Home » Agents, Contracts, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing » Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)

Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)

29 April 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Just when I thought it was safe to get back into the water…

I’m editing a lot these days. I only edit short fiction projects. Anthologies, anthology series (Fiction River), the occasional nonfiction book, and some magazines. I’m also consulting with the fine folks at WMG Publishing, because they’ll be handling the contracts for the revival of Pulphouse next year. Dean’s vision for Pulphouse includes reprinting some of the older stories, which means we have to deal with estates.

Too often, estates mean agents.

But even some lazy-ass living writers give their agents control of everything. It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine. The centerpiece for that project was an editorial written more than 20 years ago by a writer who had forgotten they had even written it. This writer, a friend of mine, doesn’t do email, and mostly stays off-line. (I know, I know.) I didn’t know about their tech phobia when I started into this, and had sent five different emails before I asked another editor friend how to reach this writer.

The editor advised snail mail.

Before I resorted to that, though, I called. The author and I are friends, after all. On the phone, the author told me that their agent handles everything. I do mean everything. The author—one smart cookie otherwise—can’t be bothered to concern themselves with touching anything to do with business. I had no idea this author was an Artiste, but I guess I know that now.

I also know why most anthologists refuse to reprint this author’s work.

I was pretty excited about this non-fiction project when I started it. I missed the publication window because of this agent and this writer. Fortunately, my publisher pushed the deadline back. We’ve pushed it back again, and again, and again. And frankly, I’m not feeling it any more. I have completely soured on the project.

The big bad agent, by the way, negotiated a horseshit deal for the writer that essentially gave me more rights than I would ever need. I offered the usual fee, which the agent did not negotiate up (although he could have). By that point, I was too pissed to give a break to these people. The amount of money—on publication, if there’s a publication—to the agent and the author will be negligible.

. . . .

Who the hell gives over control of everything, I mean everything, to an agent?

Oh, most writers. Never mind.

Still, I expect better. And if a writer is going to give control of the business side of her work to an “expert” then the expert better be damn good at negotiating and taking care of the writer’s interests.

So far, all of the agents I’ve encountered who handle everything are the worst negotiators in the business. They let things slide, they don’t care about being paid, they don’t ask for the right kind of language in a contract, they license the wrong rights or sell those rights outright.

. . . .

On one of the many projects I worked on recently, I contacted a writer to reprint one of their stories. I wrote a standard email letter, requesting permission to reprint, and the writer wrote back that they had no idea if the rights were available. The writer said I should contact the editor who originally published the story and ask.

I was taken aback. I had never had a writer say such a thing before in all of my years of editing. I knew the editor in question, and had worked with him many times. Never once did that editor, in all his various projects, try to control all the rights to a project. It wasn’t in his standard contract, the one he used for his anthology projects. It wasn’t in his special contracts, for other projects. It hadn’t ever happened, not in years of dealing with this man.

Honestly, this is where Writer Me and Editor Me had a conflict. Writer Me decided that Editor Me should get clarification from that writer before going to the writer’s editor. You see, Writer Me figured the editor in question would be confused at best or insulted at worst by the suggestion that he controlled the rights.

I did not want to offend him—as a person, not as an editor I might work with.

So I asked for clarification from the writer on the problem and added, as I do with many writers—bestsellers and nonbestsellers alike—that I would be happy to look at the clauses or contract in question (with the pertinent information like SSN and payment blacked out) to see what rights the author had actually sold. After all, the author clearly had no idea. Frankly, I figured the author didn’t know how to read a contract, and certainly didn’t know copyright law. I’ve seen that dozens of times before.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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Agents, Contracts, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing

43 Comments to “Writers, Scam Artists, Agents, And More (Sigh)”

  1. This is why trad-pub was so happy before the internet and Amazon, they had their fish(writers) all in one small barrel and their twelve gauge full of buckshot. They came out a winner every time.

  2. I missed the publication window because of this agent and this writer.

    The writer is minding his own business. She approaches him. He doesn’t approach her. He doesn’t behave the way she wants, and doesn’t run his business the way she wants. So she blames him for missing her date for her project.

    This is a project management problem.

    • Per the post, the author was a necessary element to the project, and blogger had sent 5 different e-mails before calling (since she was friends enough with the author to have the phone number)—and even that didn’t get her to the information she needed. So altogether, it took more than 6 attempts to contact + a year to get to the reprint rights, never mind get the contract for them.

