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How To Identify A Bad Literary Agent
There are very many writers around and a similar number of literary agents whom writers depend on to get their works published and to get paid. However, even though there are many legitimate agents, not all of them can be trusted. As a result, any author should be careful and should thoroughly vet individual agents and literary agencies – especially those they have never worked with before.
Reputable literary agents should make their money when the books they represent are sold. Agents cannot make money from authors any other way, at least not ethically. If an agent asks authors for fees such as evaluation, reading, marketing, or a retainer, this should immediately raise red flags in authors’ minds.
In the past, reading fees were charged by agencies without raising any red flags. However, agents began to abuse this system by charging reading fees for books that they were not interested in. This caused the trade group for US literary agents to abolish this fee. The same case applies for evaluation fees. Agencies that are not trustworthy might charge an evaluation fee and give a generic critique or one made by a less-qualified reviewer. Any evaluation by reputable agents is done free of charge.
Apart from the fees mentioned above, some other dubious fees are categorized as administrative fees, submission costs, and marketing fees. Literary agents that are ethical should only charge authors if they encounter expenses that are beyond the usual expenses involved with publishing. Such expenses might include shipping costs, long-distance phone calls, etc. These costs are usually taken from royalties received on behalf of a client and are not requested up front. Agents that demand money up front for vague reasons should be avoided.
Sometimes agents might not necessarily be trying to swindle authors but they might be using underhanded tactics to make submissions to editors. They might be sending work to editors that are not interested in such work, arm-twisting editors to accept the work, bribing editors, etc. Editors like these have tainted images and they might cause an author’s perfectly good work to be ignored. Sometimes an author might feel that it is better to have any agent than not to have one at all. However, this is not true because some agents might do more harm than good to an author’s career.
Authors who have a good reputation do not need to find clients online or advertise their services in magazines and other periodicals. They also never send unsolicited mail to authors. If an author is approached by people claiming to be agents without having solicited their assistance, the author should avoid dealing with them. Discredited agents often look for writers online and go as far as purchasing lists of known authors to increase their chances of getting hired by unsuspecting authors.
Once in a blue moon, a reputable agent will come across an author’s work and contact the author directly. Authors should know that sometimes this happens and they should not be quick to ignore such agents. The author should however judge if the agent is acting in good faith before hiring him.