This month features some important information on how to spot a bad agent.
The only thing worse than no agent is a bad agent. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that. My first agent promised feedback on sales every three months after my book was published. I never received a single report despite the author’s contract that stimulated quarterly report on sales. There are several websites that alert the first-time author to bad agents, including:
to name a few, but they all warn the newbie writer about the pitfalls of selecting a “bad agent.” For more websites google “bad agents.”
A couple of warning signs of a bad agent include:
1. The agent is not a member of Association of Author’s Representatives (AAR); this is not a given, but should screen out most bad agents. AAR has a code of ethics which says they will only accept a percentage of sales (usually 15% domestic; 20% foreign) after taking on a writer; beware of agents who charge up-front reading fees and preparing query letters; also beware of those agents who will not give you a list of recently published books and authors.
2. Agents who have sponsor links on legitimate agent websites—e.g. New York Literary Agency and its parent company, Association of New York Literary Agencies. Remember how sponsor links work; the person PAYS for the link to be on certain websites; it looks official and endorsed by the website, but all it takes is money to Google or Yahoo and Viola, the site is posted.
3. Agents who accept unsolicited manuscripts routinely should be suspect because most reputable agents do not accept manuscripts from first-time authors, unless they come highly recommended by another agent or published author who has reviewed the book.
4. Agents who have no writing or publishing experience should be suspect. If they have been in business less than five years, this should be another warning sign. Also if they use a PO Box and refuse to give a street address for their company. Many agents “rent” PO Boxes in NYC to appear knowledgeable and networked with NY Publishing Houses. Also beware of any agent who only accepts email inquiries; chances are they work from their homes and have no business charter or articles of incorporation.
5. Agents who publish a monthly newsletter or Blog are suspect because they also are more interested in providing writing tips than publishing your book. The exceptions to this rule are those true Bloggers who have first-hand experience with bad agents.
6. Agents who promise to represent every possible genre including poetry, mysteries, horror, science fiction, fantasy, biographies, etc. without any successful niche of quality material.
7. Agents who refuse to release a list of their successfully placed authors. They typically hide behind a cloak of confidentiality but the only person they’re protecting are themselves.
8. Agents who advertise only on the web. Most reputable agents are listed in trusted Literary Guides like Jeff Herman or Peter Rubio. Agents also are visible at writers’ conferences and annual awards presentations—e.g. Edgar Awards for Mystery Writers of America held annually in NYC.
9. Agents who do not answer any correspondence weekly after acceptance of your manuscript.
10. Agents who use a multi-level marketing approach to “get your book ready” for submission to a publisher; these include editing fees, book doctor fees, copying fees, finders fees, review fees, etc. Most people are paid on a “per newbie” basis and take a percentage of the upfront fees which can amount to hundreds of dollars before a publisher even sees your manuscript, if at all.
It’s sad that unscrupulous agents prey on vulnerable and naïve writers with weak egos. If you receive a reply within a week of your email submission or a month of your snail mail submission, be suspect that you’re about to enter the “twilight zone” of newbie writers. Bring a large jar of Vaseline to grease the skids as you veer out of control in a sea of “word speak” and unfulfilled promises.
Visit the websites above for a list of unscrupulous agents. See if they have their own websites and do they list authors and publications already in press.
- Determine if you want to use an agent; if you are writing a book for a limited audience, consider Print On Demand Presses, like IUniverse.com.
- Obtain a copy of Peter Rubio’s or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents. Look at what they will accept as manuscripts and a list of current authors.