As an author who successfully sold a book to a publisher without an agent and negotiated my contract myself (if you like to call, “Yes, I’ll sign whatever you’ve got,” a negotiation,) I thought an agent would be the puppy on a leash route. I didn’t want to be at someone else’s mercy and really had no idea what an agent would do outside of negotiating a contract.
Not long into my book tour, I met other authors and got a good look through the fence at the doggy park. Let me tell you, it didn’t take me long to develop leash envy. So I’ve got my eye out for an agent that would fit my personality and goals. Oddly enough, even though I’ve been in the freelance business quite awhile, I still find a lot of agencies out ready to scam the hasty writer.
My first big taste of this came this week through the WL Children’s Agency, which I have since learned goes by lots of different names. I found it by clicking on a link from a reputable children’s authors guild, but I made the mistake of clicking a Google ad on the site. I should have known.
But I did click. I clicked and found myself at a professional looking site that said all of the right things and admittedly some of the things I wanted them to say, like, “You don’t have to spend your child’s physical therapy fund to come to New York and get rejected. You can get rejected from the privacy of your own home.” That sounded good.
I sent off a query and got a positive response right away, which isn’t actually out of the norm for me. If I get rejected, it usually comes a little later. I sent off the manuscript and only a week later got a positive response. That actually sent up the warning flags. I read over the e-mail skeptically. They were interested in representing me so they wanted to send me a “preliminary” contract, (a wha-?) but they wanted me to pay for a formal critique, not necessarily them, but they did have people they "recommended." The e-mail made the contract sound like this was the next step in being considered for their agency and after this round I would be up for an interview with the actual agent. They had a very informative e-mail as to why this was necessary and they would accept a critique from anybody with credentials, but it twanged like the only critiques with acceptable credentials came from the company they were recommending, a company that strangely shared similar initials to their own name, and had similar logos. Huh.
I called my friend Angela from Wicked Wordsmith http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html/ref=cm_plog_item_link?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.angelawilson.typepad.com%2Fwickedwordsmith%2F&token=563F38995AA2F46DCD2D7E97C2EB679D2AD4A7FE
and had her look it over, too. The same warning flags went off for her and she offered leads to research their validity. I decided to start with the guild site through which I had found this agency. Since they did not have any warnings about the company, I turned to the BBB. Still no warnings. I still wasn’t satisfied. The BBB at least recommended reputable agencies and this agency did not fall in that category either.
Finally, I checked out the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Of America, Inc site. They, thankfully, list the scam agents.
I immediately found warnings about the agency in question: WL Children’s Agency and all the other names the agency goes by. They have been under question for quite some time for referring people to their critique agency. They also have no reported sales with any major publishers although they make claims to such sales.
On the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site, I also found sample contracts to compare for legitimacy. The contract I would have been required to sign as a “preliminary” contract for their process of being considered--before speaking with the agent in question--was an actual contract. Should I have agreed to go further with the process, I would have been contractually bound to their agency.
So I’ll peer over the fence at the doggy park and try to figure out which therapy fund to raid to pay for a flight to New York. In the meantime, I write and speak at conferences. I'll work my way through the game instead of paying my way through. Someday, when I'm really ready to do this again, I’ll find an owner. I’ll have a nice pink leash and a collar with purple rhinestones. Of course, just posting this makes me a target for more scam agents. I'll ignore the phone calls and hordes of slick contract wavers beating down my door. A good agent doesn't have to seek me out.