Burned by a Literary Agent

I did all the right things when my novel, “The Shadow of War” was finally complete. I bought a copy of Writer’s Digest, sent away for submission guidelines and mailed out hundreds of queries to publishers and agents. It was a labor of love costing a great deal in postage and covering the span of several months, yet it yielded only rejection after rejection.

So you can imagine my excitement when one of my SASEs finally came back with an agent’s return address stamped on the front. Hungrily, I ripped open the envelope and withdrew the single sheet of paper requesting to see the whole book. I was ecstatic!

Two weeks later, another envelope came with the much coveted contract, typed on yellow paper with the Agent’s signature and a state seal punched on the bottom. They loved it, they truly loved my book! I held in my hand the ticket to success, the path to riches and the freedom to work on my next bestseller.

The fee didn’t seem so unreasonable. All they wanted was $150.00 for postage and copies, and I’d spent that much in three months. So I signed the year-long contract and sent my check, my head still swimming in the excitement of having an agent and a business card to prove it!

After the first three months, I received a letter listing the publishers she was soliciting. Everything seemed right on schedule, so I threw myself into writing the next novel. The first letter was followed by another every three months showing more publishers and sadly, the number of rejections. Then at last, the year came to an end with no hint of a sale.

Even so, my Agent did not want to give up, citing still more possible publishers and asked if I’d be willing to send another $150.00? This time I declined. Instead, I asked for a copy of all the rejection letters, something all agents must provide by law. And when my manuscript was returned, I learned a very unpleasant truth.

There were no bent corners, no pencil marks and no sign that anyone had even read the manuscript. The rejection letters were all Xerox copies, as one might expect, but the publishers didn’t match the list the agent had sent and worst of all, only one was actually addressed to my agency and specified the name of my novel. Only one! The rest looked identical to all the standard form rejections I’d gotten on my own.

One-hundred fifty dollars and a year later, I’d learned my lesson. You’ve heard it before and it’s true — Never pay an agent! The chances are pretty good, they’re making their money from fees and not sales.

A Shattered City by Marti Talbott

Marti Talbott is the author of A Shattered City: Earthquake in Seattle.