a great sign that you need to keep shopping.

  • http://katieganshert.blogspot.com/ Katie

    Wow – this is incredibly helpful! Thanks for sharing.

    I just want to make extra sure…. when I get to this point, if I get a call from an agent…it's not presumptious of me to ask for references? I don't want to step on any toes! I wonder if the agent will be thinking, "Why did you query me if you're not sure you'd like me to represent you?"

    • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I would say something like this, "It sounds to me like you view the agent-author relationship as a partnership, and that's exactly how I am approaching this. In any kind of partnership, it is critical to know about the people you are getting into business with. I am happy to supply you with a list of references if you like. And if you don't mind, I would like to get a few from you. That would be very helpful to me." Then pause and don't say another word.

  • David

    Just wanted to drop a line and say that I've subscribed to your blog/email for about a week now. I really enjoy the information.

    God Bless You!

  • David

    Just wanted to drop a line and say that I've subscribed to your blog/email for about a week now. I really enjoy the information.

    God Bless You!

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    As first time authors Mike, we are not allowed to be so choosy as no agent good or bad will touch the likes of me with a barge pole… and believe me I have a mighty long, long list, going back 20 years of agents I have contacted. However, the advice is great for established authors or those who can choose to hire an agent. I think I have mentioned before that for me trying to find an agent is like flogging a dead horse. The reality of the situation is not a question of me as an author hiring an agent- but which agent will take me on and I honestly believe the answer is a big none. This does not mean my life as an author is at an end- I have blogs, internet, twitter and the chance to become infamous!!!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Eva, I understand the challenge of this. Really, I do. But the issue is not that you are a new author. The issue is either that the query letter, the proposal, or something else is the problem. If the agent thinks he can sell the proposal and you have talent, you will get picked up.

      • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

        Thank you Michael. I think the problem may be that, although I categorize my material as literary fiction, it is hard to categorize it into a niche of literary fiction. So agents are at a loss as to whom to send it as there is no track of sales or types where the manuscript can be located. However I do appreciate you to being open to all this. Most would just shrug their shoulders and say "hard luck"- but I see you are of a different caliber- and I'm not trying to flatter you either!

  • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

    As first time authors Mike, we are not allowed to be so choosy as no agent good or bad will touch the likes of me with a barge pole… and believe me I have a mighty long, long list, going back 20 years of agents I have contacted. However, the advice is great for established authors or those who can choose to hire an agent. I think I have mentioned before that for me trying to find an agent is like flogging a dead horse. The reality of the situation is not a question of me as an author hiring an agent- but which agent will take me on and I honestly believe the answer is a big none. This does not mean my life as an author is at an end- I have blogs, internet, twitter and the chance to become infamous!!!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Eva, I understand the challenge of this. Really, I do. But the issue is not that you are a new author. The issue is either that the query letter, the proposal, or something else is the problem. If the agent thinks he can sell the proposal and you have talent, you will get picked up.

      • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

        Thank you Michael. I think the problem may be that, although I categorize my material as literary fiction, it is hard to categorize it into a niche of literary fiction. So agents are at a loss as to whom to send it as there is no track of sales or types where the manuscript can be located. However I do appreciate you to being open to all this. Most would just shrug their shoulders and say "hard luck"- but I see you are of a different caliber- and I'm not trying to flatter you either!

  • http://www.davidteems.com/wordpress David Teems

    I got lucky. And I got Bucky. Forgive the bad poetry. I got his name right off your list maybe a year ago. Benita says I always botch dates, but it was some time ago. BUCKY ROSENBAUM [Brentwood, TN]. I had heard his name mentioned a few times as well, and by people I trust, including you and Gail. Now, with one book deal already behind us, he is a close friend. And what a knowledgeable guy, a just a nice guy, a gentleman. He allows me to do what I do, and not worry about the other. That's important. I need that. This is an all-or-nothing job with me. The other can be scary.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep, Bucky is an excellent agent with a solid reputation. This is the kind of thing authors should be looking for.

      • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

        Unfortunately, he doesn't do fiction!

