Agents and publishers will make money if an author’s writing is successful. Publisher’s will get their money either after sales or up front. Agents get their cut after the royalties come in on the author’s sold book. If they do a good job, both deserve and earn what they make. The problem is with the publishers and/or agents who are not ethical.
Let’s start with “publishers.” Some who ask for up-front money are legitimate, if they provide certain services such as professional editing, promotion, and production of a quality product. Those services should be included in the price paid for the books the author agrees to buy. However, if the “editing” provided is at best a spell check, then beware. A publisher will provide at least one professional editor who will work with the author to improve, tighten, and error-proof the book. That editing should be part of the package deal, not provided only if extra is paid. As stated previously, a publisher will be paid either up front or after books are printed and sold.
Any “publisher” who does not do a thorough editing is, however, nothing but a vanity publisher, one who will provide a few books for a price (usually high price) for people who simply want to see their words in a book, flaws and all. Don’t confuse print on demand businesses with publishers, though. A POD doesn’t claim to be anything except a printer. A publishing scam promises that the company is a publisher.
A true publisher does not request material from a writer for an anthology and then expect the author to buy a book. A real publisher rewards the writer, not expect the writer to reward the publisher: Now this means book publishers rather than magazine publishers, who often “pay” in issues of the publication.
Anytime a person or organization claims to be an agent or agency but asks for money up front – run. An agent receives payment as a percentage of the author’s royalties. Other than a few expenses such as mailing your manuscript to a publisher, with documentation of actual postage cost, and possibly for photocopying your manuscript. However, some agents may ask you to send several copies rather than billing you for copying. Any billing is for actual expenses, not for inflated amounts.
Another point about expenses charged to the client: The author and agent agree to which expenses will be billed before they are incurred. If the writer never agreed to any expense and the expense was not included in a contract, then the agent who bills such expenses is at least unethical, if not criminal. Allowable expenses should be clearly included in any contract, and agents should not make any profit from such expenses.
Jenna Glatzer, in Writer’s Digest June 2006, states, “Don’t ever pay anyone to represent you.”
An agent is supposed to get a percentage of the client’s earning from publishers and producers, not from the client. That means agents first do their job – selling the author’s work – and then receive their pay. Ethical agents do not ask for representation fees, retainers, set-up fees, evaluation fees, marketing fees, or editing fees. They also do not suggest an author “hire” an editor that they recommend.
Getting a compatible, aggressive, and knowledgeable agent is wise for anyone wanting to have a book published. However a bad agent is worse than no agent. One way to check an agent is to find the ethical organization for agents on line, AAR or go to literary agents.org.
Just don’t get scammed by unethical “publishers” or “agents” who turn your writing into a feast for their greed.
1. Andrew Zack, The Writer, October 2005
2. Brian A. Klems, Writer’s Digest, January 2006
3. Jenna Glatzer, with Daniel Steven, , June 2006
4. Various speakers at OWFI Conference, May 2006