When I started writing several years ago, I was so green I could have given the Hulk a run for his money. I knew nothing about the art of writing, much less the business of writing. I only knew I wanted to write, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. So excited and eager, I began my journey toward a career as an author.
I wish I could say the travel has been smooth sailing, that I’ve never encountered any troubles or difficulties, but you’d know I was lying, and the last thing I want to do is lie to you. What I do want to do is give you the benefit of the wisdom I’ve gained through the school of hard knocks. I hope it’ll help you and maybe even prevent you from taking the same path I took years ago.
“I love your book and I’d love to represent you.” Those words sent a thrill through my body and I remember dancing from foot to foot and maybe even doing a few jumping jacks as I read the letter over and over. An agent actually liked my manuscript and wanted to represent me. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I called everyone who would listen, and some of my friends got to hear the story more than once.
I sailed through the next few days while I waited for the agent’s contract to arrive in the mail. Feeling important and more than a little proud of myself, I didn’t just walk around the office where I worked, I strutted. After all, an agent liked my work and it was only a matter of time before I hit the big time.
Then the contract arrived. I ripped into it with the glow of any starry-eyed writer. I skimmed the contents of the contract and then my eyes skidded to a halt. Surely I hadn’t read that last line correctly. The agency charged a $250 administrative fee payable upon the signing of the contract. I gulped and shared the information with my best friend who was just as green as I was. After much conversation, we convinced each other that it was a small price to pay for the fame which would surely come in the future. Needless to say, I paid the money and hurriedly sent the contract back to the agent.
She made plenty of promises, assured me the book was beyond good, that she’d have a buyer within weeks. Well, weeks turned into months and no buyer. Oh, we had plenty of bites. In fact, my agent contacted me shortly after she began representing the book to tell me a big name publisher was reviewing my book. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. After all, I’d sent them the manuscript myself before I’d gotten an agent.
But this time was different. Now, my agent had gotten a letter from the big name publisher who indicated a contract would be forthcoming. They loved the book and wanted to make an offer. I was dancing in the aisles. The $250 had been worth it. I had hit the big time at last. My feet didn’t touch the ground for days.
I waited impatiently for the contract to reach my agent’s office, but as the weeks passed and no contract arrived, I began to wonder what was going on. I e-mailed my agent, and she told me the publisher was still considering my book. That confused me a little, but I trusted her. In the meantime, my agent, herself a writer, received acceptance on one of her books. While I was happy for her, I was more than a little frustrated at the time it was taking for the big name publisher to send a contract as it had indicated a few months back.
As the months passed, my excitement waned, and then finally, my agent called me to tell me she had some bad news, that the publisher had decided not to go with my book after all.
I didn’t understand. Deflated and heartsick, I retreated to my bed and huddled beneath the comforter while I cried tears of sorrow and disenchantment, but amazingly, I still hadn’t learned my lesson. I continued to believe in my agent.
As my agent shipped my book off to other publishers, I, in turn, sent her another book to represent. She, as before, loved it and agreed to market it immediately. My excitement wasn’t as high this time around.
More months passed until I realized it had been a year since I’d sent my first manuscript to my agent. I asked her if she wanted to sign another contract, but she said we didn’t need one, that she would continue to send my book out. Still trusting, I agreed and forwarded yet another manuscript to her, thinking she was doing her best for me.
Finally, another publisher showed interest in my first book, only it required a rewrite. I eagerly complied, and with high anticipation, I sent the manuscript back to my agent and held my breath, waiting and waiting for the final word. I called my agent after four months, and she reassured me by telling me she’d just contacted the publisher and they were still reviewing the book. I should know something any day.
Eight months later, I contacted the publisher myself. Imagine my surprise when the editor informed me they’d never gotten the revisions to my book. Shaken and unsure, I contacted my agent who declared she’d sent the manuscript, that it must have gotten lost in the mail. But surely the publisher would have told my agent they’d never received it when she’d called them. This time, I wasn’t surprised to learn that my agent had never contacted the publisher at all. What she had done was send that same publisher her own work. Meanwhile, my work sat on her desk, untouched.
The horror of being scammed by an agent is an unfortunate possibility in our line of work, especially with new authors. We go into this business with wide eyes and high hopes, never once thinking that anyone would take advantage of our dreams. They do and they will. That was my first introduction to agents, and needless to say, I got rid of her shortly after the incident I described above. But it doesn’t change the fact that I was scammed and I’m writing this article to hopefully, prevent it from happening to you.
When you begin your search for an agent, you might want to employ the following tips before you sign any contract or send any money. Here’s hoping you won’t join the ranks of the scammed.
Check his or her credentials. By this, I mean go online and do some research. Had I done that, I would have discovered that my agent had no sales to her credit and in fact, wasn’t recommended as an agent.
If you’re asked to send money up front, don’t sign the contract. In fact, say “thanks, but no thanks.”
Feel free to ask the agent about his or her sales. I didn’t have the forethought to even call my agent before I signed the contract. Had I done so, I might have discovered her lack of sales.
Make sure your agent has knowledge of the genre for which you write. After I terminated the agency relationship with my agent, I discovered she’d been sending my manuscript to children’s publishers, self-help publishers, and non-fiction publishers. I write romance, plain and simple. Not something any of those publishers would be interested in.
Listen to your instincts. If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, I’m sure you know the rest. My agent made grandiose statements about how soon she would be able to sell my book and how it would make a perfect screenplay. My blinders kept me from seeing the flashing red lights.
Lastly, before you sign any contract, unless you have a law degree, are married to a lawyer, know someone with a law degree, or have signed enough contracts to know the language front and back, please have an attorney inspect the language. The last thing you want to do is end up tied to a shady agent with no credentials. You’ve lost your manuscript for a year, and if you’ve sent any money, this agent has the benefit of your bucks.
Just as a horrible first date leaves a bad impression, so did my first experience with agents. Now, I have the benefit of a hard lesson learned. Here’s hoping you don’t have to learn the same way I did.