anghara (anghara) wrote,

You will no doubt be hearing about this from a lot of places....

...but let me do a Public Service Announcement and discuss it here as well.

Aspiring writers in search of agents: website under the spotlight is this one:

IILAA stands for International Independent Literary Agents Association.

"As individual and independent agents, the main priority and loyalty of each agent is to his/her personal clients, as it should be. We are proud that our members serve their clients first and foremost, rather than any organization or association."

Um, okay. "The main priority and loyalty of each agent" is "his/her personal clients... as it should be." Um, yeah. "...our members serve their clietns first and foremost... rather than any organization or association". And which reputable literary agents would be serving anyone before their clients, pray? THEIR INCOME DEPENDS ON WHAT THEY EARN FROM THOSE CLIENTS. Just whose interests WOULD they be supposed to put first? And, um, this business of this new association. There already is an association of reputable literary agents. How come these guys didn't try and join that one instead of forming a new one?

Their "what is an agent's job" page is not too far off the mark, but it's setting them up for a showstopper - we're your friends. Nobody else is. But on we go -

Next comes the big one. The Retainer Fee.

Let me quote (with my comments interspersed in italics):
"Although reading/evaluation fees are still considered a no-no, a reasonable upfront fee became the norm. Uh, no. COmpletely untrue. If you hire an attorney for representation, you are expected to be a retainer fee. This is now the case for literary agents. Uh, no. Completely untrue. A literary agent, repeat after me, is NOT a lawyer. Of course, this fee (regardless of what it is called, whether a marketing fee, expense fee, travel, etc.) should be a reasonable amount. Well, at least it should be REASONABLE...? No. Listen to me, here. This fee, "whatever it is called", should not be paid up front. Period. A reputable literary agent's income derives from the percentage of the money that agent gets for the client by selling their work. That is where the buck stops. Period. Anyone who wants to be paid up front for this activity obviously does not think very highly of their own ability to carry it out. Reputable agents stake their reputations on their client's work - they sink or swim with the client. They have INCENTIVE to swim.

In fact, many agents who claim to not charge fees, and indeed, do not have an upfront fee, have been known to charge large amounts of money after a contract has been signed. Cite, please. Oh please, please, cite. My bet is that such agents are invariably scam artists rather than the real thing. They almost always claim this is for copies, etc. But a fee is a fee, whether it is an upfront fee, or a hidden one that is sprung upon you at a later time.My agent has put down expenses on my statements, yes. But here's the thing - those expenses are ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS taken out of advance checks - the rest of which, minus those (minor) expenses and the agent's own percentage which is 15% for US sales and 20% for international, on par with the industry standards, is remitted to me. I have never ever written a check to my agent. Not once."

The next page lists the top ten IILAA agents.

GOogle those names, please do. They have had quite a presence on the Internet, many of those agencies.

Then comes "How to spot hate sites which prey on the insecurity of writers" page. And again, I quote selections:

"There are numerous websites trashing agents." - No, but there are indeed numerous webistes making sure that the writer can keep informed on the industry players. If the players in question have done things considered by the industry to be questionable, those websites have called them on it.

"Because of the number of these websites, the average writer who is simply browsing the internet is not aware that most of these websites, forums, chatrooms, etc., are operated by the same group of people who claim to serve the interest of you, the writer. " - Oh, they are? ALL the websites, ALL the chatrooms? ALL the forums? And there are plenty, you know. But I really awsn't aware that the Writer Beware site is run by the same folks who run Absolute Write or Preditors and Editors or that sites such as Making Light (the blog of not one but TWO well regarded industry pros) had anything to do with any of those folks. Yes, the people who run or frequent these sites tend to know one another - from a professional networking point of view. No, they are NOT part of a conspiracy which has chosen to isolate and belittle a certain tiny and apparently very beset group of agencies.

"But honestly, do you believe that the operators of these websites spend so much of their time, effort, and money because they truly care about you? Or do they have an agenda." - And what do you think of the agenda of IILAA by this point...? Hmmm?

"We, at The International Independent Literary Agents Association, have no hidden agenda. We do not work for, or on behalf of any group or organization." - Oh, this is a really ingenuous bit of disinformation. Who claims to be working FOR an organization? It's as though they are the only ones who are out of the vicious cesspool of sharks and hucksters, the only ones pure as the driven snow... but if they're the only ones outside the industry, what does that say about their chances of selling YOUR manuscript?

"The IILAA is simply a group of independent agents, who have formed a partnership in an effort to be better agents." - You don't need a partnership to be a good agent. You need a good basic industry network, and you need a solid reputation. So far IILAA appears to be pooh-poohing the industry network, and they certainly do have a reputation, some of them. Just not the kind that they'd like, I suspect.

"We choose to spend our time and effort improving our abilities and talents so that we can better serve our clients, rather than involve ourselves in the political game playing that has become prevalent in the industry." - That's right. Knock the industry. You don't think that people know things about people in this game? How do you think an editor from a reputable publisher is going to feel when (or even IF) they ever get a MS from one of the agents on this list?

"That is not our mission!" - Oh, and what, pray, is?

Then we come to the Publishing Myths page. Let us go through their myths (again, my comments in italics).

1) Writers don’t really need an agent. Agents are a luxury, not a necessity.

