I love Halloween. I’m a decorator and any excuse to deck out my house and yard is a good one. So as a special Halloween Trick and Treat I want to make sure everyone gets the opportunity to check out the International Independent Literary Agents Association list of Publishing Myths at www.iilaa.com (click “Enter” then “Publishing Myths”). I promise that it’s guaranteed to both give you a treat and scare you all at the same time. Sadly, it might also trick a few unsuspecting authors.
For those not interested in linking to the site, here are my thoughts on the IILAA list of Publishing Myths:
Myth #1: Writers don’t need an agent—they are a luxury and not a necessity.
I agree, more or less, that this is a myth. It’s true that in this day and age an agent is more and more important to your publishing career. However, I do know a lot of very successful writers who don’t have an agent or went quite some time without one. The little treat in this myth isn’t the myth itself, but the answer. IILAA actually believes that computers are to blame for agents and that because agents are necessary to sell to publishers, retainer fees are necessary as well. Please! So now we are, in a sense, blaming computers for agents who charge fees. Those dang computers! Clearly they are to blame for all the crooks in the world.
Myth #2: Fee-charging agents are scam artists.
So here’s your trick. IILAA is actually trying to convince you that because advances are so small it’s necessary to pay an agent upfront and help cover marketing expenses. Hello! If the advance is so small that your agency can’t live on commission alone, maybe you need to sell more books or work on your negotiating skills.
Myth #3: Your agent needs to be based in NYC.
Okay, here again I can agree that this is a myth. Obviously you don’t need to be in NYC anymore to be an effective and successful agent. However, it’s not because publishers have imprints all over the country (another myth created by IILAA). It’s because email, fax, and phones make it possible to work closely with editors without needing to be in their backyards.
Myth #4: Anything posted on one or more Web sites must be true.
Another instance where I can agree that it’s a myth, but with this one for exactly the opposite reason that IILAA has it posted. As far as I’m concerned you need to be careful about the many scam agents out there who would lead you to believe that charging retainer fees and reading fees is ethical. And one or all of them are happy to put up a Web site and post on message boards their version of how an agent does business.
Myth #5: That Preditors and Editors, SFWA, and Writer Beware, among others, are working for the author.
Certainly not a myth. These are some of the hardest working groups in the business. They have made it their mission to stop scam agents and have been very effective in more than one case. You would do yourself a lot of good to pay attention to what these sites say. IILAA also says that these sites are not trying to protect the author, but destroy independent agents. Another myth. BookEnds is an independent agency and has received nothing but support from these people; it’s bound to happen when you run a fair and ethical agency.
So take a look at the Web site and have yourself a good treat, but do not be tricked by what IILAA is trying to tell you. A good, reputable agency does not charge reading or retainer fees (reasonable expenses are fairly common though).
Happy Halloween! I’m dressing as a witch.