“Shmagent” is a funny sounding word for an unfortunate and serious concern for querying authors: shady folks who appear to have your best intentions at heart, but are ultimately going about representing authors—or attempting to represent authors—in ways that will hurt a writer’s career.
Whether you’re querying, have an offer, or have signed with an agent, it’s important to remember that your relationship with you agent is one of the most important factors in a strong, stable writing career. So how can you tell if you’re looking at a good one?
Below are some high level but key factors to look out for—and yes, this post could easily be titled “Shannon’s Letter of Appreciation to Elana Roth Parker”, my own agent who, for the record, is so legit she practically invented it. (She is accepting submissions here, but please follow her guidelines.)
- A good agent respect their fellow agents.
A legit agent knows their peers and will honor industry norms, such as giving an author time to alert other agents they’ve queried that they’ve received an offer of representation. The offering agent should know that you need time to send those emails and that the other agents will require time to read and respond.
Any shmagent who pushes back, or insists you accept right away, or threatens to rescind their offer because you want to alert other agents is not worth your time, because they clearly don’t respect their peers within the industry—if they don’t respect their peers, they won’t respect you as a client.
When Elana offered me representation, I asked for two weeks to alert other agents and make a decision, and she didn’t bat an eye. That’s how it should be.
- They work with you, not against you
Before I went on submission, Elana and I worked together closely to strengthen my MS and better flesh out my characters. The way she delivered her suggestions to me was, luckily enough, in a format that made a lot of sense with my brain (I love numbered lists!). However, in reading through, there were suggestions that gave me pause. I agreed with much of what she said, but one or two suggestions made me shoot up in my seat like “uh-uh, not changing that”. I made notes, asked questions, and sent an email back to her. We did several rounds of these emails as I worked through the changes.
Never forget that a legit agent works FOR you—they should want you to have the best book possible, but they should also make sure the book is yours. That stuff I reacted strongly to? I explained why it meant a lot. Why I thought it worked. And ultimately, I weighed both my personal feelings and Elana’s expertise before making the final call.
Your agent should want you to succeed and believes you can—that’s why they offered or are offering rep! Before you sign with an agent, make sure you’re on the same page about what you may need to work on before going on sub.
If you are represented and are confused by a note your agent has made, try to focus on the larger issue that the agent may be trying to correct. Do they suggest cutting a scene down because it slows the pace of the book? If they say the romance “isn’t working”, ask yourself honestly if you agree or not. If you disagree, start by explaining your intentions and why you think it works. The agent might need it to “click” in their minds. Ultimately, they should work with you to find solution that makes the whole narrative stronger and makes both of you happy.
- They ask for your preferences
Before we sent my book out on submission, Elana asked me how I’d like to receive the feedback from editors, and if I wanted to receive it at all.
For a lot of people, reading all the reasons a certain publishing house passed on a manuscript could be draining, and I appreciated that Elana thought to ask and honor her clients’ preferences during a stressful time. Personally, I wanted to know everything and see the feedback as she received it, and I told her as much.
You should feel comfortable communicating with your agent about anything that is bothering you, or anything you want to start doing differently. Which brings me to my next point…
- They’re never more than an email (or text) away.
A good agent shouldn’t ignore you. While even the best agents are only human and may need time to focus on other clients, their families, their children, etc., they shouldn’t ghost you. They should also never make you feel badly for reaching out, whether you send them a quick text or a long rambling email because you just thought of something you think is important and you *have* to send them a crazy long email RIGHT. AWAY.
A schmagent that never responds, never sends updates, and/or belittles you when you do finally connect is not your friend, and not someone you want as a business partner, hard stop.
For me and my agent, we communicate mostly via email, but have hopped on phone calls here and there. When things are urgent or exciting (like my cover reveal a few weeks ago!), Elana texted me straight away, which I loved. Communication is vital to any relationship, and your relationship with your agent is no exception. Make your own preferences loud and clear, and don’t be afraid to ask your agent what they prefer and what they are comfortable with.
- They never ask for money from you. Ever.
I have to mention this one because it would absolutely crush me if I ever heard about a would-be-author excitedly writing a check to a shmagent, only to be ghosted. This applies to any scam: if they say they need money to represent you, or money to sell your book, or money to publisher you…all huge red flags.
A legit agent should never ask for money from you up front, during the editing or submission process, or after. Agents get paid when the author sells a book to a publisher. Period. The shorter, snappier version: an agent gets paid when you get paid. The end.
(Please don’t send money to a shmagent.)
Your relationship with your agent is first and foremost a business relationship. If you’re querying and have an offer, ask yourself if you feel 110% comfortable going into business with this person. If you already have any agent, listen to that tiny voice in your head if you feel something is amiss. Google them, ask other authors for advice, and ultimately trust your gut. The tips above should be able to get your started on the right path, but nothing will work out better for your than a lot of research and your own intuition for what’s right for you.
Shannon Price is a proud Filipina-American and Bay Area native. Her debut novel A Thousand Fires is a YA reimagining of the Iliad set in modern day San Francisco. She is represented by Elana Roth Parker of Laura Dail Literary Agency and thanks her lucky stars that she is. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
About the Series:
Now What? is a series dedicated to navigating post-query life and the agent-author relationship. Authors from every stage of their writing career have come together to tell their stories. They understand the struggles of querying and moving forward with an agent and are here to help.
New posts go live every Friday!
Previous Posts in this Series:
Inside an Offer Call
Parting Ways with an Agent
Writing the Post-Query Book