  • http://www.davidteems.com/wordpress David Teems

    I got lucky. And I got Bucky. Forgive the bad poetry. I got his name right off your list maybe a year ago. Benita says I always botch dates, but it was some time ago. BUCKY ROSENBAUM [Brentwood, TN]. I had heard his name mentioned a few times as well, and by people I trust, including you and Gail. Now, with one book deal already behind us, he is a close friend. And what a knowledgeable guy, a just a nice guy, a gentleman. He allows me to do what I do, and not worry about the other. That's important. I need that. This is an all-or-nothing job with me. The other can be scary.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yep, Bucky is an excellent agent with a solid reputation. This is the kind of thing authors should be looking for.

      • http://evaulian-thebestoftheworst.blogspot.com/ Eva Ulian

        Unfortunately, he doesn't do fiction!

  • http://nmwoodworks.com/life Bill in Detroit

    Reading from the other authors (and being a neophyte), I get the impression that we aren't allowed to choose. But I'm with you, Mike … 'agent / author / publisher' is a working relationship in which money and trust are expected to flow freely. In that case there can only be one kind of deal … a good one. Everything else results in a no-deal that should be walked away from.

  • http://nmwoodworks.com/life Bill in Detroit

    Reading from the other authors (and being a neophyte), I get the impression that we aren’t allowed to choose. But I’m with you, Mike … ‘agent / author / publisher’ is a working relationship in which money and trust are expected to flow freely. In that case there can only be one kind of deal … a good one. Everything else results in a no-deal that should be walked away from.

  • http://lynnrush.wordpress.com/ LynnRush

    Great post. Thank you for this.

  • http://lynnrush.wordpress.com/ LynnRush

    Great post. Thank you for this.

  • http://cherylbarker.blogspot.com/ Cheryl Barker

    Thanks for such a helpful post, Mike. I especially appreciated the specifics you gave in your two major tips before hiring an agent. Will definitely save those for future reference. Thanks!

  • http://cherylbarker.blogspot.com/ Cheryl Barker

    Thanks for such a helpful post, Mike. I especially appreciated the specifics you gave in your two major tips before hiring an agent. Will definitely save those for future reference. Thanks!

  • Kyle L. Olund

    Great advice as I have just gone out on my own. I'm all about the win-win situation for authors and publishers. I hope I'm able to build the kind of reputation that lands me on your list someday.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Kyle, are you talking about landing a spot on my agent list? If so, just send me your contact information. I've known you for over ten years and would happily add you to my list!

      • Kyle L. Olund

        How gracious of you, Mike. Thank you. I'm starting off small, through referals right now. When I'm ready to publish my information (probably in a month or two), I'll send it your way.

  • Kyle L. Olund

    Great advice as I have just gone out on my own. I'm all about the win-win situation for authors and publishers. I hope I'm able to build the kind of reputation that lands me on your list someday.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Kyle, are you talking about landing a spot on my agent list? If so, just send me your contact information. I've known you for over ten years and would happily add you to my list!

      • Kyle L. Olund

        How gracious of you, Mike. Thank you. I'm starting off small, through referals right now. When I'm ready to publish my information (probably in a month or two), I'll send it your way.

  • http://www.suedent.blogspot.com/ Sue Dent

    Although all of this has been said before, it doesn't hurt to see it posted again. I certainly think it's a good idea to keep all of these things in mind especially if you plan on hitting that list of Christian agents linked to. I haven't linked there myself yet but it should be noted all literary agents, or at least 95% of them that use the label Christian to identify themselves with will only present your work to CBA or ECPA affiliated publishers that serve that narrowly targeted market of Christians that CBA and ECPA serve, publishers like Thomas Nelson. The agents who target publishers providing fiction for the broader general market of Christians don't usually attach the label Christian. Also, If the agent refers to the market as CBA vs. ABA that's a good sign there that your MS will only darken the path of affiliated publishers which is fine if that's who your audience is.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Sue, honestly, I have to disagree. Almost all of the agents on my list cover both CBA and general market publishers. They have to. Nearly all the general market publishers do Christian publishing.

      Note also on my list that I did not title it "Christian Literary Agents." I called it "Literary Agents Who Represent Christian Authors." This is a key distinction and intentional.

      Thankls.

