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The Writer as Prey

Naiveté, desperation, eagerness. What does that spell to you? To me it spells V-I-C-T-I-M. It can also spell W-R-I-T-E-R. A writer eager to find a publisher, desperate for an agent, naive enough to sign any contract that seems to promise an agent and publication. And that’s just the dirt on top. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find all kinds of “opportunities” to promote, sell, distribute or otherwise handle a writer’s opus—for a fee.

In some ways, becoming a published writer is like a game of golf Ponds and sand traps are benign compared with the incompetent, the crooked, and the just plain evil who see the writer as their prey.

I’m shopping my latest manuscript, a thriller entitled The House on Hatemonger Hill, which means I’m querying agents. I came across an excellent article by literary agent Jessica Faust called “Bad Agents.” Woe betide the poor writer who signs on with one of them.

Agents don’t need to be licensed or credentialed. All they have to do is hang out their shingle or, in today’s terms, set up a website. A good agent knows the publishing industry, has the contacts, the negotiating skills, and a host of other competencies that help in selecting and acquiring the right publisher and the right deal for a book. You can tell a bad agent, she says, by looking around at a publishers’ conference. They’re the ones with no contacts and no one to meet. They don’t know what they’re supposed to do. They have no experience and are incompetent. The misguided writer who signs on with a bad agent might find their career stagnant.

Most writers know that an agent isn’t supposed to charge reading or other fees or push their editing or other services. That’s a red flag and we avoid them. We should look for agents with a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers. Bad agents will have virtually no documented and verified sales or many of the sales they claim are to be vanity publishers), before a sale is even made. They may also charge clients reading or administrative fees or for "editing services."

But there’s another kind of bad agent, the con artist, or in other words, the crook. Some years ago, I regularly perused the agent listings on the website, Prededitors and Editors, hosted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In the list of agents, there was often a note beside the agent’s name. The note might say “Recommended” or “Not recommended”, for instance. Most interesting were the notes that said “Under indictment,” sometimes with details.

Contests, awards, marketing consultants, advertisers, unscrupulous agents and editors, even reviewers, all add to the pile of “writer-get-rich” snares out there. This brings up the “Writer Beware” website, a useful resource for all writers..

I regularly check the website at for their writer alerts and other information on scams directed at writers. It is managed by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and is a valuable service to the field.

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