7 agent red flags to look out for when querying your manuscript
Querying authors, this one's for you!
I'm always talking about how I help my clients write & edit their manuscript so they can sign with the RIGHT literary agent—not necessarily their dream agent or the most popular or successful agent. But what does “right literary agent” even mean?
It means this: the right literary agent for you is someone who, depending on your needs as an author, doesn't have the following red flags AND also undoubtedly loves your writing and your potential as an author. They want to champion your author career, not just this one book, especially if you’re looking for a long time in publishing, not just a good time.
Here are some red flags to watch out for:
💀 Agency has no reputable sales
If the entire agency, not just this agent, doesn’t have the kind of sales you want for your book, don’t query them. This could mean zero or very few sales to big 5 publishers (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, etc.) or mid-sized imprints (Crooked Lane, Kensington, Scholastic). If you’re happy to sell your book to a small press and the agency does have those sales, this may not be a red flag for you.
💀 Agent has no mentorship/publishing experience
If the agent has started their own agency with no prior publishing background, no reputable sales, and no mentorship from a senior agent, don't query them. Chances are, this agent is deeply passionate about books and the idea of advocating for authors—but they do NOT have the qualifications or connections required to do a good job with your author career. Don’t confuse enthusiasm with expertise. You want a literary agent who can get you a book deal, not a cheerleader who’ll validate you.
💀 Different vision for your book
If the agent offers an R&R (revise and resubmit) or tells you on The Call to revise your book heavily in a way that doesn't align with your core vision, don't sign with them unless you’re open to taking your book in a different direction. Revisions can be immensely helpful with the right agent, but you want to make sure your vision isn’t being compromised. The last thing you want is to resent your agent or your book.
💀 Different vision for your career:
You want your agent to be your agent long-term, right? It’s not just about that one book, it’s about your career in publishing. If the agent loves your YA novel but tells you on The Call that they'll only rep you if you change it to adult fiction and continue writing only adult fiction because they’re not taking on any more YA clients, and you don’t want to write adult fiction, they may not be the agent for you. This isn’t a red flag for all authors but simply for you if your vision doesn’t align with theirs.
💀 Zero diverse clients
If the agent has zero diverse clients, isn’t vocal about wanting to champion diverse voices, or has represented problematic clients in the past, don’t query them, especially if you’re a marginalized author yourself. In times like now when book bans, racism, and queerphobia are everywhere, you want a literary agent who champions not just your writing but also who you are and what rights you deserve to have.
💀 Existing clients aren't happy
If you find out their existing clients aren't happy, don't sign with them. This is harder to figure out, so before you sign with an agent, make sure to connect with 2-3 of their existing clients and ask questions about the agent’s communication styles, submission strategy, editorial process, and more. However, their existing clients might not always be honest, and every client has a different experience with the same agent, so the next red flag might be more helpful.
💀 Huge client turnover
If they have a history of dumping clients whose books don't sell right away, DO NOT query them. This is, unfortunately, very common with really big agencies or agents who have dozens of bestselling author clients.
A lot of these red flags can be discovered through social media—Twitter, QueryTracker, and Writer Beware especially—but if you're feeling confused about which agents to query and how to avoid the “schmagents,” then click this link and book a querying strategy call with me.
And if you want to know more about my publishing journey or have any burning questions for me about writing, editing, or querying, click here to sign up for my FREE Zoom webinar on March 30th at 11 am Eastern Time. A recording will be sent to you if you can’t make it live, so don’t hesitate to sign up.
Until next time!
Love hard & dream big,