An up-front fee is different from a commission. IF an agent sells your work, THEN he/she gets paid-- by taking a commission (usually 10-15% domestic) from all of your earnings from that book. Up-front fees generally signal unscrupulous agents who make their money from author fees because they can't make any actual sales, and thus, don't earn money on commissions. An agent is supposed to take on your work because he/she loves it and thinks it will sell (and earn money from a publisher), not because you're paying him/her to shop it around for you.
Not to be confused with the things that you get charged for, such as postage, copies, labels, and ms boxes. You will get charged for those, but often they come out of your advance, unless it's a first book then you may get a quarterly invoice or a yearly one--depends on your contract.
Be prepared for sticker shock. Those costs add up fast, but if the bill is itemized, and it should be, then you know exactly what you are being charged for each thing.
Someone said hey 15 bucks a ms is too much to send the thing out. I wonder if they added up the cost of copies, the box, the postage?
A 600 page ms at about 6 cents a page for copying is 35 bucks. If it goes to the UK --well that alone can cost 35 bucks. Courier service in NY? WOW, didn't know it was so much.
Anyway, some fees are normal. Reading fee's, processing fees etc are not.
Fee-charging violates the basic principle of the author-agent relationship: a shared financial interest in the sale of the author's book. An agent who gets paid only if you do is not only highly motivated to sell your book, but to get the best deal possible. An agent who's gotten money upfront has already made a profit, so the incentive to sell your work is diminished.
Real estate agents works more or less the same way. The commission-on-sale thing is a strong motivator.
I feel that an agent should front the expense of submissions, and reimburse herself out of the author's advance. I don't agree that expenses should be billed, even if it's after the expense is incurred--I don't think the author should pay anything out of pocket before a sale is made. Nor do I think there should be a double standard for new vs. established authors. Unfortunately, though, practices like this do seem to be increasing, especially among newer agents, though I believe they are still in the minority.
In the end, the bottom line is always track record.
Thanks to all the replies. All of that makes sense.
But to me the most compelling reason to be wary of agents who charge up-front fees is that one never knows before-hand whether they will be successful; and furthermore, there is the high likelihood, apparently (as you all agree), that up-front fee-charging agents will not be successful.
Again, if I KNEW that an agent was going to successfully get my book published with a good publisher, of course I would pay the fee. But not being able to KNOW...
ask ask ask ask ask--a lot of questions. So many writers I have talked to wondered at the fact that I asked potential agents a lot of questions when they said they wanted to rep me. "Weren't you afraid they'd change their mind?"
Well, if you have to afraid of that, then they are not an agent you want.
No upfront fees.
They share their list of clients and success stories.
They allow you to contact some of their clients, those who have published works.
They are honest, open, and stay in contact with you every step of that way.
Their answers to your questions are real answerers--not the because I'm the agent and I said so.
They don't waste a lot of time and words telling you how great your book is only to tell you that it needs editing by so and so for so much money.
Yes, they like your work or they would not take you on--but they tell you like it is--this scene sucks, rewrite it so it has more flow with the rest of the story it feels crow barred in. Yeah--and they give you step by step help if you need it without making you feel like a fool.
Beware any upfront fees, or promises that seem too good to be true.
Reading fees are pretty rare these days. They've been so completely discredited, and authors are so aware of their illegitimacy, that even bad agents don't usually charge them. The most common kind of fee now is the "marketing" fee--I'd guess that 90% or better of agents who charge fees charge marketing fees.
It doesn't matter what the fee is for. It's a bad idea if the agent wants you to pay him/her for that before selling your manuscript. If your manuscript is in that much need of editing, then find an independent editing service with a verified track record. In other words, they can point to some books they edited that were actually published by legitimate royalty-paying publishers. If you have one, your agent should not point you to anyone, but should steer you away from the known scammers if you believe your manuscript needs editing.
