Be careful out there.
While the Internet has been an incredible boon to authors, there are also lots of scammers who prey on authors’ dreams.
Protecting yourself starts with knowing your rights as an author. Here are some key things to know.
Literary agents get paid only when you get paid
It should not cost you anything to have your work read by an agent.
Reputable agents work on commission, meaning they take 15% of an author’s advance or royalties in exchange for their services (this is 20% for overseas rights where it’s split with a subagent).
Agents can recoup reasonable expenses from an author, like photocoyping submissions and postage, but there should not be reading fees or anything else charged to you. Especially things you didn’t know about in advance.
A good agent should adhere to the AAR’s canon of ethics
The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) is an organization that vets its membership and ensures that all of its agents adhere to a canon of ethics.
Not all reputable agents are members of the AAR, but if you are approaching a member of the AAR (which you can determine on their database) you should have a reasonably good sense that they are reputable.
But really, ANY good and reputable agent should adhere to these standards. Here’s an abridged version of the AAR’s canon of ethics:
- Agents are loyal to their clients’ business, avoid conflict of interests, and never deceive or defraud their clients, other agents, the general public, or anyone else they do business with.
- Agents are responsible and secure with their clients’ funds. Payments must be made on time. Books of account must be open.
- Agents may pass along charges, such as photocopies and purchase of books used for sales of other rights.
- Agents keep their client apprised of matters entrusted to the agent and provides information that the client requests.
- Agents cannot represent the buyer and seller in a transaction.
- Agents may not receive a secret profit, and may not receive a referral fee.
- Agents keep their clients’ financial information confidential.
- Agents may not charge clients or potential clients reading fees.
Pretty basic, right?
Here’s more about how to research literary agents and how to know if you have a good one.
Your work is protected even if you don’t file for copyright
There’s a common misconception that authors need to file their work with the Library of Congress and/or put a copyright symbol on their manuscript in order to protect it.
Neither one is true. You own your copyright the second your work is produced, and it’s usually not advisable to register for copyright until/unless the book is published.
Here’s a comprehensive post by Reedsy on everything authors need to know about copyright.
Be wary of anyone trying to “upsell” you services or who approaches you out of the blue
Now, let me be clear that good and reputable literary agents and editors will absolutely reach out to people proactively to see whether they have representation or might be interested in writing a book.
But if someone approaches you out of the blue with a “book deal” where you have to pay a share of the printing costs or are trying to get you to buy additional services like marketing, be very, very careful.
Do your research on the people you’re thinking of working with, and understand how the traditional publishing process and self-publishing process are supposed to work.
There are great freelance publishing professionals out there who can help you, but make sure you’re always doing your due diligence.
Familiarize yourself with reputable resources for authors
There are some great, honest people out there who want to help steer authors in the right direction. Here are some valuable resources:
- Association of Authors’ Representatives
- Writer Beware at SFWA and the Writer Beware blog
- Absolute Write
If you ever have any questions, please reach out to me and I’ll do my best to help. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to help everyone but I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes, my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Prudence, Justice, and Peace by Jürgen Ovens
JOHN T. SHEA says
Many thanks, Nathan for a succinct primer on author’s rights! And for the links. I particularly value Writer Beware, which is continually updated, important since good companies and people sometimes go bad. And I like the painting. Prudence, Justice, and Peace to all!