The story you are about to read is true. Some names have been changed to protect the less-than-innocent…
In May, 2011, Victoria Strauss at Writer’s Beware wrote an excellent blog about how a certain “traditional publisher” had started a fee-charging literary agency. I’ve recently started to receive queries from this agency (along with other fee-charging agencies), and I thought it was important to write this blog and share my views on the quality of the queries from the fee-charging agencies that contact us.
In the case of the publisher-turned-agency, we received a query that contained a list of 22 manuscripts (none in genres we publish) that included nothing more than the title, author’s name, and a links to the product pages for each book. I sent a reply noting how unprofessional the query was and suggesting that no publisher would take the time to click through a list of 22 links to find out what each book in a query letter was about. The next query we received from the agency included 5 manuscripts with a 1-2 sentence description of each title (taken directly from the product page) in addition to the product page link.
That’s right. For the $199 fee you’re being charged, the links to your manuscript’s product page and the pages for 5 to 20 of its “closest book friends” are being sent like spam to publishers, with inadequate descriptions of the titles and no discussion of the merits of the individual works or why they would be a good fit for the publisher. The publisher-turned-agency couldn’t even be bothered to send separate query letters for each manuscript.
In general I’ve noticed three common trends for queries from fee-charging agencies. First, it is usually apparent that the agent has not taken the time to learn much about Divertir Publishing and what we publish. Second, not one of the queries has followed our submissions guidelines – which is an automatic rejection. Finally, the query letters are much like the one from the agency above, with no discussion of the merit of the manuscript or why I should even be interested in reviewing it.
The simple truth is that most fee-charging agencies make their money off the authors they represent, selling everything from representation to critiques to editing services; selling the rights to your book is often an afterthought. If you decide to consider this type of agency (which I do not recommend), ask the agent a simple question before sending your first payment: Where has the agency placed works for the authors they represented in the past? If the only answer they can give is that they have placed manuscripts with a “sister company” of the agency, you might be better off investing your money elsewhere. Because the real question you need to ask as a writer is simple – is a query letter containing 22 manuscripts with no descriptions really the best representation for your manuscript, and should you be paying for this type of representation.