Home » Agents, Dean Wesley Smith, The Business of Writing » You are in the running for the dumbest writer alive and should go work in McDonald’s to learn business

You are in the running for the dumbest writer alive and should go work in McDonald’s to learn business

27 September 2011

One thing Passive Guy enjoys about Dean Wesley Smith is you always know where he stands:

Since I started yesterday with asking why anyone would let their agent be their publisher, I figured I might as well talk about the money for a moment. Because it is tight times in the agent business that is causing this shift to what I call “the publishing scam.”

Writers, as I said yesterday, as a class are the dumbest business people on the planet. With no group a close second. Even kids doing pretend businesses in middle grades are smarter. Not kidding.

My evidence?

1) Writers get excited about “getting an agent.” This “agent” is a total stranger who printed up a business card, said they were an agent, and that was it. Nothing more.  Not one ounce of training needed, not one test to take, and no idea of agency law.

2) Do writers do any background checks at all on this stranger with a business card? Nope? No criminal history, no financial report, nothing. The writers hire this employee without even asking for the agent’s Social Security Number. You can’t get a job at McDonald’s without filling out forms and going through a background check.

3) Writers give this perfect stranger with no training the right to get all their money from major publishing contracts, the right to get all the paperwork on that money as well before the writer sees anything. This money often totals into the hundreds of thousands per year. Often a lot more.

Yup, without a doubt, writers are the dumbest business people ever to come down the pike.

So, with no background checks, giving all your money to a stranger, giving that stranger all the paperwork that tracks that money, wouldn’t you just EXPECT that stranger to keep some of your money that should go to you???

Let me think… that wouldn’t even make a good plot on a bad sitcom.

Have your ever read a mystery novel???

Or read the financial page of a newspaper??

The answer is “Of course!!!”


. . . .

1) Writers never check royalty statements and agents know this. And if you get a big pile of statements from your agent with just one check, it’s easy for the agent to just accidentally keep some. Only about one in a hundred writers will check the statements and plug them into an adding machine. Kris and I do, but most never do. For a few years early on we found problems in royalty statements not matching payments, then never again because the agents knew we checked. And which way did the problem always go? I’ll give you one guess.

2) Overseas sales. Getting a royalty statement from an overseas publisher through the overseas agent your agent uses (a person you don’t even know their name) and your agent is mostly impossible. Knowing there is money even due you is even more impossible in many cases. Only way is to be talking with your overseas publishers and have them send you direct statements when any money is due. Otherwise you will never know and the agents know this and can just keep your money. (Yes, early on Kris and I got ripped off by this one. And stopped another one from one of our old agents overseas agent just last year. Honest.)

Often a writer will be off-the-charts stupid and give their agent (the stranger) power of attorney over contracts for overseas publishers. Meaning the agent (stranger) can sign the contracts and you wouldn’t even know you had sold something. If you have been that stupid, just walk away from your computer. You are in the running for the dumbest writer alive and should go work in McDonald’s to learn business. And yes, there are bestsellers who have done this. Their agents are very rich for some reason.

. . . .

But now to my biggest worry at the moment. “The Agent Ponzi play.”

Remember, agents have no training and do not know agency law which requires by law for all clients money to be held by itself in secure accounts until paid to the client. Instead, book agents just mingle YOUR money in with all the other clients.

And out of that fund they take their payments, including their rent and employee and grocery money.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Agents, Dean Wesley Smith, The Business of Writing

12 Comments to “You are in the running for the dumbest writer alive and should go work in McDonald’s to learn business”

  1. Well, I appreciate the fact that he does not mince words or spare feelings. You know my take on vanishing royalties. What I have in my favor – I’ve been screwed over many times so I tend toward suspicion and I’ve owned and operated a business. So many ways to get screwed in business. Few things are what they seem and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  2. As I’ve said before, I’m a writer and not a guy with 47 half-novels and dreams of blockbusterhood because Dean and Kris took the time to beat some sense into me. When it comes to the craft and business of writing they are the default icon for tough love. Thanks for passing along their wisdom, you could be saving a professional life.

  3. The article strikes me as being entertaining but accurate, at least not accurate across the board. I, along with other authors I know, do check royalty statements. Often, if one wants to be published by a traditional publisher, the only way to get in the door is via an agent. Writers who are not good business people may find great value in having an agent doing the negotiating (and a good agent will be bringing important experience to that negotiating table). It’s easy to dismiss agents as folks who print up a business card and go to work with no training — but I put a value on my agent’s years of experience in the publishing business, and I valued my previous agent’s experience as an attorney. Since Amazon made self-publishing easy and free, I’ve noticed a lot of dumping on agents, some of it by people who never had an agent but they believe everything they’ve been told about them. I suspect a stereotype is developing, and it’s not necessarily an accurate one. Just as all writers are not created equal, neither are all agents.

    • It’s all about the quality and honesty of the agent, Patricia. And it’s not agents alone. I sometimes have to fix problems created by inept attorneys.

  4. Oops. I meant “entertaining but inaccurate” … PG, you need to give a way to edit posts!

    • Let me check on editing comments, Patricia. Basic WordPress doesn’t allow that, but there’s a plug-in for everything.

    • Patricia – I just installed a comment editing plugin that gives you 5 minutes to fix things (I can change the time). It’s supposed to only allow the person who made the comment to edit.

      The next time you make a typo, let me know if it works for you.

  5. So how dumb do I have to be to make it to #1 in this “group”?

    If you let the fox watch the hen house…

  6. Hi Patricia,
    One of the reasons that Dean was advocating split payments is because even a good agent can be the victim of embezzelement. One desperate person in accounting, and the day comes when the agent walks into work and discovers he’s short millions, and on top of which worker’s comp, insurance, and taxes haven’t been paid in months or years. Now, not only does he not have your money(which said accountant may have been shorting you for years), he’s in trouble with the state and the IRS. And they *always* get their money first and in full.
    This kind of thing happens to businesses all the time. But arranging split payments from the publisher is all it takes to prevent this.

    • Chong – You’re very correct.

      If the agent isn’t a numbers person in the first place, a trusted staff member or outside bookkeeper could get away with a lot before anyone noticed.

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