We have our winners. Emails have been sent this morning.
In my last post, I invited questions about agents. Here's one from Livia:
Since we're asking questions, what are good ways to research prospective agents? I know the general advice to look at the website, previous sales and deals, etc, but I know less about specific places/websites to go to for that information (hopefully websites that don't charge too much money for a subscription :-P). And is there anything more specific to look for besides what have they sold recently and in what genre?
Many of you have already flagged agentquery for Livia. It's a great site, packed with useful information, and certainly deserves the recognition it receives. There are other places, too, such as P&E, a comprehensive listing of agents, publishers, and much more, with recommendations.
But let me point out that, aside from public resources such as these, there's a much better way to get inside information. Build your network. Create bridges to writers in all corners of the publishing world, and nurture those contacts. Ask them for their war stories. Ask them what their best decision has been. After you've cobbled together a list of potential agents using the public reference material, ask your private network what they know about the people on your list.
You don't have to spend a lot of money on dues for formal organizations. There are countless public fora in which you can meet other writers. Even here on this little blog, some of the regular commenters have begun to form a community, and I'm sure information-sharing is part of their interaction. It should be.
I can't figure out why there's so much negativity on the side of writers against agents.
Agents play a complicated role in the publishing industry. They act as gatekeepers and, to some extent, tastemakers. They might not own the keys to the kingdom, but they certainly know where the keys are kept and how to persuade the keyholders to unlock the doors. In some part, their effectiveness is determined not by their authors but by their relationships with editors. This can make it seem as though they're playing both sides to their own middles, but they're not. They're both important business partners for authors and important business relationships for publishers.
That said, a bad agent can destroy an author's career. That's not hyperbole. Thankfully, it's also not that common. But ask around. That network you're going to build? Yeah, bet you'll hear some lively horror tales from them.
Is it best to look for an agent in your own country first?
If it were me, I would want an agent in the country where I intend to market my manuscripts. A foreign agent won't be as "in the loop" as one who's in the thick of the native action. And contract law varies from country to country -- witness google's recent troubles in France over moral copyright violations -- so you might be best served by someone in your target market.
I would like to hear some opinions from our overseas authors, though. How many of you work with agents in your home nations? Is this also where you sell your manuscripts?