Once you’ve got a version of a manuscript you’re satisfied with, it’s time to find an agent—if you’re going the traditional publishing road. This means doing a whole lot of research: deciding what geographic market you’re aiming for, defining the genre and target audience, and then searching. Looking online or in publishing guides that list agents according to what genres they represent (or are looking to represent), settling on those who appear to be the best match, working on the query letter, writing a query letter, and then submitting the materials.
This takes time, there are more manuscript submissions than there are agents accepting them, and the whole process can be consuming (time-wise, emotionally, and psychologically) and a little desolating.
So, when an email arrives offering representation, happiness may lead to quick decisions, but it’s very important to know that not everything is always as it seems.
Unfortunately, scams are a very real part of the publishing world, and it’s good to have a clear idea of what you should be wary of.
First is the case where the agent requires a fee, either for reading your manuscript, as an advance for representation, or for any reason, really. Literary agents get paid after they sell your manuscript (a commission of around 15%, depending on local practices), so you don’t have to pay out of your own pocket for anything.
Another scam may be an agent who directs you to a publishing house that requires you to pay for any part of the publishing process. This is a vanity press, and the agent may receive a percentage for the work. It’s one thing if you’re opting for this kind of system—where you cover the costs associated to publishing your manuscript—but make sure you understand what deal you’re being offered and the extent of the expenses you may incur. Remember, in a traditional publishing house, you’re not expected to pay for anything.
And another scam to be aware of is when an agent asks you to hire an editor (freelancer) to work on your manuscript before submitting it to a publishing house. Yes, your work may require some editing and a suggestion like that could make sense—unless you’re being directed to a specific person who may offer a commission to the agent.
There are further possible scams, but these are the main ones you should be most cautious of.
Other suggestions? Read whatever contract you’re offered thoroughly, consider the dates for rights’ ownership or management, inform yourself about what may be required of you (not just financially), and if possible have a lawyer look at it, too.
If you’re in the often arduous pursuit of a literary agent, keep these scams in mind to know that you should be mindful of. Never pay for anything in advance (unless you’re going for self-publishing or a vanity press), google the agency or company that reached out to you, and ask around!