Pamela Koehne-Drube

Written by

Pamela Koehne-Drube

13 November 2023


How to Vet a Literary Agent

Literary agent desk - Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash

How do you find out if a literary agent is right for you? If you’re not sure, you’re in good company. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are things to consider when evaluating an agent’s record and the services they provide. Here are my tips on how to vet an agent using their professional history and client list!

Why get a literary agent?

A literary agent is an experienced publishing professional. They know the ins and outs of the book industry and will work on behalf of you and your manuscript to secure a book deal with the best publisher possible.

Agents are also committed to protecting your rights. They make sure that writers are paid for their work fairly, negotiate contracts in their clients’ interests, and make sure writers aren’t taken advantage of.

But despite the benefit that comes from a literary agent when looking for a traditional publishing deal, it’s also important that you do your due diligence. Make sure an agent is the right fit for you and your work. So what can you do to vet an agent?

Check their sales history

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of literary agents to a handful, it’s time to dig into their sales history. It’s important to see who agents are selling to and if those sales align with your publishing goals. If you’re hoping for a contract with a major publishing house, your agent needs to have made sales like this in the past. The best way to do this is by checking on sites like Publisher’s Marketplace, or asking for references from authors who have worked with them before.

Checking their sales history is also important if you want an agent that specialises in certain areas of book publishing. If you’re trying to place your children’s book with an agent, for instance, you’ll want to check that they have placed books in your target age range and genre in the past.

Literary agent making an appointment - Photo by Inera Isovic on Unsplash

Find out how many clients they have and who they are

When researching agents, you will want to find out how many authors they represent. This is a good indicator of the kind of business they run, as well as whether or not they would be a good fit for your project.

The number of authors each agent represents can vary widely from one literary agent to another; it all depends on their speciality and experience. There’s no concrete rule about what’s normal or optimal for an agent’s client roster—it just depends on the individual situation.

However, if an agency signs up lots of new clients at once (or too quickly), this may raise alarm bells. It could suggest that an agent is focusing on padding their list, and isn’t thinking about the long-term fit and time dedication needed to foster an author relationship. While there are some exceptions to this rule (if a new agent is taking on clients from a retiring agent, for example), you can usually find this information by learning about a new agent’s previous mentorships. If they have no mentorship history, then you might want to do some more research or look elsewhere.

Ask the writing community

If you want to learn about an agent, ask the writing community! Reach out to online mentors and other authors you know. Ask around in your writing groups and on social media, too. Authors are a generous bunch who love to share their knowledge. Chances are there are some writers out there who have had experiences with your potential agent.

Ask other authors who have been published by that same literary agency as well as those whom the agency rejected. You’ll get a much better idea of how things work at that particular agency if you hear from both sides. Whether or not they end up getting deals with an agency (and why or why not), can tell you a lot.

You can also check for agents through a reputable agency listing publication like The Writers and Artists Yearbook, which is chock full of information on the kinds of submissions agents will accept and have done a lot of the heavy vetting tasks for you.

Finding a literary agent - Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Trust your instincts

One of the most important things to remember is that you need to be willing to trust your agent with your career. You have a lot invested in this, so it’s essential that you find an agent who understands and shares your publishing goals, and seems genuinely invested in helping make them happen.

If you’re unsure about whether or not an agent is right for you, ask yourself if you can see yourself working with them for more than just a single book deal. Ask them if they have represented books similar to yours before—and make sure to check the veracity of their answers. And remember, when dealing with agents, it’s best to approach them first. In most cases, you want to be the one coming to them, not the other way around. (Although, again, exceptions exist for minority representation or specific niche fiction).

Be wary of anyone who doesn’t seem enthusiastic about nurturing your work; after all, it’s their job! Keep this in mind when dealing with literary agents: Your writing has value—don’t let anyone sell it cheap. If they don’t deal specifically in your specialised writing field, then make sure your potential agent knows what they’re doing before signing any contracts with them. And don’t let them convince you that your niche is somehow less worthy or marketable than someone else’s.

Trust yourself enough not only to acknowledge when something feels off but also to act accordingly by making decisions based on those instincts. Don’t ignore red flags in favour of getting published faster

Vetting a literary agent isn’t something that should be taken lightly, but it also doesn’t have to be stressful. It can actually be fun! You’re on the verge of something big, and you want someone who understands you and your work to help you get there. Take your time, do the research, and trust your instincts—I promise they won’t let you down.