Karen Clayton  


Agents: The Good, the Bad and the (Sometimes) Ugly Truth

My name is Karen and I recently got scammed.

After completing my second novel, I ached to see some action on the publishing front. I needed a quick fix of gratification after two and a half years of hard work. In earnest, I began searching the Internet for literary agent who took queries on-line.

I got impatient. That was my first mistake.

After submitting to a few places, I hit the jackpot, or so I thought. I found an agent who wanted to read my manuscript. Perfect, I thought. I emailed it off to her and was shocked that she replied the next day saying that she loved my book and would be delighted to represent it. She sent along a contract and a letter stating what three publishers she would be sending my book to. I was ecstatic! By the time I read the paragraph mentioning the "one time $250 fee to cover miscellaneous expenses" I was already sold.

I signed up with her and sent in the cash without doing a lick of research on her company.

That was my second mistake.

As soon as the check cleared, the friendly woman who had seemed so helpful and accessible was nowhere to be found. I kept writing her, via email, and not getting any reply. I thought that was odd, so I called my lawyer who said to cancel the contract because she wasn't serving me or my book.

I emailed and told the agent this. Not five minutes after I sent the email, I got a reply -- AFTER 6 weeks of hearing nothing!!!! She said her email was down and offered up a list of who she had submitted my MS to.

She claimed that ten queries went out. I researched the list of publishers and was floored to see that only two seemed to be suitable markets for my book. Many of the others did not take fiction work, one focused on Christian stories and another preferred medical stories with Black characters. Yet another was a Russian text publisher. Since my novel is a suspense tale about a hooker embroiled in a battle between the police and the mafia, I didn't see the connection . . .

I phoned every publisher on the list. Not one got my MS.

Given this, I felt compelled to terminate our working relationship, effective immediately.

The only smart thing I had done was to have my lawyer look over the contract. She wisely added a termination clause. The standard contract has no such thing. But still, I have no hope of getting my money back: I'm out $250.

The most humbling part of this tale is the simple fact that I could have avoid this mess had I done a little research. I should have investigated the agency. One site I found received scores of complaints about this agency's upfront fees and non responsiveness.

Further research helped me discover the cardinal rule writers should know when dealing with agents:

The general consensus among the writing industry is that any charge made to the author that is payable prior to the sale of the manuscript to a publisher, however characterized by the agent, is a "fee." This represents inappropriate conduct not in the author's best interest.

That one line would have saved me both headache and heartache had I just looked into this BEFORE signing on.

For your own peace of mind remember: Writer Beware!

For a comprehensive listing of publishers and writing services, as well as a listing of less than honorable agents, please see:


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