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View Poll Results: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong?

54. You may not vote on this poll
  • No fee whatsoever till the book is sold (money flows towards the writer)

    49 90.74%
  • Is OK to have a fee as long as it's itemised, upfront and you know what you get yourself in for (money flows from the writer towards the agent first)

    4 7.41%
  • Be your own agent (do a bit of DIY as there are some 'how to' books out there)

    0 0%
  • Classic case of fee charging agent with editing service and book doctor connections (money flows towards the agent)

    1 1.85%
  • Other (please let us know)

    0 0%
Results 1 to 13 of 13

Thread: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong?

  1. #1

    Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong?


    I hope no one gets any offence in this question.

    After reading so much literature against the fee charging agents, I'm a bit confused if it's right or wrong to approach such an agent (especially when one doesn't know exactly for how much money he goes in for till the book is sold).

    I've noticed that many agents take pride in the fact that they do not charge any fees (while some don't mention any of such possible fees on their website), while other agents charge reading fees, mailing/paper fees, jump-the-queue fees etc. and they are still seen as being reasonable and legitimate even if not recommended openly by some sites.

    I thought that an agents commission is drawn after the first sale and this was a highly motivating factor for the agent to sell the book as soon as possible as, the sooner the book was sold, the sooner he could get his commission/percentage. This is the healthy principle of "money flows towards the writer".

    The other principle that I've noticed as being healthy too on this boards is the one where the "money flows from the writer first" to pay for expenses, etc. What does it usually amounts to? How much does a writer has to pay out of his pocket before the book is accepted and he gets his first advance? I know that it all depends on how quickly it sells, how high the fees are, the length of the book etc., but still is it possible to get a rough idea of an average cost for selling a 100k book for a year? Maybe there are some writers or agents that could let us know how much it costs them to have a 100k book making the publisher rounds at a fee charging agent during one year.

    What if one gets accepted by such an agent and then discovers that he cannot really afford the high upfront fees (I name upfront fees the fees that come to the writer before the book is sold)?

    What kind of agent would you advice a newbie writer to look for?

    Please take the time to vote and any comments and ideas on what is best are greatly appreciated.

    Best Wishes,


  2. #2

    Re: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong?

    A couple of decades ago, most agents didn't expect writers to share any of the expense of submission at all. The agent submitted the manuscript, took a 10% or 15% commission when it sold, and absorbed all expenses involved as normal business overhead.

    Over the years the average commission percentage increased--15% is now the norm--as did the cost of copying, postage, etc. Agents began expecting clients to bear some of the cost of submitting their manuscripts. These costs weren't charged upfront or billed to the author as incurred, but accrued until a sale was made, and then reimbursed out of the author's advance.

    That's the way most established agents still do it. However, change is always afoot in the industry, and there seems to be an increasing trend for agents to want their clients to reimburse postage/copying costs as incurred, or to provide all full manuscript copies, or even to provide a "deposit" on contract signing. This is still NOT the norm. It's still much more likely than not that an agent who wants you to hand over cash pre-sale is either fraudulent or incompetent, and ANY time you're asked for money upfront, or told that expenses will be billed to you, you should do extra research to assure yourself the agent is legit. But you can no longer automatically assume--as you could five or six years ago--that a reputable agent will never ask clients to pay expenses out-of-pocket before a manuscript is sold.

    (Note: I don't like this trend. I don't think it's in writers' best interest. But it's a fact, and it has to be acknowledged.)

    As a result, it's more true now than it has ever been that THE BOTTOM LINE IS TRACK RECORD. I put that in caps because it's so important. If there are any upfront charges, reimbursements, etc., these need to be put in context of the agent's professional success--or lack of it. Does the agent have a substantial track record of selling books to publishers you've heard of? Then she is an agent worth considering even if she bills you periodically for submissions expenses (though speaking for myself, such an agent would not be my first choice). Does she have no track record at all or a teeny tiny list of placements with small publishers whose names you don't know? Then you probably want to give her a miss.