  • http://www.suedent.blogspot.com/ Sue Dent

    Although all of this has been said before, it doesn't hurt to see it posted again. I certainly think it's a good idea to keep all of these things in mind especially if you plan on hitting that list of Christian agents linked to. I haven't linked there myself yet but it should be noted all literary agents, or at least 95% of them that use the label Christian to identify themselves with will only present your work to CBA or ECPA affiliated publishers that serve that narrowly targeted market of Christians that CBA and ECPA serve, publishers like Thomas Nelson. The agents who target publishers providing fiction for the broader general market of Christians don't usually attach the label Christian. Also, If the agent refers to the market as CBA vs. ABA that's a good sign there that your MS will only darken the path of affiliated publishers which is fine if that's who your audience is.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Sue, honestly, I have to disagree. Almost all of the agents on my list cover both CBA and general market publishers. They have to. Nearly all the general market publishers do Christian publishing.

      Note also on my list that I did not title it "Christian Literary Agents." I called it "Literary Agents Who Represent Christian Authors." This is a key distinction and intentional.

      Thankls.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    I have a question that is a little off the topic, but that I think some of you might have an answer for me. If an author is building a brand and uses the protection of a trademark, do literary agents also handle licensing agreements?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    I have a question that is a little off the topic, but that I think some of you might have an answer for me. If an author is building a brand and uses the protection of a trademark, do literary agents also handle licensing agreements?

  • http://www.suedent.blogspot.com/ Sue Dent

    It's a good thing then that I said I hadn't looked at your list yet and couldn't really comment. ;) Of course all general market publishers take on Christian authors. There's nothing new there. It's just that not many general market publishers take on Christian authors who write write for a specific audience of Christians. Just like CBA affiliated publishers like Thomas Nelson don't take on Christian authors who don't write for that narrowly targeted market of evangelicals CBA was set up to provide books for in 1950. Yes. CBA's market is stretching a little but by and large, and according to <a href="http://www.cabonline.org,” target=”_blank”>www.cabonline.org, affiliated authors, both CBA and ECPA still only serve this narrow market. So it makes sense to check out every Christian agent to make sure this isn't the market they'll be pushing your MS too (if that's not your market.) They rarely say unless asked which can cause a lot of problems. And wow, thanks for saying CBA and general market instead of CBA and ABA market. That's much clearer for those of us who aren't familiar with CBA lingo.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

      I agree about the narrowness of the CBA's market. (Please know I am not being critical when I say this.) I was recently told by an agent that none of the publishers she queries would be interested in my book proposal because my subject matter included "universal salvation." As I write, I intend to share Isaiah 25:6-8 which simply says God is going to remove the reproach of His people, to wipe the tears from all faces, to make a feast for all people, and to swallow up death forever.
      Now, since one of my philosophies in life is if I can't go in the front door, I go in the back door, I'm putting the book on the back burner and concentrating on setting up my blog and writing articles.

      • Jake

        Does your universal salvation include a heaven that has jails and police? People don't become saints just because they die. Without conversion, sinners will be sinners in heaven and criminals will be law breakers and rebels, contentious, violent and hateful. Heaven will be as bad as earth if everybody goes. The doors will have to have locks and we will all be carrying keys and mace. I see no place in the Bible that describes a heaven like that, so I guess those that would make it that way won't be there. Remember that sin didn't begin on earth. It began in heaven with Satan's rebellious uprising and God tossed him and his buddies out. We don't make the rules of who goes. God does and he makes his qualifications pretty clear. You MUST be born again or you won't see the kingdom of God. Don't stop in Isaiah. Believe the whole Bible. Then write a book. (Actually, I haven't written one yet.)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Sue, again, this simply isn't the case. We do only publish Christian authors, but many, many of them write content intended for a general audience. You don't have to be a Cristian to understand the content or to find it relevant. (A cook book or personal financial management book would be a good example.)

      About 34% of our sales come from the Christian (CBA) marketplace. The rest come from the general bookstore market, mas merchants, specialty outlets, or non-profits.

  • http://www.suedent.blogspot.com Sue Dent

    It's a good thing then that I said I hadn't looked at your list yet and couldn't really comment. ;) Of course all general market publishers take on Christian authors. There's nothing new there. It's just that not many general market publishers take on Christian authors who write write for a specific audience of Christians. Just like CBA affiliated publishers like Thomas Nelson don't take on Christian authors who don't write for that narrowly targeted market of evangelicals CBA was set up to provide books for in 1950. Yes. CBA's market is stretching a little but by and large, and according to http://www.cabonline.org, affiliated authors, both CBA and ECPA still only serve this narrow market. So it makes sense to check out every Christian agent to make sure this isn't the market they'll be pushing your MS too (if that's not your market.) They rarely say unless asked which can cause a lot of problems. And wow, thanks for saying CBA and general market instead of CBA and ABA market. That's much clearer for those of us who aren't familiar with CBA lingo.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

