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You’ve probably heard the horror stories of aspiring authors who’ve teamed up with less-than-reputable agents or publishers. But no matter how many times we’re warned about the dangers of entrusting our work to shady dealers, all it takes is a few demoralising rejection letters to make us start thinking “Well, maybe it doesn’t really matter who publishes me; it’s got to be better than staying unpublished, right?” I’m here to tell you not to listen to that little voice of doubt. It’s better to stay patient and wait for an offer from an agent or publisher you know you can trust, and here’s why…

You Could Get Conned

I’ve already warned you about the dangers of vanity presses but they aren’t the only people out there who are trying to trick you into handing over your hard earned cash. In particular, beware of any agent who tries to charge you a “reading fee” for the privilege of having them consider your work. I don’t care if they only want to charge you fifty pence, any bill from a potential agent should be a massive red flag.

Hold onto that fifty pence. You might want a Mars Bar later. Image by Images Money

Hold onto that fifty pence. You might want a Mars Bar later.
Image by Images Money

“Reading fees” aren’t the only way that an unscrupulous agent might try to make a bit of extra cash from you. I’ve even heard a story of one person who was asked to fly across her country, at her own expense, to have “author photographs” taken, which she was also asked to pay an extortionate fee for.

One way to check up on an agent’s reputation is to find out if they are a member of the AAA (The Association of Authors’ Agents). This society does a bunch of background checks on its members to make sure that everything is above-board. You can read a copy of their code of practice here. That’s not to say that AAA membership is a total guarantee of quality, but you can take it as a very good start.

You Could Be Pushed into Using a Vanity Press

A disreputable agent isn’t likely to have very many quality contacts within the publishing industry and that means that if they are able to get you a publishing contract at all, it probably won’t be a very good one. There are a few who even team up with a vanity press and push you into using it, with the insistence that this is a perfectly routine thing to do.

Even if you are able to avoid that messy end, a bad publishing contract can be an absolute minefield. They could include a fee if you ever want to remove your book from distribution, a right of first refusal so that you are stuck with this publisher and they may even force you to use a pseudonym so you don’t get the credit you deserve for your work.

A good agent will help you to negotiate a fair deal on publishing, but it’s always a good idea to know the common problems in bad contracts. I recommend having a look at this and this to get yourself one step ahead.

Your Book May Never Sell

This is the bottom line. A bad agent, leading you to a bad publisher will mean bad sales. It’s a lot of work to get a publishing contract, so why go through all of that just to end up with a book that no one is reading? Stay patient and persist – it’s better to wait a little longer for a good publishing deal than to rush into a bad one.

The ten copies your mum buys don't count as sales! Image by Evan Bench

The ten copies your mum bought don’t count as sales!
Image by Evan Bench

If you enjoyed this article, please click like and follow, and join me again next week when I will be talking about some of the craziest publishing myths that some new authors really believe.

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