Monday, 21 May 2012

Paying an agent is never a good idea

Brenda Darling is concerned about her work being used without her permission. She sent the following plea for help, which I answered in the February issue of Words with JAM Question Corner: Hi there, I wonder if you could give me some advice please. Last year Sheila Bugler kindly helped me with my synopsis for my novel HARD KNOCKS. Since completion I have been sending three chapters of my book to agents. Recently an agent got in touch by e-mail saying that they were interested to represent me if I could send them my novel by word document. This I did immediately, without giving any thought to the consequences. After getting no response, I rang and it was explained to me that I had to pay money up front. A published author whom I know, advised me not to go ahead. So I rang the agent and declined his offer.

My question is, the agent now has my complete novel and as I cannot retrieve my word document what do I do now? Is there a way I can stop my work from being used?

First and foremost, your writer friend is absolutely right to warn you off paying a prospective agent. Money should always flow to the writer, not the other way round. The only time an agent should make money from a writer is in commission for selling the book.

The exception to the money flowing to the writer is if you choose to pay for professional editing prior to submitting to an agent, or if you go to an editorial consultancy for advice on improving the storyline and structure.

You don’t have to worry too much about the agent using your work as you own the copyright and any use without your express consent would be illegal. I would, however, suggest sending the agent an email referring to your telephone conversation. Make it plain that you have declined the offer of representation and that you are withdrawing your work. Even if they have kept the file (highly unlikely) you would then have a record of what was said and done.

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  1. To me, this sounds almost fraudulent. I've heard of agents that charge - setting off alarm bells in my head - but to actually ask for a ms, then request money is shameful.

    I agree with your suggestion the author should email the agent to confirm the conversation. That way, should they be in breach of copyright laws, she has proof of her intentions.

    Thanks for posting this. Sound advice for writers. Sharing.

  2. Is there any way I can post a question?

  3. Hi Laura,

    I've added a link to the top left hand corner. You can contact me via that page.


  4. Hi Cathie,

    Thank you for dropping by and commenting. Things like this make me mad on behalf of other writers.