Lately, I've been seeing agents charge for query and page-evaluations, and I don't mean at conferences or for charities. (A pitch here for QueryShark which is free and excruciating, but still free.) Isn't charging for services--even as a separate business entity--while those same agents can benefit from or request mss, against AAR Ethics code, sect.8: ("...may not charge clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works and may not benefit, directly or indirectly, from the charging for such services by any other person or entity...")
If not against ARR code of ethics, seems an awfully thin line is being crossed--if not a lot of hopeful writers getting fleeced. While I have no interest in waging a campaign here, (I have a lot of respect for honest, hardworking agents) there are a LOT of agents doing this, and as a writer organizing her next query round, I'd like to avoid any future problems. Or, is this some sort of paranoia on my part? Thanks.
Pardon me for a moment here while I set on my hair on fire.
Yes, this is incredibly NOT OK.
It does violate the AAR Canon of Ethics.
And NO you should not query an agent who does this.
There's a reason this is against the AAR Canon of Ethics and it's not cause they are big blue meanies trying to block poor little apprentice agents from making a living.
It's because some years back some very well known agents did this kind of thing and it fast became so lucrative that agents didn't need to sell anything to make a lot of money. Which is a problem if your job is supposed to be selling your client's work.
More to the point though: agenting is more than a full-time job, particularly for those just starting out in the biz. If those agents are busy critiquing queries they're NOT busy selling your work, or developing their agenting skills, or researching editors or publishers. They're busy doing editorial work.
If an agent needs secondary income while they ramp up (and a lot of agents do) there are many many other ways to do it that don't involve beguiling writers with the unspoken hope that for $50 you'll discover their masterpiece.
Interestingly enough, it's not the writers who complain about this most often. Writers have told me they'd mortgage their first born to Fagin for an opportunity to get query letter help, or manuscript comments from an agent.
To some young agents it seems harmless: get paid by willing writers for providing a service that's legal and most likely helpful.
The problem is: that's not our job. Our job is to sell our client's work. Our job is to find revenue sources for our clients, not function as an editor.
The other problem is that no matter what you say, or how many times you say it: a writer who sends an agent a query for critical help also hopes against hope that the agent will fall in love with their work. This is human nature and nothing will change it. Thus, agents don't assume any risk here. To be an agent, you assume risk WITH your author. If the manuscript doesn't sell, neither of us get paid.
To offer an author a query critique means the agent takes no risk at all. S/he gets paid. The author may not end up with anything of value. That's not equal assumption of risk.
Let me put in the most simple terms I can: Writers are an agent's clients, not customers.
If you want to critique query letters for profit, hang out a shingle as a freelance editor, but don't call yourself an agent.
Now, excuse me while I go dunk my head in an ice bucket to cool the flames.