I read manuscripts for a lot of major agents in New York and they pay very well. I make my living at it. I read slush and I read their top, best-selling clients. So when writers log on to these forums and say, don't pay a reader's fee, ever and then say, you should only want an agent who's read your work and loves it, what they don't realize is that agents don't read. Nada. Period. Most agents don't have a clue. They’re business people. They might read twenty or so pages of a manuscript and then turn to the "coverage" to tell them what to think.
Come to think of it, I've never actually met an agent who was truly passionate about a book. Any book. They just want to believe they can sell it. And that's a very difficult thing to do these days. Especially with an unknown, uncelebrated writer. And publishers only seem to want to buy what they don't have to edit so that means agents are stuck with the job of helping writers achieve a professional level of craft. And that's an ongoing investment that few agents can afford and those who can are going to be highly selective on whom they spend that money on.
Anyway, I started out reading for so-called "reading fee agents" and the one big advantage for a writer to pay an agent a reading fee is that the author will get to see the report. And if you're book is good (well written, etc) and the reader recommends it, then there's a very good chance that the "reading fee agent" will take it on. Why wouldn't they?
And frankly, the bigger agencies who don't charge reading fees are still paying reading fees so they simply aren't going to accept a ms. from an unknown unless they have a very compelling reason to do so. And the most compelling reason I know is that the author is a close friend of a client. Or, the author is a celebrity. Or the author is well connected to someone in the industry. Otherwise, good luck getting a large, non reading-fee agency to even offer to look at your manuscript.
Anyway, my point being, if you're going to pay a reading fee, don't immediately assume that you're being ripped off. Call the agent, ask them what you can expect for the fee and ask for a list of their clients and recent sales. By paying the fee, you will get a report and a shot at being represented. But, by adamantly refusing to pay a fee, you may never get an agent to look at your work.
And consider the smaller agency who charges a fee. A reputable agent does so because they can't afford to charge off reading fees to their mega-sales clients because their break-thru mega-sales writers have all been vigorously courted and signed by the big agents. It’s a crummy situation all the way around but what are the alternatives?
My agent, with a good track record and some top name clients--reads. HE READS. HE does not charge a fee. HE worked with me for months getting the novel into commercial fiction shape. He feels about my book the same way I do.
Sad, that once again there are those who wish to prey on a new writer's dreams.
"Come to think of it, I've never actually met an agent who was truly passionate about a book. Any book. They just want to believe they can sell it. And that's a very difficult thing to do these days. Especially with an unknown, uncelebrated writer. And publishers only seem to want to buy what they don't have to edit so that means agents are stuck with the job of helping writers achieve a professional level of craft. And that's an ongoing investment that few agents can afford and those who can are going to be highly selective on whom they spend that money on."
Those are the agents who end not making any sales, because they never read or new anything about the business. They then set up scams, like Melanie Mills. They keep on and on until they end up in prison.
I'm not adding these comments to perpetuate the unfortunate fact that writers are being preyed upon nor am I knowingly dispensing b.s., I'm just offering my insights from my experience as a "professional" manuscript reader here in New York and I thought these insights might be useful.
I haven't worked for any so-called reading fee agents in a long, long time but, when I did, those agents were legitimate. They charged a fee but once they accepted a manuscript, they tried to sell it. I know for a fact that Colleen McCullough's (sp?) first book, I think it was called TIM, came in through an agent's fee-reading service. And the report was positive and the agent accepted the ms. and placed the book. And yeah, I'll admit that paying reading fees encourages unscrupulous types who are not legitimate agents, but then, what is a small but legitimate agent to do? They're overwhelmed with queries. Overwhelmed. How do they know what to ask for? They have to make a judgment call based on a writer's credentials and a synopsis but it's still a crap shoot. But are they expected to spend an entire day reading a speculative piece of fiction that, in the end, falls apart? And then spend another day assessing the work and offering detailed comments and then another day to re-read the draft that may or may not work and even if they feel the novel is salable, the prospect of selling even a really good novel in today's marketplace is doubtful. A lot of really good books don't get published. That's the reality. I see it all the time.
