How Not to Seek a Literary Agent: The Perils of "Middleman" Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


I know I've written about this before. But I'm seeing an increasing number of these kinds of "services," and they are all worthless.

What am I talking about? Agent middleman services--services that, for a fee, purport to contact agents on your behalf with the aim of snagging representation and, hopefully, a publishing contract.

A particularly egregious example: Bookmarq.net's Finding a Publisher service. (All errors courtesy of the original.)
Agents in New York or London receive thousands of query letters a year in the first stage of the book-beauty-contest that is traditional publishing....

Publishing a new author represents a significant investment for any publishing house which goes far beyond the amount of advance. To reach the promise land it is absolutely vital for an author have all the links in the chain in place or they will not be successful in securing a publishing contract.
What are those all-important links? Read on.
Step One: The Critique

We begin with an honest critique of your work which will aim to sort out any problems. Nobody buys a book on a query letter and if you are to make a sale (as opposed to becoming an expert at writing query letters) you need to have a saleable product.
Your cost for this assessment: 1.5 cents per word. And who will be doing your critique? You'll be glad to know that they are "professional editors." No names, no credentials--but you don't need those, right? All that stuff about the huge numbers of unqualified editors doing business online--surely that's an exaggeration. Bookmarq wouldn't ask you to pay for editing unless it had made sure the editors were competent, would it?
Step Two: The Presentation

We will ensure that you present the work to the right people through the appropriate bookmarq.net office (in New York or London) in the form that they would wish to receive it. That means we sort out the query letter, the manuscript and the synopsis and deliver them with a covering letter from one of our editors – whom they probably already know – along with a personal letter of recommendation.
"Indicative costs" for this service: $199 for 10 agents, and $10 per agent thereafter.

Leaving aside the whole anonymous editor thing (and believe me, a freelance editor accomplished enough for her name to be recognizable to a reputable agent is not going to be doing this sort of work), let me remind you of the reaction of two real literary agents to this kind of approach:
Not only that, you have no way of knowing whether the Bookmarq folks are knowledgeable enough to screen out marginal and disreputable agents.
Step Three: The Negotiation

Subject to the level of interest we will liaise with the agent or publisher on your behalf and negotiate the best terms available. It remains for your agent to negotiate the best price for your book but we will negotiate the best terms possible with your agent.
Let's assume that the moon is blue and pigs are flapping overhead and steps One and Two actually bagged you an agent. Here's what Step Three boils down to: some outfit you found on the Internet will horn in on negotiations your agent expects to carry out on his/her own, unaided by third parties. It's hard to say who would be more annoyed: your agent or your potential publisher.
Step Four: The Contract

Our specialist legal team will comb through any details in any publishing contacts to eliminate unpleasant surprises or future pitfalls.
Bookmarq will once again interfere with your agent as s/he tries to do her/his job--an unwelcome prospect even if Bookmarq actually has a "specialist legal team." (On the other hand, if it's really just publishing "contacts" Bookmarq will be combing through, the effect might not be so deleterious.)

The fees for Steps Three and Four are speculative, since they're "related to value of contract and subject to negotiation." They're also imaginary, since Bookmarq will never get you past Step Two. But you'll still have thrown away whatever you paid for a critique of questionable value and some (probably) junk-style mailings to (possibly) not-very-well-screened agents.

Writers: don't fall for services like this. The only recognized middlemen in the publishing industry are literary agents, and they expect to hear directly from writers--not proxies. Do not pay a person or service to query agents for you (especially if that person or service wants to have a hand in how your agent does his/her job).

There's plenty more to debunk on the Bookmarq website. Author and self-publishing expert David Gaughran does an excellent job of that here.

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