Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Agents Take Care Of Your Money


Would you e-mail a perfect stranger and offer to give them control over your money? Sound like an internet scam? Sure it does, yet this is what fiction writers do all the time.

I have touched on this in a number of different ways in the other agent chapters in this book, and had no intention of coming back to it in a stand-alone chapter. Then I started getting private e-mails about how I was wrong about agents, about how they were partners to writers, about how this agent or that agent had taken great care of the writer. Fine, except for one issue. With attitudes like those writers had, they are setting themselves up for a great financial fall.

Now, to be clear, I have no problem with the standard model of writers hiring agents when they need one, usually early on in a career, and usually to handle contracts and other details like that after the writer has gotten an offer from a publisher. All that is fine and dandy as long as the writer knows what they are doing, walks into the relationship with eyes open, and keeps the employer/employee relationship clear. Agent is the employee of the writer, not the other way around. (I give eight suggestions on how to hire and keep an agent at the end of this chapter.)

As I got the letters from published writers taking me to task for not being balanced, I wrote back and asked each writer if they had met their agent. And if the writer had done a financial check on their agent. And if the writer had even been in the agent’s office or in the agent’s home.

Most had met their agent only once, usually at a convention. None had done a financial check, and none had been in their agent’s home. But all backed their agent completely and believed in them completely.

In other words, they were trusting their entire income, which could add up to millions over a number of years if they started to hit, to a complete stranger, a person they really didn’t know, had spent little or no time with, and had done not one lick of checking out.

So I ask the question again: Would you e-mail a complete stranger and offer to let them handle all your money?

Again, of course you wouldn’t, yet by sending out query letters to agents you picked out of a market guide or heard about from a friend, you are doing EXACTLY the same thing.

Back to a few basics I have mentioned before, but want to stress once more to be clear about this money topic.

Basic #1: Agents are not trained or regulated in any way.

Now, in the real world, lawyers are often hired to handle money in one fashion or another for a client. Lawyers have seven years of college which includes three years of law school and State Bar Associations that watch them and handle complaints. They also must pass one nasty test to become a lawyer after finishing law school. Even then, any sane person would check out a lawyer first to handle money matters.

I got one young professional writer comparing their agent to a real estate agent. Now real estate agents are trained and take licensing tests and have organizations in each state to kill their licenses if problems arise. (Book agents, none of that.)

And nowhere in the sales process of a home does the buyer hand all the money to a real estate agent and say, “When you get around to it, send the seller his share.”

Nope, money goes directly through to the seller, with the real estate agent getting a check at closing for only their percentage fee. So not sure at all where book agents and real estate agents are alike. That comparison has always puzzled me, and just doesn’t fit at all on the money side.

Basic #2: Normally, all money is sent to the agent first under the agent’s name.

For those who do not have an agent yet, let me be clear here. In the standard agent/writer model, a publisher sends the agent ALL the money, and then when the agent gets around to it, the agent sends the writer the 85% share.

Why do I say when the agent gets around to it? Because, that’s how it works.

I had one agent who had this “policy” that I fought for seventeen years. If a check came in on Wednesday, I would have a check cut on the following FRIDAY and mailed to me. The agent sat on my money, and all the other writer’s money in that agency, for upwards of two weeks before I could cash a check.

Those of you who understand money just went “Wow!” That’s right, imagine millions running through that agency office every month because they have many NYT Bestsellers in their house. Now imagine earning interest on that money while it sat there. It’s called “the float” and it’s a normal business practice in many agency offices.

You can change this policy by asking in the contract negotiations that the checks be split. The publisher sends you directly the 85% and the agent her 15%. If all writers did this in all future contracts, a vast amount of the money issues with agents would just vanish completely. But agents will tell new writers that can’t be done. Why? Because they like the control and the float. But of course it can be done. Just put it in the contract with the publisher.

