Literary Agent or Scammer?

A local author contacted me this week for a quote on copyediting a cookbook that he has already published as an e-book. It seems a literary agent found the book online and contacted him about representing an upgraded, revised version.

That’s all the information I have at this point, but I don’t mind telling you, I’m hearing alarm bells.

The agent could be legit. What I’ve seen of the writer’s copy is organized and decently written, the topic targets a niche, and the writer has his feet on the ground. It is not completely outside the realm of possibility that a legitimate literary agent with a personal interest in the topic was online looking up something, happened upon this book, paid to download it, and saw the potential to earn a nice piece of change at 15% of the cover price.

But from everything I know about literary agents, the established, legitimate ones don’t troll e-book sites looking for new business, and they don’t make first contact with aspiring authors of the non-celebrity variety. They don’t have to.

So after brooding about this while working on the quote, I sent the writer a cautionary email. In the interests of educating novice writers everywhere about scam agents and other sleazebags of the publishing world, here are two websites I suggested he visit before getting in too deep: Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware.

Even if the agent turns out to be legitimate, it’s a good idea to find out what else this person has sold recently and what his/her business style is. One way to do this is by conducting an online search for the agent’s name and “recent sales.” Another is by searching Publishers Marketplace and the discussion threads at Absolute Write Water Cooler (scroll down past the six inches of ads at the top of the screen).  If you’re writing for children or young adults, check out Verla Kay’s Blueboards.

Note: I’ve put other useful links for aspiring writers on the “Resources for Writers” page, including links to agents’ blogs. You can access this page by scrolling to the top of this blog and clicking on the Resources tab.

© 2010 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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8 Responses to Literary Agent or Scammer?

  1. I’m glad you sent him a “beware” email and I, too, hope everything is legit. Chances are it’s not and you did a good thing.

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    • Anne Bingham says:

      Fingers crossed, Catherine. It was a good reminder how careful authors have to be.

      I had another client who wanted to send her manuscript to a printer she’d found on the internet. I made her order a sample copy and when it came, the print was blurry! And the client didn’t even see the issue; she just wanted A Book.

      This particular story had a happy ending; I persuaded to the client to come down to Milwaukee to meet with a local printer who produced a truly quality product. She went with this printer, and the sales rep hand-delivered the first carton (they met halfway between Milwaukee and the client’s home) so the rep could be there for the great moment!

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  2. Karin says:

    Funny thing…I recently had a “tech accident” and deleted all the folders in My Favorites. Frankly I couldn’t remember all of them. What a perfect time for you to post the blogs you have above (Writer Beware, etc) as, remembering now, those were in My Favorites. 🙂

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  3. MaryWitzl says:

    Was the author grateful for the warning? I warned a writer friend about a very clever group of scammers who’d approached him with a slick offer, and he was very unhappy with me.

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  4. Anne, you did a good thing. I’ve experienced what Mary has, especially with students who are so desperate to be published. All you can do is warn them.

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