      I agree about the narrowness of the CBA's market. (Please know I am not being critical when I say this.) I was recently told by an agent that none of the publishers she queries would be interested in my book proposal because my subject matter included "universal salvation." As I write, I intend to share Isaiah 25:6-8 which simply says God is going to remove the reproach of His people, to wipe the tears from all faces, to make a feast for all people, and to swallow up death forever.
      Now, since one of my philosophies in life is if I can't go in the front door, I go in the back door, I'm putting the book on the back burner and concentrating on setting up my blog and writing articles.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Sue, again, this simply isn't the case. We do only publish Christian authors, but many, many of them write content intended for a general audience. You don't have to be a Cristian to understand the content or to find it relevant. (A cook book or personal financial management book would be a good example.)

      About 34% of our sales come from the Christian (CBA) marketplace. The rest come from the general bookstore market, mas merchants, specialty outlets, or non-profits.

  • http://www.suedent.blogspot.com/ Sue Dent

    Bringing up the narrowness of any market shouldn't have to be qualified IMO. They serve who they serve. And you indeed have a tough road ahead of you because unless you write for that very narrow market of Christians CBA and ECPA serve, there aren't many publishers who'll take narrowly targeted fiction. I'm guessing that's one of the reasons CBA formed in 1950.

  • http://www.suedent.blogspot.com/ Sue Dent

    Bringing up the narrowness of any market shouldn't have to be qualified IMO. They serve who they serve. And you indeed have a tough road ahead of you because unless you write for that very narrow market of Christians CBA and ECPA serve, there aren't many publishers who'll take narrowly targeted fiction. I'm guessing that's one of the reasons CBA formed in 1950.

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com/ Dennis

    If I may ask a silly question, should I ask an agent for references before or after sending a book proposal?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It's not a silly question at all. I would ask for references after you are both interested in getting into business together. Think of it as you would in interviewing anyone for a job. It's the last step before you agree to work together.

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com/ Dennis

    If I may ask a silly question, should I ask an agent for references before or after sending a book proposal?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      It's not a silly question at all. I would ask for references after you are both interested in getting into business together. Think of it as you would in interviewing anyone for a job. It's the last step before you agree to work together.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    So… I was wondering… since you have a list of literary agents who represent Christian authors…

    Does your list include the ones about which you would say "You’ve got to be kidding! Of all the agents out there, why would you pick THAT one!" ?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    So… I was wondering… since you have a list of literary agents who represent Christian authors…

    Does your list include the ones about which you would say "You’ve got to be kidding! Of all the agents out there, why would you pick THAT one!" ?

  • christine Barbetti

    What an unbelievable resource your web site is for wannabee authors! I've printed about everything you have written, I bought the "Killer Proposal" and have used it as a reference and now I'm looking for a Christian Agent and using the wonderful list you have provided. I've checked out a lot of publisher's web sites and no one gives the help you provide! One would think you actually hope we all get published! Thanks so much for all the good advice and here's hoping it will get my missionary book on Haiti published quickly! chris barbetti-feamster

  • christine Barbetti

    What an unbelievable resource your web site is for wannabee authors! I've printed about everything you have written, I bought the "Killer Proposal" and have used it as a reference and now I'm looking for a Christian Agent and using the wonderful list you have provided. I've checked out a lot of publisher's web sites and no one gives the help you provide! One would think you actually hope we all get published! Thanks so much for all the good advice and here's hoping it will get my missionary book on Haiti published quickly! chris barbetti-feamster

  • Gina Burgess

    Thank you for this! And I always thought that the agent picked the author…. hmmmm.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Like any professional relationship, both parties have to agree. However, the economics dictate that most agents vet their clients before agreeing to represent them. Authors, on the other hand, are often so happy to have an agent offer to represent them, that they forget to do their homework!

  • http://www.jcwert.com Jason

    This will likely seem a dumb question and if so I apologize in advance. :)

    I’m new to the game and haven’t even tried to obtain an agent. One of the things in my life that’s been good for me (and works with my strong sense of loyalty) is to find someone who is in a complimentary field to mine and is just starting out. I see if we’re a fit and if so work together and develop long time relationships.

