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Literary Agents You Should Avoid: 3 Major Red Flags

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By Writer's Relief staff:

Beginner and veteran writers alike can be victimized by shady literary agents. If you don’t know what to look for, you can fall prey to an agent who is looking to make a quick buck. So, how can you tell if a literary agent is legitimate? We’ve got answers.

Ineptitude. Some agents are not necessarily dishonest, but are merely clueless. These agents submit your work to editors without doing the proper research, throw several of their clients’ queries into one package, or submit your book to editors and publishers en masse. You may feel that any agent is better than none at all, but that’s definitely not the case here.

Advertising. Don’t trust an agent who approaches you without any previous contact. Sometimes agents will troll writers forums or purchase subscription lists from writers magazines to beef up their client list. Reputable agents don’t need to advertise themselves in newspapers or magazines or go looking for clients. Exception to the rule: 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 the agent did not send a generic form letter, but actually read and connected with your writing.

Fees. There’s a simple rule to remember regarding fees charged by literary agents: There shouldn’t be any! Reputable agents make their money by selling books…and that’s it. If they start asking for money to pay for things like reading, evaluations, marketing, or retainer fees, this should raise a red flag.

Reading fees were not always suspicious, but some agencies took advantage of writers and began charging reading fees even when they didn’t have any interest in the work itself. Because of this, the practice has been shut down by the Association of Authors’ Representatives or AAR—the trade group for U.S. literary agents.

Offers for an evaluation should also be free. Less reputable agencies might charge for a “critique,” which could be performed by an unqualified staff member. The AAR frowns on this practice as well.

Other charges to watch out for include administration, marketing, or submission costs.

Also be careful of agents who ask for money upfront. A decent agent will only charge you for things that are above and beyond normal expenses, such as long-distance calls or shipping costs, and even then, these should be deducted from your royalties rather than billed to you ahead of time.

Stay tuned for our next article to learn more about how to protect yourself from unscrupulous agents!

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