Should You Use a Non-AAR Literary Agent (& What Does That Mean)?

Q: I’m thinking about querying an agent who’s not a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives. Are such agents legitimate?  —Anonymous

There are plenty of things writers should worry about—writer’s block, plagiarism, memoirs by the cast of “Jersey Shore”—but an agent who isn’t an AAR member shouldn’t be high on the list. Here’s why.

Whether or not an agent is a member of the professional agent organization isn’t as critical as his background (something you should consider researching even if he is part of the AAR). Agents often come from one of two backgrounds: They are either former editors who have left publishing houses to become agents, or are former literary agency apprentices with one or more years of experience. Find out how the rep who interests you got into agenting. Check for past book sales and client names (and references, if available). This information should help you determine if the agent is reputable.

Also, just because an agent isn’t a current AAR member doesn’t mean that he won’t eventually be. The AAR has a list of rigid membership rules and requirements, including a minimum of years as a literary rep and a minimum of sales made in an 18-month period. Newer agents may not meet these criteria—yet. And some agents choose not to join AAR because they have side businesses that conflict with AAR rules, like a charge-for-editing service (and they’re unwilling to break ties with those businesses).

The point is, a good agent is a good agent, whether he’s an AAR member or not. It’s up to you to put in the necessary research time to find the right one for you.

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2 thoughts on “Should You Use a Non-AAR Literary Agent (& What Does That Mean)?

  1. Oueinsteen Shawn

    I asked an old, famous writer if I needed an agent for a novella of mine. He said, “Hand me your manuscript and I will give it to the best young agent in the business.” That agent, whom I will call Literary Agent Gatsby, gave my novella to Ballantine Books, which published it. I found myself with a nice advance for a very young, first-time author, and it all happened within a few short weeks.

    Agent Gatsby had one rule for all of his authors: never phone him before one o’clock in the afternoon. He claimed that he sold his writers’ works by socializing in the evenings. For at least eight nights a week, he went to parties, threw parties, went to dinner, or just went drinking with individuals who would either provide him with the best writing of the day or who would publish that writing in the best markets for the most money. I went with my agent to two parties, and attended one party that he threw. His gala was in an incredible two-floor, ocean-facing suite of the Miami Beach Fontainebleau hotel. Like The Great Gatsby, he was wealthy, powerful, and mysterious.

    One day, Agent Gatsby called me. It was, of course, well into the afternoon. What he said was that a few weeks earlier he had arranged a multi-million dollar deal for one of his clients. Now he was “pruning his stable of authors,” and I was one who would be pruned away. He referred me to another agent, and she was happy to take me as a writer. But she was young, with very few contacts among publishers. She worked from nine to five. One could not call her after business hours, because she was home with her family. She never sold anything I wrote.

    It is now quite a few years later. I spoke to Agent Gatsby’s wife recently. She told me that his mind is gone. He is burnt out. I am looking for another agent. I cannot go back to Mrs. Nine-To-Five. I am hoping to find someone similar to the young man my famous writer recommended. Unfortunately, it is an impossible task. I’ve asked every old, famous writer I know, but there’s nothing they can do. There will never be another literary agent like Agent Gatsby.


    Just kidding folks. It’s mostly all true, but any reputable agent who wants me, I’m yours.
    This was written for my blog:


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