http://www.authorslawyer.com/ <– read, learn, explore.
Tips for Spotting Questionable Agents listed the following and more:
- Requiring a reading fee with a submission. In the past, some reputable agents did charge reading fees–but this practice has been so extensively abused that the Association of Authors’ Representatives now prohibits it for members.
- Requiring an evaluation fee with submission, with the promise of a detailed critique. Also easy to abuse, and also prohibited by the AAR. Often the critiques are little more than form letters full of generic how-to advice.
- Requiring an upfront “submission” or “handling” fee. Such upfront charges aren’t standard practice among reputable agents, who let submission expenses accrue and deduct them from the client’s advance. Fees of this kind range from a few hundred dollars up into the thousands; the highest I’ve run across is $5,000 for just one year of representation.
- Offering writers a choice of providing a large number of manuscript copies at their own expense, or paying an upfront “marketing” fee. The idea here is that copying is so expensive that the fee looks like a bargain. Agents don’t usually need large numbers of ms. copies anyway–most agents ask for just one or two.
- Presenting a sliding scale of fees–the more the writer pays, the more service the agent claims to provide. Good agents do as much work as is needed to sell a book, all for the same 15% commission.
- Running a writing contest that’s a scheme for referring writers to a fee-charging agency.
- Selling “adjunct” services–website design, slots in a catalog supposedly brought to major book fairs, pre-publication publicity (you don’t need publicity till you have a published book to publicize), book cover mockups (publishers create their own book covers), illustrations for children’s books (publishers prefer to match writers and illustrators themselves). It’s a conflict of interest for an agent to offer paid services–the more money she can make this way, the less motivated she will be to sell your book.
- Frequent referrals to a freelance editor or editorial service. A kickback scheme may be involved, in which the agent receives a percentage of what you pay the editor.
- Offering or requiring the agent’s own paid editing services. This is a conflict of interest: if the agent can profit from the recommendation to edit, how can you trust that the recommendation is in your best interest?
- Offering pay-to-publish contracts. Good agents only deal with publishers that pay you. Again, kickbacks may be involved–or the agent himself may own the publisher (sometimes under another name, to disguise the connection).