Aspiring Authors: Beware Scammers! They’re everywhere!

A novelist friend asked me about a service she found that charges authors to find agents. Big amounts: thousands of dollars, plus a sizable commission.

I am not a suspicious person by nature, but in the case of services like this, my inner voice is hollering a warning.

Take a Hint from St. Thomas the Apostle: Be Skeptical

Before you give any money to a service provider, put on your skeptic’s hat. StThomasTake advantage of Google, LinkedIn or your local library and do your research. The oft-quoted statistic from a 2002 survey that “81 percent of Americans say they have a book in them” has garnered the attention of scores of unscrupulous schemers and scammers who are preying upon aspiring authors’ desire to see their names in print as soon as possible. And it seems the flood of these scam artists is only growing.

As I stated in a previous post about the options authors should know about in book publishing today, remember that publishers fall into one of two categories. Those who make their money from the sale of books, and those who make their money off of authors. Book publishing service providers like Lulu, Xlibris, even the well-loved CreateSpace (Amazon), make theirs off author fees, not book sales. That puts the responsibility for editorial accountability squarely on YOUR shoulders. Sure, Amazon is making money off self-published book sales, too. But do they actually care about the quality of your book? No. Will they still take your money even if it is an error-pocked first draft? Absolutlely. Do they care whether YOUR book sells or not? No. Do they care that the average ebook is earning less than $200 for its author, over its lifetime? Not really. They made their money off fees.

And lots of other people along the way want to similarly make money off of your desire to be published.

Buyer beware!

Traditional publishers, small and large, make their money from the sale of books. Literary agents have a vested interest in developing long-term relationships with many publishers. They are invested in their reputation for delivering quality manuscripts and mature, hard-working authors to publishers. If they don’t, publishers will drop them. Literary agents strive to make their clients–the authors– happy. They want good productive authors, happy with their deals, turning out good books, to deliver to paying publishers. Agents work for the author. If one publishers doesn’t work, they’ll find another. They’ll negotiate the best deals for their authors. And they do it all for a percentage–not an out-of-pocket fee.

Do you need to pay a real agent? Never. Do you need to pay someone to find an agent? Heck no!  It’s not rocket science. Yes, it take some leg work and persistence. Yes, it is not quick. But if you want the benefits — and there are many— avoid the scammer and find a real agent. To learn all about literary agents, how they work, how to write query letters, and much more, the kind-hearted literary agent Noah Lukeman wrote a comprehensive book about it—which as of this posting he is giving it away free.

Here’s a great article on How to Recognize Real Agents. In a nutshell, Real Agents:

  1. Don’t advertise
  2. Don’t charge fees up front
  3. List books they’ve represented on their sites along with the publishers, who are recognizable and large enough to offer “deals” (ie., advances and royalties) and the publishers real agents work with are NEVER vanity or self-publishing services
  4. Often belong to  AAR, the Association of Author Representatives
  5. Have phone numbers and don’t insist on all-email interactions
  6. Do not offer to edit books for a fee
  7. Do not offer adjunct services for sale
  8. Do not submit to vanity or small non-advance-paying publishers

How to Find An Agent in Six Easy Steps

SleuthingHatThis article gives all the details on How to Find a Real Agent. To summarize:

  1. Put on your sleuthing hat, grab notepad and paper, and go to the shelf in the local bookstore that your finished book will reside on.
  2. Pull out the top five or ten latest bestsellers in the same genre as your book.
  3. Open to the title page and write down the title, author and publisher.
  4. Turn to the acknowledgements section and look for the literary agent and agency thanked there. You can also look for editors and ghostwriters as well.
  5. Skim through the table of contents and the book. How does this book differ from yours? Does the audience differ? Is the theme different? Which book is more narrow or more comprehensive?  Particularly if this is a best-selling title, which could be deduced by the copyright date—if its more than a year or two old and is still stocked on the bookstore shelves, that means its selling well—dow does your book complement this one?  Which of the books would make a great companion title to your own? Most importantly, look for the one key difference that sets your book apart. What does your book have that this one doesn’t? Make notes.
  6. Search for the agents online. Search for publishers at Writers’ Market.  You can subscribe, download, or find it in the reference section at your local library.Publishers’ Marketplace is a another good resource. Others include Writers Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents and Agent Query.

Now you have the names of agents, agencies, publishers, and good intelligence to use to open your query letter to the agent, pitching your book, mentioning their similar title they’re already marketing in your niche, and how yours serves as a remarkable complement and is different from the title.

And it didn’t cost you a dime.