...You set up your own.
There's a brand new literary agents' association in town, y'all. It's called the International Independent Literary Agents Association, and it ain't just playin' around. Its mission: "The International Independent Literary Agents Association (IILAA) is composed of independent agents who have formed an association for the purpose of better serving our clients. As individual and independent agents, the main priority and loyalty of each agent is to his/her personal clients, as it should be. We are proud that our members serve their clients first and foremost, rather than any organization or association."
Now, that is a very worthy goal. Cue applause. Writer Beware approves. We love agents who are dedicated to their authors and aren't afraid to say so. And look here--the IILAA website includes a description of an agent's job, for the enlightenment of potential clients. What a helpful resource! And, oh wow! There's a section on retainer fees! Hooray! Another literary agents' organization that takes a firm stance against this common form of writer exploitation!
But...oh dear. What's this I see? "Although reading/evaluation fees are still considered a no-no, a reasonable upfront fee became the norm. If you hire an attorney for representation, you are expected to be [sic] a retainer fee. This is now the case for literary agents." Hold on. That can't be right! But there's more of the same on the Publishing Myths page. "Most first time writers don’t receive more than $3,000 advances, although some receive as much as $5,000. The agent’s commission for these amounts isn’t enough to make it worth the agent’s efforts without some advance help with the marketing expenses for the writer. An agent’s expenses add up!"
Oh sadness, oh woe! I can hardly bear the disillusionment. Could it be that the IILAA isn't dispelling publishing myths, but perpetuating them?
Why should it do such a dastardly thing? Let's drop down the page a bit, to Purported Publishing Myth #5: "Websites such as SFWA, Writers’ [sic] Beware, Predators [sic] & Editors, along with associated blogs and chatrooms/forums are operated and monitored by people who are dedicated to you, the writer." According to IILAA, this is a myth because "The operators/monitors of these groups have an agenda...and it isn’t to protect you. Their agenda is to destroy the reputations, and therefore, the business of independent agents. They do not do this out of the kindness of their hearts, or because they truly care about you, the writer. They do this for a reason!"
Cue scary music. And just to enable you, the writer, to identify this Axis of Evil, this HYDRA, this SMERSH of the Internet, there's a helpful page entitled How to spot hate sites who [sic] prey on the insecurities of writers. There, the terrible truth is once again revealed: "There are numerous websites trashing agents. Because of the number of these websites, the average writer who is simply browsing the internet is not aware that most of these websites, forums, chatrooms, etc., are operated by the same group of people who claim to serve the interest of you, the writer. But honestly, do you believe that the operators of these websites spend so much of their time, effort, and money because they truly care about you? Or do they have an agenda."
Okaaaay. Now I get it. It's a CONSPIRACY. Me and Ann and Dave and Jenna and Jim and Snark and Teresa aren't the autonomous individuals we pretend to be: we're a covert cabal with a Master Plan. What, you thought I was going to tell you more? Uh uh, my friend. Like any good Master Plan, ours depends on absolute secrecy.
Speaking of conspiracies, let's have a look at the agents of whom IILAA approves (they aren't identified as members): the Top Ten Best Independent Literary Agents. (Actually, there are only nine of them. Psst--SammyK--there's a space for you.) Guess what? Writer Beware has a file on every single one.
- Barbara Bauer Literary Agency, Inc. Need I say more? All right, I will. According to Writer Beware's documentation, Barbara Bauer charges a $650 upfront annual fee (and has asked for as much as $1,000), plus expenses. Barbara has been around for longer than us, but we can't find any recent evidence of book sales.
- Capital Literary Agents. Also d/b/a American Literary Agents of Washington Inc. and Washington Literary Agency. Charges $250 for a 4-month contract, owns a vanity publisher. Has been ripping writers off since 1998, with nary a sale, as far as WB is aware.
- Desert Rose Literary Agency. Charges a $250-350 "office retainer." Is currently the focus of an investigation by the Tom Green County Sheriff's Department. No sales as far as WB is aware. (Desert Rose is the only agency on the list that identifies itself as an IILAA member. Probably not coincidentally, the server for IILAA appears to be located in San Angelo, TX, Desert Rose's home town.)
- Harris Literary Agency. Offers clients a choice of providing a large amount of submission material at their own expense, or paying $250 upfront. Guess which option most clients choose? To WB's knowledge, Harris has never made a sale to a major US publisher in the whole of its more than nine years in business.
- Martin-McLean Literary Associates. This agency charges $30 per submission, submits to inappropriate publishers, and has recently placed several clients with a notorious vanity publisher. I've blogged about Martin-McLean before.
- Milligan Literary Agency. Actually, this is not a literary agency at all, but a publisher. A vanity publisher.
- Mocknick Productions Literary Agency. Charges $450 upfront. Has been in business for nearly four years, but has no sales as far as WB is aware.
- Nancy Ellis Literary Agency. Unlike the other agencies on the list, Nancy Ellis has a sizeable track record of commercial sales. She's also the subject of two warnings from the Authors Guild.
- Sligo Literary Agency LLC. We haven't heard anything about Sligo since 2004, so this was a blast from the past. Currently, it's charging $175 upfront (since 1999, when we first started getting reports, its charges have dipped as low as $95 and risen as high as $250). To WB's knowledge, it has no recent record of commercial book sales (the few small press sales mentioned on its website date back to 2002 and earlier).
Uh...who was that with the agenda again?
Actually, I think it's backfiring. Not surprisingly, IILAA's launch has triggered a tsunami of ridicule. In San Angelo, someone's ears are burning.
Oh, and by the way, if you have a half hour of spare time and want a yuk, give a listen to Barbara Bauer's recent "special presentation" podcast. Hear Barbara and a rogue's gallery of fee-chargers (Tom Wahl of the Austin Wahl agency: $525 upfront (used to be $650), no discoverable recent sales; David Hiatt of the David Hiatt Literary Agency: $295 reading fee, no discoverable recent sales, worked with fraudulent vanity publisher Northwest Publishing) discuss "the crisis in publishing," a.k.a. all those meanie-weenies like Writer Beware who are criticizing agents who charge upfront fees. I'll close with Mr. Hiatt's assessment of Writer Beware and its sponsor, SFWA:
"The parent organization is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, and gosh, it's been my experience that there's a lot of writers out there that really do live in a fantasy land regarding the business of writing."
Yup. And the agents of IILAA will be waiting for them.