Article Archive



Beware of Agent Scams

by A.C. Crispin 


For those who are new to writing, A.C. Crispin offers the following guidelines.

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 before.

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

Back to Article Archive.