With all the new publishing options available in our digital world, how can we verify the quality of an agent, editor or publisher? Unfortunately, the publishing industry is no different than any other. There are plenty of individuals and companies that engage in unethical behavior and take advantage of writers by not following through on contract agreements or other shady business practices. The good news is that if you’re considering working with a particular publishing house, editor or agent, there are places you can go to find out more about them before you commit.
Writer Beware is a free website primarily for science fiction and fantasy writers, but they have a very good, regularly updated list of publishers and agents to steer clear of. It’s important to run any name you have by their ‘red flag’ list of people and companies to watch out for.
The Absolute Write Water Cooler is a free forum on AbsoluteWrite.com, with a thread called “Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks.” This is another great place to run a search and see if anyone has had a negative experience with the individual or organization that you are considering working with.
One of the best and most comprehensive resources out there is Predators and Editors. Intended to be a “compendium for the serious writer, composer, game designer, or artist to consult for information, regardless of genre,” the site has an extensive list of general rules for spotting a scam publisher or literary agency, as well as a long list of other sites and resources to find similar information and warnings.
Of course, when it comes to agents and publishers, your first and best resources are still the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Anyone who is truly active and legit in the industry will be listed there, so if you don’t see the name of the agent or publisher you are considering, that is likely to be a red flag.
Remember that any agency or publisher who charges a fee for reading your manuscript is probably not legit. Unless you are self- or independently publishing, you should not have to pay a publisher or an agent to read or to publish your manuscript. The industry standard contractual agreement entitles the author to an upfront advance against royalties, and an ongoing royalty rate once the sales have ‘earned out’ that advance. Agents customarily receive their commission as a percentage (anywhere from 10% to 20%) against an author’s advances and royalties.
Bottom line? Unless you’re self-publishing, there should be no upfront costs to you as an author. And if there are, consider it a red flag.