Friday, July 01, 2005

Agent Fees: When Are They Considered Ethical?

Michelle said...
I'm curious as to what you'd consider unethical fees. Do you charge your clients for things like photocopying, long-distance calls, etc.? Or do you consider those business expenses and they're part of the 15% you get from the commission?

Just wanted to know what's typical and what isn't . . .

DEIDRE replied…
I want to preface my comments here by saying that our agency does not charge back expenses of any kind. Theoretically within our agency agreement, we have the right to charge back international shipping, but it’s not something we do. I keep it in our agreement in case, oh, we suddenly have to overnight 100 author copies to Zimbabwe. That might get really pricy. That said, other agents *do* charge back some expenses, hence the question that Michelle raised.

Well, here’s my answer. An agent should make their living from selling your manuscript. Period. It’s one thing if some agents deduct the costs of overnighting or copying manuscripts from the final sale of a project. The Association of Authors Representatives takes no issue with this kind of charging back of expenses. The problem is when so-called agents charge every client they sign on a retainer fee for expenses—usually a weighty one—and then can conceivably earn a living without ever shopping a project. Think about it this way: our agency receives, usually, about 200 queries a week. What if we went around signing people up and charged each of them 50-500 or even 1000 dollars or more just to take them on. It becomes obvious that in a very short period of time, an “agent” can make a living this way. And some shysters have.

What IS okay and happens with many agents, particularly smaller ones who aren’t housed within mega-agencies (and if you guys want, I can do a blog piece on the pros and cons of going with boutique agencies or mega-agencies at another time.) With boutique agencies, you will receive personal attention, but you may wind up being charged for copies or fed ex shipping. It all varies from agent to agent. Some feel that an agent should not charge for a single fee on top of their commission. I hear them on that point, but would just point out that even lawyers, receiving the rates of 200+ an hour still charge me for every package or fax they send. Similarly when I’ve dealt in real estate transactions.

I guess the real point I’d make on that one is that the beginning romance author makes relatively small money, usually for quite some time. With the costs of shipping, printing, and phone calling, it’s not like the remaining commission is huge—so I’ve never understood the vitriolic response that this issue raises within some writers. The implication is always that agents don’t earn their money. Or that there is a slow, swilling resentment against those of us who make our living in the publishing trenches. Agents as Villified Agents of Evil. Honestly, that’s how it sometimes sound if you listen to authors, particularly within RWA circles, who seem to resent the commission that agents earn. I find it odd, when an agent is expected to hang tough with an author, sometimes for years until a sale is made—never making a dime. It hardly seems a big deal to think that at the end of that long period of deferred earning, the agent—if they so-choose—should expect reimbursement for some of the expenses fully recognized within the established agenting community (and AAR.)

So, to recap, what is considered fair and ethical? Copying fees, overnight shipping fees, phone calls, mailing. But, these fees should be deducted from the sale of the client’s work, not billed on a retainer basis.

So that’s it for question one! On to the next!


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have to say that you have one of the best literary agent blogs on the web! I really wish more agents would take the time (in short supply, I know) to reach out the way you do. It really helps to demystify the industry for unpublished authors.

Thanks again!

Friday, July 1, 2005 at 12:10:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That makes complete sense. The insight is useful for gaining a greater understanding of how the business works :) And I think a later blog on the pros and cons of boutique angencies versus mega agencies would be very interesting.

Friday, July 1, 2005 at 12:36:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very informative post, Deidre. And, yes, I would like to hear your views on the pros and cons of going with a boutique agency versus a large agency.


Friday, July 1, 2005 at 12:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Thanks, guys! Will do on the upcoming posts. Hope everyone has a good holiday (those whole celebrate it!) Deidre

Friday, July 1, 2005 at 7:25:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. :) Yes, that does make sense. Sometimes I wonder, though, is it worth it for a first time author to worry about an agent since the advance is typically pretty low? In any case, I appreciate the information!

Monday, July 4, 2005 at 11:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Hey, Michelle:
You raise an excellent question, which leads us to the ongoing debate among unpublished (or even published) authors as to why they really even need an agent, especially in the beginning. The answer to this is multi-fold, so what I'm going to do is actually highlight this next question of yours, and use it as a blog posting. You're obviously asking stimulating questions. :)

Monday, July 4, 2005 at 4:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Brenda said...

I have to say I'm sitting here smiling reading this particular post about agent fees. I met an agent that I really liked, seemed to have a driving personality, etc, but then she mentioned her fees for "standard operating business", like copies, mailings, etc.

And she was instantly crossed off my potential agent list.

Writers have their OWN expenses that are "standard operating business". We have to buy paper, ink cartridges, send out mailings, etc. as it is. So we should be charged twice? I don't think so. I would think that as a part of business, one automatically assumes those things as to being a basic expense one must pay as part of being a professional, not as part of selling my work. I may be naive in that, and I know a lot of agents do charge those standard fees for such items, but to me, I just can't deal with it. ~shrug~ If I'm going to be a serious writer and spend the money I need to on my writing career, I feel they can be a serious agent to promote my work and expect to spend the necessary and basic money to do such.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 at 3:04:00 PM EDT  

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