      I’m not seeing how a businessperson requiring more than 6 attempts to contact and a year to get back to a project manager = a problem with the project management.

      • Look at the flip side of it.

        “Per the post, the author was a necessary element to the project, …”

        Look at it again.

        “It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine.”

        A project of ‘theirs’ that the writer never asked for.

        That’s like me telling you, “Hey, let’s go to the beach — we’ll take ‘your’ car.”

        Most likely you’d ignore me or tell me ‘no’. This ‘businessperson’ as you call this out of touch writer wasn’t the one that thought up this project, they weren’t the one chomping at the bit to make it happen; they were the ones being ‘bugged’ about a project they couldn’t care less about and told the ‘bugger’ to go take it up with their agent, they had better things to think about.

        Having had to tell people ‘no’ to ideas they thought I just had to pursue, I have to side with the ‘out of touch/minding their own business’ writer in this case.

        Though it does sound like someone wasted a year by not checking with the writer ‘before’ starting off on this great idea of theirs.

        • That’s like me telling you, “Hey, let’s go to the beach — we’ll take ‘your’ car.”

          Most likely you’d ignore me or tell me ‘no’.

          You’re assuming that your volunteering my car would be unusual for me. It was far more prevalent in the circles I grew up in and have since left, but I’m a small female. It still happens. And, speaking as someone to whom that sort of thing happens, it must be nice for ignoring someone like that to actually work for you as a response. (Saying that seriously.)

          Your analogy describes a stranger wanting to borrow and potentially damage belongings. The situation you’re referencing in the blog post is more like an acquaintance offering to rent your car and get it a tune-up while you’re on vacation and not gonna be using it.

          But you changed your number and the friend has to fight to figure out how to get a hold of you, just to find out that the car is technically your uncle’s, so they’ll have to get permission from him—but you’d like for them to bother, please! If you want to be open to that sort of deal, then you kinda gotta be reachable.

          The blog post as a whole is about business practices (namely, dumping everything on the agent) interfering with the ability to do business. Whatever author she’s referring to progressed through contract, so they apparently want to be part of it.

          The blogger could’ve easily dropped the project and chose not to, but it was a lot of work/effort/headache to arrange or organize it—a lot more than many project organizers would bother with. So those are income opportunities passing the author by, and even ones that do reach them are significantly delayed by the process.

          I read her post as an anecdote alerting people that such things happen and what to avoid if you don’t want to cause it. In my experience, indignation has several stylistic and content cues. They are not present in her post.

          • P.S. Potential source of disconnect, just occurred to me—I distinguish between annoyance at a situation and annoyance at a person. Those are capable of being fully independent emotions, so I don’t equate or conflate them at all. Annoyance that something happened can occur without any sense of “Why do this to me?”

            I’m pointing this out b/c some people conflate the two or treat them as necessarily synonymous, and that could potentially be causing the disconnect in communication here.

        • Your analogy doesn’t fit. It would be closer to say, “Your car is for sale, and I would like to buy it.” That I want to take it to the beach is irrelevant. It is a business transaction. The writer, at any time, was free to tell the editor to go pound sand. There was no need for multiple contacts if the writer did not want to get ‘bugged’. He or she simply had to say, “No sale.” and that would have been that.

      • It seems overly apparent since the writer could not even remember writing the piece, that the writer does not have to do anything the writer does not want to. Just because someone else wants to include a piece into an anthology or whatever, does not obligate the writer or agents. Not everyone works the same way. There is nothing wrong with that.

        Live and let live. Move on.

        • Of course a writer can be hard to reach if they want. Of course they can drag their feet on contracts if they want. (ETA: Note that dragging your feet can sometimes be to your advantage, in a negotiation, as a tool.) Terrence, though, quoted a consequence of the writer’s choices and called it a failure on behalf of the project manager.

          The question of what a writer has the right to do is a completely different context than “Who or what caused the project delay (or scrapping)?”

          It isn’t as if the writer said they weren’t interested in the project—which, from how it’s described, would’ve resulted in the project getting scrapped altogether. They were interested…after the 6th attempt to contact them finally reached them and they learned about it.

          • It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine

            Why should a writer care what she wants? Her wants place no obligation on the writer. She is responsible for her own wants, her own project, and her own project schedule.

            And the writer doesn’t use email and that inconvenienced her? So what?

