How to Know a Scam from a Legitimate Service


There is a lot of buzz on Twitter and online about all the “scam services” for authors. It’s an historic problem that I first encountered as an agent in the early ‘80s. The current buzz says “Don’t pay someone else to help you do what you can do yourself,” i.e. don’t hire someone to help you get to publishers and agents.

Of course I understand there are companies that take money to email blitz editors and agents indiscriminately. Many in the industry say, “Do it yourself,” that you have all the data in an easily purchased directory.

Professionals in the know DON’T recommend this approach—it’s not how most books are sold. Agents and editors tend to delete these “spamming” pitches.

But I have to take issue with a massive “judgment” that lumps all author services into one category. Younger and less experienced agents sometimes get their dander up, feeling “WE ARE THE GATEKEEPERS and YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW OUR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES! “And they love to Twitter-blast their snarky comments.

There are services for hire for virtually every phase and aspect of your writing, including ghostwriting, down to the perfecting of queries and proposals and all the self-publishing tools.  Among all these companies and individuals across the country there are certainly scam artists, but there are also a vast number of experienced professional publishing people who offer significant skills and know-how that can make a new writer’s progress smoother, faster, and more successful. Not every writer has the time or money to go to class after class in order to master particular aspects of editing or selling their book. Not every working author has the time or will live long enough to query agents blindly on their own and just WAITING.

Offering services to authors is a legitimate business, whether or not the individuals offering such services are or not.

It is precisely because of the low response rate and the endless SILENCE from agents that authors go for help. If more agents showed the professional courtesy of acknowledging each query with an answer, even if it is a form letter saying they read it, authors would not be so quick to look for help. And it is because of all the form letters that authors have to hire other people for editorial evaluation and guidance as to how to proceed and get better results. Who else will tell them if editors and agents don’t respond or offer any feedback?

Agents can’t have it both ways; demanding that authors only come to them via their individual submission requirements, and then ignore them.

In recent years many people in publishing have adopted the “No answer is your answer” approach to queries. This is unprofessional and the epitome of bad taste. As I have said often, if publishers and agents want authors to behave professionally, then they must also behave professionally.

The agents’ and editors’ common excuse is that the sheer volume makes individual responses impossible. As an agent for 29 years I can tell you that while I didn’t enjoy having my weekends spent on the slush pile, or taking the slush pile with me on vacation, it is part of the job and every author who follows the guidelines to submit to the agency deserves the respect of a professional response. Professional courtesy and manners alone separate the agent pack pretty quickly.

Here is where I draw the line between LEGIT or SCAM for author services of any kind, including self-publishing companies:

If the person or company offering the service(s) has years of experience in publishing and has the “pedigree” that proves they offer valuable help and experience to you, their price is reasonable, and they offer realistic and specific services without exaggerated claims, then it may well be an efficient and cost-effective choice for you. It is not a scam if they have what it takes to help you. You will be able to:

  • check references and see endorsements with real names
  • see verifiable identity and background of each person in the company
  • see a track record of success with authors you can contact

When I call an agent I know or an editor I have long worked with  for nearly three decades in publishing, they are happy to hear about a client I have been working with who might be of interest to them. What agent or editor of any professional standing does not want quality referrals? In my experience, only the inexperienced agents take personal offense at anyone behaving outside of their control or being contacted by a freelance professional referring a client.

Classy, well-mannered agents and editors say “Thank you for thinking of me” even if they are ultimately not interested. If they might be interested, they say “Thank you – please have the author contact me.” It’s that simple. The difference is that while I can’t make an agent or editor interested in a project, I have an established professional reputation that allows me to ask them and get an answer for the author in a matter of days for an author whose work is ready and of publishing value. This is a helpful service to authors. It is not a scam, just as freelance editors are not a scam, author coaches are not a scam if that coach has the background and expertise for it and has proven successful with authors.

Each author’s needs are different. Some have more time or money than others for anything beyond writing the book. Only you can decide which professionals are the right ones for you if you have decided that you need help.

Think for yourself and listen to your own gut.