    (Another note: Some writers wonder why it's important that an agent have a track record. To this I can only say, if you were looking to hire a contractor to renovate your kitchen, wouldn't you look for someone with kitchen renovation experience? It's no different with agents--though for some unfathomable reason, many writers seem to believe that agenting is like selling Avon products and you can make a go of it if you just have the right attitude. WRONG. Agenting is a skilled profession requiring specialized knowledge. Your agent, just like your contractor, should have a proven record of business success.)

    Even where an agent reimburses expenses out of your advance and you aren't expected to pay anything out-of-pocket, you still want to know going in what those expenses are likely to be, so you don't get blindsided. The author-agent agreement should address exactly what expenses you're expected to bear and when they will be charged. It's also a good idea to have a cap, say $50, above which the agent will have to seek your approval for any single expense. Expenses charged back to you should ONLY be expenses directly related to the marketing of your book--photocopying, postage, courier fees, long-distance calls--i.e., expenses the agent wouldn't have incurred if she didn't represent you. An agent who wants you to pay for travel, legal fees, or normal business stuff like envelopes and stationary is gouging you.

    There are still some things that it can be pretty authoritatively said that reputable agents don't do, and should trigger an "automatic avoid" response:

    - Offer you an editing service for which you have to pay. Reputable agents don't double as paid editors: it's a conflict of interest. Many agents do work with clients to polish manuscripts for submission, but they don't charge extra for this service.

    - Urge all or most potential clients to use the services of one particular editor. There may be a financial connection--the agent may be getting a kickback or the editor may be the agent's own employee.

    - Steer clients toward a publishing house the agent owns or has an interest in. Another conflict of interest.

    - Place clients with self-publishing or other pay-to-publish publishers. No reputable agent will do this.

    - Victoria

  3. #3

    fee vs exspenses

    I think, too, that you need to consider the definition of a fee.

    A fee it seems to me is paid up front, for reading, or perhaps a fee per ms in advance.

    While reimbursement for expenses comes after the costs are incurred. Adn track record is always important.


  4. #4

    Re: fee vs exspenses

    Thanks Victoria.
    Shawn, please is it possible to give us a very rough estimate of the costs to make the publisher rounds of 1 book per one year? (I apologize in advance for asking and if you think it's too confidential I understand ).

    Many Thanks,


  5. #5


    There are a lot of variables--overseas? In NYC, how many went by e-mail etc.

    And I am not comfortable with posting it without asking Andy first.

    I can say this--every expense was itemized, and below what I could have printed or copied, mailed, and packaged myself. I know where each submission went and the exact cost of it.


  6. #6

    Re: Variables

    First of all, charging an upfront fee removes any requirement that the agent actually sells your novel. If the agent has to front the costs of sending the novel around, they're going to make sure that the book gets into a position where it might be purchased. If the agent gets a fee up front, then it doesn't matter whether the book sells or not: he can just find other people to pay the fee and forget about marketing (other than in a very perfunctory manner).

    Also, an agent is expected to front all routine costs: postage and copying (I don't see copying as being a major expense, since the agent is usually sending the book to one market at a time. Heck, these days, he can just ask you for a disk of the novel in case it gets lost). Now extra expenses are often billed to the author and deducted from any monies recieved, but that would involve, say, FedExing a manuscript instead of mailing it, or various costs for overseas sales. Again, having the agent front the money keeps him honest.

  7. #7

    Re: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong?

    I vote, categorically, WRONG. I got hooked up with a fee charging agent and the experience was devastating. The man took my money and then did nothing for me, lied to me about submissions while he blew stardust in my eyes, and cost me about $500 in legal fees. FCA's are evil people who prey on the hopeful and trusting. My only justifiable retribution was to report him, With exception to jail time, nothing will ever satisfy the emotional and financial hardship he caused me.

