I popped in to today’s YAlitchat, and read one anonymous poster’s theory that agents can be ethical or effective, but not both. Now, that was less than an hour ago, and that user no longer exists on Twitter, so possibly they were just there to brew a little ha ha. But it raised a point worth expanding on.
First of all, if you believe this, you’ve probably been burned. And that sucks. But the vast majority of agents are BOTH. And thank god. I mean, would you want an unethical agent, who effectively sold your novel, to be handling your money? Hell no.
The Association of Author’s Representatives, or AAR, which not all agents belong to, has a very strict code of ethics that their members must adhere to. Even agents that aren’t members — and not belonging to the AAR doesn’t automatically mean an agent is unethical — usually follow their guidelines.
You have to ask — how can an unethical agent, in the long run, truly be effective? Sure, they might make a few sales, but in the long term, if they behave in an unethical manner, they’re going to be burning editors and authors, and after a while, who’s going to want to work with them?
I know a number of my colleagues chimed in to call these theory total horseshit, and I hope any author who came across it listens to the overwhelming number of folks who had experiences that disprove it, and not the lone wolf who seemingly wrote it just to stir up controversy.
Bottom line: hold out for the agent who’s both ethical and effective. We’re the vast majority.