--Absolute Write poster "Filigree"
I learned something yesterday.
No doubt there are many reputable and legitimate agents and editors who jump into Twitter pitch contests now and then.
But as I'm finding out, it's also a fact that all manner of shady folk feel as attracted to those contests as flies to shit (and no, I'm not saying those contests are shit).
Once you get that coveted star that means some VIP Twitterer wants to see more of your story, you can't be careful enough whom you send a query letter and your precious pages to.
Unpublished writers are the most vulnerable - most likely they've already received a bunch of rejection emails and are desperate for that one person who will read their book and fall head over heels in love. And the shady agents and publishers know that all too well.
Yesterday, I got a request for a query and the first 30 pages of my manuscript, but when I googled the agent, I found a long thread spanning six years on the Absolute Write Forum (if you haven't bookmarked that forum yet, I highly recommend you do so).
I believe I dodged a bullet, and thank God for that.
Turns out that this particular agent (and I'm not going to name names) has been "collecting" large numbers of clients (the number 85 whizzed around the thread at some point) and then stringing them along for years, always promising to submit their manuscripts to publishers and doing nothing of the sort.
When asked, she would invent all kinds of excuses and outright lies - from crashed computers, to slow servers, to vacation time for editors, to severe illnesses - why the book hadn't been sold yet. One of her clients requested a list of publishers the agent had submitted her manuscript to, and the woman completely freaked out on her and canceled the contract (which was probably a blessing for the author).
Despite her apparently vast client list, according to Publishers Marketplace, since 2010, this agent sold all of five books (one roughly every one and a half years)... and those books were sold to micro-publishers that you could easily approach on your own, with no agent whatsoever.
Which tells me that she probably has little to no connections to the traditional publishing industry.
The cautionary tale here is that all the new clients of this agent were die-hard fans. They praised their agent's professionalism, open and friendly demeanor, and just general wonderfulness. Only later on did they realize that they were being had.
One of the agent's clients on the thread was so vehement in her conviction that she had the best agent in the world that for pages and pages, she'd reply to every critical post, trying to debunk them all and fighting for her agent tooth and nail.
After a year of silence, she came back on the thread - this time as a former client of the agent - and admitted that the critics had been right all along. That took guts and honor, I have to give her that. Most forum posters mysteriously disappear when they're proven wrong. Not her; she stuck it out.
But here's the other reason why this agent's clients were such die-hard fans, despite mounting evidence that something might be wrong.
It's something every copywriter knows: Consumers don't make rational decisions. When you buy something, the decision to do so is an emotional one. Then, afterwards, you will rationalize that decision to justify the purchase to yourself and others. This process is, for the most part, a subconscious and automatic one.
For most writers (and that includes yours truly), to be finally "represented" is their version of the pearly gates opening to let them into the Holy of Holies, the realm of the "published author," or at least the first step toward it.
So if we make a mistake and sign up with the wrong agent - or worse, not just the wrong agent for us, but a wholly untrustworthy, maybe even fraudulent individual - we will rationalize our decision at any cost, right up to the point where the truth, tired of being ignored, punches us in the face.
So what am I saying here - never participate in a Twitter contest? No. Blessings can come from anywhere and in any form. But make sure that your emotion doesn't get the better of you if someone starts raving about your book. Do your own due diligence about that person and their company. Research, research, research.
- Google the agent's/agency's name and see what comes up.
- Try to find out whether the agent is a member of the Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) - which would mean they have to abide by certain rules and have to be able to prove sales.
- Go to the Absolute Write Forum and type the agent's/agency's name into the Search field. See what comes up... and take the time to read the whole thread, otherwise you may not get the full picture.
- Go to QueryTracker and/or AgentQuery, and see if the agent is listed with them. If not, that's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it could be a warning flag.
- Check at Publishers Marketplace how many books the agent has sold - if it's a very small number, that should be a reason for concern (unless the agent is a newcomer or moved up from assistant status, and says so; then you know you're taking a calculated risk signing with them).
- Don't listen too much to other people who know that particular agent (unless they're the agent's clients, and ideally ones who have been with them for more than a year), because they might be fooled by their outward demeanor. I had two credible people recommend this agent to me, just because she was "so nice."
- Don't take any one of these factors by itself as a deal-breaker - but if two, three, or more look worrisome, then run the other way as fast as you can.