Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It may be time for a serious reality check

I’ve been rather quiet here of late, as I’ve been working on a number of editorial chores as well as continuing to answer questions over in the Ask the Agent topic on the Absolute Write site.

Recently, I posed the question there as to whether or not there is any chance that a “reading fee” or “application fee” might be considered valid by the majority of the author community. The reaction there has been strongly negative, with one writer in particular stating stridently that any kind of reading fee is wrong, that any circumstance in which the money flows from the author to the agent is wrong, and that anyone who charges any kind of fee beyond commission must be a “bad agent.” It’s been fascinating, in part, because it’s like a compressed or condensed version of something I see all the time on websites and bulletin boards frequented by authors and it boils down to this: (best read out loud in a very self-righteous tone) “We, the authors of the world, believe that agents and publishers should do business the way we say they should, dammit, and if you don’t, we will label you a bad agent, or worse a scammer, or a bad publisher, and we will rise up and scream (or more likely post or blog) in our many voices until you do business the way we want you to do business.”

ZZZZzzzzzzzz. Oh, sorry, I dozed off while the authors were ranting.

This, folks, reminds me of my female friends who like to rant and rave about what jerks men are and why don’t men treat women the way women want to be treated. Well, some men will, but that’s mostly to get la--, I mean lucky, but at the end of the day, it seems most women still feel like they’ve just been screwed.

Of course, then there’s the men, complaining that women are such pains in the ass and that their expectations are so high and how the hell did their expectations get so high and, what, do they think all men are made out of money?

You know, this metaphor works better than I first expected.

The problem I see with the author "community" is that the expectations most authors have of agents and editors are simply not in line with reality...and it may be time for a serious reality check. Sure, there are a handful of very successful, very flush agents, and a handful of very successful, well-staffed editors who are incredibly efficient in their reading (or simply have no lives, which may be true more often than not), but they are the exception, not the rule.

The inefficiencies in publishing are matched only by the desire by publishers to interact as little as possible with authors and agents. Editors want the authors to be there when they call, but would really prefer it if the authors didn’t have to call them. After all, the publisher paid good money to “buy” their book (try to explain the difference between a sale of rights and a license of rights to an editor and you will quickly be told “That’s a question for Contracts”) and is investing a great deal of effort into publishing it. But now it’s the publisher’s book and job to get it out there, not the author’s. Just be there to answer the copyeditor’s queries and read the proofs within three days of receipt (“Oh, the contract says five? Well, Production needs it faster than that, so skip your kid’s bar mitzvah and get it back to us by Monday, okay?”) Or be ready to drop everything and go on that radio show that airs at 4 a.m. (“You do realize, don’t you, that most authors don’t ever get asked to go on the radio. This is a big deal.”)

In other words, be ready to wait, wait, wait, then hurry up, dammit!

With that thought, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for part two of this scintillating post.



Anonymous said...

From the point of view of writers, it can be really difficult to appreciate what agents do, in fact, do to help them.

Shadow said...

I find it interesting that it's not only authors who make the claim that they should never pay agents. Victoria, Anne, and Miss Snark all seem to be singing the same tune, without sounding quite so bitter about it. What gives, Andy?

Andrew Zack said...


I like Victoria Straus, having had the opportunity to speak with her at length once on the phone, and having exchanged many a post with her, but she is one of those authors on a jihad to protect authors from scammers and who has a very black & white definition of what a scammer is. Any service that an agent may offer--even a service authors want--that requires an author to pay above and beyond a commission, is considered verboten by this school of authors. And I disagree with that.

As for Miss Snark. Well, who is she? If she were posting under her own name, perhaps I'd take her posts more seriously, but since she does not, I don't pay her much attention.

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