Is it standard practice for an agent to ask a new client to send 20 or so hard copies of a manuscript for her to shop around? I assumed the agent would make any necessary copies and charge against the advance for a sale.
Also, should I be suspicious that she asks for no changes to be made to the manuscript? Don’t most agents do an edit on their new clients’ work?
No, it’s not standard practice for an agent to ask any client to supply hard copies of a manuscript. However, that doesn’t mean the agent is a scam either. One of the craziest things about this business is that while there are many “standard practices,” there are few rules across the board. Of course you all know by now never, ever, ever to sign with an agent who demands money up front. But what about these questions? Should you worry if an agent is asking for 20 copies of a manuscript? You might, but how do you know if you should? Ask questions. Where are the 20 copies going? Which publishers and, most important, which editors does the agent have in mind? Has she sold to these publishers and/or editors before? Why is she choosing them? Twenty is a lot of copies, especially up front and especially if this is fiction. Is the agent planning on sending all 20 at once or could you send more as necessary later? Many agents charge back expenses, usually the expense of copying manuscripts. It seems this agent is simply trying to avoid those costs up front. There’s really nothing wrong with that, although, as an aside, in today’s world I rarely send hardcopy (except to a few editors who always insist) and usually email almost all submissions. Couldn’t this agent do the same?
As for changes to the manuscript, that question is even harder to answer. I know agents who spend months editing manuscripts and I know agents who practically refuse to edit. They don’t feel it’s their job. Neither is right and neither is wrong. What is right or wrong depends on you. I would say that most agents, to some degree, edit their clients’ work, even if it’s a little, a general comment here or there. I also know of agents that take that role much too far, rewriting the book instead of working with what an author has. I try to find some balance. I edit the book as I see fit for a sale, but I leave the overall editing, the really hard work, to the author. Unless of course she requests otherwise. You need to find a balance that works for you. Do you want an agent who edits or are you confident enough in the work you send to know that when it goes out to editors it is the best work it can be?
What I would ask you is do you trust this agent? It seems that by asking me these questions you already have some concerns about either the legitimacy of your agent or, at least, whether or not this agent can truly do your career justice. If you are questioning your agent and her abilities I would suggest you first have a conversation with her about her business practices and why she is or is not doing certain things. It is after this conversation where you need to trust your gut. Is this really someone who can sell books and build careers? And is this really the best agent for you? Only you can answer that question.