3.09.2006

Reading Fees Alias

Dear Miss Snark,

How do you feel about an agent who doesn't charge a reading fee, but charges a "small consultation fee" of $65 if the writer would prefer a personal response to their query rather than a form letter?



About the same way I feel when someone says "Oh gee, I forgot my wallet" when the bill for dinner comes.

If you pay an agent it is a reading fee. Even if they only charge it to those people who pay it. Even if they call it something else.

It's the signal an agent will take advantage of people.
It's not someone I respect as a colleague.

Query letters are part of our job. Suck it up. If you don't like it, go work for Madame DeFarge's On Line Fortune Telling Services where they charge about the same rate for "non form letter" readings.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

What about paying an agent for a critique at a writer's conference? Is this really any different?

Dave Kuzminski said...

What's even more interesting is how some publishers and agents react when told that their reading fees are why they weren't recommended by a watchdog site or a writers' forum. They'll claim they're doing a service to writers without explaining how come others offering the same services do the same reading without charging a fee. Could it be they're not as good as those others and need a way to stay in business?

December Quinn said...

$65 for a personal response? Who is this agent, anyway?

And how do you know you get a personal response? I'm reminded of the writers who got what they thought was a personal rejection letter from a particular scam literary agency-only to discover it was the same "personalized" letter everyone was sent.

If I'm paying for a critique, I'll wait until a charity auction comes up and get a real agent to do a real crit for me. At least then I know who's doing the work and where the money's going.

William Knight said...

You can't blame somebody from making a bit of beer money from a captive market can you?

Isn't there any kind of business case to be made for taking more care with each reading and sending some much needed, professional critisism back to the writer.

If a reading fee is what it takes, then some writers will be glad of it.

Anonymous said...

Well-known NY agent Andy Zack continues to campaign for reading fees as being a just and reasonable way of doing business. You can follow his thread over at Absolute Write: http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=23543&highlight=fees+zack.

The estimable Dave Kuzminski took him on relative to this topic on the same thread. If you think looking for representation is bad right now, read Andy Zack's explanation of how he thinks it ought to work--it'll make your hair stand on end.

Until recently, Mr. Zack had an "Express Read" program, where, for a fee, he would move a submission up in his to-read pile. After AAR was contacted about this practice, Mr. Zack discontinued it--but he also dropped his membership in AAR.

Most recently, Mr. Zack has begun offering "Consulting Services" which he claims to keep separate from his client representation--though reading his paragraph on this subject left me scratching my head. Check it out: http://www.zackcompany.com/consulting.htm

Note that Andy Zack is not some wannabe agent who makes all of his money through fee-charging. He reps nearly fifty writers and has a large number of sales on his record. And, as noted, he qualified for membership in AAR, and was a member for some time.

I don't like the idea of fee-charging, and think AAR (and Miss Snark) take absolutely the right stance. But, lest you think that the issue is dead and buried except among fly-by-night agents, take a look at Mr. Zack--who makes arguments that some apparently find persuasive.

Anonymous said...

hey, anon #1.

Is that really any different? Yes.

It is my understanding that at most conferences, the conference gets that fee. It doesn't go into the agent's pocket.

The agents are trolling for talent, not trying to turn a fast buck.

Anonymous said...

Really?! I always thought the editors/agents got to pocket the cash.

Cheryl Mills said...

Any agent who would advertise that they will send you a form letter rejection unless you enclose $65 is just not an agent I'd want to deal with.

That agent is in the business of rejecting manuscripts, not selling them.

Anonymous said...

But I know of at least one well known agent (I think she charges $65, come to think of it, so we may be talking about the same one) who is not charging for the read, or a personal response. She's charging for a critique. That seems legit to me. You are free to query her the regular way. However, you will probably get back what most agents send out to the masses--a form letter rejection. What's wrong with paying her for her time--it's just as valuable as ours--to tell you her professional opinion of your submission? Repeat, I'm not talking about paying her to read it. I'm talking about paying her to critique it. She can't give that kind of attention to each of the 100 queries or partials she gets in a week, but if you want a consult, that's different.

I just don't see this as a reading fee. I see it as a service, which you can buy or not.

In fact, I did buy a critique from this agent I'm talking about, at an auction. And you know what? I paid a whole lot more than $65 (I think I paid some $200). I think this is a bargain.

BuffySquirrel said...

It strikes me that it's not a lot of use to hear from an agent who's declined representation what it would have taken to get them to agree to represent the ms, unless the observations are accompanied by an invitation to resubmit. Or is that another $65?

Marc Ponomareff said...

Your flippant, oh-so-ironic 'advice' to confused (and understandably so) writers who are trying to figure out the complex business which is North American publishing, often amounts to complete bollocks.

It seems that you take yourself (or perhaps your online persona) more seriously than you do the situation of many of those sending in serious, heartfelt queries.

To which your usually peppy reply should not, I suggest, include the phrase 'Suck it up.'

