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Don writes: "I recently contacted a literary agency; the agency is interested in my work. They sent me a packet of information as well as a profile to fill out. They told me that contracts would be on the way should they choose to represent me. One thing made my leery though. The agency charges a $450 annual contract fee. They cite that because they take risks in picking up unpublished writers, that the fee is required so that they can stay in business. I did some research and the agency seems legitimate, but still I am hesitant in sending a check for $450 to anyone. If there is any advice or insight you can offer please get back to me.

Hi Don,

A red flag goes up for me with this fee, especially if they tell you they charge it "to stay in business." Aren't they in the business of selling manuscripts to publishers? If they secure the fee and are able to stay in business with it, what incentive do they have to aggressively shop the book around?

There is split opinion about fees writers pay out; mostly reading fees but there are other charges having to do with phone bills, copy machine bills, etc. Some think it's unethical but others say it's a way to filter out people who aren't really committed to their book. A reasonable reading fee is more in the range of $50.

You're just better off going to an agency that makes its money selling books to publishers and letting them tell you whether the book has a market or not.

I recommend two books for you. One is The Writer's Legal Companion by Bunnin and Beren, the other is Agents, editors, And You, edited by Michelle Howry and published by Writer's Market Library.

A friend of mine was shopping a novel around and the agency said they would only look at it after it had been looked at by a book doctor. That fee was $750 and the friend paid it and they wrote back to him saying, in effect, "don't bother us again with this book."

I really don't think that writers should put up much money of their own unless they are going to self-publish.

There are plenty of agencies out there that are good and will help you if you get them material they like.

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