67. Road-testing agents and publishers listings, and avoiding scams

How do you find an agent or publishers who will accept manuscripts without an agent? How do you know which ones are scammers, or vanity publishers? When I was around fourteen or fifteen, I got a Writers and Artists Yearbook for Christmas. It was a hefty book even then, listing agents and publishers.

In the era of online databases, you can find much of this information on the Internet, and more. A lot of it is free. Authors Publish, which will e-mail you a useful update every week, is a resource I use a lot. Last week, they published a useful article on all aspects of submitting a manuscript, full of links to other resources.

There are guidelines on things like writing query letters and constructing pitches. There are also databases for finding agents and publishers and checking their credentials. I test-drove a couple of these. The results were disappointing.

AgentQuery is billed as a reputable search engine for agents. Also listed were Querytracker, and Publishers Marketplace. All are free, though Querytracker requires you to join. Querytracker seemed the most useful for finding agents, because it lists country. Both QueryTracker and Publishers Marketplace contain listings of who represents who – a useful feature if you decide your writing is like someone who is already published, though they failed to find the agents for the two authors I tried.

AgentQuery is the only one that allows you to search by genre, but not so helpful if you’re outside the US, since it seems to list only US agents. I tested it on agents for my current book, and it returned precisely none of the agents I had selected to pitch to, all of whom are in the UK. Query Tracker found two of five agents I selected for testing, while Publishers Marketplace found three. I wasn’t convinced any of these sites would replace my own diligent research.

test results

Then there are some websites against which you can check the credentials of agents and publishers. Anyone can set up and agency or a publisher. Some are not very good, and some are scams. Anyone who charges a reading fee should probably be avoided. And some publishers are vanity publishers where you pay them to publish your work rather than the other way round.

Preditors and Editors identifies those who are not recommended, as requiring fees or offering vanity publishing. I tested the site on four small publishers, and it had no listing for any of them. Index to Agents, Publishers and Others is a community resource, driven by postings from users. It listed three of the four test publishers, though the information on one was out of date. You should bear in mind that user postings may or may not be accurate and dispassionate. Again. I felt it was probably better to rely on my own research.

With both agents and publishers, you can take a look at their websites. Ask yourself, do they look professional? Check out their authors – are they people with whom you’d feel in good company? Are they interested in your genre? Do they offer editorial and, in the case of the publishers, marketing and distribution? What are the royalty arrangements? Databases can help, but remember they are neither complete nor fully accurate.

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