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.)
1) NEVER PAY AN AGENT A “READING FEE”
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.
2) NEVER PAY “MAILING” CHARGES UP FRONT
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.
3) AVOID AGENCIES THAT ADVERTISE
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: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/twentyworst.html
Do the math: agents don’t have to advertise.
3) CHECK OUT CLIENT LISTS
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.
4) CHECK RECENT SALES
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.
5) ASK HOW OFTEN THEY FORWARD REJECTION LETTERS
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.
6) VISIT WRITERS FORUMS WHERE AGENT INFORMATION IS SCREENED AND EXCHANGED.
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. http://www.agentquery.com/
And before you query an agent, make sure you check with those tireless watchdogs at Writer Beware http://www.sfwa.org/beware/index.html.
And here are some other great web sites that can alert you to scammers:
Preditors and Editors http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/
Absolute Write http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/
Query Tracker http://www.querytracker.net/
And do check the Association of Authors Representatives site http://www.aaronline.org/mc/page.do?sitePageId=9693&orgId=aar
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.