Q. I sent my novel to an scam agent. I have demanded the return of my manuscript, but he ignores my requests. I’m worried he is selling my book without my knowledge. What should I do
A. You’re not alone. Many novelists freak out when they realize they have sent their manuscript to a scam agent. When a hard copy manuscript isn’t returned, or the writer’s electronic submission isn’t formally rejected, the writer fears the agent will steal their work.
Relax. Scam agents are so inept they’re incapable of selling your work even if they did want to steal it. As you have discovered, the typical scam agent isn’t trying to sell your book — their income comes from collecting “reader fees” from writers, or from kickbacks they receive from editorial services, or from vanity publishers. “Your work has great potential,” is a typical come-on from one of these agents. “It’s very close to being publishable – I suggest you bring this to ABC editorial services. After it’s been edited, I’d be happy to reconsider it.”
In fact, these agents rarely make any effort to get a work published. It’s doubtful if they have even read your manuscript. Making an actual sale to a publisher would take effort, skill, and real contacts with publishers. These attributes are wholly lacking in the scam agent.
“But what if the agent sold the rights to my book in France? I’d never know!” you may worry. Again, if you’re dealing with scam agents, they wouldn’t even know how to sell a book in America, let alone in France. Selling foreign rights usually requires that a book be published in North America first; then overseas publishers watch the sales and take an interest. France has enough unpublished manuscripts of its own without having agents from the United States trying to move unsold first-time writers’ work in foreign languages. France (or China, or Brazil) is no more interested in publishing the slush pile than America is—in fact, they’re less likely to do so because the work would have to be translated into French.
Furthermore, even scam agents know there would be multiple lawsuits for copyright infringement if the publisher or author ever discovered the “theft.” Scam agents generally are trying to stay under the law’s radar at all times. (Intentional copyright infringement carries criminal as well as civil penalties.)
So concentrate on getting your book in the hands of a legitimate agent. Keep in mind that legitimate agents do not need to advertise – a good agent has more mail than he/she can handle coming in from writers seeking representation. If you’re dealing with a legitimate agent, the agent has no motivation to steal your work. The agent already makes commissions by selling clients’ work, and would not risk his or her reputation.