Q) Tell me more about your company
A) We are bigger than a small agency and smaller than a large agency. We have about 15 people total and as of 2nd quarter, 2005 we have over 60 active conversations on going with buyers and 3 option agreements in negotiations in our screenplay division. We just sold our 4th book deal (to a publisher in England) and we are confident of more success later this year. (A 5th deal is being signed as we speak). We market to the larger and medium sized publishers and producers. We have had 5 successes now in the last 2 years (fyi: most agencies only have 1 or 2 deals every couple of years, if that.). MS: Bullshit
AAR is the professional organization for literary agents. To apply for membership you have to sell ten projects in 18 months. Reputable agents, myself included, meet that standard. AAR membership is by agent; you have to sell ten yourself. It's not ten for the whole agency.
Other red flags:
"60 active conversations" is very convoluted way to say "60 projects being considered". My guess is that it means there are six books at ten editors or ten books at six editors. If they have "15 people", even assuming only half are agents, that's less than two projects per agent. HUGE warning sign.
To use my agency as an example: at close of business yesterday I have 27 clients, 14 active projects on submission to 37 editors. That doesn't count any of the stuff the foreign rights people or the film people are doing. I sold 16 books in 2005 with two more sales that will accrue to 2006 for tax purposes. I'm probably on the low end of sales numbers; I have colleagues who regularly sell 50 projects a year and I know two agents who sell over 100. All are either one, two or three person agencies.
"second quarter" ended in June. This is December. EVERY single agent I know can tell you the status of every single project they have right now, this second, probably without looking at notes.
The biggest red flag is the continuing ongoing defense of the agency. Reputable agencies or agents simply do not do this. We sell projects. If you don't want to work with us, fine. We don't engage in endless back and forth about whether we're legitimate. We know we are; if you think we're not, well then just "foad". We can and will tell you who we represent, by name and title. We don't need to answer basic questions in a convoluted way. Legitimate agents can answer these questions by rote, in a form letter, with one hand tied behind their back and drunk. It's utterly and completely basic. ANY agency who dithers around like this is full of crap. Avoid them.
Update: I googled "Childrens Literary Agency". The first item of 24 total was a sponsored link. All the other hits were authors or discussion boards. HUGE HUGE HUGE red flag. Reputable agents don't pay to be sponsored links on google (or advertise in Writers Digest/Market/Whatever mag) . Reputable agents have websites that work (this one didn't, at least for me), mentions at writing conferences, books sold, acknowledgments pages, and at the very least in Writers Digest listings or Gerard Jones Everyone Who's Anyone. By way of comparison, I googled myself (not Miss Snark). There are 30 listings spelled wrong, 43 spelled right and 186 for my agency name.