When I was first venturing out into actively submitting my fiction a few years back, I would have been more than thrilled to receive an email from an agent wanting to represent me. Especially after amassing quite a few rejections from both agents and publishers.
Now, however, when I receive an email from an agent or someone at a publishing house soliciting me, it raises red flags. Mucho red flags.
Such was the email I received the other day from someone who was now working as an “e-pub” agent at an agency I’ve heard of before. (Meaning I’ve heard less than flattering things about them.)
Keep in mind, I do not have an agent. Haven’t needed one. I am independently and self-published, and I’m quite happy with what I’m doing right now.
The name of the agent in question tickled my brain, and after some digging, I found out said agent was recently involved in a rather nasty and vocal kerfluffle when said person left a publishing house which bore their name. Authors left hanging, unpaid, and very nasty volleys fired back and forth in an extremely unprofessional way.
Um, thanks, but no thanks.
I have to admit I enjoyed the delicious irony of being able to send back a one-sentence reply informing an agent that their services do not meet my needs at this time.
So, okay. My whole point of this exercise is that you do NOT jump at something without thoroughly researching it first.
The best place to start is the Absolute Write’s “Water Cooler” discussion forum, where they have an ENTIRE section devoted to agents, publishers, etc. good and bad. They even have conveniently provided indexes to make it easier to find someone. And it’s free to sign up.
Another great place to look is Preditors & Editors:
And Piers Anthony’s site as well:
Another thing you should do when investigating a publishing-related person/company is to Google the name along with related terms like complaint, scam, problem, beware, warning etc. This way, you will likely pick up any blog entries about them that have been posted.
Remember, legitimate editors, agents, and publishers are usually awash in their slush piles and rarely have time to go hunting people down. That’s not to say it’s always suspect if they contact you. They might very well be legit and, for example, be a fan of your work (if you are already published) or might have had one of their existing clients speak highly of you. However, it’s rare indeed. Just like money ALWAYS flows TO the author in legitimate publishing, queries always flow TO the agents/editors/publishers.
It could be indicative of a scam, of a brand new (ie. unexperienced) person, etc.
That’s NOT the same as open submission calls where a publisher or editor or agent is specifically looking for certain things. THOSE are usually legitimate. It just means they’re trying to get the word out about what they’re wanting. But it’s the individual, targeted queries directly to a specific writer that are generally suspect.
Also, pay attention to grammar/spelling. If the contact email is rife with errors, politely decline. (Do you really want someone repping you who can’t proofread their own emails? Nooo.)
Another huge red flag is any mention of fees up front. (NOTE: This is in regards to traditional/indie publishing. Self-pubbed authors do have to pay for services a publisher would normally provide as part of their service.) Reading fees, etc. are generally a red flag.
So don’t get sucked in. Don’t let the joy of hearing “yes” from someone drown out the voice of common sense. If you get contractually sucked into something you can’t get out of, you’re screwed. Very few e-published authors actually NEED representation. There are enough free resources out there to help you decipher contract terms, most publishers will readily work with polite authors who want to negotiate contract terms, and you flat-out don’t need to have 10-15% of your income siphoned right off the top when you’re first starting out.
Now, sure, if you are one of the lightning-bolt-stricken few who get hit up by legitimate Big-6 publishing house for a contract because of your indie success, then it might behoove you to shop around for an agent. Those contracts and terms are far more complex (read – you are more easily screwed) than the standard indie contract.
So be careful out there, take your time, and remember if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.