A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks
When I began writing children’s books, I knew I was in it for the “long haul”—that is, I wanted to write many books and devote many years to this profession. I also knew that eventually I would want an agent on my side to make that possible. But, I also knew another reality—I couldn’t get an agent just because I had decided to write nonfiction children’s books—I had to do some homework.
Consider this: There are some agents more appropriate for your writing career than others. If you are like many people, you probably didn’t select your spouse as the first person you dated. You, most likely, went out on dates with many different people—you got to know different personalities, different philosophies, and different outlooks on life. The dating process gave you an opportunity to “narrow the field”—finding the one right person with whom you wanted to spend the rest of your life.
In many ways, finding an agent—particularly one versed in nonfiction—is similar to finding your life’s mate. (Of course there are no diamond rings, house mortgages, or diaper changing involved with an agent.) You need to do your research, sifting through all the possibilities to discover the one with whom you have a high degree of compatibility and the one who will best advance your career as a children’s author.
There are several resources available to help you on your search. Here is a list of some of the most useful:
- Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (annual) has a listing of agents, along with their contact information, guidelines, and specific needs of each agency.
- SCBWI has a list of agents available free of charge to all its members.
- AgentQuery.com offers one of the largest, searchable databases of literary agents on the web—a collection of reputable and established agents from a variety of agencies.
- Literary Marketplace (annual) has an up-to-date listing of agents for both children’s and adult authors.
- Agents Directory in The Book: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children (annual), published by SCBWI.
- Writer’s Digest Magazine maintains a regular blog (Guide to Literary Agents) with frequent updates on literary agents (both new and established) and what they are looking for.
- Guide to Literary Agents (annual) has a listing of more than 1,000 agents who represent writers and their books.
When you “selected” your spouse or your life’s partner, you probably had some basic criteria in mind. Whatever they were, they helped you narrow the field and identify individuals most compatible with your personality or outlook on life. Below I have listed some of the essential criteria you should consider if you are in the market for a literary agent.
- Make sure any agent you consider is a member of The Association of Authors Representatives (AAR). This is a professional society of agents, all of whom embrace a strict code of conduct and ethical guidelines.
- Discover the books an agent has represented in the past. Oftentimes, an agent’s name will appear in the dedication of a book or in a brief acknowledgments section. You need to know if an agent handles a large percentage of nonfiction work.
- Check out a prospective agent’s compensation for representation. Most agents will require ten to fifteen percent of your total sales (fifteen percent is the standard).
- How long has the agent been in business? Do you need an agent with lots of experience (and thus lots of contacts within the publishing industry), or are you more comfortable with an agent who is just getting her career started?
- Contact writer friends and ask for recommendations. One of the advantages of joining a local writing consortium is the opportunity to tap into the collective wisdom of the group.
- It used to be that if you really wanted an outstanding agent, you should look in only one place: New York City. That’s no longer true. Good agents can be found all over the map (mine is in Colorado).
- Consider whether a specific agent offers any kind of editorial guidance prior to submitting a manuscript. Do they do any kind of line editing (and are there any additional fees for those services)?
An agent has the potential to advance your writing career to new heights and new possibilities. Choose carefully, choose wisely—it’s a lifelong (literary) commitment!
Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books. He has also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).