Karen Brichoux

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The Agent Hunt: Part II

December 29, 2002

***Before I begin, a quick service announcement. I’m having a contest! If you are interested in winning one of fifteen Advance Reading Copies of COFFEE AND KUNG FU, check out the new contest page on my website ( http://www.karenbrichoux.com ) for further information. COFFEE AND KUNG FU won’t be available to the general public until June, so here’s an opportunity to impress your friends and break the ice at parties. Good luck!***

Sticks, Stones, and Broken Bones (Or The Agent Hunt): Part II, Fees

Fees. They’re everywhere. You pay a toll to cross a bridge, pay to park at the airport, pay to ride the bus . . . But there’s one time you shouldn’t have to pay a fee: When you get an agent.

Until she has sold your book, your agent shouldn’t see a dime of your money.

It sounds cut and dried. It isn’t.

There are two types of fees. Ethical and unethical. There are obviously unethical agents--the ones who send you letters saying, “we’ll read and edit your manuscript for $400.” Those kinds of unethical practices are obvious. But what about the legitimate costs of business? What about postage, copying, long-distance phone calls--marketing costs?

There are agents who charge their clients for copying and postage and long-distance calls *before any expenses have occurred.* They charge their clients “marketing” fees up front when the author signs on as a client. And this is a fee. An unethical fee. This is paying money to people who haven’t spent any money on your behalf.

Fine. But what about those excellent, legitimate agents who charge you for postage, copying, long-distance phone calls, and courier service *as the expenses occur and before they sell your book?* Should you have to pay those fees right away? Or should the agent keep those fees on account and bill you only when and if a sale is made?

The decision is yours to make, of course, and below you will find the links for several excellent sources and articles on the topic to help you make the decision. What I’m going to give you here are my (very personal) reasons for why you should choose to query only those agents who hold legitimate business expenses on account until they have sold your book.

Reason 1: Trust. Everyone says you should trust your agent. But trust is built over time and no matter how well you research the agents you query you still won’t know if you can trust them until you’ve been in business together. If the agent doesn’t see any of your money until she sells your book, you know she has a strong interest in selling your book and recouping some of those expenses she’s been racking up on your behalf. But if you pay all your agent’s expenses as they come up, one day you’ll be sitting in front of your computer and you’ll start to wonder if she’s trying to sell your book at all or if she’s simply taking your money and saving up for a ski trip to Steamboat Springs. Not paying fees until you see a check from the publisher is a good way to remove the teeth from these doubts. And keep yourself out of the psyche ward.

Reason 2: Risk. You’ve just devoted a large chunk of your life to writing a book. On top of that, you’ve forked over money hunting for an agent. You’ve taken a risk. Now you’ve got an agent--a partner. Shouldn’t your partner take a risk? But if your agent is charging you fees as he markets your book, you’re bearing all the financial risk. And that’s not much of a partnership. You want a partner who believes enough in your book to be willing to take the risks with you.

And finally,

Reason 3: Reality. Can you afford a $300 bill from your agent? Expenses rack up fast. And while some agents might only charge you $20-$50 for copying in a month, even that much can make or break a writer’s budget. If you decide to go ahead and accept an offer of representation from an agent who charges expenses as they occur, you may want to put a cap on expenses accrued in a single month. (Hopefully, you can see the difficulties this might cause.)

For a more detailed description of fees and ethical agent behavior, see the links below. [Note: I’m new to this newsletter software, so the links may appear as text. If that’s the case, you can find hyperlinks in the newsletter on my website or you can copy and paste the links below into your web browser’s address line.]

Next month: Researching agents: One author’s methods.

Further Reading:

The Association of Authors Representatives. Take a look at their Canon of Ethics and list of questions to ask agents.

From the Science Fiction Writers Association and wonder woman Victoria Strauss, this information gold mine on agents (reputable and not) is required reading. Take your time with this site.

Happy writing!