Pub Rants

Scammers That Scam Together…

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STATUS: TGIF! The week ended way better than it started. I have one project that’s garnering lots of editor attention. Love that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FASCINATION STREET by The Cure

Of course I had to go and research David Kuzminski’s cryptic comment in yesterday’s comment thread to click here if I wanted a good laugh.

But nothing prepared me for the sheer hilarity of scammers and fee-charging agents banding together to pretend they’re legitimate.

I even love their new organizational title: The International Independent Literary Association and yet not one of the agencies listed there is international. Perhaps they are just being optimistic for new members?

But my favorite part? The link that says Retainer Fee—To Pay or Not to Pay.

There they clearly spell out that it is a common misconception that reputable agents do not charge fees.

Eyebrow raise.

But it gets even better, they admit that reading and evaluation fees are still a big NO but retainer fees are the new black. After all, you’d expect to pay one when hiring an attorney, so why not for hiring an agent? In fact, according to them, this is now the case for literary agents.

News to me!

They even outright say that it’s okay as long as the retainer fee is for a reasonable amount.

Right. I’d like to know what constitutes a reasonable amount.

Folks. Repeat after me. Legitimate agents sell books to make money. To publishers who pay advances and royalties for the privilege.

They don’t charge money upfront (call it retainer, reading, submission, evaluation or whatever).

Why? Because if you actually sell books, you make money. There’s no need to charge fees.

And I also want you to go to the Association of Authors’s Representatives web page right now (of which I am a member). Give it a good look.

Now click on the Canon of Ethics. A set of ethical guidelines agents must adhere to in order to be a member.

See item 8? It clearly states that charging clients is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. Now, the problem is that the AAR only highlights fees for reading and evaluating literary works.

Scammers and pseudo-agents are manipulating language by now calling it a retainer. See it’s not really a reading or evaluation fee (even though we don’t seem to have a sales record), honest.

Folks. A fee is a fee is a fee is a fee.

26 Responses

  1. LadyBronco said:

    Yet another reason I love reading your blog. Thanks for looking out for the folks, like me, who are still trying to get our “foot in the door” so to speak. Between you and Miss Snark, how can a new author go wrong?

  2. katiesandwich said:

    I saw this link on Miss Snark’s blog and was stunned. So on my blog, I put a link to the site that says, “Everything on this website is a lie.” Never know; it might help somebody else.

  3. David said:

    Lawyers always require a retainer? Some lawyers take on cases that will result in money for their clients, and then they take a share of that.

    Say, I bet there are agents who do that, too!

  4. The Unpretentious Writer said:

    True this, but I could imagine that if you’re a desperate writer who’s been rejected by everyone and everything, that fee might start to seem smaller and smaller and more like an easy way to get an agent.

    We truck in a difficult business, both writers and agents. To write is to put your dreams on display, away from the safety of your mind. To be an agent is to make dreams come true, but also sometimes to crush them.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Hmmmm, says I.

    I’m agonna start a struggling writer’s blog. Someone needs to get some whinin’ in for the other side.

    Anyone else tired of listening to agents tell us all how bloody busy they are? Sounds to me like their jobs collectively suck. They are busybusybusy all the time, without a chance to take a breather, and then to make it worse— there’s an entire class of “criminals” out there pretending to be them!

    And why not? Once they’re up and running with a few talents on the rolodex, all they do is monitor what the clientele is doing. Then they can blog and quietly tell us how their clients are selling (free advertising rocks!), and find a bunch of depressed writers to kiss their asses.

    The truth is that publishing is an adversarial endeavor. There are too many writers, so they are looked down upon— right up until they’re a hot property. Agents are folks who can get past the gatekeepers of the publishing houses, and in turn have become gatekeepers themselves.

  6. LadyBronco said:

    Wow. I may be taking a giant leap here, but you sound like a writer who has let one too many rejection letters go to his or her head.
    May I recommend you stop posting anonymously, start your own blog (like I did) and maybe get some feedback as to what the problem might be? Because I can tell you, it’s not the agents, honey.

  7. Dave Kuzminski said:

    Kristen, I haven’t come across any other Nelson Literary Agency than yours, so you might want to visit the Sligo Literary Agency and check on one of their agents named Diane Nelson who they’re claiming worked for the Nelson Literary Agency.

  8. Jana DeLeon said:

    anon – you actually think that all Kristin does is monitor what I’m doing????? You have more to learn about this business than could fill a football field. And if you’re so certain agents don’t really “do” anything once you’re signed, then don’t bother getting one.

    Kristin is worth MY weight in gold (which is considerably more than her weight). The scope of her involvement in her client’s careers is so far beyond “unlocking the gate” that it would take hours to explain.

    This is a hard business and disillusionment is something we’ve all felt at some point and time. But rest assured that every writer I know, including myself, has worked their butts off for their slots. No one was given anything and a lot who were due didn’t get anything at all. Why – because talent isn’t all it takes. Talent is required, but beyond that you need timing and luck. And those two items can’t be rushed.

    If you let yourself get this frustrated with the business, it will eventually destroy your writing.

  9. JDuncan said:

    Why is it that folks who like to spew forth the negative rants can’t own up to them with a name? Makes me disregard what they have to say. It’s one of those auto-rejections.

    I can’t recall for sure but aren’t half the agencies listed on that site also listed on blogger beware’s list of places to watch out for? It was rather amusing to read their reasoning for retainer fees. Sadly, I’m sure they will catch many an unwary writer who will waste their time and money.

  10. McKoala said:

    Yes that retainer bit was my ‘fave’ too; but it was almost trumped by seeing Barbara Bauer at the top of their top 10 agents list. Thanks for covering this.

