No one loves your writing more than you do. It is of your own flesh and blood (especially blood), and, just like your children, you see it as it should be, not necessarily how it is. Therefore, as soon as a slick-talking agent or publisher (or even editor) pats it on the head and promises to take it to Hollywood, you lose all common sense—and, all too often, your hard-earned money.
So, how can you protect yourself? Research, research, research. Scan the Internet using either (or both, during independent searches) the company name and the individual agent, publisher, or editor’s name (for example, search “Inspiration for Writers” or “Sandy Tritt”). Look past the first few websites, as these are typically the professional’s own websites. Look for entries from blogs, such as Absolute Write, Writer Beware, and Miss Snark. These are excellent at giving first-hand experiences from people having been taken by scammers. Critters Writers Workshop has a good resource for avoiding scams. Another site that lists contest scams and such is Writer Beware.
One special word of caution: legitimate literary agencies do not solicit publication of unseen manuscripts, nor do they recommend services. They simply accept or reject a manuscript. They do not charge fees for anything (except REASONABLE rates for postage, which is not paid in advance, but taken out of royalty payments). Scam agencies charge reading fees and/or recommend services (such as saying that you must get a critique before they will consider your work—which leads to additional services, and the fees just keep accumulating). Once you’ve paid the first fee, they have something else you need to pay. And on and on. They never actually send your book to a publisher—unless they also are a front for their own publishing company, in which case they will charge you for that, also.
It is considered unethical for the three different branches of the literary world—independent editors, literary agents, and publishers—to partner. While it is common for professionals who’ve been in the writing business for a period of time to know professionals in other divisions, there should never be a hint of a kickback—nor should there ever be a promise of an “in.” No legitimate editor or agent can “guarantee” a writer he or she will be traditionally published. No legitimate editor can “guarantee” a writer he or she will be accepted by a literary agent. All legitimate editors can do is make the writer’s work the very best it can be and help the writer through the maze of potential agents and publishers.
Now, just because an editor, agent, or publisher is legitimate doesn’t mean they are qualified. There are no licensing requirements to be an editor, agent or publisher. Although there are some organizations that try to prove legitimacy (the AAR—Association of Authors’ Representatives for literary agents—for example), membership in most of these organizations is dependent upon paying a fee—not upon meeting any specific requirements (the AAR does have some stringent guidelines; other such organizations do not). So, what can you do?
Again, research, research, research. Legitimate and experienced editors, agents and even publishers will be active in the literary community. Look for professionals who speak at writing conferences or who give workshops. Look for those who are credited by published authors. And look for those who have published books, who are listed on other writing websites, and who are known in the literary world.
And remember, we’re one of the oldest editing companies on the web—and we plan to be around for a long time to come. Just send us an email—we’re here when you need us.