Money for value?

<p>The emergence of literary consultants would seem a perfectly rational development in the book business. Any agent (or publisher still accepting unsolicited submissions) will tell you about the thousands of would-be authors out there. Most will never be published. They range from the good (rare); through the competent (fairly standard); to writing so bad you can't believe the writer has ever read a book (more common than you might think).</p>
<p>Agents have come to expect a certain amount of hate mail from rejected slush authors demanding feedback. This is based on a misunderstanding of the agent's job.&nbsp; We make our living through a percentage of the income earned by our clients and are under no obligation to give any response other than 'yes' or 'no'&mdash;and it's mostly 'no'. When I am not sufficiently impassioned by a submission but do think the author has some talent, I sometimes recommend other agents who might like it better. If the script shows promise but needs a lot of work, I recommend one or two of the many freelance editing services now available. But I am beginning to think twice about whether I am wise to do so.</p>
<p>From the rare occasions I speak to writers' groups I have begun to realise how much some of them are paying for these services. Of course they should pay, but how much is reasonable? There are plenty of people out there who are desperate enough to pay a few hundred pounds, and where they are dealing with experienced editors they are doubtless getting excellent value for their investment. But some have told me that the fees&mdash;especially for those who style themselves 'literary life coaches'&mdash;can be thousands. As there is no professional body or set of rules that apply to book consultants, it is possible that many vulnerable people are being fleeced.</p>
<p>In addition to charging these writers for their editorial services, some consultants offer advice about agents and publishers too. Fair enough, but it would appear that some are also seeking payment from agents for their recommendation in the shape of a percentage of any future advance or royalties which the recommended writer may earn&mdash;thus seeking payment twice over.</p>
<p>It would be a pity if this valuable, even essential activity in the publishing chain were to become tainted by questionable practice by a few. And it would be helpful if the top consultancies united to agree guidelines for professional conduct and fees.</p>