There's a fine line between 'snarkiness' and 'bitchiness.'

Miss Snark said...

marc, the "suck it up" comment was directed at agents who charge reading/consultatiaon fees. They should not be confused by north american publishing.

Perhaps it wasn't clear. Certainly won't be the first time.

Anonymous said...

But the critique she gave me was a huge eye-opener. I'd been happy with my submission package. I thought it really showed off my work. I couldn't understand why I was repeatedly rejected. Hearing this agent's personal impression of it--which otherwise would have been a form rejection--showed me that my synopsis and my 3 chapters were confusing when read together. Each made sense on its own, but the chapters raised questions that the synopsis didn't address. My critique partners never caught onto this, because they were too close to it. But it led the agent to assume things about the plot that I never meant to imply.

In the end, she was rejecting a book I had not written. Knowing this, I was able to rewrite the synopsis, and now I'm getting requests for fulls.

So was her opinion worth it to me, even though she declined asking for the full? Absolutely.

Bernita said...

One agent that does offer a $65 "consulting fee"( found by a simple search) is recommended by Preds and Eds.
So I assume this is a new practice.

Cheryl Mills said...

Does Marc not know that the readers of this blog enjoy your snarkasm?

Fanny patting: $65
Miss Snark: Priceless

Lizzy said...

I’m surprised to think that agents/editors don’t make any money off of conference critiques. Seems to me they earn it by (1) reading the manuscripts past the point they would normally reject them, and then by (2) thinking up some constructive criticism for the author.

Mark said...

Yeah I had a go-a-round with Zack over his definitions of a fee. He didn't like mine.

doc-t said...

maybe "personal response" is a euphemism...

think on it...

$65 for a "personal" response...

Are you sure this was a LITERARY agent? and not a dating agent?

William G. said...

I queried an agent who charged $65 for a personalized response last year. I didn't pay the fee, and the form letter rejection I got back clearly stated genres and subject matters that the agency does not have any interest in and does not consider for representation under any circumstances (strong language for a form letter, I thought)--a list that included the genre and subject of my novel.

Now, I didn't research every book listed on her client page, but I did do a reasonable amount of research before I sent my query. I had no indication whatsoever that the agency didn't represent the genre; even after I got that form letter, I went back to her website and looked for anything on any page of the site that stated what areas of interest the agency had. I didn't find a blasted thing.

I know agents don't like reading queries for genres they obviously don't have any interest in, so I'd have to assume the submission guidelines are purposly vague so as not to discourage anyone who's willing to write that $65 check from sending in their query and sample chapter. Very underhanded, as far as I'm concerned.

magz said...

hmmm, this sounds to me a lot like the old adage about milk and cows, this fee...

To pay any ONE agent a fee for critiquing, is to pay for one opinion, even if it's an agent with verifible sales. That's ONE agent out of how many possible?

Thanks to the plethora of writerly places, groups, circles and other gatherings here in the Internet, there's bound to be someone, somewhere, whom you RESPECT that will do that for free (Or at least a fair time-exchange if you reciprocate) Just saying... Magz

teacher guy said...

Good God, why didn't I think of this before? I'm a high school English teacher. From now on, no more comments on students' papers. That is, UNLESS the kid forks over a buck so I can get a Diet Coke. There's no guarentee that the kid will make better than a C or D...but at least he'll know why (for a small fee, that is). Or I can take it one step further. Everyone who shows up to class gets a D-. I'll give assignments every now and then, and kids can turn in their papers, if they'd like, with a dollar attached. No guarantee that the kid will make higher than the D- everyone else is making, but most kids would be willing to do the assignments in hope of making an A or B...hmm...English teacher reading fees. Imagine! I can have my very own slush pile!!!

Anonymous said...

Fees in any form are bad news, but I have to remind teacher guy that teachers are paid and obligated to give students comments, while agents are not. I understand teacher guy's analogy, but didn't want folks to think that agents owe criticism, paid or free, to any writer who is not their client.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Bernita, email me with the name of that agent/agency. It sounds like either a new policy has developed at that place or they had it well hidden from us. Reach me at prededitors@att.net .

Dave Kuzminski said...

Okay, I've reviewed that agent's site. Though it seems questionable on the surface, it's a reasonable service to offer because it's squarely distanced from their own representation service rather than offering a fast track reading. As well, it's stated clearly that purchasing that service will not get an author's work read at that agency for representation.

P&E views this as similar to a publishing house offering editing for a fee on manuscripts it's not accepting and publishing so long as they do not charge for those they do publish. They're clearly separating the two services from each other so there's no conflict of interest despite how it might appear with a too quick glance.

Of course, P&E believes that even the appearance of a conflict isn't good for a business. However, so long as there is true separation and a clear statement advising writers what not to expect, we do not recommend against such businesses except on other grounds that might exist or a clear abuse of their stated policies and separation of services.