Reading Fees and #AgentPay

Some of you are aware of the discussion Colleen Lindsay started about how agents get paid, and you know how I feel about raising agent commissions to 20%.

Wylie-Merrick agents seem to support reading fees. I think it's fair to charge low industry-standard reading fees. Let's say...about a buck or two per query / synopsis and the first five pages. I don't think writers should pay reading fees for requested partials or fulls, because agents have said they wanted to see them.

So here's why I think it's better to charge a very low reading fee for a query / synopsis and the first five pages than raising agent commissions from 15% to 20%.

These days, it's so easy to fire off an email. It's also very easy and cheap to mass-produce hard copies of a query letter. A lot of queries aren't very well-written. I'm not saying this to be a jerk, it's just a fact. I brutalized the query that helped me sign with my agent for months before I thought it was ready. I had the thing workshopped at various different venues, including Evil Editor and BookEnds LLC's Jessica Faust.

Evil Editor was truly evil. He mocked my title (in retrospect, it really sucked) and made fun of my pitch. But who cares? He gave me really good pointers: change the title and simplify the pitch!

Jessica Faust was the last one to critique it on her blog. I sent her a query letter containing a 158 word-long pitch. I thought it was ready for prime time but wanted to make sure. Jessica thought the pitch part was too long. Ouch. So I condensed it down to 57 words. (No, that's not a typo. I cut 101 words -- practically two-thirds -- out of the pitch I sent to Jessica to critique.)

I know a lot of writers who don't spend much time or effort on their query. Now, a few people are just naturally gifted and can write amazing pitches in one try. But for most people? Just not possible.

If people want to spend their money on sending out query letters that they spent an hour on, it's their prerogative. But it's a thankless job that agents must do, and the probability of them finding something worthy of a partial / full request is pretty slim. So why should agents' clients bear the cost of agents reading unsolicited mails (among other things) by paying higher commissions? It doesn't make any sense.

If reading fees are low (like a buck or so in my example), standard and industry-regulated, then there will be much less potential for abuse.

Now there's a possibility that some writers will fail to do their research and send hundreds of dollars to scammers. I sympathize, but at the same time I don't see how we must keep everything status quo just because some people don't want to do their homework. There are so many resources out there about the agent-hunting process that it's getting increasingly hard to justify why someone "didn't know any better".

What do you think?