    I was kind of hoping to go that route in this field (although as we all know God orders the steps regardless of our plan.) In the case of someone who wants to come on with a “new” agent, what is your advice on checking their credentials (especially if they don’t have a “client list” yet)?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I would want to know why the new agent thinks he or she is qualified. I would not want to be someone's first client unless I felt the circumstances were extraordinary.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/JasonWert JasonWert

        Thanks, Michael.

  • http://kathyhardee.blogspot.com Kathy Hardee

    I am finally able to put this advice to use. At first, I was a little nervous about asking for references; after reading your article, I felt emboldened. Thank you!

  • http://www.therextras.com BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    A really basic question – how much to agents cost? I have no idea what to expect, offer or plan to pay.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You should expect to pay 15% of your royalties. This means 15% of any royalty advance and then 15% of the royalties earned beyond the advance. You should not have to pay any out-of-pocket. The agent gets paid by the publisher when you get paid.

      • http://www.therextras.com BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

        Thanks so much, Michael. I have a friend who has been taken by an agent who required money be sent to read her proposal. I've never known for sure if that was standard.

  • http://twitter.com/lkblackburne Livia Blackburne

    Great article, Michael! Quick question. When asking publishers for references on agents, who would be the contact person? Would it be the editor?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, the editor would be the best place to start.

      • http://twitter.com/lkblackburne Livia Blackburne

        Hey Michael, Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been following your advice.It turns out that the agents I’ve talked to so far are usually happy to provide clients as references, but generally not comfortable with providing publishers. I’m not getting the sense that it’s because they’re trying to hide something, but more that they don’t feel comfortable asking that of the editors. Anyways, just thought I would toss that out there.

  • Publisher, Anon

    As a publisher, and relatively new to it all, I had an agent this week who was unresponsive for a week, and then (in a nutshell) tried to manipulate and lie their way out of it. It may seem minor, but there were some real red flags there. I am concerned about working with this person long term, and the implications for my business with me being quite new. I stood up to them/maintained my boundaries, but their response was grudging and it didn’t feel like a mutually respectful interaction at all. The author is fine, and it is a really great book but how do you deal with an agent who has revealed themselves to be obnoxious and a potential difficult personality even before contracts have been signed?! I have even thought about not going ahead with it, I feel so uncomfortable with the person!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I would not proceed. Find someone else. If someone is this difficult in the “courtship,” what will they be like after you are “married”?

  • Luigi Rossi

    I received a contract to sign with Tate Publishing, Mustang Ok.  I will have  to invest  $3,990. at 15% from sales. ouch!  I am 71 and have written on small topics like depression,forgiveness, etc.  This has been my  first time walking on water.
           My son edits and publishes a business magizine and has offered to edit & print it for $2.25 a copy (paper back book). But is unable to promote it ??? Luigi

  • Estherkamps

    How DO you check up and verify that the agent you are thinking of hiring is good, efficient, knowledgeable etc?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      It’s pretty much like you would hire anyone else: ask for references and then check them. I would also do a Google search and check some writer forums.

  • http://twitter.com/MichelleHughes_ Michelle Hughes

    Thanks for the post.  My biggest dilemma of late is do I need an agent?  I’m a self-published author and my book currently rests at #420 on Amazon and I’m just wondering is this as far as we can take it?  I wrote with a co-author and all our earlier promotions were set to get the book to where it’s at right now.

  • Jessica Robinson

    Great advice!  these are certainly questions I should of asked prior to hiring my last agent.

    She represented me for over 2 years.  She seemed to talk a good game and knowledgeable.  However, turns out she didn’t have any major contacts at any publishers.  I believe she was using me to hopefully use my work to gain her exposure to publishers.

    I pushed her to provide a list of where my books were under consideration and she did not want to produce this list.  She was rude and offended that I even asked.  I told her that I simply wanted to evaluate where I was at this point in the game.  She ended up canceling my contract.  AND never produced any list.  Probably because she had NEVER submitted the manuscripts to anyone.  If I had asked more questions initially- I would not be where I am now.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      You did the right thing by asking. Any reputable agent would happily provide this kind of list. Thanks.