There are many, many agents out there folks, who live off of the float, who hold a writer’s royalty check to help with their rent. Writers who have trusted an agent like this won’t know when a royalty check comes in because, guess what, the royalty statement is sent to the agent with the check. Or overseas money. Or audio or electronic money. Or movie money. Agents will send you the money “when they get around to it” and can afford it.

Are there rules against co-mingling funds? Nope. Again, back to no rules, no training, nothing. Often an agent or small agency will just have one checking account, won’t even keep a separate author funds account. They will pay the writer out of that account right along with their rent and power bill and their own paycheck. And we all know what happens when things get slow on income in that situation. What gets paid first, the rent or the author’s British royalty payment?

Basic #3: Agents will sometimes ask for power of attorney.

Yeah, I said that. Agents will often ask writers for various reasons to give them power of attorney. That means without the writer knowing anything about it or even reading a contract, the agent can sign it for you and transfer your copyrights.

I had no idea that this happened until about ten years ago a friend of mine told me he had signed over power of attorney to his agent to make it easier to handle overseas sales. I started laughing, thinking at first he was joking, and when I discovered he wasn’t joking, I wanted to slap him to wake him up.

Then I started asking around and discovered this is common practice in many agencies.

Back to basics #1. Agents are not regulated or trained in any way.

So now my question is this: Would you give someone you don’t know control over all your money and also power of attorney to sign contracts for you to sell all your stuff?

Is there any wonder that writer’s organizations warn writers against the worst of the scams against beginning writers? When it comes to business and writing, normally sane people just flat lose any business sense they have. As a group, fiction writers are the dumbest business people on the face of the planet. Period.

I was no exception to this problem. Now understand, I have owned many, many businesses over the years, went to almost three years of law school, and know how to handle money for the most part. Yet I hired an agent without knowing her, without checking out the fairly new agency she worked for, and gave her control over my entire income for a very long time.

And then when I switched to another agent, I DID THE SAME THING YET AGAIN.

As I say, writers, me included, when it comes to our writing, are the dumbest business people in the world. Period.

Solutions? There are many, actually. I have a good friend who is a private detective who has a fairly large firm (again licensed by the state) whose main job it is to research possible employees for corporations and small businesses. I’m going to ask him what it would take, what he might charge, to do the same for writers when they are hiring an agent. I think this needs to be a part of the future landscape of agents.

How do you know if the agent you are about to hire and put in control of your money doesn’t have two hundred past fraud cases against him in New York? (I know of one major agent in New York that has been sued for taking clients funds over a dozen times that I know about, yet he still has major clients and a ton of writers on his list. Why? He always settles the suits with a gag order on the writers.)

One more time: I am not against the standard writer/agent business model in publishing. I feel writers need good agents to help them through much of the early years. But for heaven’s sake, think like a business person when hiring an agent.

Basic BUSINESS rules for hiring and working with an agent:

1… Never hire an agent before you have an offer on a book. Old cliche that has been around for a long, long time. The agent you can hire before you have sold a book is not the agent you are going to want after you have sold a book.

2… Research, research, research the agent and agency. Talk to their other clients, both past and present, check into their finances, ask about how their firm handles money. (This is not counting all the questions about rewriting and such covered in other chapters.)

3… Talk to the agent on the phone a couple of times before hiring them. Never hire someone through an e-mail or the internet. Yikes, you do that, I know a bank in Russia who would like to send you an e-mail.

4… Always split all money in contracts. Never allow any agent to handle your money. Period.

5… If you are having an agent submit books for you (see other chapters for reasons to do and not do this), have the agent copy you on ALL letters to editors and ALL rejections.

6… Never let the agent make a decision or accept or turn down a deal without talking to you first. Of course, if they ask for a power of attorney, either laugh and ask them if they are kidding or fire them.

7… Remain in control of your speed, the subject matter of your books, and all other creative aspects of your career. Never let an agent tell you to slow down or write to order.

8… Never think of the agent as anything but an employee. They are not your partner and you do not work for them. They work for you. Period.

