I’ve had 3 agents over the last 14 or 15 years. I sold to TWRP without one.

Agent # 1: Agent X requested a full of  Slightly Tarnished when it was still being called American Beauty. She then offered a contract for 15% of sales. No up front money. Sounded good. She then requested that I mail 10 hard copies of the full manuscript for her to shop around. Whew, was that expensive, even in 1998. I never heard from her again. I wrote and emailed. No response. I called. No answer. No return calls. I gave up after a year and moved on.

Agent # 2: The second agent also loved American Beauty aka Slightly Tarnished. She said it was a wonderful story but needed extensive editing and oh, she just happened to own an editing agency. This was in the days prior to my joining RWA or my local chapter and I didn’t know what a critique partner was. My former sister-in-law was the only person who’d ever read my writing. This agent had a website and everything. And her assistant had a British accent when he called. She had to be legit, right? So, I paid the $2500 in 2000 for this extensive editing. Basically, she corrected punctuation and spelling and suggested I not kill off the younger brother. So, I made the changes. And she offered my representation. Then, she sent me a contract for her marketing package. Marketing packages which HAD to be purchased to secure representation, ranged in price from $500-$5,000 with $5,000 guaranteeing publication. Although, there was no guarantee who’d publish it. Oh, but since she owned a vanity press, I had a good idea. I turned her down and when she called to harass me and tell me I’d never get published without her help, I told her where she could go and how she could get there. Not my finest moment to be sure.

Agent # 3: By now, I was a member of RWA and my local chapter. I knew what to look for in an agent. I knew the rules. And I checked her out on preditors and editors. She was legit with an impressive sales record. I even met her at local sister chapter of RWA. She repped Wholesale Husband and shopped it around. I even got some wonderful rejection letters in a very timely fashion form the big 7 publishers with recommendations for improving the story. Of all the books published by TWRP, I think this one needed the least amount of edits because I’d already cleaned it up a hundred times over because of my agent. When she couldn’t sell my book to the big 7, she kept asked me to rewrite Wholesale Husband and my western manuscript and make them inspirationals. She said inspirational romances were HOT, HOT, HOT and she’d have no trouble selling to a publisher.

I tried. I honestly did. But once she read them, she said they weren’t as good. No duh! I don’t write inspirational romance. Then, the agent asked me to write an Amish romance because they were the next HOT thing in publishing. That’s when I realized we weren’t a good fit. She was a good agent, but she wasn’t a good agent for me.

I wanted to write stories I loved. She wanted me to write to the market and what she preferred to sell. We parted company on good terms but I learned a valuable lesson from all this.

1- Research, research, research. Check out what genres the agent represents. Check out his/her authors. Check out the website.

2- Check the agent out on Preditors and Editors http://pred-ed.com/pubagent.htm to make sure they are legit and have no complaints/lawsuits against them.

3- Make sure the editor will be a good fit for what you already write. Don’t try to write what he/she represents.

4- Make sure you have plenty of patience and can stomach rejection. lol! Finding an agent is a daunting, exhaustive task.

5- Make sure you actually need one!

Thank God, TWRP doesn’t require an agent. In fact, neither do a couple of the BIG 7 publishers. So, I’d suggest trying to publish on your own before getting an agent. From what I understand, finding an agent is easier if you have a track record. Although, I wouldn’t know. I haven’t made an effort to find one since getting published. Until I have a more impressive sales record, I’d like to keep that % 15 to myself.

So, does a writer need an agent? An agent can submit to multiple publishers and shop your manuscript around a lot more efficiently than a new or even seasoned writer. Publishers respond more quickly to agented work. Publishers will often give an agent a reason for rejecting a manuscript with suggestions on how the author can improve his/her chances of publication. The same publisher might send a form rejection letter to an author submitting without an agent and might do so in a less than timely fashion.

One of the BIG 7 publishers has had one of my manuscripts under consideration since August of 2009. I’m sure if I’d had an agent, I would have received a definitive answer, one way or the other by now. So, having an agent can improve response times and those responses. But, is it worth the time and aggravation of finding an agent that’s right for you?

Whatever a writer decides, there are a few things he/she will need for his search. Time. Patience. And maybe a nice bottle of Merlot.

Happy hunting!
Lilly Gayle