Yesterday I received a so-called "call for submissions" from Daniel Kane of Elite Online Literary Agency. His letter claimed to have an in with a "major New York publishing house" and if writers sent him assorted pieces of information and a $25 money order made out to American Education Services, "Submissions will be reviewed as quickly as possible"--I noted that he didn't actually *say* that he would show your material to this publisher in return for the $25.
Red flags immediately went up. My usual quick Internet check on this guy and the "agency" threw up even more. At the same time, I started questioning him about what the $25 was, exactly. His initial email said only that "American Education Services is neither a sponsor nor endorser of this project." So what was it? Why were authors paying them if they had nothing to do with this? He replied that American Education Services was a "quasi-governmental administrator of higher education funding" and that money orders were to be sent to them because "those are my terms."
I checked out American Education Services. It was a student loan site. So I asked Kane, "What is the $25 for? Is it a donation? Are authors making payments on someone's loan?! 'Those are my terms' just don't cut it. I fail to see how this has anything to do with literary representation."
He hedged, saying that he thought they might like some money (really!). I pressed. His final answer revealed that the $25 he was requiring from writers was, indeed, going to pay HIS STUDENT LOAN. This, IMHO, is unethical—he is banking on writers, desperate to get publishers to look at their manuscripts, to send him money that he can apply to his student loan.
Some will know this, some won't, so I'll say it: No legitimate agent charges a fee, let alone requiring writers to make a payment on his student loan. Be warned--there is no easy way to publication; good writing gets published, it's not who you or anyone else knows. Always run a check on any "agent" or "publisher" who makes glorious-sounding claims and wants money. If nothing else, ask yourself: Is he making money from selling books, or from unsuspecting writers? Legitimate agents are not donating their time by not charging fees--they are working on commission. They have a vested interest in selling your book for you, because then they will make money, too--from the publishing deal, NOT their clients.
For more information, I suggest:
"How to Protect Yourself from Questionable Agents":
"How to Sniff Out Literary Scams":
SFWA's "Writer Beware":