Now, under all that above, it is very possible to have a wonderful working relationship with an agent. You and a good agent can go places and both can make a lot of money and I promise that if you follow the above eight pieces of advice, you will have far, far fewer problems with your employee than you would otherwise.

Just keep repeating over and over the topic question of this chapter.

Would you offer a perfect stranger control over all your money and your future as a writer?

If the answer is no, then you and I are on the same page.

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Copyright 2010 Dean Wesley Smith
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This is part of my inventory in my bakery now. (Confused on that, read the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing post about making money with writing.) I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie. If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated. Once this book is done, I will send you a copy. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it. Every week or so I will be adding a new chapter on the myths and sacred cows of publishing. Stay tuned. Upcoming are chapters on bestsellers, research, rejections, and so much more. This business has a lot of myths. An entire book full.

Thanks, Dean


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215 Responses to Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing: Agents Take Care Of Your Money

  1. BTw, the other day I thought of another variation of a fiscal model for paying agents and getting agent services.

    There’s a service (linked to in my Writers Resource Page) called AgentResearch.com. It was founded by a guy whose wife had written a book and wanted to find an agent. This guy was astonished at how little information is available to anyone trying to make a business decision about picking (hullo!) their business representative.

    He started researching agents, gradually realized that a lot of writers besides his wife would like to get the results, and started a business. The site’s been around for a number of years now, and it maintains a large and always-expanding database about literary agents. (They also offer a good newsletter, and they cooperate with watchdog groups in identifying scan agents.) And most of their services are priced as packages. (Ex. If you want a complete dossier on a particular agent, that’s a package with a pre-set fee, and the fee is based on how extensive their dossier is (low price for an agent about whom they’ve collected little info, higher price for an agent on whom they’ve collected a thick file). The more complex services charge higher fees. One of the good things are their pricing is that they specify exactly what you’ll get for each fee or package.)

    I envision an agency that would charge pre-set fees on that same model. Ex. If you want the agent to re-up you for your option deal and review the contract, modest fee. If you want your agent to read your book, advise you on revisions, research and prepare an 8-editor submission list (with a paragraph for each, explaining to you WHY he has selected that editor as a good target for this MS), draft the submission letter, make the submissions, and do the follow-ups, much steeper pre-set fee. The listing of different services for different fees would give clear explanations of exactly what services you could expect for each fee. If you’re a writer who finds your own markets and makes you own sales, then wants the agent to come in and negotiate at that point, more modest fee. And so on.

    Like my previous “alternative fiscal business model” riff, I doubt this one will ever catch on, either. From the writer’s perspective, it again eliminates the romantic (but only occasionally realistic) notion of a true partner, a business soulmate, who’ll love your work and believe in your career potential, stick with you through thick and through thin, share your dreams, etc. Like my previous proposed business model, it again reduces that image to someone doing business tasks for a fee, and that’s just not as seductive a premise.

    And agents wouldn’t like it either, since it would require them to be a true client service, accommodating the different needs and requirements of clients, rather than developing a business procedure based on how the agent chooses to work and which clients can either cooperate with or leave. Additionally, this is again a circumstance where a fee-based service would mean more actual work and less money, and what agent would agree to that? (I say “less money” because once it’s there on a well-defined fee-listing, many writers seem likely to reject, for example: “Make phone call to propose option deal; review contract when it arrives: $5,000/book.” Though that sum is actually what many writers are paying for that service.)

  2. Lee allred says:

    “This weekend, some very smart and successful writers who are friends of Dean’s and mine (Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, David Wolverton, and I’ve just forgotten who the final writer is) … ”

    Brian Sanderson, fantasy author. Tapped to finish the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series.

  3. Laura, I just had a thought reading about your issues with that agent. Your comments always make me think hard about that problem because it angers me that you’re being treated that way.

    I recognize that there is unfortunately no legal grounds for dissolving or altering the contract, and that’s contract law and it makes sense.

    But you’ve said something in the past that gave me an idea. This would be a hard path, but maybe you want to consider a discrimination complaint. You’ve said that you polled several writers, and nearly ALL the women have the same sort of issues, but nearly NONE of the men do.

