Literary Agents and Reading Fees, Processing Fees, and Other Paid Services – What are they and what do you need to know about them?

Literary Agents and Reading Fees

If you’ve been part of, or studied, the publishing industry for decades, like I have, you might already know that some literary agents once charged “reading fees.” In other words, many years ago, if you were an author who wanted to query certain agents, you had to pay them $100-350 for the privilege of having them consider representing you. Some agents might have charged a little more or a little less, but you get the picture. And, no, I never charged reading fees when I was an agent. I was a member of the AAR or Association of Authors’ Representatives, and their Canon of Ethics doesn’t allow member literary agents to charge reading fees.

If the AAR allowed reading fees, any Tom, Dick, or Mary (who isn’t qualified to call himself or herself a literary agent) could open shop and start make thousands of dollars a month for doing absolutely nothing. That’s right. They could simply lay by the pool drinking margaritas, watching the payments roll in.

Without reading the submissions.

Without providing any valuable feedback.

Just sending the authors form rejection letters.

And…

That’s exactly what some so-called
agents did, back in the day.

By the way…

A small number of legitimate agents have charged reading fees as well; and, there are still agents today who believe they should be allowed to charge reading fees. They say, “Going through more than a thousand submissions each month and reading lots of manuscript takes time. Plus, if we charged reading fees, only the best and most serious authors would submit their work.”

There’s some truth to that; but there are also a lot of talented authors with little money, and there are a lot of hacks with a lot of money.

So, that’s not a solution.

By the way, literary agents who support the practice of charging reading fees also say that doing so would reduce the number of queries authors send out, and it would make their submissions more targeted.

Also true…

But…

Don’t worry.

It’s unlikely literary agent reading fees
will come back any time soon.

Or, ever.

However, one agency I know about
is charging a “processing fee.”

Here’s what you need
to know about it.

Processing Fees and Other Paid Services

Legitimate and illegitimate literary agents charge various fees.

I’ll share more about the different types of fees (from an agent’s standard commission to more “creative” fees you need to watch out for) in future articles. For now, let’s just talk about what it means if you see a literary agent requiring a fee to consider representing you.

The agent might say, “It’s not a reading fee, it’s a processing fee.”

If that happens, what should you do?

Well…

If it’s a new or struggling literary agency without a list of books they’ve sold to reputable publishers, most educated authors would forego the “opportunity” to have their book read and considered by that agency.

If, on the other hand, it’s a “legitimate” literary agency, meaning they’ve sold a decent number of books to reputable publishers, many authors would say it’s a more difficult decision—especially if the fee is small (let’s say, less than $50).

Some authors do it.

Some don’t.

If you decide to pay the fee…

Some authors would say you’re stupid.

Other authors would say it’s worth it
(because it’s a small fee).

Obviously, if you’re having success with your query (getting lots of agents requesting your material) it would be easy (or, easier) to ignore the fee-charging agency. If, on the other hand, you’re sending out a lot of queries and getting little interest, you might be more inclined to pay the fee.

My preference is that you never feel you have to pay an agent to consider your book (even if it’s a small fee). That way, you’ll know the interested agent is motivated solely by his or her belief in the quality and marketability of your book. And, you’ll know the agent isn’t making thousands of dollars each month requesting hundreds of manuscripts (along with the fee) instead of selling books, which is how agents are supposed to make a living.

Now…

It’s okay (and it’s a good thing) for authors to invest in books, classes, seminars, workshops, etc. to learn how to become better writers and/or learn more about the publishing industry. It’s also a good thing for authors to invest in reputable editors, writing coaches, ghostwriters, book proposal writers, coaches, consultants, etc. to help them do a better job writing, publishing and/or promoting their books.

Those are valuable and legitimate
products and services.

But…

Literary agents are commission-based salespeople who are expected to work for free until if/when they sell your book. That’s how the industry works. And that’s why charging a processing fee is a no-no according the Association of Authors’ Representatives or AAR. Members of the AAR also aren’t supposed to offer paid services like editing, ghostwriting, coaching and/or consulting.

That said…

Less than 1/3 of all agents are members of the AAR, and literary agents don’t need permission or certification to become agents. Most publishing professionals would say, however, you’re in better hands if your agent at least says he or she abides by the AAR Canon of Ethics.

Charging a processing fee or offering paid services isn’t illegal. But the industry frowns upon it, and smart authors will always wonder if agencies offering those things are legitimate (or successful). So, in my view, it’s a dumb thing for agents to do.

Literary agents are expected to invest the time required to sift through thousands of queries and hundreds of partial and full manuscripts each year to find the most marketable ones—not pass the cost (or part of the cost) of that responsibility on to the author. And, literary agents are expected to make a living selling books, not offering other services (although there are many successful agents who do both).

Final Thoughts Re: Literary Agents Reading Fees Etc.

I understand an author’s willingness to sometimes roll the dice and pay a processing fee to see what happens—especially if that author is struggling and the agency in question has a track record of legitimate sales. After all, I bet the authors who paid the fee and got a book deal with the agency as a result are happy.

But I also understand an author not wanting to query a fee-charging agency (or an agency that provides any other paid service); or, not wanting to query such an agency until he or she has first queried most or all of agencies that don’t charge a fee or offer a paid service.

Either way…

I hope this article helps you
make a more informed decision.

Lastly, please don’t post questions on my website asking me which agent or agency charges a fee or which agents offer additional paid services. You’ll figure out who they are if/when you’re looking at their websites and/or submission guidelines—or, if/when they pitch you on something.

I also don’t answer questions about whether individual agents or other publishing professionals are good, bad, etc. If I did, I’d be inundated with questions like that. Instead, I write articles like this that take a question about a specific person or company and I turn it into a bigger, broader, and (hopefully) more empowering discussion about best practices in general.

Also…

I’ve never had any communication with anyone at the agency (email, in person, or via phone) I referred to above that charges a processing fee. But I have talked with authors who’ve told me they paid it and, surprisingly, received detailed feedback about their manuscript that was worth more than ten times the fee.

Who’d have thunk it?

Not me,

– Mark

Question or Comment About Literary Agents and Reading Fees, Processing Fees, or Other Paid Services?

Click here to see The 50 Questions Authors Ask Most (along with answers to the questions) and/or post your question or comment. Click here to see our Guide to Literary Agents. And, click here to see some of our best tips to help you Find a Literary Agent and/or Get a Literary Agent.

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