(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.