    I don’t know how far you’d get, and I know it’d be an ugly path to take. You’d also need the support of other writers somehow. But I wondered if you’ve considered or would consider such an option, because it might just be the thing to get you the split payments you desire, especially when it seems the lesser of two evil for the agent.

  4. Rick Dickson says:

    There is a lot of really cool information in these comments. Thanks to everyone for sharing their experiences. Great stuff.

    With respect to this particular Sacred Cow, there’s a basic issue that I’m not sure we’ve addressed…

    Why are we assuming that the agent is paying attention to our incoming money (rather than, say, simply taking their 15% of what happens to come in the door and forwarding the rest)?

    I’ve never seen anything to suggest that agents or agencies have better record-keeping systems in place than Fortune 500 insurance companies. Big insurance companies are masters of float, but failures of their cash management procedures drive many of the soon-to-be-liquidated companies into the ground.

    (Too many unbelievable liquidation stories for even this forward-thinking board.)

    If entire departments of trained accountants can lose track of money, why assume that agents can’t?

    Rick

    • dwsmith says:

      Rick, it’s such a common problem, I can’t begin to tell stories about it. Agents are HORRID at book keeping for the most part. The smaller the agency, the worse the problems of misuse, the larger the agency, the more accounting department problems arise as you mentioned.

      And then the fact that writers have this “belief system” that other people should take care of them, most writers don’t track their own money that’s due to them. And when you start selling numbers of book to many outlets, guess what happens? Money gets lost. This very thing is how many agents (whose names you would recognize) just flat steal money from clients. They know they have a new or stupid writer, they know the writer wouldn’t know that this royalty check is due, so they just keep it.

      And how can they do such a thing? Easy, actually, since the check is made out to them. And back to the point of this. When you give a stranger all your money with a promise they’ll pass some of it along to you when they get around to it, don’t be angry when accounting can’t “find” a payment, or when they just keep something that you don’t even know is coming because you are not keeping track.

      THIS IS NOT THE AGENT’S FAULT, folks. This is the writers fault, writer’s responsibility for setting up this system and for allowing it to continue. You can’t blame an agent for your own stupidity. Sorry.

      And trying to get writers to wake up is what this blog is all about. Nothing more.

      Thanks, Rick, for pointing out that one area as well. Just flat scary, ain’t it, for those of us who have played out in the “real world?”

  5. “I wondered if you’ve considered or would consider such an option”

    Such an option would only be feasible if people whom I spoke with were willing to go on record. Which is most emphatically not the case.

    I am exploring various options. None of which I think it’s wise to discuss in public (and some of which are specific to my circumstances). But since I have consulted multiple advocacy orgs and multiple lawyers who specialize in this field, you can be assured that I’ve turned over a lot of rocks in search of a viable solution.

  6. Rick, in fact, a few years ago, a number of writers complained to me about an instance where checks and payments due from their well-known agency got delayed significantly… because it turned out that (wait for it!) the agency’s bookkeeping and check-writing was all being done by the head agent’s spouse, and when the marriage fell apart, the spouse stopped coming to work. And it took this agency (which had a LOT of writers’ money passing through its coffers) more than a month to sort out an alternate arrangement for accounting and payments.

    Then again, it’s not as if publishers handle writers’ money better than that. There was a famous incident where a major house simply DIDN’T SEND OUT aumn royalties until AFTER THE NEW YEAR. The reason? They were installing a new accounting system in-house and couldn’t get it done in time to send out fall statements and checks to the hundreds of writers awaiting them. And in public statements, the publisher was distinctly, er, irritable about how many authors protested this treatment.

  7. Alastair, well, if I’ve misunderstand, then this is perhaps a good example of why (apart from causing ill-feeling, getting nasty mail, and possibly hearing from someone’s lawyer) I always think it’s best to avoid specifics and names when talking about this kind of thing in public. The subject in public should be the inherent problems, flaws, and abuses in what is a widely- and unquestioningly-accepted business model, rather than the subject becoming specific personalities and individuals.