            • Ah, you’re focusing on the dependent clauses as if they’re her root points! I don’t believe that’s warranted, for multiple reasons, but ultimately that indicates we have a core disconnect in how we communicate, so have a good day. 🙂

              • I’m not smart enough to know what that means. But, I am smart enough to see that her problem stems from poor management.

                • I agree. The world does not revolve around a single author, her business or her wants, which is what really rubbed me wrong in this article. The insulting remarks did little to justify her position as well. I understand there is frustration in dealing with this sort of project, but for some people, they may have moved on, don’t care about negotiating, and really are no longer interested in collaborating. People who are interested in their writing as a business can learn much from Kris’ other articles about the best ways to go about it and the pitfalls to avoid. But this one wasn’t it.

            • I’m amazed at your inability to actually read the article. The point was she had writers telling her flat out they WANTED in on a project and had their agents actively dragging things out, negotiating a worse deal, or trying to kill the deal altogether. This was simply ONE anecdote of an agent who was interested in deflecting business the writer said they wanted.

              Yeah, the problem wasn’t the editor for asking if the writer was interested then pursuing a deal despite the obstacle of the agent. The problem was the agent.

              • I’m amazed at your inability to actually read the article.

                Help those of us with lesser reading abilities. Lend a hand to the less fortunate. Where does she say this specific writer said he wanted in on this specific project? Where does she say any writer wanted in on this specific project?

                But, even my diminished reading ability reveals what she wanted for this specific project. She says, ” It took me one year—one year—to get my hands on a non-fiction reprint that I wanted for a project of mine.”

                • You left out the good part.

                  It was an editorial written more than 20 years ago.

                  That was way back in 1997. Anyone here remember what they were up to back then? Which case(s) PG was on, which books we were reading/writing?

                  How many writers back then ‘weren’t’ using agents to keep tract of things and get them to print? How many of those contracts made it hard for the writer ‘not’ to get the agent involved? And if the writer has 20+ years of things they’ve done, how would they get anything new done if they didn’t have a little help managing all of it?

                  One might understand her surprise for something written 20 days ago, but back then things were done differently.

                • Of course, she wanted it or she wouldn’t have waited so long. But exactly how else CAN someone read a writer saying, sure, go through my agent, and the agent closing the deal (even if NOT in favor of the writer) as the writer not agreeing to be in.

                  And I said this was ONE anecdote. The rest of the article includes additional anecdotes of writer saying yes and agent causing problems.

                  So you read that she wanted the article. So did I! But that was never the point. This wasn’t about her wanting the article, it was about agents who sabotaged a writer’s royalties and/or their ability to sell something at all. The fact that she was willing to wait through a bad agent for a project is definitely her own decision and/or issue, but the fact that the agent did not get the author a good deal who had agreed to be in the project and apparently took an entire year to negotiate a horrible deal for said author IS the point.

                  Authors should be aware when they leave every single thing in the hands of someone who is doing a bad job on their behalf. That was the entire point of the post. Not that her project was late because of how bad of a job the agent did.

                • But exactly how else CAN someone read a writer saying, sure, go through my agent, and the agent closing the deal (even if NOT in favor of the writer) as the writer not agreeing to be in.

                  Even an illiterate like me can recognize the author delegated responsibility and authority, and directed her to the proper channel. That happens all the time.

                  Here’s something we can all do at home. Write a letter to the president of Random House. Tell him you want to have your Great American Novel published by Random House. When he refers you to the proper channel, tell all your friends Random House is publishing your book. Then wait.

                  It works. Believe me, it works. I have used this method and will be published by each of the big five publishers.

                • Yeah. And that’s what she did. That the proper channel was someone who screwed up was the point of the anecdote.

                  You’re acting like the author saying “yes, go through the agent” is not wanting to be involved in the project (blatantly unlikely), then that the agent refusing to do business promptly or in the favor of their client is Kris’s project management fault.

                  Uh… no.

                • You’re acting like the author saying “yes, go through the agent” is not wanting to be involved in the project (blatantly unlikely),

                  I don’t know what the author wanted. With my limited reading comprehension, I note there is nothing in the post to support the notion that the author wanted in on the project.

                  How do we now it is blatantly unlikely the author wasn’t interested? How so we know what the author wanted? The author delegated the responsibility, authority, and decision to someone else.

