Pub Rants

3 Cheers for Writer Beware!

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STATUS: Feeling happy. I’m really close to resolving an outstanding issue. My New Zealand/Australian author Cheryl Sawyer needed an ITIN (International Tax Identification Number) so her publisher could pay her without withholding 30% of her royalties for tax purposes. It has been a long, frustrating road for Cheryl. Many IRS hoops to jump through, but finally the ITIN is here and the W8BEN form has been completed. We can now benefit from the US tax treaty with Australia. No 30% for you IRS!

What song is playing on the iPod right now? TRULY MADLY DEEPLY by Savage Garden

If you know me personally, you’d know that nothing burns me more then hearing about writers who are fleeced by scam agents. It makes me truly irate that there are unethical people in the world who prey on the hopes, dreams, (and I have to say) ignorance of aspiring authors.

Lucky for me, there are brilliant people in the world like Dave Kuzminski for Preditors and Editors and A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware.

Well guess what? Ann and Victoria have just nailed another scam b*stard. Click here to read the whole story. These folks unselfishly take a lot of heat and keep the world safe for the newbies in the publishing world.

Three Cheers! Three Cheers! Three Cheers!

And while I’m on this topic, I want to throw in a warning about marginal agents—folks who might mean well and aren’t scammers but also aren’t very effective (folks that might be on the writer conference circuit but don’t seem to be selling any books). And just to be clear, I’m not talking about new agents who are brand new to an already established agency or have recently established their own agencies. These folks are either paying their dues or have paid their dues by working at other agencies or by being actual editors at publishing houses. Obviously these folks won’t have a lot of sales to their credit. I’m talking about “agents” for whom you can’t find any information about recent sales or past publishing jobs. Trust me, this information should not be hard to find and if it is…

That’s a red flag (as are any fees: editorial, reading, submission, or whatever they are being called. Money flows to the author—not the other way around).

Remember, anyone can hang a shingle and state that he/she is an agent. Hanging the shingle doesn’t make that true. Only good contacts and a solid sales record can.

(And Victoria has a brilliant blog post on marginal agents too! As well as evaluating an agent’s website. Boy these gals are smart. Bookmark this page right now.)

17 Responses

  1. Kathy Holmes said:

    Great post! The latest issue of “Writer’s Digest” also has a wonderful article about marginal agents. Raising the issue like this can save a lot of writers a lot of time in not signing with somebody who will not be effective.

  2. McKoala said:

    I’m an Aussie-based writer with a tax lawyer husby. I’ll be sure to mention it in any query, ‘cos it seems to be a selling point…

  3. Victoria Strauss said:

    Thanks for the links, Kristin. And for mentioning marginal agents! It can’t be said often enough–marginal agents may not take your money, but they’re just about as bad for your career as a scammer.

  4. Anonymous said:

    Although the “sentence” handed down to the Titsworths seems like justice, I am not so sure. I grew up in small town Texas and currently live in San Angelo. All the Titsworths have to do is drive off into the sunset and set up shop somewhere else. Having been on probation myself before (hey, we all had to grow up!), I can testify that the program is not monitored well at all. They could be gone for months before any one even noticed. I even know a guy (no, I don’t hang out with him) that has to wear one of those bracelets that sets off a phone call to the authorities when he leaves his house. Guess what. He comes and goes as he pleases. No problem. I’m glad they have been exposed, I’m just saying it is a safe bet that they haven’t been stopped (as the article implied).

  5. Elektra said:

    No, not at all–if you don’t mind, how long has she been paying this agent monthly fees without getting results? What does the agent tell her to keep her paying?

  6. Eileen said:

    Monthly fee? Unless the agent provides a regular pedicure to go with their “agenting skills” I would dump em.

  7. Anonymous said:

    What about agencies who have made a decision to begin acquiring genres(say…romance) when they’ve had a long and respected history of representing another genre, but they don’t seem to have made any sales in the new genre during the substantial length they’ve been accepting the new genre?

  8. Anonymous said:

    Hey, Anonymous, I think you may be talking of my last agent. 🙂 At the time, said agent was new but with an established agency which dealt in a different but related genre. Nice person but unable to generate any sales for anyone even after several years.

    I’m a nice person, too, which translates into sticking around with them too long because I’m ‘loyal’ and we were both ‘starting out’ and she’d already ‘invested energy into my career’ and I’m an overly sympathetic yutz.

    I think the telling part is ‘several years’. Some people, for whatever reasons, just can’t get their momentum in this business. I’d tread carefully.

    I’d heard it a hundred gazillion times, but *surprise* it turns out it’s true — no agent is better than a bad agent. So is the corolary, no agent is better than a marginal one.

    It’s just tougher to identify the marginal ones with the trappings of potential than the fee-charging, red-flags-waving truly evil ones.

    Best of luck on your search.

  9. Karen Dionne said:

    Thanks for drawing attention to Victoria’s blog entry on marginal agents, Kristin. I hadn’t seen it. Victoria has given Backspace permission to reprint it as an article on our homepages. We put it right up front and center. People need to know!


  10. penny said:

    Your blog site is entertaining and charming and interesting, Kristin. That’s not just a compliment for the sake of it. I mean it.

    Scams and marginal people happen. They are not just agents. They are publishers, engineers, accountants, retailers, doctors, dentists, builders, swimming pool installers. But then that’s why they set up professional societies. Generally, I wouldn’t touch a person who did not belong to a professional standards group. I think that that is a good guide.
    But there is also another group of agents. These are legitimate, probably have good sales. But they are either too overburdened, or don’t really try too hard for the bottom feeders on their lists. They really only like their stars. The already-there’s that just walk in acceptances and commissions. The bottom feeders ring these agents up and get the double shuffle. “Tell her we’re working on it and don’t call us we’ll call you.” types.
    There are a lot of them as well.

    I’ve always thought that it’s better to be a large cog in a small wheel, rather that a small one yada yada.

    Pennyoz who forgot she forgot her password again before posting!

  11. Anonymous said:

    I had such an agent. Honest, but forgetful, disorganized, prone to lack of follow-through…

    I didn’t think he was a “bad” agent. I thought it was my fault. I figured the reason I got evasive answers was that I done something wrong. My agent sent one novel (I have 12 others) to 9 publishing houses, and according to him, three of those houses “lost” the proposal. Nor did he follow up or re-send–or basically do anything to rectify. This is a failure rate (even for the math-challenged like me) of 33%.

    He and I are no longer associated. But I wish there was a businesslike way to warn other writers in my niche market to avoid him.

  12. Anonymous said:

    I wouldn’t want it for an ERA, though.

    Now, an advance of just 1% of what these ballplayers earn, that would be great…

  13. Anonymous said:

    Heh…heheheh…*sigh* I personally would like to give a great big cheer to Writer Beware and Kristin as well for all the info put out there for us novices. I remember waaay back when (about 6 years or so) I was young and naieve and had the misfortune to glom onto actually one of the agents that are now “blacklisted.” I had to laugh. Oh well. I spent a lot of money and got bubkus for it (oh and a few cheezy birthday cards, bleh.)and for the longest time my “lack of success sorta thrashed my dream of ever becoming published. It’s a shame the information you can find on the internet wasn’t as broad or easy to find as it is now, but now I know, hey? 😉 Time to dust myself off and try all the true and honest agencies that I now know exist.