  11. FighterGirl said:

    Anonynous, FYI:
    Just because we’re out here educating ourselves about our craft (the artistic AND business ends) does not make us depressed ass-kissers. It makes us writers. At least, the non-“adversarial” sort who actually enjoy talking to others in our chosen field. We write alone. We get published with help. Just the way it is, dude.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Anon 8:33,

    If that’s the vibe you’re giving off – I bet it comes through in the tone of your query – no wonder you can’t find an agent. Even if your writing is brilliant, who’d want to work with you? You’re so hostile towards agents that if one called to check you out before offering rep (they do), they’d probably run screaming from the phone.

    Let go the anger, put the energy into revisions, maybe try smaller houses that don’t require agents. Otherwise you’re going to burn out quickly, if you aren’t already there. It took me 3 mss. & 2 years to find an agent; another year for agent to find a publisher. And that’s still considered fast and painless.

    Jana nailed it on how this biz works: a good agent “rocks” and none of it comes easy.

    — An Anon who knows the value of a good agent

  13. katiesandwich said:

    Hey, anon #1: Your name’s not Barbara Bauer, is it?

    Guys, thanks to a comment over at Miss Snark’s blog, I decided to blog about this; the more of us who do, the better the chances of Google and other search engines recognizing IILAA for what it really is.

  14. Anonymous said:

    Great post, Kristin, it can’t be said enough.

    On a brighter note, I attended a first-ever reading last night by one of your clients, Hank Phillippi Ryan. She was amazing and so, so gorgeous! She was the mistress of ceremonies at Boston’s Grub Gone Spooky (, and read a fabulous excerpt from her book. She had the whole place howling — in a good way, it was a Halloween party/reading after all. When does her book come out?

    This just re-enforces to me that you really are a professional who knows how to pick ’em. Keep up the great work!

  15. Anonymous said:

    I haven’t time to recheck this right now, but regarding the 10 “best” agents list: I read elsewhere that only one (Desert Rose, TX, also home of the IILIA itself) says on its website that it’s a member of the IILIA. Could it be that the other 9 agents are steering a bit clear of this new “association”?

    Not that they aren’t scammers too – only one has made any sales – but it’s strange that the list isn’t called something like “IILIA Members”, and strange that those other agents don’t proudly state on their sites that they’re members.

    Do they even know they’re listed on the IILIA site?

  16. Manic Mom said:

    This is so great that you and Miss Snark and I think The Rejecter are putting these notices on your blogs to help new writers decipher through what the truth is.

    I feel really sorry for any writer who gets suckered into the fees.

    Thanks for sharing the info!

  17. Anonymous said:

    Kristin read thirty pages of mine, and it was the highlight of my year. The stuff wasn’t for her, but it was nice that someone wanted to look at the pages at all… indeed, it will keep me at it for another 12 months.

    Depression in writers is bad news, anonymous.

    If it wasn’t for Kristin & Company warning us all about scamming agents, none of us would think anything of “reading fees” and most recently the “in-perpetuity clause”.

    Say “thanks”, don’t accuse.


  18. Anonymous said:

    My literary ATTORNEY does not charge me a retainer. I pay as I need her for specific work.

    And of course, neither does my agent.

  19. Ryan Field said:

    It all seems so “small time”. But, there are a few agents out there, not listed as good or bad, who are sort of the new “one book wonders”, who’ve hit it lucky and now seem to be creating their own rules, too. Maybe there should be some sort of legal, offical licensure for becoming a literary agent. Seems anyone can be a literary agent just by hanging out a shingle.

  20. Masuri said:

    If you don’t know anything at all about publishing, a retainer fee for an agent seems plausible.

    On the other hand, if you’re a writer and you don’t know anything about publishing, you need to get your butt in gear and learn that stuff. That’s like trying to go into the sandwich business without understanding anything but how to make a sandwich. The business aspect is critical for you to understand if you don’t want to get taken for a ride.

  21. Ryan Field said:

    “We regret that at this time we are only considering non-fiction submissions from new authors. Due to unfavorable market conditions, the agency no longer reads fiction submissions by authors who have not been previously published by a bona fide publisher.”

    This was taken from a very reputable literary agency web site. While I truly believe Kristin Nelson is the new breed, and the material she works so hard to represent is geared toward getting the public to actually read, there are other agencies who are reputable, but don’t have a clue anymore. The world has changed rapidly in the past five years; publishing in general hasn’t. And yet they wonder why there are “unfavorable market conditions”.

    My point here is that if Kristin can change with the times, and help change publishing without charging fees everyone should be able to do that. Writers have to be even more careful not to get scammed by “the scammers that scam together” when the scammers proclaim they are helping writers by fighting against the old system. Yes, there are changes happening…No, the two-bit, small-time scammers aren’t going to help anyone.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I tried to click on the site from a work computer, but it was blocked as being “inappropriate and non-business-related”.

    Guess the filter knows what it’s doing!

  23. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for your free advertising?

    That’s what their site says now.

    I do not query agents unless they are an RWA endorsed agent.

  24. Hank Phillippi Ryan said:

    Hey Anonymous–

    Thanks so much–I wish I could have met you at Grub Street! And thanks especially for the kind words. I had a wonderful time, although I was very nervous, it being my first reading and all. It was astonishingly gratifying to hear 200 people laugh at what I had hoped were the funny parts, and be silent and attentive during what I had hoped were the suspenseful parts. But you never know, and that was the suspenseful part for me!
    Anyway–I’m happy to answer your very important question: PRIME TIME will be available in June 2007. If you want to email me through my (still in progress) website, its and I’ll zap you a note when PT is available.

    Thanks so much
    Hank Phillippi Ryan