* Before the day of a computer in every home, this was true. But, it is now so easy for a writer to write, edit, print, and submit manuscripts, that publishers were inundated with manuscripts…more than they could read. And most of these weren’t worth their time! At that time, they started requiring agents. Essentially, they use agents as “screeners” so that they don’t have to waste time with bad manuscripts. Agents, in turn, because they were not longer a luxury, and were now a necessity, started charging retainer fees in an effort to help cover their expenses. Agents had now become inundated with the massive amounts of manuscripts.

They were doing well, right until that "started charging retainer fees" sentence. Once again, it's simply not true. Agents make money through commissions - but this is not a sinecure nor a cushy job, and those commissions are earned, and worked for. But why bother working when you can simply charge a "retainer fee" and then sit back and do nothing?

2) Agents who charge upfront retainer fees are scam/fraudulent agents.

* Most first time writers don’t receive more than $3,000 advances, although some receive as much as $5,000. The agent’s commission for these amounts isn’t enough to make it worth the agent’s efforts without some advance help with the marketing expenses for the writer. An agent’s expenses add up! Telephone and Fax, Office supplies/equipment, payroll, postage, advertisement, utilities, etc. aren’t cheap.

First advances can be low, sure. But there are plenty of places - on the NEt, in industry forums (google Tobias Buckell's study on advances) where you can learn more about this. And a $3000 advance for an agented MS is VERY low. Too low. And a good agent - armed with a good MS - can get five figure advances or, if savvy enough or the book really is that good, even six figure advances. IT HAPPENS. WIthout an agent, you don't get to play in that sandpen. No, office setup and equipment and supplies aren't cheap - but they are not your client's business. They're YOURS. They are necessary for you to do your job. You can charge your client for that part of those things which may apply DIRECTLY to that client, but you do it by deducting such expenses from the money you have obtained for your client. Your client is NOT responsible for keeping you in the manner to which you plan to become accustomed. You have to work for that yourself.

3) You need an agent based in New York, New York, to get a publisher to look at your manuscript.

* Publishing houses today have “imprints/subsidiaries” all over the country. In addition to this, with email, fax, and telephone contact, publishers no longer have to have the one-on-one face-to-face contact that they once did. Let’s face it: The bottom line for the publisher is making money. The location of an agent doesn’t matter to the publisher. The only thing that matters to the publisher is whether or not the agent sends them good quality manuscripts on a regular basis.

That's true enough, I guess. And if you have California plans, a West COast agent might be a plus for you. But New York remains a publishing hub, and it's actually advantageous for an agent to be in the right place to "know" his editors, lunch with them, cocktail party with them, generally schmooze enough to know who's buying what when and where it's best to send a given MS at any given time. It is not IMPOSSIBLE for agents to do this from outside NYC, but it's that much harder - and you'll find those reputable agents based outside New York will actually make occasional forays into the city for the purpose of touching base with various editors, especially from the big players in the industry. And no, those agents will not be sending the invoice for their hotel bills to their clients.

4) If you see it on more than one website, it must be true.

* Many “hate” websites, which consist of general information sites, blogs, chatrooms/forums, etc., are all affiliated. They are operated and monitored by the same group of people, and are financed by the same organization that is dedicated to the destruction of independent agents.


5) Websites such as SFWA, Writers’ Beware, Predators & Editors, along with associated blogs and chatrooms/forums are operated and monitored by people who are dedicated to you, the writer.

* The operators/monitors of these groups have an agenda…and it isn’t to protect you. Their agenda is to destroy the reputations, and therefore, the business of independent agents. They do not do this out of the kindness of their hearts, or because they truly care about you, the writer. They do this for a reason!

...but we ain't telling you what that reason is... COme on. There may be many reasons for the existence of the Science Fiction Writers of America organization, but destoying "independent agents" is hardly their guiding light. Unless such "Agents" are out to scam unsuspecting newbies desperate for a foot in the proverbial door. Let's put it this way - protection of the innocent is the business of ALL those named sites. And yes, they DO care about the writer. Enough to work hard to ferret out carefully equivocated promises and expose them for what they are. FOlks, if you're out there looking for an agent, I cannot stress this highly enough: FIND AN AGENT WHO CAN HELP YOU. Yoking yourself into a partnership with an agent whose name is mud in the industry not only scuppers your chances for a particular MS which your might be peddling right now, but it also taints the next one because people will talk in this industry and names get known and trust is easily, easily lost...

Which brings us to the finale of the IILAA site: "Coming Soon".

Two things are on this site. The words "membership directory", and the words "Newest sales by our members". Neither, alas, is a live link. Which gives several possible impressions. One is sloppiness - was this site not ready yet? If it were, would you not be proud to put something under that "Sales" heading? ANother is reticence - why not be upfront with your goods? What's there to hide? Yet another is simple snottiness - because the rest of the site is so sniffily geared to pointing fingers at other people and their "agendas", and then providing absolutely nothing behind the curtain, not even the little man pulling the strings.

It's a pretty site, but it contains very little other than bile and puffery and, at best, several outright untruths buried under a camouflaging pile of the most dangerous half-truths of all, the kind that just don't tell you ENOUGH.

Dreams are beautiful, and dreams are free - but beware of promises you are asked to pay for in advance.

That's all I'm saying.

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