  8. #8
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
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    Porting over more posts from the old AW:


    Board elder
    Posts: 593
    (2/11/05 4:32 pm)
    | Del New Post Re: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong? I too deplore this tendency for legit agents to charge for copying and other small expenses, primarily because it provides cover for scam agents.

    To my way of thinking, the three things that distinguish a real agent are lineage, clientele, and business practices.

    1. Lineage: The only way to become a real agent is to spend years working for a real agent. It's an apprenticeship. Thus you get your lines of descent: Val Smith, Lynn Prentiss, Nanci McCloskey, and Jim Allen (deceased) all came out of the Virginia Kidd Agency. Richard Curtis, Jack Scoville, Ted Chichak, Russ Galen, and I think (though I could be wrong) Josh Bilmes all came out of the Scott Meredith Agency. I forget who Andy Zack used to work for, but it was someone real. At some point in the future Lucienne Diver will be an independent agent, but now and for the foreseeable she's working under Eleanor Wood. Et cetera and so forth.

    (Note: There's no guarantee that an agent with a legit background won't go bad, but it's extremely uncommon, and when it does happen it's usually people who didn't work for real agents for more than a few years.)

    An agent who's spent years working at a legit agency and has a list of legit clients, but who happens to charge for xeroxing manuscripts and the like, is a real agent whose policies I don't like but can accept. An agent who didn't serve an apprenticeship, has made few or no real sales for his clients, and charges authors for various services, is someone I'm much more inclined to call a scammer.

    2. Clientele: A real agent will have clients whose books are available through your local bookstore. Such clients should form the majority of that agent's list. No reputable agent specializes in representing new and untried authors. They can't; newbies are all work and no pay; and if the agent's any good, his or her list will fill up with successful authors anyway.

    Basically, agents are just like editors this way: what they want to find are good authors; and, in pursuit of same, some are a bit more willing than others to take a chance on newbies. That's as far as it goes, though. You may take it as a rule of thumb that any agent who hasn't made significant sales for his or her existing clientele is not going to make sales for you, either. And don't fall for the line about the agent not having made any sales yet because he or she has only recently gone into business. A real agent starts out with real clients they've accumulated during their apprenticeship. They don't start from scratch.

    3. Business Practices: Some practices are questionable but may be acceptable, like charging for copying extra manuscripts. In those cases, the agent's background and client list matter more than their office policies.

    However, some practices immediately mark an agent as a scammer. Just off the top of my head:
    -- Advertising a (possibly proprietary) submission method that's strikingly different from the methods used by legit agencies.

    -- Refusing to reveal their client list.

    -- Having a client list full of authors whose "sales" are all to vanity presses.

    -- Charging a client for editing.

    -- Charging a client for promotional services.

    -- Telling clients that no publishing house will look at a manuscript that hasn't been professionally edited, especially if they then "help" the client find an editor or book doctor.

    -- Ditto, "helping" the client connect with paid promotional services.

    -- Heavily emphasizing the supposed need for the client to promote his or her own book. Real agents sell your book to publishers who do their own promotion. You're allowed to help, but you should never be the primary promoter of your own book.

    -- Charging fees on a monthly or yearly basis. Real agents charge for incidental expenses as they come up. There's no basic service charge.

    -- Charging a client per submission for multiple simultaneous submissions.

    -- Claiming to frequently make multiple simultaneous submissions.See why fees/no fees isn't enough to tell you who's a scammer and who isn't?

    Remember to always do your research first. A bad agent can bring you an unending amount of trouble and grief. A clueless agent can be nearly as bad. In a pinch, ask Victoria.


    Posts: 861
    (2/11/05 5:48 pm)
    | Del New Post Re: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong? Great list, Hapi.

    >>Heavily emphasizing the supposed need for the client to promote his or her own book. Real agents sell your book to publishers who do their own promotion.<<

    A red flag related to this one:

    -- A request for a marketing plan for a novel. Nonfiction publishers may want a marketing plan (though not separately; this should be one part of your book proposal), but fiction publishers don't. Not only do they do their own marketing, they know a whole lot more about it than you do.

