Agents and Charges
I've been reading the Street-Smart Writer, Self-Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World by Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven. This book is loaded with wise advice. Glatzer is the creator of Absolutewrite.com and has been around the writing world for many years.
Unfortunately a number of people have figured out how to scam and profit tapping into the intense desire that writers have to get published. Because of the numerous rejections along the journey to get published, writers tend to gravitate toward anyone who gives them hope. Yet some of these people are only dispensing this hope to get into their pocketbook.
The first chapter is called Agents and Managers: Hone Your Shark-Spotting Skills. It tackles questions like Do You Need an Agent?, What a Good Agent Can Do for You, How a Bad Agent Can Hurt You, Deadbeat Agent Warning Signs and How to Research an Agent.
One of those telling signs to sound off internal warning signals relates to agent charges. When an agent charges a reading fee, this expense should make the writer turn and run. The Association of Author's Representatives has strong statements about these fees in their ethical guidelines and membership rules. Also understand not every good agent is a member of the AAR.
It's not a black and white rule like, "No agent should charge anything." That's not true because depending on your agency/ author agreement, the agent can invoice and recover standard business expenses--provided you’ve agreed to this process in the beginning of your relationship.
I loved the simple chart Glatzer and Stevens have included in their book because it helps writers sort through the hard-working legitimate literary agents from the scam artists. I've scanned this chart from page 12 and included it here.
The agent's relationship with their authors is based on trust and good business practices. While the writers can be fooled with these scam artists, the publishers and editors are not. Glatzer and Stevens include discussions about screenwriting as well as books in this chapter and write, "The thing is, publishers and producers aren't fooled by bad agents. They know which ones send them garbage or, at best, completely inappropriate submissions. And having that bad agent attached to your name can only hurt you, because it looks like that's the best you could do." Ouch.
It should give you something to think about in this area of the marketplace.