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An Ethical Literary Agent Won’t Charge Your For Editing

literary agentA friend of mine thought she’d landed a good literary agent at a writing conference. I was happy for her because she’d been working for several years on her memoir.

I’d never read any of her writing but she’s a great story teller with a lovely self-deprecating sense of humor.

I understood her excitement. She  shipped her manuscript off and waited, which is normal.A couple of weeks later she called me in tears.

“That agent called back,” she told me. “He says he really likes my book but it needs editing.”

This didn’t surprise me. Every book needs copy editing and many need more work than that before they salable. I was shocked, however, when she told me the rest.



“He says,” she continued, “He’d love to show my book to several publishers and he’s pretty sure one or two will be interested. He even said we might have a bidding war on our hands. You can imagine how excited I was!”

I could imagine because a bidding war usually signals a big advance. I was wondering when she’d tell my why she was crying.

“And then he told me how much getting my book edited would cost me!

Ahh, I thought as I asked her how much.

“He says it will only cost $2500!” Her voice choked and I she started to cry again.
I wanted to weep with her; although that’s a low price for substantial editing it’s also money she just doesn’t have. I was suspicious of the price and the agent.  Just to be sure I asked, “Who are you supposed to pay that to, the editor?”

“Well, no,” she answered. “I’m to pay that in advance to the agent.”

This felt utterly scammy to me and I said so. It had been awhile since I’d worked with agents and I know the book industry has changed a whole bunch.

I told her to wait and I’d do some checking. I googled will an ethical literary agent charge for editing? It didn’t take me long to discover Rant: Hiring an editor by Janet Reid who is a literary agent. Let me quote her:

“Once more with feeling: a legitimate agent does NOT refer you to an editor or an editorial service in which s/he has a financial or any other kind of interest. It’s NOT ethical to do so. Don’t just take my rant for it. Think about this: if running an editorial service on the side is ok, why are they going to such pain to conceal they do it? And truly, the problem here isn’t even they’re running this scheme, it’s that they’re not actually delivering the work they promise.”

Believe me, the whole article is worth reading.

Which doesn’t mean a literary agent won’t make suggestions about your manuscript. Of course they will and they may even suggest it needs a total editing – books often do. The legit agent may even suggest an editor or two or even three, but they won’t have an financial interest in the deal. And if by some chance they do have a finders fee arrangement it won’t be several thousand dollars and they and the editor will disclose it.

It might be legal but it sure isn’t ethical!

Write well and often,



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