Ann is away for a few days, which is why you're seeing so much of me just now.
I just did a brief interview on WAMC, the NPR station in Albany, NY, about Martha Ivery and writing scams in general. It went well--the hosts always ask smart questions--and I was able to mention Writer Beware's URL. So Martha, you're famous--though maybe not quite the way you wanted to be.
Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I've been characterized as being on a "jihad" to inform writers about scammers, and having a "very black & white" view of what a scammer is. It kind of amuses me, since I've gotten in trouble at other times for being too attentive to shades of gray--for instance, for pointing out that most agents who charge fees are not deliberate scammers, or that a small number of "legitimate" agents ask for some kind of upfront money, or that fee-charging can no longer be considered an infallible indication of non-legitimacy (track record, or lack of it, is a much more reliable indicator--though there are shades of gray even there, because even a very experienced publishing professional who is transitioning to agenting will lack sales initially). Whatever.
On a related note, I've seen discussions in several places recently about reading fees, and whether agents could or should charge them. Here's one of the more interesting.
I think that at least a theoretical case can be made for reading fees. Agents do spend a lot of time considering and reviewing submissions, and it's not unreasonable for them to want some sort of compensation for that. But in my opinion, any arguments that support the use of reading fees are outweighed by the fact that reading fees are just too easy to abuse. The danger isn't so much that legitimizing reading fees would result in a huge new crop of scammers (with the right tools, scammers aren't that hard to avoid), but that established agents would be tempted to ask for submissions in which they had little or no interest, in order to get the fee--or to set up reading fee "factories," a la Scott Meredith and his Discovery program. Not every agent would do this, of course. Perhaps most wouldn't. But some would. In a world of reading fees, writers could never really be sure that an invitation to submit indicated real interest in their work. They could never really know whether the fee was a good "investment."
I think this is the reason the AAR prohibited reading fees for its members--not because of reading fee scams (too many people in the publishing world are hardly aware of the scam industry), but because of successful agents who were using fees as a way to make an easy profit.
There's also the issue of incentive. An agent who profits only when her clients do is highly motivated not just to sell her clients' work, but to get the most lucrative possible deals. A fee--even a small one, because you have to multiply that small amount by the many submissions the agent is going to request over the course of a year--diminishes that incentive, and makes actual sales less urgent. Maybe only a little less urgent. But do you really want your agent trying even a little less hard on your behalf?
What do you think?