  8. Viz what Dean just wrote above, yet another wrinkle in the system is how many writers are reluctant to or afraid to ASK for money that’s owed them or questions accounts/checks that don’t make sense to them.

    And while some agents are perfectly reasonable and responsive to being asked where a long overdue check is, or what exactly an unclear itemized agency-deduction on your statment/check is for… some agents are NOT reasonable in their responses (some are even nasty and rude about it; I certainly experienced this a couple of times). And the prospect of being perceived as a nag by the agent, let alone the prospect of getting your head bitten off by the agent, is among the reasons that some writers don’t monitor or follow-up on fiscal concerns, puzzling statements, and overdue checks when they want to or probably should do so.

    Whether or not that makes sense, it is a fairly common aspect of human nature (especially for writers, who usually aren’t extroverted, confrontational people eager for interaction on sensitive subjects with business associates), and so it’s yet another problem in the unregulated and extremely casual non-system by which others handle a writer’s money.

    Compared to a lot of freelance professions where, for example, you send a monthly bill or invoice to someone who owes you money–and possibly charge a modest interest fee on a debt which has been outstanding for more than 60 (or 30, or 90) days.

    • dwsmith says:

      Now, add in what Laura said to what I said in the posts above, and then combine that with the silly (but very powerful) myth that a writer must have an agent to sell, you get writer after writer making horrid decisions. Often these bad judgments, when put in real world terms, would never happen. But when you attach the word “agent” to it, writers just go brain dead.

      So always, always, always take a situation in this business and then ask yourself clearly, “Would you do that outside of writing?”

      Questions like: Would I allow a complete stranger to negotiate a large money contract for me without checking every detail and every step of the way? In the real world, of course not, writer with an agent, it’s common.

      Questions like: Would I turn over all my paychecks to a perfect stranger and then allow them to send me part of it when they feel like it? Real world, of course not. Writer with an agent, common practice.

      You get it. If you are sane, if you can climb over the myths, if you can think in business terms and keep control of your own work, you will make far, far fewer mistakes. And you just might have a wonderful relationship with your agent employee. But it is up to you because IT IS YOUR BUSINESS. It really is that simple.

      Another chapter on agents coming shortly. Thought we were done with this topic? Not hardly. (grin)

  9. Laura, you’re right, of course.

  10. By coincidence (?), apparently someone’s been asking an agent to work on a fee basis. (g)

    Literary agent Jessica Faust begins a recent blog post with the words: “No, I will not consider representing you for an up-front payment in lieu of or in addition to a commission.”

    Based on her negative comments about a fee structure as compared to a commission structure, it seems safe to guess that the industry won’t be welcoming alternative fiscal models anytime soon.

    http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2010/03/to-answer-your-question.html

  11. And speaking, as we were the other day, of bad behavior by agents that pisses off publishers, literary agent Kristin Nelson’s blog brings up a recent example where an unnamed unethical agent dealing with Penguin has just created a headache for EVERYONE else–including her and (hello!) including me (since I also do business with Penguin). Read on:

    http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2010/03/we-interrupt-this-q.html

  12. Laura wrote: “Viz what Dean just wrote above, yet another wrinkle in the system is how many writers are reluctant to or afraid to ASK for money that’s owed them or questions accounts/checks that don’t make sense to them.”

    Not me, even though I’m very much introverted and non-confrontational in person. Fortunately (or unfortunately — depending on your perspective), my last employer, a MAJOR cellular telecom company, was in the habit of screwing up a lot of my paychecks. Consequently, I was constantly hounding them about the mistakes. Sometimes I found that what I thought was a mistake was simply a misunderstanding on my part, but it was a misunderstanding that was engendered by what I thought was a very wacky way of presenting the numbers on my paystubs.

    I might have been reluctant or afraid to do such a thing in the past, but no more, thanks to that employer.

