Here are some of the questions that Jim is asked most frequently regarding literary agents and publishing scams. If you have questions that are not answered here feel free to ask Jim using the contact information at the bottom of this page. Jim will try his best to answer as many questions as possible. Check back to see if your question has been added to this page.
- Who started the practice of charging writers up front reading fees?
A well-known agent named Scott Meredith began charging unpublished writers up front fees in the mid-1960's. He died in 1993 but the firm that carries his name has continued the practice.
It should be noted, however, that fee-charging literary agents existed before Scott Meredith gave the practice a degree of respectability. In an article written in 1958, New York City literary agent Paul Reynolds had this to say about the fee-chargers:
The so-called agents who advertise deal primarily with amateur writers. . . . They charge a fee for reading a manuscript, and often render some sort of criticism. Some of them occasionally make a sale from which they receive a commission but such is a very small part of their income. Some do not really try to sell anything. Their living is made from reading fees, from money that amateur authors pay them, rather than from commissions earned on checks from editors. These so-called agents almost inevitably advertise; the legitimate agents never advertise. (According to Reynolds, there were 39 literary agents listed in the 1957 New York City phone book. That year 10,000 books were published compared to 130,000 in 2003.)
- How many agents are currently charging up front reading and contract fees?
Because these agents come and go, and change their names, it's hard to know. My guess, four hundred, maybe more.
- Are all fee-charging literary agents phonies or impostors?
No, but because it's so hard to distinguish the fakes from the well intended, it's best to avoid all of them. From the writer's point of view, it really doesn't matter because a fee-agent is not the way to get published.
- Are there successful literary agents who are not members of the Association of Author's Representation (AAR)?
Yes. It should be noted that no fee-charging agents belong to this professional organization.
- What is the most important information, generally, to have about a particular literary agent?
His or her most recent sales list which should include publisher identities.
- Outside of New York City, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston, are there many successful literary agents?
- How many free-lance book writers support themselves from their writing?
Not many, a few hundred at most. If you like money, you have a better chance of making it in farming.
- Are legitimate literary agents aware of the so-called "genteel racket?"
Yes, but they prefer to ignore its existence. If real agents were truly concerned, they would support the idea of licensing which they do not. Editors are aware of the problem as well but do not get involved for fear of offending professional agents. The only people really concerned are aspiring writers and a handful of writer's groups and organizations.
- Is there such a creature as a book doctor whose work is known and respected in the publishing industry?
Yes, but there aren't many of them, and they are extremely expensive.
- How do so many fee-chargers stay in business?
Getting into the fee-charging business only requires a mailing address, some letterhead stationary, a line of bull and an ad in a writer's magazine or a site on-line. The business is also possible because in America there are more writers than readers.
- Is there a way of finding a legitimate literary agent without having to randomly pull names out of publishing directories?
Yes. Read publishing industry magazines and trade journals, as well as writing organizations' newsletters that regularly disclose the identities of authors and their agents. Also, check the acknowledgement pages in published books similar to yours for references to agents. And finally, if you are willing to pay the fee, use the services of Agent Research and Evaluation (AR&E), an agent data base maintained by Bill Martin in New York City. Bill can match you and your manuscript with agents who have had success with books like yours. This approach can save a lot of time.
- Is it true that one cannot get published without a literary agent?
No. Small publishers and university presses accept nonfiction, trade submissions that have not come through an agent. Moreover, a good query letter from an uniquely qualified author of a nonfiction book can get through to an interested editor of a big commercial house. Agents, however, are most needed by writers of genre fiction.
- Should I query several agents at the same time?
Yes. If you don't, you may not live long enough to see your book in print.
- How long should I wait before calling an agent to check on the status of my submission?
If you haven't heard anything in four weeks, call. If the agent sounds annoyed that you've called, scratch that one off your list.
- If I decide to go with a vanity publisher, or publish this book myself, what are the odds of seeing my work on a best seller's list?
About the same as being hit by lightening on the day you've won the lottery.
- Rather than waste time sending out query letters, is it a good idea to telephone agents cold to pitch my book?
No. Agents don't care how well you talk. They want to see how you write.
- Should I sign a contract with an agent?
Not unless you have to, and then for not more than one year.
- Should I query an agent before my book is finished?
No. Most agents aren't interested in partial manuscripts, proposals, or great ideas for books.
- How can I find out what kinds of books are hot and sought after by agents?
Don't even try. Agents themselves really don't know what they want until they see it.
- Would the publishing world be a better place without agents?
Yes, but in a world where editors no longer edit, and publishers no longer screen submissions, agents have become a necessary evil.
- Where is Dorothy Deering now?
The only thing that I know is that Dorothy is no longer in prison having been released from the Federal Corrections Institution at Lexington Kentucky on August 23, 2003.
- Do you think that Dorothy Deering, now that she's out of prison, will pick up where she left off?
Yes, in all probability she will. Her decade of fraud constituted the best years of her life and the temptation to recapture the excitement and glory of those years will be hard to resist. She may resurface under a different identity but the method of operation will be the same. Writers beware!