By Ilmars Birznieks
Fresh from academia, I was as naive about agents as a teenager is about sex. My first agent, a lady in Atlanta, sounded super on the telephone, all $400 worth she required for her services.
Because she convinced me that within a year my book would have a New York publisher, I considered the $400 well spent. A year went by but nothing happened. Since I could not reach her on the phone, I went to see her in Atlanta. Her office in the basement of her house appeared impressively busy. It had many shelves stacked with manuscripts, boxes filled with books, and a secretary typing letters.
I found my agent sick in bed. However, with her husband by her side, I was allowed to see her. I listened to her, between complaints how her back was killing her, why my novel did not sell yet, but was close to getting a publisher. She practically begged me to give her another year (of course, another $400) to sell it.
How could I possibly deny a sick agent another year? I wrote a check for the $400 and left, filled again with empty promises.
When another year went by and nothing happened, I began to wonder what I had gotten into. Was she really trying to sell my book, or was she just making a living from the $400 she collected from each customer? After the second year, I gave up on her, although it was not easy. She tried to persuade me to stay with her another year.
Oh, yes, she looked very legitimate, contract and all, but to tell you the truth, I later felt that she had glibly charmed me, to put it mildly.
The lesson for all aspiring writers is this. Never, ever sign a contract with an agent who requires any kind of payment before your book is sold. I learned my lesson the hard way.