Beware! Agents Aren't All Ethical

I don't double up on articles from my #SharingwithWriters newsletter news and blog very often, but sometimes it seems essential.  So, I'm repeating this from the February  SWW issue. There is another scam alert in it (seems the spring of 2017 is scam season for writers!), so if you are interested you can pick up the February issue  or subscribe on my Web site at So here it is with thanks to a special author/reporter who doesn't want to be mentioned. 

There is a new kink in the old agent-for-upfront-fee scam. One of my longtime writing friends told me that just as she had been waiting for the “right time to terminate” her relationship with her agent, she received a mass e-mail informing her of the agent’s new fee-for-service plan. My friend then terminated her contract (the terms of the contract had already expired) and asked that the mention of her books be removed from this former agent’s Web site. The agent refused her request (and other authors' requests) citing that she was the “agent of record” for those books.

My friend says, “I feel bad for new writers who fall for this trap of paying her upfront fees.” This agent also added another wrinkle to her fee collecting program—a cancellation-of-contract fee. Learn more at  ( ) 

I have no idea whether keeping a book that is no longer represented by an agent on an agent’s site is legal, but it certainly is misleading if not downright unethical. One of the tools that authors use to judge the effectiveness of an agent is their catalogue of book sales. It is important that you are all aware of this practice and double check with some of the authors who have been (or are) represented by any agent you are considering. 

You should also be aware that some agents “sell books” to presses that would take any book presented to them, often called (rather erroneously) self-publishing presses and that were once called “vanity publishing or presses” and still are by anyone who cares to flaunt their #bookbigotry. Of course these agents usually still take their 15% for “handling” and “representing” or “selling” the book to that press. There is more on that in the blog link above.

You will also find more on finding reputable agents and editors in both The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor including things to look for and questions to ask both the professional you are considering as a hire and those clients they provide as references. There are all kinds of ways you can be mislead—both intentionally and unintentionally. 


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoter and The Frugal Editor won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically is the newest book in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers.

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. 
Feel free to message her on Facebook with your own scam news at 


Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, thanks for the heads up on unethical agents. Authors have to be so careful. Even major publishers like Simon and Schuster have offshoot self-publishing sister companies or affiliates. New authors see the "Biggie" and think it's good safe to use. Authors have to be so careful.

I have a client who used one of these self-publishing companies and is paying $325 per illustration for his first picture book. Wish I had known him at the time. Keep in mind too that even if you use one illustration per spread, it's considered two illustrations. And, guaranteed the company is outsourcing their work to someone who's charging something like $40 an illustration, maybe even less. It's so sad.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Sad and it makes me so angry. I see authors using unnecessary agents again and again. One of my pet hates.

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