    - Victoria

    Two of Eight
    Writer Beware:


    Practically runs
    the joint
    Posts: 726
    (2/11/05 10:11 pm)
    | Del
    New Post Andy--
    Quote:Andy became a literary agent in September of 1993, joining the then recently formed Scovil Chichak Galen Literary Agency as a full agent. He was immediately joined by several former authors whom he had edited and proceeded to build his list of fiction and nonfiction authors.

    Also want to add that an agent should send you copies of the rejections that he/she receives, not just tell you they got them.



    Board elder
    Posts: 595
    (2/12/05 2:25 am)
    | Del New Post Re: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong?

    >>A red flag related to this one:

    -- A request for a marketing plan for a novel. Nonfiction publishers may want a marketing plan (though not separately; this should be one part of your book proposal), but fiction publishers don't. Not only do they do their own marketing, they know a whole lot more about it than you do.<<

    Oh, cripes, yes. Nothing against an author who doesn't know any better than to send a marketing plan with a novel; but an agent surely ought to know you don't do that.


    New friend
    Posts: 2
    (2/12/05 8:56 am)
    | Del New Post Re: Fee Charging Agents: Right or Wrong? What about small presses that ask what you'll do to promote your book? When checking out submission guidelines, I've come across a few that ask and as far as I know, they're legit. Are the "rules" different for smaller publishers?

  9. #9
    Writer Beware Goddess Absolute Sage victoriastrauss's Avatar
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by victoriastrauss
    What about small presses that ask what you'll do to promote your book? When checking out submission guidelines, I've come across a few that ask and as far as I know, they're legit. Are the "rules" different for smaller publishers?
    As I noted somewhere above, asking about marketing is a nonfiction thing, and while you want to be careful with smaller publishers (many of which, especially in these days of the Internet and POD, are run by people who have no professional publishing experience and do little or nothing in the way of marketing and distribution), a request for promotional plans for a nonfiction book isn't an automatic red flag.

    For fiction, though, I'd say it's cause to be wary. These days, I think every writer needs to at least consider self-promoting--but the publisher should take the lead in marketing and promoting its books, and a discussion of self-promotion shouldn't be something that's required as part of the submissions process (it suggests the publisher uses its authors as an unpaid sales force). Nor should it be written into the contract.

    The acid test of a smaller publisher is bookstore presence (since the majority of books are sold in stores). Some regional publishers' books are only stocked regionally, but they should be stocked. If there's no bookstore presence, or the publisher tells you its efforts are directed toward online marketing (beware of any publisher that touts its innovative/nontraditional marketing efforts), or if you discover that it's going to be your job to beg stores to shelve your book, you might want to give the publisher a miss. It shouldn't be up to you to get your books into stores--that's the publisher's job.

    - Victoria

  10. #10
    Elder Scrolls devotee
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    Thanks, Victoria, that was very helpful.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW Renee's Avatar
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    Thanks Victoria for the information!

    "Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained." William Blake 1757-1827.

  12. #12
    Preditors & Editors Requiescat In Pace DaveKuzminski's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Oh great, now some agency is adding a 15% charge onto mailing and copying costs to their clients. I've already asked the writer to send me further documentation and the identy of that agency.

    Looks like I'll have to refine the P&E criteria for agents once more since I figure the 15% is the agency's way of getting paid for their time. If so, then they're asking to be paid twice unless they reduce their commission by the amount of all such overage in any mailings for that particular client.
    When it comes to PA, the royalty check and the reality check arrive in the same envelope.

    Remember to be kind to writers who step in PA. They really don't know how bad it smells.

    The difference between PA and WLA? None. Both have the stench of dead and dying books emanating from their doorways.

  13. #13
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
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    I still say that the only place a writer signs a check is on the back.


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