                  If the project missed its deadlines, it is the fault of the project manager, not the solicited author. None of us have any obligation to arrange out affairs or manage our business the way someone else wants us to. If we choose to be Artistes, it’s our business. It doesn’t matter who approves.

                • …there is nothing in the post to support the notion that the author wanted in on the project.

                  Except that the friend of the person running the project immediately sent said friend off to go make a business deal, which she DID. It takes a spectacular leap of logic to think that meant the author didn’t want to be in the project. If they didn’t want in, they likely would have said no.

                  Considering how poorly the agent managed the deal, it is extremely unlikely they were doing the deal against the wishes of the author.

                  Again, the point of the anecdote was not that they made the project late. Kris said she CHOSE to push the date because she wanted the piece that badly, pointing out how LONG it took a supposedly professional agent to close a deal grossly disfavoring their client.

                  It’s a warning to authors to not hand over all their business to someone that won’t actually get the author a good deal. That whole paragraph outlining how bad the terms were for the author and that Kris wouldn’t have asked for terms that bad.

                  So while someone deciding to unwisely leave themselves open for an agent to kill their business is, in your words, their business, but it doesn’t change that the point of this post is a cautionary tale on why it’s a bad idea, not a rant about this other person made me late.

                  Choosing to make a decision that it’s worth it to get a piece before publishing, so they’ll delay the date, that was a choice, not a project management fail. It indicates how long it took the agent to strike a bad deal and demonstrated the importance of being accessible if you want more business. If you DON’T want more business, fine, but she’s not writing the post for people who don’t.

                  You keep describing this tale in such skewed terms, like: it’s not valuable to mention that this person lost a ton of rights and had a horrible deal made on their behalf and loses business regularly due to their inaccessibility, so keep these things in mind if you’re actually interested in making deals and having the terms in your favor—just because you don’t like that Kris was frustrated and apparently think she’s incompetent too.

                  To use your phrasing, I note there is nothing in the post to support the notion that Kris’s project would have been better managed by omitting the author’s piece instead of choosing WITH the publisher to push the publication date. It was a tradeoff and she chose one option over the other, the one she felt better served her project.

                • If they didn’t want in, they likely would have said no

                  Well, by that logic, if the author did want in, would he likely have said yes?

                  But she doesn’t say that. But she did say she learned, “the author told me that their agent handles everything. I do mean everything. The author—one smart cookie otherwise—can’t be bothered to concern themselves with touching anything to do with business.”

                  Sounds like she meant everything. She even told us again she does mean everything. She even used italics. Everything includes “Yes” and “No.”

                  Again, the point of the anecdote was not that they made the project late.

                  Who cares what the point of the article is. In making that point, she told us, “I missed the publication window because of this agent and this writer.”

                  No. The deadline was missed because of project management.

                • Sending someone to go make a deal is an implied yes that turned into an actual yes (meaning signed and delivered, since apparently that’s required for you to consider it an actual yes).

                  The fact that you can’t see that is more than reading comprehension fail. It’s logic fail.

                  And no, the deadline was missed because a deal was not closed, so a decision was made which was more important to the project. I fail to see how she could force the agent to do business in a timely fashion. If she and the publisher chose to go ahead without the piece, clearly that would seem wiser to you, but that’s not necessarily the case.

                  And here I’m bowing out, because there’s no arguing with someone who simply refuses to use logic or see any perspective other than their preferred result for something they have nothing to do with and know almost nothing about.

                • Sending someone to go make a deal is an implied yes that turned into an actual yes (meaning signed and delivered, since apparently that’s required for you to consider it an actual yes).

                  No it isn’t. Everyday in business people are directed to the proper people or department. That hardly constitutes an implied yes.

                  And no, the deadline was missed because a deal was not closed, so a decision was made which was more important to the project.

                  Agree the deal wasn’t closed. But then she told us she missed the deadline because of the author. She blames the author rather than project management. Then she calls him an Artiste and criticizes the way he chooses to operate. He owes her nothing.

                  And here I’m bowing out, because there’s no arguing with someone who simply refuses to use logic or see any perspective other than their preferred result for something they have nothing to do with and know almost nothing about.

                  Let’s not forget my inability to actually read the article.

    • I took it as more of shock, and a caution, about trying to run a business that way. How many broke NFL/NBA/MLB superstars are there who acted in exactly the same way? “I don’t worry about my money, I have people for that.” Said most of them, before stumbling into a bankruptcy court. “Ignore your money, it’ll go away.”

