Michael J. McDonagh

An established writer who recently went to work becoming an author, trying valiantly to make someone give a damn and chronicling the process.

Scary Agent Vetting Test (in real time)

Someone who has been around the block a time or two recently told me about an agent who sent him the dreaded:

“Your submission is intriguing, but your manuscript needs professional editing. I could refer you to a colleague of mine…” 

The incident occurred without any red flags (to him, anyway), which was discouraging, because this garbage (a) scares the crap out of me; and (b) pisses me off. But I thought it would allow for an interesting opportunity to test out the vetting process I’ve outlined before.

The catch? I’m going to do it as I write this post. Good or bad, I’m just going to go through the vetting process with this agent and agency’s name and post what I find. So, here goes:

Step 1: Google is your friend

Google result for [Agent Name] at [Agency Name]:

  • First result is AbsoluteWrite, which I’ll be going to in Step 2 anyway, so I’m disregarding for now.
  • Second result is his listing in the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents. Not bad. It’s no indicia of quality, but there is a listing (which is better than no listing) showing two agents at the agency. Using the “look inside” feature, I discover:
    • Warning flag 1, they accept queries through e-mail (normal), but their e-mail address is a Gmail account (normal if your business is run out of a school bus).
    • Warning flag 2, they list 10 clients, 5 are new/unpublished. It says they’ve been around since 2009, with 2 agents, so (assuming this is true) they’re making around one sale per year between two agents.
    • Warning flag 3, which is related to the Gmail account for queries – they don’t appear to have a web page.
  • And that’s basically it. Which is not a good sign.

Google result for [Agency Name]:

  • OK, this is a weird one. I get a web page saying:

 In 1999 I inherited the literary agency you were referred from, [then it lists another agency I’ve never heard of] and while I no longer work in that business, I do still refer the occasional book to some of my friends at major publishing houses. I have helped secure a few major book deals over the years through my referrals, so it can’t hurt to get your book information to me. I do not charge any fees unless I am able to sell your book.

  •  We’ve had some warning flags prior to this, but this is our first full-on WTF moment
  • This web page listed under (and the letter is ostensibly from) the guy whose name is on the agency name (it’s his last name), but none of this information is the same as the agency information in the guide Google found us. Nor does he mention any other agents – like, for example, the two freaking agents operating out of the agency that bears his name.
  • Then it gets weirder, with his detailed instructions about how to contact him through his LinkedIn account, and he just asks you to “submit your book.”
  • This isn’t the dude I’m looking for, but I’m still trying to figure out this agency that closed, agency soliciting submissions, dude who wants books sent to his LinkedIn account thing, so I click on “Books,” on his web page. It will be interesting to see what books he’s repped, if nothing else.
    • OMFG. I am literally laughing as I type this. The dude has a pile of books by him on this page, ranging from a cookbook to spiritual self-help stuff to a freaking rhyming dictionary he wrote.
    • So, I just clicked on one and tried to look up the publisher. Never heard of it, so I tried AW and Google and still can’t find anything but the publisher’s web page, which is literally a static web page with the name on it. No tabs, no books for sale, no address or phone number, no links – nothing. Just “Publisher Name.”
    • I clicked his cookbook (because I’m hungry), but it isn’t finished yet. It literally just says that (and lists some tasty smoothie recipes).
    • OK, so here’ a Chicken Soup for the Soul book (the Magic of Mothers and Daughters). Don’t those CSS books have the same publisher? He can’t rep all of them, can he? So I click that, and nope. Doesn’t look like he did it. I just Googled around a little and he seems (or at least claims) to have an essay in one of the CSS books.
    • If you tell me you’ve repped bestsellers in major deals, you’d better have some books to back it up. I don’t really care if you have a heartwarming story about your Nana.
  • I seriously sidetracked myself, since I still don’t know what the relationship between this dude and the agency in question even is, but I got a smoothie and two sandwich recipes to show for it. Because you need a fucking recipe to make a sandwich.

