FINDING AN AGENT Pt 2
After you’ve made the “Hey, I need an agent!” decision, the next step is to identify the right one for you. And the first step in that is to make sure you don’t fall prey to some of the many, many unscrupulous agents in the business.
Literary agents get 15% of your gross and that fee is taken out of the checks sent from a publisher. They also get percentages of foreign sales, film rights, etc., but the bottom line is that agents make their living off of fees based on actual sales. And, take note, you’ll know the exact amount of your advance from the contract you sign with the publisher and you’ll get an end of year accounting from the agent that clearly shows what monies were received by the publisher, the amount of their fee-based deduction, and the monies disbursed to you. With royalties you’ll be given a copy of the royalties breakdown, which is sent by the publisher to the agent along with the royalties check. The agent will deduct the agency fee and send a check along with a copy of the royalties breakdown to you.
Since I posted the first part of this thread the other day I’ve received a lot of email from writers who have been gouged by agents who charge all sorts of fees: submission fees, reading fees, evaluation fees, marketing fees, and even editing fees. Even though these practices are technically legal (though prohibited by agent trade organizations), I always advise my students and friends to avoid those agents like the plague. An agent living off of incremental pre-sale fees is in business to make those fees. There’s no incentive for them to ever sell anything.
Some agents will offer to sell additional services, such as website design, PR kits, catalog placement for book events and fairs, print and Internet ads, book cover designs (publishers always use their own designs, so these would be a pointless waste of cash), business cards, writing class enrollments, etc. These are all money-gouging scams.
There are exceptions, sure. Some good agents do charge fees for copying and postage. Of all the fees discussed those are the ones a writer might agree to. Making copies of a hefty manuscript and mailing copies around is expensive. Okay, that one’s a maybe. But if they ask for submission or reading fees then look elsewhere.
I know a lot of agents, and every legitimate agent I know holds most kinds of fee-charging agents in contempt. Yes, I understand it’s a way for a start-up agency to get operating capital. Sorry, I have no sympathy for that. Take out a business loan or mortgage your house –don’t fleece the author.
Agents that charge to edit your book are also suspicious. More often a good agent who likes your book but believes it to need work will suggest that you go out and find a book editor (not a book doctor –a topic for another time) and then come back with the revised version. They will seldom if ever even suggest an editor. It’s an ethical point, a conflict of interest.
Freelance editors abound (but check them out, too). Get references if you can and follow up with those references. A rare few agents may work with you to edit your book, but this is less common and it chews up an agent’s time.
I’ve heard of a few agents who routinely steer their clients toward self-publishing, POD (print on demand), vanity press, e-publishing, or other services where the author has to pay some or all of the expense of having their book published, distributed, or placed. Don’t go there. Legitimate agents SELL your book, they don’t pimp it for vanity press ‘publishers’.
There’s a great resource for writers who want to check to see if an agent has a shady track record. http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubagent.htm is great. It’s not complete, of course, but it’s pretty damn far-reaching.
Also, there’s a pretty scathing expose of these fee-based agents, TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell by former FBI agent Jim Fisher (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004; hardback). And check out THE STREET SMART WRITER: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World by Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven (Nomad Press, 2006; trade paperback).
In my next blog we’ll talking about how to build a target list of reputable agents who are positioned to sell your kind of book and have the track-record and connections to do so.
Please feel free to use this blog thread to share your experiences (good and bad) with finding agents. The more everyone knows, the better everyone’s chances are in getting sold without getting fleeced.
If you have a question you don’t want to post on the blog thread, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tune in tomorrow and until then...write like you mean it!
Jonathan Maberry www.jonathanmaberry.com