"No agency should EVER charge up-front fees to defray expenses or to read or evaluate a manuscript, but. . ."

Agents CAN Charge Expenses!

by W. Gail Manchur, President,

ABS Literary Agency a Division of Associated Book Service, Inc

February, 1999

WARNING! I think it is legitimate and ethical for some agents to charge their authors for expenses. Now, before you start warming up the bucket of tar and tearing open the feather pillows, read on . . .

Long-established agencies have already sold many books, and have a cushion of commissions stashed in their bank accounts. They can afford to pay all expenses as the cost of doing business. I, for one, hope to join their ranks as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sell books, plus additional time before the royalty checks arrive. Unless an agent has a large cushion of funds available, how are they to meet the expenses of selling books? A small agency often HAS to recover expenses over and above the basic costs of keeping the office functioning. Such expenses include photocopies, postage or courier costs, and long distance calls, and are specifically (and rightfully) allowed by the Association of Authors Representatives Canon of Ethics.

The main bone of contention seems to be HOW and WHEN those expenses are paid. And here is where my personal opinion is going to make some people unhappy:

***No agency should EVER charge up-front fees to defray expenses or to read or evaluate a manuscript. Such agencies are always, without exception, predatory, scam operations and their names should be posted in neon lights! (Use the tar and feathers on them!)

***Agencies should be reimbursed for expenses, as allowed in the author-agent agreement, ONLY after a book is sold and the first check arrives from the publisher.

***Agencies should charge only actual expenses (as proven by bills, receipts, and expense logs, as specifically allowed by the AAR), and keep within the monthly limit approved by the author.

***All expenses should be logged at the time they are incurred. A detailed statement of expenses should be given to the author whenever requested.

If I dont sell a book, I eat all expenses and put them on the books as the cost of running my business. Since I am reimbursed only if a book sells, I am very careful about choosing manuscripts and which acquisitions editors receive submissions. It ensures quality manuscripts and quality service to the client. I pay for my own failures, and my client and I both reap rewards from my successes. Sounds fair to me!

NOTE: The one, little-known service which can charge up-front fees is a submission agency. They send out quality submission packets or queries, on agency letterhead, under the direction of the author. Little more than a secretarial service, they never negotiate contracts or manage funds for the author. They receive either minimal commission (5%) on sales, or a flat fee for each packet, depending on their agreement with the author. They are not eligible for AAR membership.