Saturday, December 17, 2005

I read it online. It MUST be true!

Often I worry if authors are not their own worst enemies. By standing around on virtual street corners chanting, “Our way or no way!” are they hurting their chances of finding success in the publishing world? By filling up websites with rumors or even the experiences of one or two authors and putting labels on agents, are they helping or hurting? If one agent who keeps calling me gets her way, some of these websites are going to get sued sooner or later. She's convinced they are engaged in restraint of trade, libel or slander, which could make for an interesting lawsuit if it ever comes about.

One of these sites that posts "recommendatons" and “warnings” about agents actually has me listed twice, which I've found very confusing. Now, the creator of this site and I have had some interesting conversations over the years and he regularly reads and comments on the another site where I answer questions. On his site, there are two postings about me. If you look under the letter “A,” you’ll find this:

“Andrew Zack: $ a literary agent (Literary, Adult) with The Zack Company. Editor's note: Mr. Zack gives excellent advice in discussions on the Internet. He's well worth listening to.” [emphasis his]

If you look under the letter “Z,” you’ll find this:

Zack Company, The (formerly The Andrew Zack Literary Agency): $ Optional fees. Not recommended. a literary agency.”

Confusing, no?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to think I’m anti-author or anti-editor. I’m not. Heck, I’m not even anti-websites-that-publish-information-about-agents. But you have got to get that information right! There should be a solid journalistic approach to this research. And I don’t mean journalism the way CBS News reported on George Bush’s days in the Air National Guard. I mean solid, fact-checked journalism that is objective. The editor in question is personally opposed to any circumstance, even an optional service, where the author pays the agent beyond commission on a sale, so he labels me “not recommended.” That’s not objective, that’s subjective. But he likes what I have to say on another site, so he says I’m “well worth listening to.” Gee, why do I suddenly feel confused? Am I recommended or am I not? Could I be recommended as worth listening to, but then not recommended as an agent? Besides me, how many other agents are being praised and criticized simultaneously?

And let’s not even get started on the bulletin boards themselves. Didn’t these authors go to high school? Did they miss the 7th Heaven episode on the evils of rumors? Do they not understand that someone posting anonymously on a website about Mary Sue being a slut may not be the best resource? I hear she did three guys in one night! She must have the clap for sure!

For every agent, you will certainly find at least one author who thinks poorly of him or her. For every guy there’s a woman who thinks he’s a jerk. For every woman, there’s a guy who thinks she’s a witch. That’s life. Form your own judgments, please. Do your own due diligence. Look at what agents have to say for themselves, read their agency agreements, and if you really want to know what they are like as an agent, look at who they represent. In this day and age, it's not that hard to locate an author. Many writers' organizations publish directories of their members and list their agents. How hard would it really be to find someone actually represented by the agent you're researching?

Then again, you might not even have to ask. There's little that holds an author to agent. If an agent isn't doing a good job, or isn't acting in a completely kosher manner, it's easy enough to say good-bye. So the very fact that an author whose work you admire is represented by an agent can probably be taken as a vote of confidence, I feel.

They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. Can't you also just an agent by the authors he keeps? Just a thought....



Anonymous said...

runors make the world go round---and if they are true or not doesn't seem to matter as long as someone can boast and sturt and pass them along and have their moment in the sun.

Every writer should do their own research and come to their own choice about the agent they query--


MissWrite said...

I've watched the debate play out (forever) on the board in question. While at first I thought maybe you'd put your foot on the burner with bringing up the subject you did, I also admired you for speaking your mind. Takes guts.

I also feel that no one should be damned for asking a legitimate question.

As for the watch-dog site. They do help a lot, but I did see the conflict statements in regards to you even before you mentioned it here, and kind of laughed, (sorry, not at your expense, at the irony) and wondered if that last insert on their site had anything to do with the current convo eluded to above.

This too shall pass, Andy. Please continue to do the things you do. You're a great help yourself, both here on the blog, and on the board.

Miss Write (WriteStuff)

Christi said...

If it weren't for rumors, newspapers couldn't sell. I know which forum you're speaking of, but I don't visit it, as I'm sure it's rife with strange things.

Due diligence is a basic that everyone should practice, but most don't. It's sort of like taking criticism of your ms. You look at all the comments and if the same theme is playing through the critiques, you look hard at changing the objectionable portions of the manuscript. If this one or that one is the sole commentator of one or two things, you can bypass that and mark it up to one person's opinion.

By the same token, those the purport to offer recommendations need to do so without prejudice, as too many might read one entry and not the other and decide that this "expert" must know what he's saying about a person, ergo, avoid that person like the plague. At the very least, the recommender ought to put in very bold letters that the information listed is HIS or HER opinion only and not the whole picture. Or, that a specific opinion is only HIS or HER experience and not necessarily the experience of others.

Of course, the worse a rumor is about someone, the juicier the slam, the more folks will pass it around. Sad commentary on our society, but a truism anyway. It helps people feel "superior" when they don't have much else to feel superior about--so they think.

Fear is at the bottom of it. "If I'm not better than someone else, what good am I?" When the reality is that everyone is essentially equal, just have different talents from each other.

Sad, ain't?

Not a lawyer said...

But you have got to get that information right!


I had to read this thread a couple times to get the gist of what you're saying. Sorry, but you went into a tailspin for a minute and it wasn't until I re-read the quote above that I knew what made you so upset.

I have to agree 100% that any (self-proclaimed) authority who cannot substantiate a statement is in jeopardy of legal action.

A contradictory statement by any such authority, which may harm the professional reputation of a business, is a libelous tort. I am not a lawyer and even I know that if this authority (upon so many rely on as an authority) makes conflicting and egregious statements must be held accountable for their actions.

My only suggestion is to consult an attorney and pursue this action if (here’s the punch line) you feel that your business has suffered a financial loss from such statements.

I agree that they need to get it right based on facts and not innuedo or rumors.

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