It can be an extremely difficult task to break into the book publishing world when you begin with no writing credits and no publishing industry contacts but definitely not impossible. New writers break in every day and get paid handsomely for their work.
The major pitfall is that in their eagerness to make progress, new writers often fall prey to individuals seeking to separate the author from his or her money.
The writer’s ally here is the Internet. It’s possible to get fairly detailed information about any agent or publisher’s reputation and then decide whether you want to do business with them.
Anyone can call themselves a literary agent or a publisher. The listings in the literary agency directories are not necessarily vetted, or checked by the publisher. Anyone buying a set of ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is considered a publisher.
How to Find a Literary Agent Without Being Scammed
Literary agents vary widely in ethics, dedication and competence.
You should never leave your career totally in the hands of an agent. It’s up to you to sell your work as well.
Types of things to watch out for with literary agents:
Charging the author a fee up front, to be accepted as a client. This fee can be called a reading fee, or a monthly “office expenses” charge. The best agents, and most successful ones, only charge a percentage fee of royalties the author earns, typically 15%. Suppose a realtor charged you a fee to come over and tour your house before getting the listing? How quickly would you show that realtor the door?
Charging back unusually large “postage and copying fees” to send out an author’s work. One crooked agency accepts almost every client that contacts them, but in the fine print of the contract they charge “postage and handling” of up to $10 per submission they send out on your behalf. It doesn’t cost $10 to send a letter and a sample chapter of a book to a publisher. This company makes a fortune from these fees whether or not they successfully market any of their clients work.
Directing authors toward specific editing services or giving author’s names to these services. Sometimes they even own the editing service. Some agents make a significant portion of their income from referral fees from these services.
Demanding that a critique be completed before the agency decides to offer representation. The fee for the critique may be minimal, perhaps even less than $100. But if the average agency is contacted by 90 writers a week that fee can add up.
Terms in agency contracts with writers vary widely. The contract must be read carefully.
The agent contacts publishers pretty much at random. The agent’s value to you is in the relationships they have with publishers, so that if the publisher hears from them, they know the book is worth taking a look at. Ask to see copies of rejection letters that come back from publishers. If it looks like just a form letter response, rather than a letter you would send to an acquaintance, you can bet the agent may be just picking names out of a directory of publishers.
The agent refuses to provide the names of clients or titles sold. Sales are an agent’s life blood and reputation. If an agent won’t name names it could be because there aren’t any sales.
Puts forth a weak effort or gives up on the client’s project after a few months. You have a right to ask how active the agent is going to be. How many publishers are they going to contact, how will they follow up? You have a right to periodic reports as to whom they have contacted and the results. You must determine how much time and attention they are really going to give you.
Look for these warning signs and you won’t find a literary agent who is a scam.