Okay, we're going to try something new here.
I belong to multiple writers' lists. Today a newbie writer announced he had googled "literary agents" and come up with a name. He wanted feedback from the group on that agent.
The thing is, he should never have had to come to the group to ask. There's a world of information out on the Internet if you just know where to look and what to look for. So, I'll give you a quick checklist for how to spot potential scammers.
Then I'll give you three names and let you check them out to see if you would be willing to submit a manuscript to any of them.
Let's start with the Mark Sullivan Associates Literary Agency
Here's the checklist for how to determine whether you should submit a query to an agent:
1) First, go to the agent's website here and take a look.
The first thing I see are covers of books sold. This is a good sign. Scam artists usually don't list clients or sales (or else the writers shown are all unpublished or self-published). We'll come back to these books later. For now, let's just keep looking.
I start to read the copy and see a warning sign almost immediate-
ly. This language: "It is important that a new writer be guided by professionals who understand how to present a work to the right editor at the right time."
This *may* be language intended to prepare the writer for long delays and excuses like "Your work is unique. We need to find just the right market for it" when the writer complains that his work hasn't been submitted anywhere.
Next: A photo of New York "before 9/11." By itself, this says nothing. But be aware that con artists often include appeals to patriotism or religion on their websites as though these lend legitimacy to the site and, by association, to the agent.
Let's keep going. To the icon for "Information." All kinds of questions are raised here. First, Sullivan describes his policy as "Our usual method of selling is to approach many publishers simultaneously and initiate a 'literary auction,' in order to encourage increased price bidding."
Literary auctions are reserved for the few special books that everyone is going to want. It is not a "usual method" of approaching publishers.
Major Red Flag: "Our fee for evaluating a full-length manuscript ranges from $250-500, depending on the nature of the material and the length. Some agencies charge nothing, others charge far more. This fee reflects our basic desire to keep our doors open to new writers while covering the expense involved."
LEGITIMATE AGENTS DO NOT CHARGE READING FEES OR EDITING FEES. EVER. The Association of Artists' Representatives (AAR) does not permit member agents to charge such fees. Ever. Go here to read the AAR Canon of Ethics if you want to know what legitimate agents will and will not do. If an agent is a member of AAR, s/he has agreed to abide by that code of ethics. It's usually a good sign if an agent is a member of AAR.
Once I saw the reading fee, the game was over. However, just for fun, let's see what else the Sullivan website tells us.
Under the "Guiding New Writers" icon, we find an attack against Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors. A legitimate agency does not need to attack anyone else; least of all, the places where writers go to prevent being scammed. Another major red flag.
I don't want to beat a dead horse, but let's go look at those books Mr. Sullivan lists. There are a couple of warning signs there, too. One of the books Blood, Money and Power has a note that Mark Sullivan edited this book over a five-year period of research.
Since we already know that Sullivan charges for services, we can surmise that he charged this writer fees for five freaking years. Not a good sign.
Another book Hidden Fortune was published by the author in collaboration with Mark Sullivan. That means it was self-published. Not a good sign.
So, before we even go to #2 on the checklist, we have a pretty good idea that Mr. Sullivan's agency is not legitimate by the definition established by the AAR.
Let's continue down the checklist.
2) Second, go to Preditors and Editors here and Writers Beware here to check out the agent.
When we go to P&E, we find this: "Charges fee. Editing conflict. Not recommended. Also a Top Twenty worst according to Writer Beware."
Another major red flag. And do you suppose that "editing conflict" had anything to do with that book Blood, Money and Power that he spent five years editing?
3) Third, google the agent. Let's google Mark Sullivan Literary Associates and see what we get.
In just two pages (the first twenty listings), I found warnings from Preditors and Editors, Writer Beware AND Miss Snark.
Would you send a manuscript to this agent? I doubt it.
If you finish your checklist and still are not sure if the agency is legitimate, go to your network (writers' groups, professional organizations, loops) and ask. However, that should be your last resort, not your first.
Now, let's see what you do with your newfound skills. Here are three names in alphabetical order. I'll make it easy and give you their websites. One is an absolutely legitimate agent. Using the AAR Canon of Ethics as our touchstone, the other two agencies are not legitimate. See how many warning signs you can find on those two agencies. And, conversely, what were the signs of a legitimate agent on the third name? I'll review with you tomorrow:
Barbara Casey Literary Agency here
Kimberley Cameron here
Writers Literary Agency here