How can you tell if you’ve found legitimate literary agents? Everyday dozens of new novelists and veteran writers fall prey to the hidden tricks that literary agents use to fake legitimacy or make a quick buck on a book. Writers should be wary of questionable companies when approaching literary agencies or individual agents.
The ONLY way that a reputable literary agent should make money is by selling books. That’s it. If an agent is asking for ANY fees, let the red flags unfurl.
Legitimate Literary Agents Don’t Advertise.
They don’t have to. Reputable agents do not advertise in magazines or search for clients online, and they never send spam. If you are approached by an agent without ever having contacted them, beware. Dishonest agents often troll online writers’ forums or purchase subscription lists from writers’ magazines to beef up their client list.
Once in a great while, an agent will read your work in a magazine and contact you directly; this is a legitimate practice, and you should be able to tell that it is not a generic form letter, that the agent actually read your work and admired it.
Legitimate Agents Don’t Charge Upfront Fees.
The days of “reading fees” are pretty much over. Now scammers call their fees “contract fees,” “administrative fees,” “editing fees,” “critique fees,” “evaluation fees,” etc. The author should not have to hand over money as a condition of representation.
- A lot of new writers don’t equate “paying for a critique” as paying an agent fee. But if the writer has to haul out his or her checkbook…it’s a fee.
- Literary agents work off commission. When they sell your book, they get their commission right off the top of your advance and on any royalties you earn. Standard commission these days for domestic sales is 15%, and 20-25% is standard for foreign sales.
Legitimate agents list books they represent with the names of their publishers.
The publishers they list are not vanity presses or small presses that work mainly with unagented writers. They are advance and royalty paying commercial publishers, and you can find their books stocked on the shelves in brick and mortar bookstores.
Being a member of the Association of Authors Representatives
This is a positive sign for an agency, because an agent has to have a proven track record of sales to qualify for membership.
- Learn to trust your “gut feeling” when examining an agent’s website. Look carefully at their list of credentials and their track record of sales. If your gut tells you there is something wrong, don’t submit to the agent until you have checked them out in every possible fashion.
Legitimate Literary Agents don’t insist on ALL client interactions being electronic.
Legitimate agents have phone numbers, and real snail-mail addresses in addition to their email addresses. When you sign with a legitimate agent, they will TALK to you on the PHONE. You won’t be deluged with a slew of emails that are so generic they could apply to anyone.
Legitimate Literary Agents don’t offer to edit for a fee.
A legitimate agent will work with you to give your manuscript a final polish before submitting but they won’t charge you for this service. It’s part of what their 15% commission pays for.
Legitimate Literary Agents don’t sell other services to their clients.
They don’t nickel and dime their clients by trying to sell them all kinds of “extras” such as illustrations, business cards, flyers, brochures, photos, marketing plans, etc.
Legitimate Literary Agents don’t submit books to vanity or non-advance paying publishers.
A real agent’s job is to find ways for you to make money, not to spend it. They only get paid if you get paid! If you don’t get an advance, they don’t get a commission.
Legitimate Literary Agents don’t look for poets and short story writers. Most legitimate agents do not make any money off poetry and short fiction—unless the writer is already very strongly established.
Legitimate Literary Agents don’t shower you with excessive flattery and praise or who make grand promises. (Good agents don’t make promises they can’t keep.)
Beware of signs of incompetence. There are plenty of mediocre agents out there who engage in unprofessional practices such as using the client’s own query letters, employing random submission strategies, and insisting the client pay for 8×10 photos, fancy binders, and marketing plans (all of which are unnecessary and off-putting to editors).
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your homework. Google potential agents, search writers’ forums, and check for references. Read my last post Getting Started Finding Literary Agents To Represent Your Book.
Writers are a close-knit group and good about protecting each other. When a naughty agent is lurking, chances are there are savvy writers putting out the word to others. You have the power not to get caught in a literary agent scheme.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave leave a comment here…