    • I would have ditched the reprint. But I think the value of this article is that the writer might not even know the shenanigans going on with agents and editors (like the rip-off she mentioned) or how they are losing money opportunities because of the difficulties with agents/editors or even the author. To a Big Name, it won’t matter. They make their money.

      But if a Lesser Name author takes this route of not being aware of rights and what their editors and agents are up to, they may get a bad reputation and lose sales. That should matter.

      She’s right. Writers should know what’s going on in their business.

      But I would just have waid Eff It to the reprint and moved on.

    • No, the problem is that the writer doesn’t run their business at all. They don’t know anything about what their agent is doing with their work and apparently they have an email contact address that they don’t actually use at all. That’s no way to make a living.

    • I think you missed the point. This wasn’t a ‘woe is me’ or a complaint about another author, this is a cautionary tale. Know your business. Know your rights. Don’t count on anyone being on your side but you. Th rest of the story was a vehicle for this message.

  3. So many writers are used to working this way, and there are legions coming up who expect to work this way. Business as usual, the trad pub way.

    I’m glad I went around this quagmire and deal with my own business.

  4. This is highly depressing and scary. I mean, what is the point of working hard on my craft or working to sell books if people can just buy their way to best-seller lists or rip their way to the top of the Amazon algos by dropping 5k? Whatever happened to patience and stoking an audience? Why do all of these newer authors feel the need to bypass an important part of being a professional author (audience building) in order to make a big buck now? NAO NAO NAO is all people care about. It’s truly jacked up.

    • Why do all of these newer authors feel the need to bypass an important part of being a professional author (audience building) in order to make a big buck now?

      Because they don’t care about becoming a professional author? They care about selling books today.

      There is no more virtue in making a dollar tomorrow than making a dollar today.

      • And if you don’t care about a long-term business, then why are you bothering to read anything Kris writes? Her audience is specifically those who want a career or long-term business and her advice is geared entirely toward that goal.

        You criticize so much of what she says because it’s helping the people it’s aimed at and can be irrelevant to those it’s not.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Rusch lives at the border between tradpub and Indie and she witnesses the issues and foibles of both. Some columns are aimed at Indies, some at dreamers…

          This particular piece is aimed at tradpub/hybrid authors not Indies.

          To me the key point is she wanted to give money to the author and the agent was more hindrance than help. That she persevered despite the agent is secondary; as pointed out by others above most people would have simply written off the project or at least the author.

          The real question I don’t see anybody considering is *why* the agent was so unhelpful.

          First thought that came to mind is that the Agent didn’t see the project as worthy of *their* time. Thus, they were mighty peeved that by going direct to the author (who then directed them to get involved) they were forced to actually work to negotiate the deal.

          Now, consider that we’re talking about reprint rights for a vintage short piece. The going rate for something like that probably runs in the mid-hundreds. Maybe barely into four digits. Fifteen percent of that? A hundred bucks?

          If they had to dig into old, pre-digital records, that might cost them a couple hours of time. If the big-name Agent is part of a big agency they might have been able to farm it out to an employee but odds are their net on the deal would have been minimal or negative.

          To me the key takeaway is that when one delegates important efforts ($$$) to others one doesn’t just accept their expertise but also their vested interests. Agents with ongoing relationships with specific publishers might get a project picked up with minimal effort (quick cash!) but it might also result in a lower payout than if the project were shopped around or even auctioned.

          Which is pretty much what happened here: the agent negotiated a substandard deal. Maybe the agent is incompetent. Maybe the agent wasn’t interested in negotiating. Or maybe the agent *wanted* a poor deal to prevent further “nickel-and-dime” deals.

          Delegating power to somebody else gives that person power over *you*. Anybody doing so needs to keep a close eye on the things done in their name because in the end, it is their name, their reputation, and their pocketbook. They are still responsible for what is done in their name.

          As someone once said: “The buck stops here.”

          Blindly trusting “the universe to take care of you” rarely ends well.

          • I was starting to believe that nobody in these comments understood the point of Rusch’s story. Some of these threads are like bizarro world responses of what seemed to be a pretty straightforward cautionary tale.

            There’s some comfort in that the posters blaming the publisher for going out of their way to give an author money and assert that the publisher shouldn’t spend any effort acquiring content are probably going to get what they wish for.

        • And if you don’t care about a long-term business, then why are you bothering to read anything Kris writes?

          I’m a Renaissance man.

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