    Further, not only did they make a fairly regular habit of screwing up my paychecks, they also made a regular habit of screwing up my state income taxes. One year, when I called their finance department and spoke to a supervisor, and I described the problem, their idiotic response to me was, “We’re not here to offer financial advice.” (Funny. I wasn’t asking for any.) The response even included what sounded like a canned response designed to deflect attention away from them (almost as if they were having a lot of similar complaints from others). This company was having some financial difficulties at the time, thus a major reason for the layoffs that led to my current unemployment. What makes it even sadder, in my view, is that this is the only employer ever with whom I’ve had such problems.

    Fortunately, having been laid off, I’ve since received my last check from them and shouldn’t have to deal with that problem any more. Almost makes me want to thank them for laying me off. (Well, I might have to deal with it one more time, depending on how my state income taxes look when I have to file them next year.)

    My point in bringing this up, though, is simply that it would appear that this experience, like my divorce, has also given me some tools that will prove useful in a writing career.

    When Lynn Viehl showed her royalty statements online after hitting the bestseller list a few months back, I poured over those puppies with an electron microscope, to make sure that I understood everything that was there because I want to understand as much about this business as I can before I get a publishing contract in hand. Dean’s Killing the Sacred Cow blog posts here are certainly adding to that knowledge, too.

  13. L. M. May says:

    Quick question (or maybe this can be postponed until the next chapter goes up).

    I’m the volunteer Treasurer for a local non-profit. I handle about $30,000 in income each year. I’m getting ready for the annual audit of the financial records by an independent CPA, since the non-profit’s fiscal year ends this summer.

    It’s not a full-blown audit, just a quick one to randomly search for irregularities in the books. Also the CPA often recommends better ways for me to do things.

    For those writers who don’t do the 85/15 split with their literary agent until after they go their separate ways, do at least the larger literary agencies have an outside auditor come in to do a check-up of their financial records?

    I have the horrible suspicion the answer is “never.” I hope I’m wrong.

    • dwsmith says:

      You are so right. Never happens, at least in any way that an author can see. Why? Because there are 50-500 other authors in the mix in the accounting. And thus it would take every client of an agency to allow permission for every other client to see their income before any real audit can be done.

      And then, of course, the question is, who would care or be able to do anything about a scamming agent? The myth of agents is so deep that young writers just flat go brain dead when faced with “getting an agent” and thus even if it is common knowledge that an agent scams, the agent will still have more than enough new clients to scam. Sad, sad problem with this agent myth stuff. We writers can’t even police ourselves in any fashion at all. Or do audits.

      It is allowed to do an audit of your dealings with a publisher and often the language is in your contract. But, of course, writers don’t think to have a contract that they give their employee to check on them.

  14. Deborah says:

    After following the links above, this really jumped out at me: “…Agents need to be paid on commission to protect the writer.”

    Granted, I’m taking the one single line *out of context*. I do understand her point about how a fee system could potentially enable scam artists.

    But that line still just really jumped out at me.

  15. Deborah, yes, the fundamental flaw in a fee-based system would be that it’s quite vulnerable to scam artists.

    People are SO DESPERATE to be published, and SO DESPERATE to have an agent, and not smart about researching and learning this -highly- competitive profession that they aspire to enter, the upshot is that an alarmingly large percentage of aspiring writers are very vulnerable to scams. This means that our industry attracts quite a LOT of scam artists.

    And, of course, to collect your income strictly on commission based on selling books means you have to, oh, SELL BOOKS. Whatever one may say against the traditional agency business model (and we’ve certainly said plenty here), under that system, an agent’s income relies entirely on working with clients whose manuscripts generate income via book sales to legitimate publishers. In that system, there’s no way for someone to access your money until/unless your work is selling to publishers. Which is certainly a big point in its favor, in terms of eliminating scam artists who milk a desperate aspiring writer’s bank account via up front fees.

    And thus alternative fiscal structures… probably won’t work. Because the field is plagued with scam artists. And you know who (a) polices this and (b) suffers for it? Writers. NOT agents.