Back on the hunt

Google result for [Agent Name Literary Agent]:

  • I get the same guide to literary agents, and a Writers’ Market for novels and short stories (produced by the same company) that list him. So basically the same listing.
  • OK, I’m feeling pretty good about our process, now. There’s a listing on the Writer Beware blog. OK, it’s just in the comments, so I’m not holding that too, too much against him at this point. No specific allegation of wrongdoing (may not even be the same dude).
  • But that’s all I’m getting (outside the sites we’ll specifically go to below, the hits all seem to be a literary agency with an author who has his last name or another combination that isn’t referring me to the right guy – except white pages listings and stuff like that.
  • We already know this isn’t looking very good from a quality standpoint, even if there isn’t an ethical issue. If your agent’s name doesn’t show up in some kind of agenting related context when you Google it, you’re probably not looking a superstar agent (or minor a league player with potential, for that matter).

Step 2: The Usual Suspects.

1.     Predators & Editors has a listing, not listed as a “beware” but says “No valid sales to commercial publishers yet.” At this point, I’m done. Ignoring all the shenanigans and smoothie recipes and everything else, I’m not looking to be the first book some dude (not from New York, not in New York, and, as far as I can tell, not coming out of an agency or publishing house to start this agency up) sells. Editing conflict/scam/garbage aside, I’m not chasing this bait just based on quality of potential representation.
2.     AbsoluteWrite should be interesting. I just clicked on his entry and the only thing I’ve read so far is someone saying s/he received a request for a partial and wonders if anyone knows about the agency (the post is from March 2011).Before I go any further, are you serious here? You got that request for a partial because you sent a query. Why, in God’s name, would you be sending out queries to agents with no idea whether they are legit, and then start asking about them on message boards when you’ve received a partial request? In this querier’s defense, from later posts it appears he did look at the writing on the wall and run. I just don’t see why you’d wait to do due diligence until after you queried.
Interesting development – they have a web page. There was a link in AW.
                           i.      OMFG – they offer both literary services and in-home elder care. I shit you not.
                           ii.      Oh, wait, not really. The web page is the domain name seller, who has mocked it up to look like you are at a site at that address. Not much better, but less funny. (Sorry about that, but I promised to do this as I went through the process, not that it would be pretty).
So they had a web page once, but have taken it down, because people in the AW community are talking about their bios (which don’t include any prior experience in editing or publishing).
Oh, boy, here we go. An AW member was kind enough to include the text of a letter:

You possess good writing skills and sense of story. However, as you might know, placing fiction in today’s brutal market is extremely difficult. About the only way an unknown writer can get his or her manuscript picked up today is for the writing to be exceptional. I suggest you consider obtaining the services of an editor who can help raise your writing skills to the next level. Don’t be disappointed about my suggestion. All serious writers use editors. If you do not have any editing contacts, I will be glad to give you the name of a talented lady I’ve know for a number of years.

 

Just for the record, it’s officially –DING, DING, DING. The smoke that was too thick to see through has cleared enough to see the raging fire. Even if it weren’t for the prior misgivings, I’m running like hell now.

 
And another one, just for good measure. Same language, same offer to hook up with professional editing help. Still no sales.
 
3.     QueryTracker The dude doesn’t show up on the agent listing. Patrick at QT does quality control, and won’t list an agent with editing fees. I feel fairly confident calling this whole shady as fuck at best and possibly an outright scam at worst. Yes, I’m talking to you Jack Bollinger at the McGill Literary Agency, with no legitimate reported sales but plenty of referrals to for profit editing services.

 

At this point, we’re at least sufficiently up to speed to close the book on this agency. Sorry about the dead-ends and tangents, but they provided some good laughs. Bottom line, though, is we were able to know what the problems were going to be before we had any problems, so that part worked out well.

Happy querying.

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3 thoughts on “Scary Agent Vetting Test (in real time)

  1. Nina Kaytel on said:

    I remember when I first attempted to query (of course I had no bloody idea what I was doing) I sent an entry letter in via a little box on the website where you tell a bit about yourself and similar information. Typed all that in got a message saying ‘We’d love to represent you’ but pay X amount on this service and this software. I was crushed. Scam!
    By the way: QT and AW are my favorite forms though I more lurk on QT.

  2. Terry Rodgers on said:

    Very funny and informative. Did you at least get a good recipe?

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