books with Athena

books with Athena

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Beware Bogus Literary Agents

Six Tips to Avoid Getting Scammed

I belong to the generation of women who were told we were more likely be shot by terrorists than find husbands. Several decades later, we’re all writing books about our fabulous single lives—as desperate now for literary representation as we once were for the white dress/gold ring thing.

I haven’t seen statistics about the comparative likelihood of being shot by a terrorist vs. finding a literary agent, but given the global political climate, I’d say odds heavily favor the terrorists.

But I guess I can fantasize that someday I’ll be shot by a terrorist who works for Curtis Brown.

We can’t blame agents. We’re in this situation because there are only 438 members of the Association of Author’s Representatives in the U. S. while most of the 230 million of us who own computers have at least one novel in progress in the files. (If as many Americans bought books as wrote them, our situation wouldn’t be so dire.)

With such vast herds of us overpopulating the planet, it’s inevitable that we’ve attracted our share of predators.

So here are six pointers to help you hang onto your dwindling cash reserves during this soul-crushing process (and no, publishing a few books with a small press to good reviews doesn’t do much to increase your chances of getting an agent’s attention—in fact it probably works against you—more on that in another post.)


Any agent who charges money to read your manuscript isn’t going to help your career. Publishers consider it unethical and won’t do business with them.

If you have to pay somebody to read your book, it’s not ready for publication. If you’re a newbie, DO pay a qualified freelance editor or book doctor, but never with a promise of publication attached. They simply can’t deliver.


A popular scam. Bogus agencies sign thousands of clients and charge them each $250 or more per quarter for “copying and mailing.” But they never make a sale. I’ve seen heartbreaking letters from writers who’ve lost as much as $3,000 before they caught on.

Small agencies may legitimately ask for copying and mailing fees AFTER they’ve sent out your work, but they’ll provide proof they’re sending out your manuscript.


A librarian friend recently forwarded me an intriguing ad from an agency advertising for submissions. I visited their refreshingly positive website and almost fell into the trap until I Googled them.

They appeared on the list of “20 WORST AGENTS” at the Writer Beware site:

Do the math: agents don’t have to advertise.


If there’s no client page on their website, run. Agents don’t keep client lists “confidential.” If they represent a literary star, they’ll pound their chests and bellow about it.


Even if somebody in the agency can claim to have represented Steven King, if it happened in King’s pre-Carrie days and she hasn’t sold anything since, don’t go there.


A good agent will always send on your rejections, usually every quarter. Some scammers do send manuscripts to publishing houses, but only in mass mailings addressed to no particular editor. Those go into recycling without a response.


The site I visit daily is AgentQuery—the best site for up to the minute agent info and also a great forum for writers to exchange information.

And before you query an agent, make sure you check with those tireless watchdogs at Writer Beware

And here are some other great web sites that can alert you to scammers:

Preditors and Editors

Absolute Write

Query Tracker

And do check the Association of Authors Representatives site

But it’s important to note that an agent doesn’t have to be a member of AAR to be legitimate and even top-notch. New agents have to work for a certain number of years before they’re allowed to join—and it is the newer and hungrier agents who are reading queries from new writers and actively building their lists.

But most of all, don’t forget: Google is your friend. Check ’em out.


To all my new followers: Welcome! I hope to visit all your sites soon. I realize this info is probably old news to most of you who are already visiting blogs, but do pass on the information to friends who might need it. Everybody’s a newbie once.


  1. Anne

    You have glued about forty hours of my internet research into the one post.
    I wouldn't be teetering (tittering?) on the edge of divorce if I'd found this posted a couple of months ago. :)

  2. Oh, my Elaine. I think there's the plot of a novel here. Nice to know this is useful stuff, but I hope it reaches a few fellow writers BEFORE their worlds start teeter-tottering.

  3. Excellent post anne.

    Very scary stats about terrorist vs. lagent - i think Lagent representation is more akin now to being struck by lightning lol.

    Very useful information. alot more people should be aware of this!

  4. Good reminders Anne! And I think the scamming will increase as the economy continues its downward slide. Cool blog! Via Moonie... Peace, Linda

  5. I just joined your site today :). Great information!

  6. Great tips, although I'm confused about #5. That's the only one I'm really unfamiliar with... Can you explain what "send on your rejections" means? Thanks!

  7. Thank you for the informative post! I came here via Editorial Ass. I'm just about to embark on the harrowing agent search so this is all hugely helpful to me.

  8. Kristan: Re: #5--The rejections only start with the agent-hunt process. I know. Arrgghh. For the really heartbreaking rejections, you have to wait until your agent starts sending your stuff to editors. Sometimes editors send detailed rejections to the agent, and sometimes they send one-line thanks but no thanks things, just like the ones agents send to us.

    I think an agent should forward copies of those editor's rejections to you, and my agents always have. Those letters can tell you where you're not hitting the target market. But I've heard that recently a lot of agents don't forward. However, they do need to tell you who they've sent your stuff to, at what house, and who has rejected it.

  9. OOHH forward to ME! Got it. Yes, you know, I hadn't heard about this, but I did assume agents would tell you where they sent your stuff and what the general feedback was. Thanks so much for the clarification! One more rejection process I can look forward to... :P

  10. Great post. Thanks for all the good information.

  11. Nicely written post!

    Young and hungry agents who are looking for clients may indeed not be members of AAR, but what you can ask them (BEFORE SIGNING!) is what literary agency they have worked in. Interned in or worked in.

    I'm always rather taken aback by people who decide they can be literary agents without actually having been inside an agent's office.

  12. OMG, a comment on my blog from the Query Shark herownself!

    "Nicely written" I must bask.

    But this info is too important to leave in the comments section: I will add it to a post.

    Thanks Ms. Reid. I'm a major fan!

  13. Great advice and you've made me smile. Smilings good. Thanks, Simon.

  14. I had a real chuckle at the terrorist comment.

    Thanks for the post, I found it really informative. I knew about some of your points, but hadn't really thought about making sure I would get feedback from the agent about what the editors are saying. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. Thanks, Anne. This is terrific advice - and even though I'm still editing my novel and not ready to seek out agents, I know it will come in handy someday!

    Wow... but 438 agents vs. millions of unpublished writers? The odds really do seem staggering - no wonder having a web presence (and a solid book, of course) is so essential.

  16. I love to write and write well, but don't begrudge me that gold ring or that white dress. I am so hoping that there is someone who will treat me like he wants me for the rest of his life rather than just for a night. It's so easy to find a hookup, so hard to find someone who cares.

    There are scams a-plenty for every field. Beware no matter what you do.

  17. Miss Snark is definitely a flim flam scam agent who has never sold a book to an advance and royalty paying publisher. Anne, If you can tell us the name of even one title that Miss snark has sold to an advance and royalty paying publisher, then please do so. Otherwise, don't even bother to preach about scams, since she is the epitome of the word.

  18. March 7 Anon--Miss Snark is the pseudonym of a very successful and high profile agent who reps a large stable of bestselling authors. For legal reasons, she prefers to leave the Snarkives anonymous.