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I’ve heard many horror stories about writers who entrusted their work to agents, only to have the manuscript left sitting on a shelf, or the royalties stolen. In fact, I once signed a contract with an agent who did almost nothing to market my book, and finally she disappeared without a word. She never did return the manuscript to me. After spending years working on my novel, I think it seems unwise to place an unpublished manuscript in the hands of a stranger who doesn’t even live in the same state as I do. Since I write genre fiction, I wonder if it would be better to deal directly with publishers. Is an agent really necessary? If so, how can I protect myself from being victimized by an agent who is unscrupulous or just too lazy and disorganized to market my book?
Cautious in Montana
Dear Cautious in Montana,
If you’re writing category romance fiction targeted to Harlequin or Silhouette, then an agent is entirely optional. Harlequin/Silhouette editors will accept queries and submissions directly from unpublished authors. However, you should consult the guidelines on the Harlequin web page in order to get specifics for each line.
If your work is targeted to one of Harlequin’s single title programs or to other publishers, then it might be wise to submit it through an agent. Many publishers will not accept submissions directly from unpublished authors. Again, it’s wise to consult the company web sites to find out specifics.
When querying an agent, there’s no substitute for doing your homework. Talk to other authors for recommendations. Read on-line articles. Join Romance Writers of America. It’s a good source for agent and other writing information. And if you attend writers conferences, you might listen to the agents that are speakers or try to get a short appointment with one to see if you’re compatible. You can also check the Predators and Editors web site to see if there are any concerns with a particular agent in order to avoid scams and unscrupulous behavior.
Remember, agents are paid through a percentage of your advances and royalties. They don’t get paid unless you get paid, so there’s an incentive for them to sell your manuscripts as efficiently as possible. Manuscripts should not languish for months in an agent’s office. Although bad agents can be a problem, good agents are a powerful member of your professional team. My agent is Evan Fogelman, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world.