Every querying author dreams of signing with an agent. But as someone who parted ways with their agent and is querying again, I need to tell you which literary agent red flags to look out for–from querying to representation. Keep reading to know what they are.
1) They (and their agency) have NO reputable sales
If an agent is new to the industry, obviously, they won’t have sales right away. But if their agency also has no reputable sales, or it’s all digital/small presses that you don’t want to work with, it’s best not to query the agent or agency because this is a serious red flag. It doesn’t matter how kind or friendly an agent seems on social media–this is a (hopefully) lifelong business relationship, and you need to treat it as such.
2) They’re a new agent with NO experience or mentorship
It’s industry-standard for a new agent to start their publishing career with mentorship from a senior agent at their agency. Often, new agents will represent authors jointly with their mentor agent. If a new agent has no background in publishing and no support from their agency, that’s a good reason to remove them from your query list.
3) Their vision for your book AND your author career doesn’t match yours
What happens when you get on a call with an agent and they offer rep? Naturally, you’d be excited as eff. Finally, your dream of being published is coming true! But trust me: “no agent” is always better than a bad agent. And by “bad”, I don’t just mean a schmagent. I mean someone whose vision does not match yours. If they want you to completely rewrite your book in a way that goes against your vision, or if they don’t rep other genres you write AND are unwilling to let you find a different agent for those genres… baby, that’s a red flag right there.
Trust that the right agent will offer on your manuscript, and turn this offer down. You don’t want to be agented for 6 months and then realize that the book you’re going on submission with doesn’t even feel like yours anymore.
4) Their existing and former clients aren’t happy
Usually, when an agent offers representation, they connect you to their existing clients so you can learn about their experience working with the agent. If these clients don’t seem all that satisfied, that’s a problem right there. But what I would also recommend is to reach out to former clients and ask them (with their consent) how their experience was. Why did they part ways? Did they spot any red flags? Also, make sure to ask your agented friends to do a background check on this offering agent. Again, it’s better to have no agent than to have a bad agent.
5) They do NOT actively champion marginalized voices
This is especially important for marginalized/diverse authors. If the agent you’re querying is not actively soliciting queries from queer/BIPOC/disabled/neurodivergent authors, or if they have zero diverse authors on their list in a time where publishing NEEDS to advocate for our voices to be heard… then something’s off.
Even if you do query them and they offer rep, ask them about this on The Call. There is no reason for a good agent to not sign diverse authors.
Okay, so these were the top 5 literary agent red flags you need to keep in mind before querying or signing with an agent. In your experience, are there any more red flags you think I should have mentioned? Comment below and let me know.
In a future blog post, I’ll talk about red flags to look out for AFTER you’re agented and how to decide if parting ways is the right decision for you.
PS: If you want support with your manuscript, click here to read about my editorial services! And be sure to follow along on my author journey on Twitter by clicking here.