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How to Spot a Literary Agent Scam – Part 1

You are ready to start looking for a literary agent but it’s an absolute minefield. There are so many to choose from and they all seem to offer so much. Where do you start? How do you make sure you don’t get caught in a scam? A quick search on Google will tell you how many scams there have been involving so-called literary agents and people like you, the new author, are their target, although some veteran writers have been caught too!

In short, a literary agent, a reputable one anyway, is there to make money selling books. That’s it. If you are asked to pay fees for anything – retainer, marketing, evaluation and so on – you should start seeing red flags and take a big step backward.

Reading fees never used to be one of the red flags but some agencies started to abuse the system, charging non-refundable fees when they had no interest in the material being presented to them. Because of that, The AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives) banned the practice. The same thing applies to fees for evaluation. No agent should charge for evaluating your manuscript but a disreputable one will try to charge you for a ‘critique’. These are generic, or they tend to be done by an unqualified staff member; again, this is frowned on by the AAR and it should be by you too.

Some other fees come under admin, marketing, even submission fees. Good agents charge for any expenditure that goes beyond what is considered reasonable, like overseas calls, or shipping. These are usually taken out of your royalties, by consent, and never asked for up front. So watch out for any agent that wants money up front, especially if their reasons are on the vague side. If in any doubt, ask them for a list of charges, itemized and detailed.

It isn’t always the case that an agent is dishonest; it may be that they are inept. This will be the agent whose methods of submitting to editors may be questionable, such as sending your book to editors who don’t deal in your genre, putting multiple queries together in one submission, and so on. This type of agent will very quickly get a bad reputation with editors and work sent from them will be ignored.

A reputable agent will not advertise themselves in a magazine nor will they run online searches for clients. They will also never, ever send you spam. If an agent approaches you and it isn’t one you contacted before, be very aware. The scam agents will very often spend time trolling online forums or they will buy a subscription list from a writer’s magazine to try to build up their client list.

One aside to this. Every now and again, on a very rare occasion, a really good agent might read something you submitted to a magazine and will contact you. This is legitimate and the letter they send you will show that the agent read your work and is not some kind of generic letter sent out in bulk. If in doubt, ring them up.


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Anne-Marie Reynolds