Sadly, there will always be con artists looking to prey on the vulnerable. It is easy to manipulate someone if you promise you can make their dreams come true.
When I started modelling I was aware of rogue agencies that offer to build you a portfolio for a charge. They sell it as your big break and that it will open doors for you into the industry but the truth is it is just a photography package. There is nothing wrong in paying a photographer if you want photos, but don’t be fooled into thinking it will guarantee you work.
If an agency really likes you, they won’t charge you for the privilege. You should never have to pay your employer for the opportunity to work. Especially with no guarantee of any return.
Sadly, writers don’t always realise this. With so many barriers to the publishing industry they are relieved when they finally get an interested agent that sometimes they fail to check them out. They are so happy they naively agree to costs their agent tells them are necessary to start the publishing process. This is untrue. The only time you would pay up front to publish is if you wish to self-publish or if you have chosen to use a vanity publisher.
Here is a story by Travis Heerman about his early experience of the industry. He was conned out of a large sum of money in pursuit of his dream, by a scam that seemed to never end. Even worse, he was not alone. Cautionary Tales for writers – part 1.
Travis shared his story in the hopes of saving other hopeful writers from the same heartache and stress he went through.
I would like to highlight that one of the defendants (found guilty in court) of this scam was a man named Don Phelan. Why this is interesting will be raised later.
During the September 2018 #PitMad event I got a request by Burchette and Ferguson, however, I chose not to follow up and send them my MS as I was put off by their website and here is why. They had only existed for three weeks and had no details about who worked at their company or their background.
I started drafting this article in February 2019 (screenshot below) and checked out their website again only to be greeted by the a message informing me that they are preparing for their big launch and the site had been down since October 2018!
However, I checked the site again today (almost a year later), 1 September 2019, and the site no longer exists!
With Pitch Wars #PitMad (September 2019) in just a few days, I felt it was a good time to remind people that just because someone likes your pitch, doesn’t mean you have to send it to them. This company was ‘preparing for a big launch’ a month afterwards that I don’t think every happened, and vanished in less than a year.
This year I have been connecting more with other writers on Instagram. It’s been great for motivation, support and tips. One of the connections is The Writers Advisor.
On 20 February, they posted about a Literacy Agency actively seeking submissions. Here is the post.
It wasn’t clear to me at the time that they are a Literary Agency. I thought it was a post they were sharing. I said I would check it out later.
Later on, I visited the site but could not find any details about who works there or any authors already signed or books published. So, I returned to Instagram to comment publically asking if they knew anything about which agents work there.
They responded with a private message:
It might be a coincidence and a completely different Don Phelan to the one in the publishing fraud case but with the lack of further information I decided to pass on sending him/her my manuscript.
Then Don replied to my message publicly on 23 February 2019.
His response strikes me as rather rude. I understand that when I query I am hoping the agent would like to work with me but it is a two way partnership. I always research an agent before I query to check they are a good fit for me too, otherwise I’m just wasting their time. His/her response gave me clarity that they were not someone I wanted to work with.
Do you need an agent?
If you are looking to traditionally publish then you’ll find most publishers won’t deal with writers directly. It will say no ‘unsolicited manuscripts’ meaning you’ll need an agent to approach them on your behalf.
It is important to research Literary Agents to ensure they are a good fit for your book, someone you want to work with and most of all to ensure they are authentic. Don’t fear, there are simple ways to check them out:
For example, check the agents history. Legit agencies often have a page about the agents and the authors they’ve signed. They often promote the books they got published as their success is a reflection on them.
New literary agents often start out supporting an experienced agent, which gives them a platform to prove themselves and some assurance to writers and publishers that they either know what they are doing or are surrounded by the guidance of those that do.
You may be able to find their employment history on LinkedIn or try a website like Writer Beware to see if anyone else has raised concerns about them. You can also buy Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook by Bloomsbury Publishing (check for the latest version as it is updated annually).
At the very least they should have a website with a profile to tell you a little about who they are and what they are in to. Check to see how the site been published. Businesses use the internet to have a presence so if they have not been around long, you need to ask why? Have they re-branded and if so who were they before. Are they just starting out and what previous experience have they got.
Not all Literary Agents use social media, however, most do and it is beneficial to discover more about them. Are they promoting books/authors they’ve represented and how well have they done? What are their interests and would they enjoy your book? See how active they are and how long they’ve had their account.
How do they behave? Many agents are drowning in submissions. It is highly unlikely they will have time to look for you and request a submission. They only time agents will reach out to someone is for non-fiction if you’ve done something that they feel their audience would be interested in and wish to ask you to write about it.
They should be upfront about what they are able to offer you and answer your questions in a professional manner. If they start hounding you with phone calls trying to push you to spend money, then you should block them and move on.
If they are rude or do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts. It takes on average two years to get traditionally published! If that sounds long, it’s going to feel even longer if you don’t like them.
I wish you every success and hope this post has been helpful in what to look for when considering who to send your novel to. It is a personal decision and you have to do what feels right for you.
If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy:
Seven tips for querying agents
How I edited my novel – 12 tips for self editing
Felixstowe Book Festival – The Publishing Industry
Book Review: Save the Cat – Writes a Novel
6 thoughts on “Writers beware! Know who you are querying.”
Great article. Thanks for posting.
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Thank you. My posts are usually upbeat so I felt a bit nervous posting this. X
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Here’s a book written by a former FBI agent on a slice of this whole literary con game, TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING.
Thank you for your vigilance and raising awareness of frauds like Don Phelan.
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