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Some examples of dishonest agenting practice, drawn from Writer Beware’s files: The explosion of small presses and self-publishing options since the turn of the century has sharply reduced the number of dishonest agents.

Authors no longer see agents as the be-all and end-all of a writing career, and that has diminished the potential client pool and made it harder for a scammer to make a killing.

There are many successful literary agents who provide excellent service to their clients.

Unfortunately, there are also many dishonest or incompetent agents who relieve writers of money, waste their time, and sometimes damage their careers.

Agents are most likely to become successful if they’ve actually worked in publishing, or trained at a reputable literary agency.

People who come to agenting without this kind of professional background are at a significant disadvantage. Many make a good-faith effort to place their clients’ work.

Amateur agents are also likely to place their clients with questionable publishers–not just because they don’t know better, but because these are often the only publishers that are willing to deal with them.

Many are frustrated writers who think they can do a better job than all the heartless people who ignored their submissions or sent them form rejection letters. It requires a range of specialized expertise–such as the ability to judge marketable manuscripts (not as easy as you might think) and a knowledge of publishing contract terminology (much of which is unlike other contract terminology)–as well as contacts within the publishing industry (publishing is still very much a back-room, schmooze-over-lunch business).

Sifting through the slush pile, once an editor’s job, has mostly been delegated to agents, who are now the first line of gatekeeping for much of the publishing industry.

Many large publishers’ imprints are now entirely closed to unagented work, and the dwindling number of imprints that do accept unagented submissions give them minimal priority.

There are still many small presses that will happily look at manuscripts from unagented writers–but if your goal is to sell to one of the big houses or larger independents, your chances are best if you’re represented by a reputable literary agent.

An agent’s job doesn’t end with the first sale, either.

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