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

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 a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives shouldn’t be high on the list. Here’s why.
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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.