Literary Agents: Beware of unprofessional and unfair agency practices

A good literary agent can work wonders for the author’s career but it’s very tough to locate and get one interested in your work, specially in a country like India. Outside India, however, there are many good, and many more bad and ugly literary agencies that prey upon the desperation and impatience that permeates the new writer’s psyche. In a bid to get the first publishing break, many writers ignoring the research that is so important before signing up with a literary agency.

There are several things you can be aware of as you seek out representation for your work. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Literary agencies that charge an upfront fee

Some literary agents might charge you for a ‘reading fee’ when you make a submission. In many cases this isn’t mentioned upfront in the submission guidelines of the agencies’ websites. It comes as a revelation after a few offline interactions.
Others may not have a reading fee, but they could ask you for a ‘submission fee’ to cover the costs of sending your manuscript to multiple publishers.

Literary agents who are not transparent about their track record

The real agencies make money, just like the author, from royalties of published books. The fake ones aren’t under pressure to get any of their authors published as they are making loads of money from their clients. It becomes obvious then that they don’t have any real publishers on their list. And even more obvious when they don’t want to share more information about their success stories with new authors that they are trying to woo.

Literary agents who insist on getting professional services

Editing Services: Agents might have their own editing team to ‘polish’ your manuscript and increase the odds of success, with no guarantees of course. Or you may get referred to external editors and you’d have no idea whether there’s a conflict of interest in there somewhere.

Author Promotion Services: You might get coerced to engage a website development company or a PR agency to help strengthen your ‘author brand’.

Literary agents who recommend fee charging publishers

Right, so the logic is we won’t charge you anything, but we’ll introduce you to our proxies who’ll do the fee charging. If you had to pay a publisher to get your book in print, would you really need a literary agency? Self-publishing anyone?

If you’ve also been religiously following the blog, many of the above also go against the holy grail of the publishing world – money flows back to the author. So get the basic principles etched in your mind, all the scamming and scheming variations are not too difficult to catch.

16 Comments

  1. Navin says:

    …………….I just got asked by a literary agency to avail their ‘critique’ services:)

  2. Mezz says:

    My manuscript was rejected by this supposedly esteemed Agent in 7 minutes (via mail). Although he did reply, asking 10,000 rs to have another look.

    I am disgusted and angry by India’s publishing scene.

  3. rhiabhat says:

    A supposedly reputed agent first rejected my manuscript, then told me I can’t write, and then advised me to avail his “critique” service. He literally told me not to write any more without taking his editors’ help. The price? 10000 bucks.
    It was when he said they edited Ravinder Singh’s first book that I disconnected the call immediately. If THAT book was edited to perfection, I don’t want mine to be anywhere near perfect.

    Also I realised my grammar was better than his…never trust anyone with lesser language skills than you.

    • S K says:

      rhiabhat,

      I can very well ascertain which agent you are talking about, and that person told me the same thing when I sent them my manuscript. I believe when an agent tells you that you can’t write and shouldn’t write without the help of an editor, in that precise moment you have to turn your back on them and never look back. This is extremely unprofessional when it comes to professional issues like agent-ing.

  4. S K says:

    Sir Kamat,

    I’ve been following your blog since a long time back when I’d started writing my book, and have found it the best resource for wannabe, as well as published authors all over the world. I convey my heartfelt thanks for offering us such a great source of authentic and pragmatic information.

    To introduce myself, I’m an aspiring novelist, and have already completed writing a novel about the life of an abused Indian woman, violated by every section of the society, turning her into a prostitute. A major part of the novel deals with her emancipation and rehabilitation into the society.

    But my experience with the publishing industry hasn’t proved luck to be on my side. I completed line-editing and proofreading my book and sent out queries (3 publishers at a time, and refining my query letter and synopsis in the meantime by the rejections received) in around May 2014. Most major publishers and literary agents sent out template rejection letters within a very short time. A half of them didn’t even bother to reply. One even went to the extent to of revealing the cause of rejection, by sending a personalized rejection letter, ‘your book deals with an offbeat, controversial topic.’

    A literary agency that claims to be based in Gurgaon asked 40,000 INR from me on the pretext of making it ‘more publishable. Your invaluable website saved me big time from such a scam. When I talked to the agent over the phone, I immediately knew she was trying to scam me. Later, I found many aspiring writers expressing their experience of getting scammed by the same person.

    Although I’ve been strong all my life with nerves made of steel, at this moment, I stand completely frustrated after months of rejections. Leaving a steady job, counseling survivors, working with trafficked women to write this very book – and finally it might never see the light of the day!

