Monday, May 12, 2008

Why assessors and agents should never live in the same body

I recently received my fiction MS back from an assessor. The assessment was favourable, and the assessor has offered to act as agent for my MS. I'm elated in one sense, but cautious in the other. Should I be wary of a 'part-time' agent, who, as far as I can tell, makes most of their living from MS assessments? A part of me wants to accept the offer, because I know that if I begin submitting to agents now, it might take up to 6 months to have my MS accepted - at least this person has read my MS and is enthusiastic about it.

You are right to be cautious - the agents who appear on Writer Beware's 'worst agents' are usually trying some combination of assessing, editing and agenting. These functions should never be contained in the one person or company - in your case, the assessor has taken money from you and is now offering to agent your book, which is tantamount to taking a fee for their agenting services. This is in violation of the ALAA guidelines. As tempting as it may be for agents to take money for manuscript assessment - it would help us cover the costs of the hours spent reading - we just don't do it, because it's too ethically tricky. How do you know if the assessor really loves your writing or is only offering to agent the book because you've paid them for the assessment? And are they a member of the ALAA? How many published authors are on their list? If they have none or only one published author, plus they're not known as an agent, it's unlikely they can do much for you anyway. You could spend the next six months - time you would spend waiting to hear from proper agents - believing that this assessor can help you, only to find out that they can't.

Certainly, it takes a long time to hear from agents - that's because we have clients, which means we're bona fide. Although I can understand that you're impatient to get things going, six months is really not much in the scheme of publishing cycles. But if you do want to go with this assessor, ask for their credentials - which publishers they deal with, which other authors they look after. If they're legitimate, you'll be given this information. You're about to make an important business decision, so treat it accordingly.

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