Literary agents work much like attorneys. It is that simple. Instead of legal representation, they provide literary representation. They approach editors much like the way an attorney would approach a judge.
With careful persuasion, they encourage the publisher to accept your work. This is a mutual interest and effort, for like many lawyers, agents don’t get paid until you do. Likewise, the “literary attorney” will see you through contract terms and negotiations with the publisher. They assist you throughout your time with the publishing house.
The standard fee for an agent is 15% of your advance. For an advance of $5,000.00, agent fees will run around: $750.00. It is in their best interest to get you the greatest advance possible.
Depending upon the agent, at the time of publishing acceptance (not before), you may also be charged for office expenses and postage. This is common practice and you shouldn’t be alarmed. If you have questions or the extra amount seems unreasonable, contact the agency. You may be able to negotiate the terms if you are tactful and reasonable.
Any financial questions or problems should be cleared up after your work has been accepted by the agency and you have the contract. Don’t wait until a publisher has expressed interest or accepted your work. If you are under contract with an agency, you are under contract.
When you’ve signed a contract with your agent and they’ve represented and found a publisher for your work, they will receive your advance first. The publisher will send him or her your check. They will then deduct for their services and issue another check for the new amount to you. This process takes around two to three weeks, but no longer.
This is where the quest for representation can cheat writers out of much time and money.
“Agencies,” who participate in the practice of recommending book doctors or editors aren’t representing authors at all. They are collecting their pay from hopeful writers. Usually, they will receive kickback pay from the editor or book doctor for referring customers.
These people may say:
“It just needs a little work. I recommend Mr.________. He’s a notable editor and will bring your work up to industry standards.”
Another version can be, “I like the story, but it needs some work. For only $300.00 our editors will polish it for you.”
If a legitimate agent thinks your work needs this amount of attention, they will reject it. Period. It will not be a commercial for an editing company. They will return your query or manuscript with a rejection letter. If they really like your work, they will include notes or a personalized letter giving you tips and pointers. If you are extremely lucky, they will say something like, “Re-write and revise. Then re-submit.”
Unless they are starting out, legitimate agents already have a full client list. They do not have time to search for editors or book doctors for authors who aren’t even clients.
This taboo in the publishing industry means you are sending an agent money prior to publisher acceptance. The entire purpose of retaining an agent is to have someone else invest in your work.
One popular way these “agents” justify their demand is by saying something like, “if you’re too afraid to invest in your work, you aren’t confident about it.” Agents do invest money in their clients prior to publisher acceptance, that one of their most important purposes. They copy, distribute, and contact publishing houses on a writer’s behalf. That is their job. They are reimbursed when their client is chosen and an advance is issued.
Up-front charges include, but aren’t limited to:
- Office/Filing Fees
- Reading Fees
- Postage Charges/Fees
- Telephone/Fax Charges
- Submission Fees
- Critiquing Fees
If your agent doesn’t even have the resources to represent your work, do you really want them to represent you? A successful agent/agency will not only have a copy and fax machine, they will have an entire office of equipment and supplies. If they need money for these simple services prior to publication, what does that say about their previous successes?
It is a tremendous red flag when an agent can’t even perform the regular tasks of representation without upfront money. Have they made any prior sales at all? If there is no money coming into their offices they aren’t selling other material. They should have a constant stream of income from other clients.