    Have all noticed, for example, that the major watchdog orgs and efforts battling scam agents are run by and paid for by writers orgs (ex. Writer Beware, supported by SFWA and MWA) and writer lawsuits and non-agent businesses and orgs (ex. Preditors and Editors, AgentResearch.org), and that education about this subject is primarily pursued by writing orgs (ex. RWA).

    For all that they claim that fee-charing is evil because it enables those nasty scammers… Literary agents and agent orgs like AAR do remarkably little to clean up their own profession or patrol their borders. It’s largely left up to writers.

  16. It is SFWA, btw, that has born the heavy weight of legal fees to battle scam agents, via WRiter Beware.

    Not AAR, an agent org.

    SFWA. A writers org.

  17. And to continue with my theme, it is MWA, a writers org, that is now contributing to to the costs of Writer Beware’s work in battling scam agents, exposing them, helping their victims, shutting them down, and, when necessary, fighting them in court.

    Not AAR, an agents org.

    MWA, a writers org.

  18. That line jumped out at me, as well, Deborah.

    Usually, when people say they are doing something to protect someone else, it’s at best a misrepresentation, and at worst a flat-out lie.

    In context, that line is there to simply say that authors would be taken advantage of if agents charged fees instead of commissions. Hidden in the text is the assertion that authors are too stupid to know they’re being taken advantage of (which might just be true), and that the commission system somehow protects them from that stupidity. Also hidden is the assertion that by charging commissions, agents ensure proper care and treatment of their authors, because since they’re only being paid on commission, they will try like hell to sell their work.

    That’s several of the myths rolled into one statements right there.

  19. And FURTHER to the subject of agents and money–egad!

    My lawyer and I have been quietly dealing with a legal problem with a former publisher of mine. I won’t go into details, since the matter is still open (though now rapidly approaching conclusion). But a key point in the problem was my claim that I have not received any fiscal reporting on this matter. Well, it turns out that the publisher is astonished by this claim… because it can show lots of proof that it has indeed been reporting to me fiscally.

    I took a look and, er… now I see that the fiscal reports have been going to a former literary agent of mine. And this isn’t EVEN the agent with whom I’m in an ongoing battle to get my payments split.

    This is a DIFFERENT agent. (So, basically, my consistent experience now is that as soon as you stop being a client, you can COUNT on your ex-agent to stop FWDing you fiscal and legla paperwork to you.)

    This is someone from whom I DID get payments split when I left… but from whom I didn’t get payments split in =this= particular matter, because I thought -this- particular matter was already old, finished, closed, wrapped up news when I left.

    Well, guess what? It now turns out that I only thought that BECAUSE I WASN’T GETTING THE PAPERWORK. The -publisher- was still treating it as open business, new things happened, the publisher reported this development in good faith… to a major literary agency… that has apparently just been THROWING OUT anything that arrives in their offices with -my- name on it ever since I left.

    (Frankly, it does make me wonder what ELSE has arrived in that agency for me since I left that I don’t know about and will probably never know about.)

    My lawyer and I are sorting it out with the publisher.

    But, good grief, I swear, I have reached a point where I would PAY my former agents to stop causing me unnecessary headaches with their irresponsible and unprofessional behavior.

  20. Molly Rogers says:

    You know, it would make a whole lot more sense if editors had to serve an apprenticeship where they spent that time doing the slush-pile work and vetting for the master editors they were training under, and then writers simply hired literary attorneys to handle their contracts.
    This would solve a couple of problems at once. First, would-be editors would keep the manuscript vetting firmly in control of the people whose jobs it is to know about good writing; and second, writers wouldn’t be forced into the confusing and chaotic world of ‘finding an agent’ to get published.
    Having lawyers take the place of agents would put a bit more regulation into the system; at least lawyers have to be certified and licensed and pass a test to do their job.
    I’m sure there are a thousand reasons why this is way too logical to work, but I’ll keep dreaming of my own personal utopia anyway.

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