LitMatch: Research Literary Agents and Track Submissions

Friday, December 7, 2007

Safe Submitting, Part 2: Avoiding Agent Scams

Last time, I wrote about how to protect your writing from theft and loss. Unfortunately, that’s only part of the equation. Even if you’ve taken steps to copyright your work and keep it safe from thieves, you can still fall victim to unscrupulous people. Some of them masquerade as literary agents, but make their livings preying on the enthusiasm of writers and exploiting the competitive nature of the publishing business.

Don’t be too alarmed, though. The vast majority of literary agents are fine, upstanding professionals. And the scammers are often easy to spot if you know what to look for. Here are some guidelines and warning signs you can use to keep yourself safe:

Spotting a Scam Agent
Legitimate agents make money ONLY if their clients make money. Period. That means that legitimate agents don’t charge you to represent your book. So-called agents who charge reading fees seldom have the industry contacts necessary to make a professional sale. And even if they do, they don’t have as much incentive to sell your project because they already have your money in their pocket. Avoid these “agents” at all costs.

Second, legitimate agents don’t have to advertise. Whether it’s a Google ad or a classified in the back of a writers’ magazine, if an agent is spending money to find clients, they’re definitely not for you. (And as an aside, we’ve taken steps to make sure that the worst such offenders don’t appear in the ads hosted on LitMatch. However, the nature of Google’s ad system makes it possible for them to sometimes sneak in. If you come across a potential scammer in our advertising, please email us and we will take steps to block them.)

Third, be wary of agents who recommend additional services at a cost to you. If an agent says that they’d like to represent your book, but only after it goes through an editing process you’ll have to pay for, chances are good he’s in cahoots (that’s right, I just used the word cahoots) with the editor he’s recommending. If this happens, run away and don’t look back.

Finally, do your research before you submit. Scammers don’t work in a vacuum, and their actions usually leave a trail. There are a number of websites that track questionable activities in the literary world, including the SFWA’s Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. And while we at LitMatch take pains to keep the scammers out of our listings, if you should ever spot one we’ve missed, let us know so we can take them out.

Now, be careful out there, and as always, get back to writing.

Chris Hawkins

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