Legit Literary Agent Or Scam? Here’s How To Tell | Writer’s Relief

Jun 22, 2023 | Literary Agents

Legit Literary Agent Or Scam? Here’s How To Tell | Writer’s Relief

Having a literary agent express interest in representing your book is a dream come true for most writers, and you might be tempted to sign on the dotted line without any hesitation. But the experts at Writer’s Relief keep a close eye on the publishing industry and know that there are good, legitimate agents—and unscrupulous literary agents and publishing scams to which even the savviest writer may fall victim. Here’s how to tell if that seemingly great opportunity is from a legit literary agent or a scam.

How To Tell A Legit Literary Agent From A Scam

It’s important to know what you’re getting into before you sign any contracts. Do an Internet search and check out a prospective agent’s social media presence to get a feel for who they are. You’ll learn more what kind of agent they would be for you and might also uncover evidence of unprofessionalism that you will want to avoid.

Look into the agents or agencies you want to query, and when in doubt, ask for more info. You can even ask other seasoned writers, whether that be in your own circles or online. Writers are a close-knit bunch, so if someone finds a sketchy agent, they will most likely warn others to steer clear. Having a community is definitely a great way to find the resources and support you need for success.

Here are some red flags to watch for:

Signs To Watch Out For

Fees. Agencies only make money through book sales. That’s it. Full stop. Reading, evaluation, and marketing fees are not the standard and are even looked down upon by the publishing industry. This wasn’t always a red flag, but the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) abolished these kinds of fees after several agencies abused them, charging for material they had no intention of committing or even giving a chance to. And if an agent asks you to pay them for every small expense, they may not be legitimate.

Pie-in-the-sky promises. A good agent will never promise you’ll be the next J.K. Rowling, because that outcome is a fraction of a percent of what author success actually looks like. Agents who make outlandish promises of “best-seller sales” either aren’t familiar with the industry or are trying to bait you into signing with them—without ever intending to fulfill their end of the bargain. Instead, look for an agent who is more realistic about what they can offer and what you might achieve.

An offer from out of the blue. Dishonest agents sometimes troll online writers’ forums or purchase subscription lists from writers’ magazines to beef up their client list. Agents will never advertise in magazines or search for clients online, nor would they approach writers to offer representation. Yes, it may happen—but only for well-established authors. If you receive an offer from an agent whom you haven’t previously contacted, be sure to do some investigating.

Questionable submission methods. A literary agent who is unconventional may not be dishonest, but they might be inept. If an agent sends your work to editors who aren’t looking for your writing style or genre, or bundles several queries into one package, or uses shotgun types of submission methods, the outcome isn’t promising. These haphazard strategies show that the agent is trying desperate methods in hopes of randomly landing an editor.

Pay-to-play additional services. Reputable agents won’t push you to use specific products or services that they endorse. This could be a sign they are trying to take advantage of you, preying on your willingness to do whatever it takes—including spending more money—to get your book published.

Excessive flattery. A legitimate literary agent will be realistic with feedback and won’t shower you with gushing, over-the-top praise. If it seems like an agent is working extra hard to butter you up, it could be a sign they’re just trying to get you to commit to a contract—without really caring about you or your writing.

Signs A Literary Agent Is On The Up And Up

A good track record. A newer agency may not have a long list of published authors, but seeing how many authors the agent has represented and published shows their effectiveness and reliability. Keep in mind that a trustworthy new agent with no track record is better than a so-called established agent with a questionable reputation. Always check an agent’s claims and credentials.

Transparency. When asking you to sign on, the agent is the one being interviewed, not you. A reputable agent will be willing to answer questions, share evidence of their effectiveness, and explain how they will support and promote your work. An agent who is defensive or vague may not be trustworthy or reliable—and you wouldn’t want to work with someone like that anyway.

Professional attitude. A professional literary agent’s emails and web presence should not be filled with typos or grammatical errors. They should be respectful, responsive, and offer you common courtesy—and shouldn’t ignore your calls or emails.

If you’re worried about your ability to avoid publishing industry scams and to find a good agent on your own, the Writer’s Relief researchers are experts at vetting and targeting the best agents for your writing style and genre. You can rest assured the literary agents carefully selected for you by our team will be professional and reputable. Learn more about our services, and submit your writing to our Review Board today!


Question: What publishing scams should writers be on the lookout for?