Why this is a mistake: There are numerous agents who charge reading fees to look at manuscripts and give feedback. And it is understandable why writers would be tempted to go along with this; it is, after all, so hard to get professional feedback. Even writer’s groups don’t necessarily generate professional-level feedback. These agents say they charge these fees to cover their overhead costs. Since their slush pile is so large, they figure they can kill two birds with one reading by charging a fee. There are several problems with this reading fee, though. One is that fee-charging agents cannot be members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (www.aar-online.org), a nonprofit organization of independent literary agents. The second is that a legitimate agent should be making her money by selling books, not by reading unsold manuscripts and critiquing them.
The solution: Don’t do it. When you feel you’ve revised your manuscript as much as possible, and it’s as close to perfect as you can get it, consult a directory like Guide to Literary Agents, do some research to identify appropriate agents, and start submitting.