Finding a Literary Agent For Children's/Juvenile Writing

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Q. I looked into getting an agent. I sent a query to the Children's Literary Agency. They responded almost immediately asking for the manuscript. Their request was so instant that it really sent red flags up for me. I began to do Google searches for the company and found a lot of negative comments about the company. Several said they request manuscripts from every query they get. One had signed a contract with the company and ended up sending several hundred dollars for a professional edit. No one had actually ever been past the editing process with the company that I found online.
When I read the e-mail from the agent, it stated that there is no phone number where they can be contacted. When asked about their company, they said, "We are bigger than a small agency and smaller than a large agency," and they travel to New York and Florida on a regular basis. Obviously, I deleted the e-mail requesting my manuscript.
So now, I am a little "gun shy" contacting other agents. I have looked online and found many who are excepting query letters (not very many for a children's manuscript) but I'm afraid of who will be reading the query on the other side. That is when I found your website. I was hoping you would be able to give me some in site to reputable agents for children's literature. I don't have any false hope that this will be an easy process.
- Marci

GLA: Thanks for writing, Marci. There is a lot here to address.
First, well done on looking out for red flags and protecting yourself. A simple Google search could have saved a lot of other people like yourself time and money. That agency you speak of is widely regarded as a scam, and they are on Writer Beware's list of the 20 worst literary agencies out there.
Next, on to your concern that few agents rep children's manuscripts. This is both very true and very false. The fact is that a TON of agents rep juvenile fiction - it's just that most of those I speak of are looking for young adult (YA) and middle grade (MG). Both of these genres are hot in a publishing market that's cold, hence why so many agents are looking for the next big thing. That said, you are correct in saying that few agents rep picture book manuscripts and projects of a similar nature. Fewer picture books are published these days, and there is a glut of them sitting in agents' inboxes. Too many people want to write a picture book ms. If this is your goal, best of luck.
Now, regarding how to find reputable literary agents. You have some options. Pick up a copy of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. Not only does it have plenty of agent listings, it also has instructional articles on writing/craft, as well as other market listings for children's writers. The website I help oversee is www.writersmarket.com, and it has the whole shebang in terms of literary agent listings. It has the biggest agent database you can find anywhere - but know that it is a pay site.
Besides that, you can always check out AgentQuery.com, a helpful free resource online that lists reputable agents. Is it as big as WritersMarket.com? No, but it's free and it's very solid. You may want to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It will likely cost a fee, but you can have access to their wisdom and a list of recommended agents.
Those are some good places to start. Some options cost money. Some don't. But what I think happened is you just got spooked. You caught a real bad agency at first because you were looking in the wrong place. Search in the right places (mentioned above) and they're all reputable. They may not reply fast, and they may say "no" much more often than "yes," but you won't have to pay any upfront fees.

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