Because They Lie

More thoughts on the subject of being pursued by angry agents and publishers…

One of the things that the people who’ve been the focus of writer complaints sometimes get worked up about is that Writer Beware doesn’t usually contact them to get their side of the story. As far as they’re concerned, this invalidates anything we have to say, because we haven’t “gone to the source.”

In fact, we do go to the source. Wherever possible, we ask writers to document what they tell us. Nearly all of our files contain not just complaints, but contracts, correspondence, brochures, emails, etc. When an agent’s representation agreement includes a sentence like this, it’s pretty unambiguous that the agent does indeed charge fees: “Additionally, I understand that I will be charged $3,250 for in-house services…All monies paid to agency are non-refundable.” All in all, I’d say that’s pretty reliable source material.

The agent whose agreement I’ve just quoted is one of those who have slammed us for not getting in touch with her directly. She’s right: we haven’t. What’s she going to add to the voluminous documentation we already have on file (we’re talking hundreds of pages, gathered between 1998 and the present)? Is she going to tell us that the contract we just saw had a clerical error? (Sorry, but there’s 20 more exactly like it in the file.) That she only offers fee-based contracts to some of her clients? (“Some” is no more legitimate than “all”.) That she’s phasing out the fee-charging? (We don’t believe it–and even if that’s true, writers have a right to know about her past history.) That there’s a really really good reason why she has to charge fees? (We don’t care; it’s not legitimate practice.) That we’re too ignorant to know that most agents charge fees, and some charge even more than she does? (Bzzt. Wrong. Don’t confuse us with your potential clients.)

(She could just say, “Yeah, I charge a fee. I know it’s wrong and I do it anyway. Get over it.” That would be refreshing. But we’re not holding our breath.)

All of the above, by the way, are excuses and explanations we’ve actually been given when we do contact the people we get complaints about, or are contacted by them. Which should make it pretty clear why we’d rather rely on documents. Either these people bullshit us, or they lie.

And why shouldn’t they? Even the most clueless fee-charger is usually at least dimly aware that things don’t work that way in the real world of publishing–though unfortunately, many of them really believe that “new” agencies can’t afford to represent writers for free, or that charging for publication isn’t taking advantage of gullible newbies, but opening doors for aspiring writers.

As for the con artists, lying is their business philosophy.

Here’s another example. A vanity publisher that charges five figures for a “marketing” campaign (many vanity publishers try to bamboozle their victims by switching their fees to something other than the printing and binding of books) recently became a subject of discussion on a popular blog. The publisher got wind of the discussion, and posted a long screed solemnly swearing that the fees were part of a start-up strategy (never mind that the last documented instance of fee-charging occurred more than three years after the publisher put out its first books), and had been discontinued. He was literate and persuasive, and most of the participants in the discussion were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t convinced–but you never know, so I decided to wait and see. Within a few months, I’d gotten two more documented reports of fees.

That’s right. He lied.

I’ll stick to documents, thank you.


  1. I think that’s probably why you have such beautiful skin in your picture. I’ve been eating vegetarian for a long time too–16 years.

    I really hate when people anonymously make claims that can’t be checked in reality. There seems to be so much…weirdness on the web; I believe very little of what I read. Sometimes I believe none of it. At least as time goes on, I seem to believe less and less. So I normally read some blogs/sites as if I were reading fictional works; they may be entertaining sometimes, but that’s all.

    Eh, I don’t like the sexism at that particular blog; I probably won’t read it again. It’s just some blogs (not just publishing ones) have become like reading mystery stories: I’m curious about who the bloggers really are, if they’ll ever reveal who they really are. But some of them probably won’t.

  2. Fran, I’ve seen this guy’s blog–and the post you reference–and I don’t he’s an exception to the Rule of Lying. Sure, he admits he charges fees, but he doesn’t stop there–he goes to great lengths to provide self-serving–and seriously bogus–justifications. That’s Lie #4: “I’ve got a really, really good reason for my exploitive rat-bastard behavior, and anyone who doesn’t agree is a big fat idiot.”

    Frankly, I’m doubtful that he’s actually an agent. If he is, he’s an agent in quotation marks. I seriously doubt he actually has any sort of track record–not just because he charges fees (there’s an overwhelming correlation between fee-charging and a pathetic-to-nonexistent track record) but because his silly comments about agenting and publishing suggest that he’s got his head waaaay far up his butt.

    I haven’t bothered to post any refutations in his blog–as far as I’m concerned, that would be giving his dimwitted rantings too much credibility. But maybe I’ll have to rethink that, and post some thoughts here. I find it quite disturbing that people actually seem to be taking him seriously as a source of information and advice.

    Yes, I’m a vegetarian–I’ve been one for the past 20 years. But I don’t eat tofu turkey.

  3. “She could just say, “Yeah, I charge a fee. I know it’s wrong and I do it anyway. Get over it.” That would be refreshing.”

    –Victoria, the person below has admitted this in a somewhat similar way.

    I found his admission upsetting though. I wish all the anonymous (supposed) agents would reveal who they really are. I don’t like all this anonymous posting.

    A quick question: Ann mentioned you’re a gourmet vegetarian cook. Are you a vegetarian then? I’m sorry if that’s a too-personal question, and of course you don’t have to respond.

    Have a good holiday!


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NOVEMBER 20, 2005

Cease and Desist Plus Holiday Wishes

NOVEMBER 25, 2005

Thanksgiving and General Stuff