For those who are new to writing, A.C. Crispin offers the
1. If an agent charges a fee, they are highly suspect. I don't
care what they call it: reading fee, processing fee, contract fee,
whatever...any kind of fee is bad. If an agent charges more than
$50, I suggest you run away. Agents who charge fees in the hundreds
of dollars are making their money off charging writers, not by
selling their manuscripts to publishers. It's very likely that after
you pay the large fee, the agent will never even submit your
manuscript to a real publisher.
2. If an agent refers you to a "book doctor," be very wary. Any
agent who says that your manuscript needs editing should provide you
with a list of a number of independent editors, and then allow you
to pick the one you want to use. There should be NO financial
connection whatsoever between the agent and the independent editor.
3. If an agent refers you to a co-op or subsidy press, run away.
No reputable agent will do that.
4. If an agent you never heard of solicits your work, that's not
a good sign. Real literary agents have to fight off clients, not go
out looking for them. If an agent advertises via direct mail, the
Internet, or in writers' magazines, back off!
5. If an agent has an office in some out-of-the-way place like
Bumpass, West Virginia, be very suspicious. Most real agents operate
out of New York or California. There are exceptions, particularly on
the east coast, but if Agent X from Bent Fork, North Dakota, writes
to you and begs to see your manuscript, chances are excellent that
he's a crook. Be smart!
6. Any reputable agent should be willing to provide you with a
list of sales and clients. Go to a bookstore and verify that these
books and authors exist. Check references. If an agent claims to be
an AAR (Association of Authors Representatives) member, go to the
AAR site and look him/her up. Fake agents have lied about this
7. If an agent tells you you're brilliant, and your book is sure
to be a bestseller, be wary. Real agents don't make statements like
that—at least not to unknown authors.
8. Never pay a vanity press or subsidy publisher to publish your
book. This includes "co-op" publishers. If you must get your book
published and have exhausted all professional, commercial avenues,
check into self-publishing with a reputable printing company. Many
poets, for example, self-publish their books. Your money will go a
lot further that way. Go to your local bookstore and get a book on
self-publishing. Check a printer's references before you sign any
contracts. You will not receive the distribution and other services
normally expected of a publisher, but you will get the books—after
they are printed they will be shipped to you. Be aware that most
bookstores will not stock self-published books.
9. Having a poor agent is frequently worse than having no agent
at all. If you can't find a reputable agent to submit your
manuscript, go ahead and submit it yourself. Most sf and fantasy
publishers will still read unagented manuscripts these days. Check
out the market reports in the SFWA Bulletin or Speculations. Even
the ones who say they won't may still read manuscripts from writers
who impress them with a well-crafted, dynamic query letter.
So, to all of you prospective writers out there: Never forget. If
you're paying anyone to agent, publish, or edit your work, the
money's going in the wrong direction, and quite likely, you've
fallen for a scam. You will wind up losing money and gaining
nothing. You deserve to be paid for your work! Becoming a writer is
difficult and requires a great deal of perseverance. As James Gunn
once said, "Anyone who can be discouraged from becoming a writer
should be discouraged." In other words, hang in there, and don't
expect a bed of roses. But people do "break in" every day, and
that's the good news!
A.C. Crispin is chairman of
the Writing Scams Committee of the Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America. She can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.sfwa.org/members/crispin.
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