As I'm an author of international repute -- a fancy way of saying that people can overlook my books in a variety of foreign countries -- I'm often asked, "How do I get an agent?" I am also asked "What does an agent do, and how much do I pay them do do it?" You don't pay them anything.
Let's borrow some well written information directly from PREDITORS AND EDITORS brilliant web site, which you should visit immediately to make sure you are not ripped off by phony agents or phony publishers. I have taken some of their advice, shortened it a bit, and stuck it here:
How An Agent Works
Reputable agents don't charge you a fee up front to represent your book. They earn their living by selling your book to a publisher and gaining a commission. That commission is a percentage of the proceeds your book earns. For one thing, this gives the agent an incentive to actually market your book around to various publishers likely to buy it for publication. This is another reason why many agents scrutinize submissions carefully. They know what publishers are looking for. Therefore, like the publishers, they're unlikely to accept anything which isn't ready for submission or close enough that a few days of editing will make the difference.
Like any marketplace, agents have differing commission rates though you won't have the option of shopping around freely as much as you might like. For one thing, the agent has to want to represent your work. Once an agent offers representation, then you're best off taking the offer. After you establish your reputation as a novelist, then you can shop around for a better deal if you feel one's to be found.
"Any charge made to the author that is payable prior to the sale of the manuscript to a publisher, however characterized by the agent, is a "fee" and represents inappropriate conduct not in the author's best interest. Authors don't pay agents!!
- If your manuscript is truly marketable in the agent's opinion but needs editing, most agents will not recommend a particular editing service because it is a conflict of interest -- if they do, it might be a scam. a good agent might even steer you away from any editing service known to be a scam. Some agents have even been known to go above and beyond the call of duty in assisting with the editing themselves when they feel they have a sure winner to represent.
The agent is also your money manager besides being the one responsible for getting you the best deal with any publishing house. When your manuscript sells to a publisher, the agent is the one who receives the money. The agent then subtracts the appropriate commission and pays you the remainder. This can be very useful and important to any author who might be travelling about to do research on yet another book.
I have had a few different agents over the years, and some have been remarkably pro-active. Charlotte Dial Breeze, bless her heart, was a real dynamo. I dedicated one of my books to her. I was shocked to find out no other author had given her that honor. She is no longer agenting, but she still earns money from the books of mine she did agent, and rightly so.
Make sure that the person who claims to be an "agent" really is an agent. Check em out, look em up. Don Woldman and I did an interview with the head guy of Predators and Editors about literary Scams. Listen if you dare! Here it is
The phrase better safe than sorry may sound trite, but it is tragically truel