    I still have just a very few traditional publishers left to query, and they still keep a ray of hope burning within me. Then I think of the big pitfalls of these small publishers, and soon I run out of hope. One prolific Indian publisher asked for my complete manuscript around 5 months back, and I haven’t heard from them since. Something tells me I’ve lost that publisher, as well; my last hope adrift. They told me they take a minimum of 3-4 months to respond, which doesn’t give a definite timespan. It could be 2 years also! I do not know whether to wait an indefinite time, move on to self-publishing, or send them a follow-up note now. Could you please suggest me on that, sir, about what I should do?

    At this point, may I also implore you to suggest me whether I should go for the self-publishing route? Since I’ve made up my mind to base my career upon writing, do you think I’ll get a good number of audience for my book if I take the road to self-publishing? At this moment, I can spare around 150,000 rupees for marketing and publishing. Is it barely enough? I have plans of travelling the e-book route first via Amazon’s KDP and pricing aggressively, while advertising massively in Facebook and similar other sites having big user base. Once the e-book gains publicity, and I’ve made some money, I can go for the paperback as well. But I fear I might not even sell a hundred copies.

  5. Sameer says:

    S K,

    Thanks for pouring your heart out in the comment. It sure is a tough ride to get published.

    Here are a few thoughts for you to consider.

    Even if you get a publishing contract today, it’ll still be months before you get an advance (generally not sufficient to pay the bills) and even longer (years!) before you get a royalty cheque.

    As you’ve almost exhausted the list of agents/publishers, take a break. And save those 1.5 lakh rupees.

    Don’t jump into launching an ebook. Statistically, the odds of making money on it are negligible. And most publishers won’t touch it after that.

    If you are seriously considering writing as a full-time career, start thinking about making money from other forms of writing e.g. writing freelance articles for magazines, websites on related topics.

    These would be quick wins that’ll give you an idea of whether there’s a market for the topics you want to write on. And they’ll give you enough money to keep chasing your bigger goal of getting published.

    Self-publishing is always an option, but only after you are fully aware of the pros and cons.

    • S K says:

      Wow! Thanks a bunch for your awesome suggestions! I’ve already started sending out my resume for the post of a freelance writer, just like you suggested. Thanks so much!

  6. Shylin says:

    Sameer,
    Is it alright to pay a literary agent for representation? I’ve been asked to sign a contract and to pay an amount of 10,000 rs to have my book presented to publishing houses? Is that legit?

    • The agent has done absolutely nothing to deserve any money upfront, Shylin.

      Think about it. Would s/he ever have the guts to approach a publisher and make a similar proposal:

      “Dear publisher, I may (or may not) get you authors that you may (or may not) eventually end up publishing. For now, considering my noble intentions, please sign this contract and pay me in advance for a service that I may (or may not) provide to you after getting the free money.”

      In a market where the desire to get published (after numerous rejections) can almost become an obsession, there are all sorts of unprofessional middlemen trying to make a quick buck.

      While there are no absolute rules and anything that two consenting parties agree to might work, in this case, I’m completely against the concept of paying an agent and killing the basic incentive that they work for.

  7. Bharath says:

    Dear Sameer,
    I am an young author who wants to get published for free. I have sent my manuscript to many literary agents but they are asking a bit money. What should i do to get published for free. Please sir, i want your suggestion. Please HELP me.

    Regards,
    Bharath

  8. Avishek Sengupta says:

    hi Sameer,
    Can you give me any insights on how good is purple folio as a LA and typically how much they might charge for their services.

    Regards,
    Avishek

  9. Dennis Mamachan says:

    Sameer,

    May I request our aspiring authors to name all those fraudulent agents who charge for their services?

  10. Dr. Sapna says:

    Hi Sameer

    Do you have any idea about the literary agents Writers side.( http://www.writersside.com/ )

  11. Shalijay says:

    Hi Sameer, Glad I stumbled upon your blog which is very helpful.
    Can I ask you some questions?
    Should your manuscript be complete before you decide to submit your book proposal[ synopsis, 3 chapters, outline of chapters] to the publisher/literary agency?……yes I know silly question..but the manuscript keeps getting rewritten everyday and doesn’t ever appear complete.
    In the Indian setting, when dealing with a literary agency, what questions should you be asking them?Assuming they like your book proposal and write back to you.
    Also can you be represented by more than one literary agent[ if you are lucky to find more than one in the first place!]…….
    How does the whole business about dealing with a literary agent work?
    Thanks

  12. Anshul Dupare says:

    If anyone wants to know how working with purplefolio is like, please read this blogpost:
    https://kevinansh.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/literary-agency-purplefolio/

  13. sanjeet lingala says:

    Hi, thanks for this info sameer.
    I had serious question though. One of the agents contacted me and shared his interest to work with me. but he insists on me paying him a sum of 16,000 rupees before he starts finding publishers for my novel. Is this sketchy or that’s how it works? should I trust this agent?
    the agency is bookbakers.
    please guide me how to proceed.

    Thanks

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