Sunday, 26 June 2011

Agents' Reading Fees

I am not a published author. So what do I know when it comes to advising other wannabe writers? First of all, I am not ethereal. I really do exist. You know who I am and should you wish to know more, well just ask; or comment. So am I touting for kudos? No, although comments would be nice, for or against!

My target audience is that group of writers, just like me; fairly hard working, unpublished, and in the main unnoticed; maybe even unloved! What ‘heads up’ do I want to give you? Look out for a major hole in the footway, on the road to publication.

Think carefully, before you send out a piece of work to be 'read'. Read the agents’ blurb properly. Make sure they accept your kind of story. Know their wordage limits, and what exactly they want from you for a first contact. But above all, ‘DON’T PAY FOR A 'READING'. Why not? Because you don't need to; not even if you are 100% sure, the ‘reader’ will give you an honest appraisal of your work, and that too, without any empty promises.

Why would I warn you against reputable agents, just because they advertise, without any qualms, that they charge a reading fee? Simple. The best agents don’t charge a reading fee. That sentence bears repeating, so read it again. The best agents don’t charge a reading fee. Furthermore, those agents are the ones you should be targeting.

What’s wrong with reputable agents charging a reading fee? Some people might think it reasonable. There is a problem though. The amount of 'dross' that falls through an agent's letter-box, or inbox must be staggering. No agent in the world has the time to read everything from page one, right through to the end. We should also know, or at least suspect, that few of these agents would ever consider taking on more than two or three new authors per year. So when they read your submission, and know within a few pages that it's not publishable, they are going to charge you for reading it. Why? Because they said they would. Conversely, the least you should expect in return is an appraisal, telling you what is wrong with your work. By this I don’t mean the standard, ‘Your writing is not yet up to publishable standards. We suggest you revise your plot, draw your characters better, and pay attention to grammar.' And so on. You won't get that response though, because there simply isn't time for them to read your work. This is why I think agents who ask for a reading fee are at least, chancing their arm. There might be agents who will waive the fee, if they know your work isn't right. That's fine, but I would prefer not to take the chance. I admit, a quick standard response is better than nothing. No one has swindled you. They told you in their advert they would charge a reading fee. As long as they don't make false promises about huge royalty advances and lucrative film deals, then they are being straight with you. Even so, if you choose the right agent, you can get the standard response for nothing too! Therefore, my standard response to 'reading fee applies' is, ‘Thanks but no thanks. I’ll look elsewhere.’

The other adverts to be wary of are from agents who say there will be a reading fee, if your Ms. is accepted. That’s better isn’t it? Yes, but only marginally so. There is still no solid assurance they can sell your work, (There couldn’t be, and in my opinion, any such claim is bordering on fraud.) Why then should there be a reading fee? Thus, my response again is, ‘Thanks but no thanks… blah, blah.’

The truth is simple. The best agents DON’T charge a reading fee. There, I said it again, boldly! If your work has any promise, a reputable agent will ask to see more of it. If your Ms. passes this test the agent will most likely find an editor to work with you, to help make your book more commercial. In other words you are over the first hurdle. The rest is mostly down to you and how much you are prepared to ‘grindstone’ over your book.

I wish I could say there is another way, but there isn’t. (Well, I suppose the Head of a major publishing house could find the Ms. you left on a train seat, and immediately realise that here is a blockbuster.) Some hopes. Besides, the Heads of major publishing houses don’t often travel by ‘bus or train. So that route to fame and fortune is itself the stuff of fiction!

So my friends… Remember, and forgive me if I am boring over this, ‘The best agents do not charge a reading fee.’ They will be content with the commission on good sales that they know will be forthcoming; and well they should be content. Neither should you begrudge their commission. They earn it believe me. Coming from an unpublished writer that is praise indeed, but if an agent ever does get my work onto the bookshelves, I will happily pay his or her percentage.

One final thought. Have you just written the 'one' book, we are all supposed to have within us; or have you written the first of many books that you long to write? It matters because to make a solid career as a writer; as a novelist, you must be able to pull stories from the hat repeatedly. (It isn't magic of course, but it should appear to be so.) That's when agents realise they made a good investment. It's when you know you are pursuing your chosen life's work. It is that serious. So if that isn't you, consider taking up some other paid work. If it is you, then until you find that agent, do as I intend to do. Keep writing and keep submitting.

It’s the best and only way.
Good Luck.