Should you pay a reading fee to literary agents?

We’re in the process now of compiling an online directory of literary agents. It’s going to be sortable, have very rich data in every agent and will be enriched with our own recommendations and advice – and absolutely no one knows agents better than we do. [The database exists now, by the way. It’s called Agent Hunter and it’s fab. HB.]

But as we’re compiling the list, we notice that some agents still charge reading fees. So let’s make it clear: you should not pay reading fees to literary agents. Not ever. For any reason. Just say no. Or preferably say no [insert expletive of your choice] way.

Reading fees are designed to ‘compensate’ agents for their time spent reading unsolicited manuscripts – they take all the risk away from the agent and place all the risk on you, the potential client. It’s not fair or justified. Since the vast majority of agents now charge no fee, you should simply avoid those agencies that do charge. Simples.

There’s another scam you see from time to time as well: agents who charge a largeish sum (£350 for example) to represent clients. Those agents say that it’s an upfront fee for expenses incurred (such as photocopying and postage), but this is a double nonsense. It’s nonsense because these days manuscripts are sent out digitally, and mostly read on Kindles, or whatever. But it’s also pernicious nonsense because, at £350 per client, agents have an incentive to offer representation as widely as possible. That means they take on poor quality manuscripts. Which means that editors distrust those agents. Which means their representation is worthless. Possibly even unhelpful.

And you don’t need to pay so much as a string bean to an agent, unless that agent makes money for you. That’s their job. They’re there to sell. They read unsolicited manuscripts because they’re looking for stuff they can sell. Let ’em find it. Let ’em sell it. Then let them take their fair and fully deserved share of the proceeds.

Don’t miss your chance to attend our next event, The Getting Published Day. Meet agents and publishers, and get feedback on your work. The event will be held in Regent’s College, on Saturday 1st March, 2014. Book Today!

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  • I have an agent who wants to represent my book. She sent me a contract that requires I pay $45 per submission to each publisher. The fee is for copying charges, postage and 1/2 hr fee for meetings, travel to meetings, phone calls etc. She said that fiction editors do not accept electronic submissions. She also wants to charge me $3500 to edit my book. Even as I write this, I think that I should run from her offer. Can you comment?

  • Harry

    Run from the offer? No way. I’d advise the use of a racing car, jet plane or speedboat – just get a long way away.

    The old advice is still the best. Get your book out to 8-12 proper agents. (No fees. Verifiable track record. Real experience.) If you get taken on – you’re away. If not, you need to conclude that your manuscript isn’t YET good enough.

    If that’s the case, then you probably do need to start thinking about editing, but $3500 is an insane price. We offer editorial feedback for about $600-800 (depending on the length of your book), and we do it properly. Use real authors. Work in depth. Hold you to high standards. Talk you through it. We won’t pretend that you’ll definitely get a publisher at the end of it. It all depends on the quality of your work and your ability to work with an editor. But at least you will be getting better – and you will not be getting ripped off. Meantime, good luck on that speedboat.

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