"Is My Agent a Scammer?"

Scammers posing as agents is a thing, but they're not after what you think.

Dear Milo,

Hi!!! I’m really excited for your new advice column and hope I’m writing my question right! I got a request for a full [read of my manuscript from an agent] and now I’m waiting to hear back. Maybe I’m thinking too much or the wait is making me nervous. But now I’m worried that this agent could be scamming me and I just gave my novel away for someone to copy and use for themselves. I’m worried I didn’t think before I sent it out. I was really excited that an agent was interested in my work and so I sent it out. Should I have not sent it out? Should I have researched her more first?


Make Love, Not Scams

Somerville, MA

Dear Make Love, Not Scams,

First off, there’s a good chance this agent’s interest is genuine, so congratulations on your request for a full! The Agent Wait is both exciting and terrifying, and I empathize with the worries that have crept up on you as the days/weeks pass.

But also, I want to take your concerns seriously. I don’t know the specifics of how you connected with this person or what red flags you may or may not have since received, but I understand that your concerns are: 1) if this agent is a scammer, and 2) if the result will be this person stealing your manuscript for themselves. Regardless of the specifics of your situation, I can say the following:

  1. Generally speaking, there are no agents who are also scammers. Rather, there are scammers who pose as agents. (The worst an agent can be is lazy, which in severe cases can indeed threaten a writer’s career, but that’s a post for another day.)
  2. I’ve never heard of a scammer trying to scam a writer out of their words. Rather, scammers are looking to scam writers out of their money.

Let’s explore these a little more. When it comes to telling the difference between an agent and a scammer, there are several strategies. The easiest is how the person expects payment. Simply put, an agent doesn’t make money until you make money. I’ll say that again: An agent doesn’t make money until you make money. As of this post, the standard contract is 15% of whatever you make in domestic sales and 20% in foreign sales. No more, no less.

But since that involves selling your book first, a scammer will instead attempt to wring money out of you upfront. They may claim a processing fee, a reading fee, a submission fee, the hiring of a supposed editor, anything. It doesn’t matter how they try to swing it or what name they slap onto it. If a self-proclaimed agent is demanding even a penny upfront, run away. They are not a real agent.

Likewise, while much rarer, a scammer may try to steal your identity for—surprise—monetary reasons. While a dwindling number of reputable agents may still ask for your phone number or address during the consideration process, they will never ask for sensitive information such as your social security number, your driver’s license, or your birthdate. The same goes for bank accounts, PayPal accounts, or anything else related to payment. Your agent is not the person who provides you your payments, advances, or royalties. The money always comes from your publisher. And, of course, never give anybody your passwords or login information to anything.

But sometimes a scammer can be sneakier than this. With a little research, you’ll find out pretty fast if a person is reputable or not. Search their name in a search engine or on social media to see what others are saying about them and if they have a reputable-looking website. Look them up on sites like Preditors and Editors [hopefully this site comes back online soon] or Writer Beware to see if they’re flagged as scammers. Take a peek at places like Publishers Marketplace or Query Tracker to see what, if any, sales they’ve made in the past and, perhaps more importantly, if they show up as a listed literary agent at all. Ask online if anybody has heard of this person and what their experiences were. Putting all this together, you should end up with a decent idea of whether this person is trustworthy or not. The added bonus here is many of these tactics are also great for deciding if a legitimate agent feels like a good fit for you.

This is all to say that, in the kindest way possible, a scammer posing as an agent doesn’t care a whit about your book. This may sting to hear (who wants to know that someone doesn’t care about their book?), but it’s great news in terms of nobody stealing your work. In the unlikely event this person is indeed a scammer and you’ve already indulged them far into their quest, hopefully the worst you’re out is a bit of money. However, if you believe your identity may have been stolen, report it immediately.

All that being said, I’m optimistic for you that this agent is legit and interested in your work. As someone who’s experienced the anxiety of the Agent Wait, I wish you the best of luck. Even the calmest of us lose our chill, seconded only to the Publisher Wait, and the best advice any of us can offer is to do whatever you can to get your mind off it. Read a book you normally wouldn’t read, start writing a new novel, do something completely unrelated to literature, spill your anxieties whenever they arise to a willing loved one, whatever works. Every published author you’ve ever admired has gone through this same exact wait. You’ll make it. Whether it’s with this agent or a different one, you’ll make it.



Milo Todd's logo of a simple, geometric fox head. It has a black nose, white cheeks, and a reddish-orange face and ears.
Until next time, foxies! Be queer, write stories!