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  • Karenlalaniz

    I didn’t have an agent for my first book. I know…I know… So many other writers thought I wasn’t all that smart. Luckily, I landed a wonderful publisher. I have no regrets at all. However — I am now working on books 2 and 3 and I want agent representation this time around. I was recommended to an agent by an author-friend. We’ve emailed back and forth. She is very open to my questions, and she has seen the proposal for one of the books and is interested. I feel like we’re courting. Is that what we’re doing? I’m serious. Karen   http://www.storymatters2.com

  • JGuest

    Hi Michael, thank you for this article; it is very helpful. As a first-time agent, I have had 3 interested agents who provided excellent feedback, but 2 were “overloaded” with clients at the moment and  I am left with 1 interested.  She is asking me to do a ton of things up front before a contract is printed, like research on the target market (to send her), along with revising my proposal to her template. Is this normal?  She did come recommended to me from another author but I’m not sure how much more work I should be doing, as I’m not positive I want her to be my agent yet.  Thank you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yep. This is pretty normal. Welcome to the publishing world!

  • JGuest

    I meant to say – as a first time author, not agent.  :)

  • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

    @428d3304e42e0488424b878e2f1df43b:disqus , I just wanted to tell you picked a good stock photo for this post.  It reminds me of Michael Myers… not the comedian, but the evil antagonist of the Halloween series.  Just sayin… point made. *hides*

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  • ScottMichaelPowers

    I really appreciate your advice. I’ve included it, including a link, on my blog, The Naive Optimist (www.scottmichaelpowers.com) and included some thoughts and observations of my own, from an unpublished novelist trying to get started in this process.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Scott. I appreciate that.

  • Pearlrodgers

    Thanks for the information I selfpublish my first novel and haven’t sold but thirty books, I have complete writing a young adult short novel and looking for a publisher maybe you can be of some help, to become a successful author you have to be  rich are have a lot of money believe me I know this for a fact thanks Pearl Rodgers

  • http://www.facebook.com/melinda.dupreekewley Melinda DuPree

    Michael, I know for a darn fact that I can write a dang good book. Can I get this out there without an agent?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Absolutely. But you will have to self-publish.

  • U. B. Red

    Here it is in a nutshell: Literary agents are no more than the real estate agents of the writing world.

    Some of them are lawyers (and even when not, they are far, far too like lawyers). They are just as often failed writers who have gravitated to this relative position of authority whereupon they can put their bitterness to its truest and best use. They are former editors who couldn’t make the grade at a publishing house and were fired. Some are copy editors who’ve risen as far as they can go in their profession.

    To each of their delight, they have now become kings of their own particular hill. They’ve hung out their shingle along with tens of thousands of others just like them, each hoping to rake in a little piece of as many of us writers as possible—to take part in the Las Vegas of Manhattan, this lucrative racket—and like any other racket, it’s a numbers game. They wheel and deal. They make canny arrangements that serve themselves above all (naturally). They are frequently pompous and arrogant. They claim to be harried and overworked yet still seem to find time for cocktail parties and lavish editor lunches. They make promises that are never kept. They ignore queries. They neglect to read requested submissions. They don’t return e-mails. They stall. They make excuses. They use meaningless euphemisms in their rejections like “it just didn’t draw me in as much as I’d hoped” or “it really didn’t jump off the page” or “I wanted to fall in love with your characters, but alas, it didn’t happen” or “I couldn’t get on board with the voice…” I could go on and on.

    But paramount to any of those things is this: they have become jaded and desensitized to good writing. They have long since forgotten the difference between tripe and tenderloin.

    It is not quality and creativity that motivates literary agents to take action, to request pages, to offer representation. No, it is instead one magic ingredient (over which you have tremendous control). And that is where my methods come in.

    Read my book I HATE LITERARY AGENTS by U.B. Red, available on Amazon.

  • http://twitter.com/QuantumAlmanac The Quantum Matrix™

    I’ve chatted with Westbow’s Jon Lineback, and although self-publishing is not right for me; he’s the type of professional I’d want representing me.

  • Heather

    Seeing as you were an agent and are now a published author and publisher, I suppose it would be incredibly presumptuous of me to inquire as to whether or not you might suggest an agent or two? Or even a site where one might find a list of credible agents? I need an agent….BADLY!!!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      No, not at all. I maintain a list here. I don’t recommend specific agents and I don’t recommend any particular agent on my list. However, they are all agents who are active. Thanks.