Look, writers are victimized and that sucks but the argument that book agents are like real estate agents is absurd. Manuscripts aren't houses and if you think otherwise, take your latest unpublished manuscript to a bank and ask for a loan.
Anyway, rather than cop an attitude, I would ask the writers who monitor this site to discuss this issue in a way that's realistic and open and even, if possible, fair-minded. It's an important issue. I’m simply offering my opinion here but it’s based on my experience and, for my part, I'm willing to listen to all sides.
if you read through the many posts on these boards, we have several professionals (writers who have been published traditionally and those who run watchdog groups) that very few legitimate agents charge reading fees since they have been so looked down upon in recent years. Many legitimate agents have dropped the fees in order to be a part of organizations. Overall, the safest bet is to avoid all fees, unless you know the agent has a solid track record.
it's the track record that counts, not so much the fees. but scam agents never give out sales, but usually this isn't apparent until after someone has been involved with the scammers. so statistically speaking, agents who charge fees are bogus. the number of legitimate agents who charge fees is so small that it's not worth taking the chance.
I'm just offering my insights from my experience as a "professional" manuscript reader here in New York and I thought these insights might be useful.
I doubt that "newsflash" is now or ever has been a professional manuscript reader. There are entirely too many things that don't add up in his/her posts. There are entirely too many things that are contrary to fact. There are entirely too many things that, if believed, would cause new writers a great deal of expense and pain for no results.
But let's see if we can figure out who "newsflash" really is, okay?
<blockquote> Most agents don't have a clue. They’re business people.
Anyway, A LITERARY AGENT must be an AGGRESSIVE BUSINESSMAN, tha'ts why you hire one.
-- <a href="http://pub43.ezboard.com/fabsolutewritefrm11.showMessageRange?topicID=210.topic&start=1&stop=20" target="_new">Robert Fletcher</a> (President of ST Literary Agency)
I've never actually met an agent who was truly passionate about a book. Any book. They just want to believe they can sell it.
I don't want to love you, I don't want to love your work, I want to sell it for money for you and for me.
-- Robert Fletcher
And the most compelling reason I know is that the author is a close friend of a client. Or, the author is a celebrity. Or the author is well connected to someone in the industry.
80% of all books published last year were from previously published authors, 10% were from celebrities, and 5% were from journalists.
-- Robert Fletcher
How're you doing, Robert? Haven't seen you around here in a while. Sold any manuscripts lately? Sold any manuscripts ever? Don't forget to write if you do!
Now let's compare newsflash's two posts:
<blockquote> I read manuscripts for a lot of major agents in New York and they pay very well. I make my living at it. I read slush and I read their top, best-selling clients.
-- Newsflash, yesterday
I haven't worked for any so-called reading fee agents in a long, long time but, when I did, those agents were legitimate.
-- Newsflash, today
So which is it, "newsflash"? That's how you make your living today, or you haven't done it in a long, long time?
As far as "they pay very well," don't try to bullshit me, guy. I know what manuscript reading pays.
There was one legitimate reading-fee agency, once. That was Scott Meredith. They had two sides of the house: one where they kept the big name published authors (who weren't charged fees, by the way), and the other side of the house where they read manuscripts for a fee, holding out the possiblity of being represented by Scott Meredith.
In all the years that Scott was in business (he's dead now), I think that one, perhaps two, authors who came in the reading-fee side wound up getting represented. The rest were cash cows. The agents who worked on the legitimate side weren't the same guys as the ones who worked on the fee side.
Listen, everyone. Do not pay a fee to an agent. Period. End of sentence.
There are worse things than not getting an agent. Getting a bad agent is one of those things.
An agent who charges a fee is saying up front that he or she isn't making enough money off selling manuscripts to keep the doors open. That's either a not-very-good agent or a scam agent.