Why You Can’t Always Trust the Source

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Many writers assume that a literary agent’s inclusion in a market guide or listing–whether it’s a print book, such as Jeff Herman’s Guide, or a website, such as QueryTracker–is an imprimatur of reputability. Surely the agent wouldn’t be listed if there were any questions about his/her honesty or competence.

But the worst market listings–which may have been compiled by people who aren’t very expert (like this one), or may be the corpses of once-active resources that haven’t been updated in years (here’s an example), or may be databases where every Tom, Dick, and Harriet can create an entry, no matter their qualifications or ethics (WritersNet is a case in point)–may be full of questionable agents. And even the best may allow some undesirables to slip through.

For instance: Publishers Marketplace, which in my opinion is one of the most useful websites around for researching agents and keeping up with the US publishing industry generally. PM offers a wealth of solid information, and is one of the few membership fee resources of its type that I consider to be worth the investment.

However, PM is a membership site–which means that anyone who is able to pay the fee is free to join. While the fee does provide a deterrent to disreputable people, and the great majority of agents on PM are real and reputable, bad apples do sometimes turn up. Two recent listings provide red flag-filled examples.

Listing #1: Linda Cooper at Literary House

Red flag #1: The opening sentence, which I think requires no further comment: “I’m an [sic] hungry hunter… YES, but only of… bestsellers!!!”

Red flag #2: For an agent supposedly located in Chicago and selling to US publishers, she sure writes bad English. This is not really something that enhances a publisher submission.

Red flag #3: A fee of $120, though there’s some disagreement between PM and the agency’s website on exactly what the fee is for.

Red flag #4: The agency’s website.


Red flag #5: Delusional submission procedures.

We offer you a good literary file (about 9-10 pages written by me, an english literary agent, a literary critic (Us, Uk), a tv agent, and an expert in advertising about book) and this is the perfect “material” for the best publishers. If we consider your creation a good product, we contact the publishers sending this file, and we can offer you a quick response (about 7 days! Not more!).

Red flag #6: Big claims (“PUBLISHED AUTHORS: 90% [2009], 91% [2010], 93% [2011]“), zero specifics. If sales claims can’t be verified, they might as well not exist (and in fact, probably don’t).

Red flag #7: Beware of an agent who uses a stock photo.

Listing #2: Alexis Avi

Red flag #1: Another unfortunate opening sentence: “I’m a literary agent who loves this job!” Oh, goody.

Red flag #2: Dear me–more bad writing and spelling (unless “mistery” is a new fiction genre I haven’t heard of).

Red flag #3: Stealth agents. Googling the names of the four agents who are supposedly part of this agency turns up nothing whatsoever related to writing or publishing. This might be understandable if the agents were new–but for the kind of experience that’s being claimed (15 years, in one case), it’s a tad implausible.

Red flag #4: Stealth clients. A spot check on client names not only turns up no sign of published or about-to-be-published books, but in some cases turns up no sign of clients. Hint to fake agents: if you’re going to invent your clients, calling them things like Omi Wonn, Mariangela Thunder, and Tom Hooberg is not the best idea. For heaven’s sake give them common names, so a websearch won’t make it so obvious that they’re bogus.

Red flag #5: Big claims (“114 clients-published authors”), zero specifics. Reputable agencies name their published books–it’s a form of advertising.

Red flag #6: Beware of an agent who uses a stock photo.

Wait. A stock photo? Again? What are the odds that two agencies would simultaneously utilize this unfortunate strategy?

And–hmmm–there are some other odd similarities. Both agencies are looking for “thriller horror,” a term I’ve not seen used anywhere else. Cooper claims that “big EDITORS PUT SUBMISSIONS FROM US TO THE TOP OF THEIR PILE,” while Avi avers that “in fact editors put our submissions to the top of the pile.” And check out the submission requirements, which, while different, are couched in identical terms. Avi:

If you want, you can contact me.
[email protected]
Put in the subject line: “query_title of the book_your name”.

Cooper:

If you want,
you can send me all material (certified mail): [email protected]
Put in the subject line “QUERY_your name and surname_literaryfile”.

(Uh, certified mail? To an email address?)

Either these two agencies are the same operation, or they hired the same incompetent person to create their listings.

Debunking such obviously fake agencies is like shooting fish in a barrel–it’s so easy it may not seem like it’s worth the bother. But there are always writers who are too inexperienced to recognize the red flags–or who overlook them because they believe that a reputable market listing must automatically screen out any questionable agents. I’ve already gotten inquiries about both these agencies, and I expect I will get more.

Even if you trust the resource, it’s always wise to double-check.

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