Trust But Verify Agents

KKR’s latest column talks about subsidiary rights, but her discussion of how she was scammed by a major agency reminds me of a lesson you can’t teach too often:

career indie author logoWhenever you’re dealing with someone you don’t personally know, be cautious. Trust, but verify.

In fact, “trust, but verify” is useful when you’re shopping for a car, considering marriage, looking into retirement options overseas, or, for purposes of my post today, signing with a literary agent.

See, KKR has had bad experiences with agents. If I remember right, her agents ranged from barely adequate to incompetent to thieves.

I suppose anyone with the research smarts could find out who has represented her, but this post reminded me that she talked about one agency – strictly as a blind item – that I recognized.

She wasn’t kidding when she said it was one of the big boys. It was an agency I approached when I was selling “Writers Gone Wild,” and I would have killed to get signed by them. I’ve read many of the books they repped, and they were known for working closely with their best-selling authors. They practically wrote the book on how to write a blockbuster best-seller.

So KKR’s story reminded me to emphasize again: Trust, but verify. No matter who approaches you for representation, check them out. Look for former clients of theirs, authors who were represented by them but aren’t now. Shoot them an email and ask to talk by phone about their experiences.

If you’re at a writers convention, ask around about the agency. Not in the middle of an author’s talk, but in the bar that night. The big genre conventions are great for this. Authors love to talk shop about their business, and I’d like to think most of them would figure out a way to warn you off from a serious problem. When I was going to Bouchercons as nothing more than a minor league book reviewer, I found myself in late-night discussions where the writers talked frankly about subjects they would never state in writing.

(Conventions are also a great place to meet the big writers in the field. I met Ian Rankin and Sue Grafton, literally by encountering them in the halls at Bouchercon. I had a brief chat with Charlaine Harris at Malice Domestic, and this was after the success of “True Blood.” This is not unusual.)

Then there are the online places such as Writer’s Beware, ( a site worth reading regularly to educate yourself about the forms scams could take. Just now, to confirm the website address, they’ve got a post about a scam in which fraudsters posing from The Atlantic are phishing for identification. I’ve never encountered this before.

Unfortunately, so long as you run your own business, you’ll be approached by scamsters, incompetent people who will waste your time and money and give you bad information, and some who think they can take advantage of your naivety and thirst to be published / famous / rich / whatever. Calibrate your bullshit detector through education and experience. And if you don’t know enough about the person or whatever they’re selling, ask around. It’ll be worth it.