In the past several months, I've read posts on "agents being bad" including X, Y, and F. These were reasonably respectable agents/agencies, until they weren't. I'm planning to start querying soon , and yes I know there are good agents out there, and yes I've doubled my research on potential agents to query, but can you give any tips on what querying writers should be researching and considering, as we to try to screen out potential bad apples?
There are two kinds of bad apples. The kind that don't taste good, and the kind that can poison you.
I would classify the political contretemps (X and Y) as the apples that don't taste good. They may be good agents but things they've said or done make them undesirable to work with.
The only way to avoid those people is to follow them on social media.
Which is a problem if the agents are NOT on social media. Lots of the best agents have pulled back from The Twitters since it has sunk into cesspoolian depths.
My standard advice still holds: query widely. When you get offers, dig in on the research then. Ask the current clients what the agent is like to work with.
The bad apple that can poison you is the agency that's not paying you correctly. As in on time. Or with bounced checks. Or just not at all (the horrifying situation of Chuck Palahniuk comes to mind.)
If an agency is fucking around with your money, don't delay. Get immediate help. The first stop is the royalties department at the publisher. If your agency says they didn't get paid, you can verify this.
If you're worried about this kind of thing, you can have your publishing contract direct that your money be sent directly to you from the publisher. It's called split payments. Now that I'm a sole prop I do this with my clients who have big deals. The very last thing I want is for their money to be held up if I'm not able to get to the PO and process checks courtesy of a head-on with the cross town bus.
And the pandemic has illustrated how quickly things can fall behind if someone is not in the office to process the money.
Be wary of gossip.
Anyone can say anything on social media these days and once it gains traction, there's nothing anyone can do to calm the waters. I saw that personally last spring, and honestly, I've never posted anything about queries again on Twitter.
As always, Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware are the place to verify shenanigans, and reports of shenanigans. She's well-established and I trust her.