Via Publishers Lunch, check out this article from Writer Beware, Martha Ivery Sentenced.
I had heard about Martha before but I wasn’t aware of how much money she scammed. It turns out it was a lot, more than $700k from over 300 victims. For that she was sentenced to 65 months in Federal Prison, plus restitution.
Your best bet for avoiding scam agents? Legitimate agents don’t typically advertise and they don’t charge you reading fees.
If you do some research you’ll learn to recognize scam agents when you see them: they often have the most generic names, no recent book sales listed, or no sales at all, and a long disclaimer about fees somewhere on their site (thou doth protest too much). They may advertise via Google Ads or in the back of Writer’s mags. (Here’s a hack which, unfortunately, is probably click fraud: if you want to fight scam agents, click on their ads, they have to pay for each click!)
You can research agents at Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. Just be sure to check your references because an internet posting from one unhappy client does not necessarily mean an agent is a scam artist.
If you’re not sure about an agency, read their website, google their authors, make sure they have a track record of sales to royalty paying publishers. For instance, I’ve started posting a few of my sales at Publishers Marketplace, but not all of them, but you can always find out more about my books at my website and you can even find links to my authors’ websites and contact them yourself if you’re so inclined.
I’m okay with companies that purport to do “research” on agents for a fee (except when they call during lunch) but much of this info is free or available at your local library. Plus it turns out that their research actually comes from the sites or books linked below.
Your best bet for finding a suitable agent is scouring sales data at Publishers Weekly, Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery, or several of the great reference books available, such as Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents, which I’m no longer in since I’ve been on my own!
Perhaps your best strategy? Make friends with other writers. Although I read plenty of over-the-transom submissions, most of my clients come from referrals.