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Agent Nightmare

#1
Some of you may have seen the shocking story about how an accountant for a prestigious New York literary agency Donadio and Olson embezzled $3.4 million, leaving them on the verge of bankruptcy. It beggars belief that there were no auditing checks in place, to curtail the fraud.

Their best known client is Chuck Palahniuk, famed for Fight Club, who's declared that he's "Close to broke," as a result of this swindle.:

Chuck Palahniuk 'close to broke' as agent's accountant faces fraud charges

Many of us have wasted hours on submitting queries to literary agents, lucky to receive a form email of rejection—or, more likely not getting any response. I've always been in two minds about the advantages of having a traditional publishing deal, as arranged by a literary agency, and going it alone via self-publishing online; I've said several times on the Colony, that the former way of getting into print amounts to slavery. Doing things for yourself might mean working like a slave too, but at least you get most of the profit.

Today, I came across a dissection of the literary agency fraud, which is well worth a look, as Kristin Katherine Rusch knows her stuff and points out several things that I haven't seen elsewhere, including how unregulated literary agencies are, and that potentially an author could lose the rights to their own books, if they've signed a contract that gave the agency partial ownership—which makes it a saleable asset of the business that can be sold to cover debts.

Business Musings: An Agent Nightmare Revealed

The main reason that I've previously chased representation is to get the expertise of a publisher to help market my books, but these days, an author is expected to do most of the razzmatazz themselves via social media and blogging, arranging their own interviews and personal appearances, so what's the point of being tied to a contract?

If I could go back in time, before I returned to creative writing, I'd have studied for a marketing qualification: it ain't what you've written, it's how you sell it that counts!

Rusch firmly advises that writers go it alone, without the dubious representation of a literary agent.

I think that the first part of stepping towards a potential trap, by querying literary agents, is that we seek validation for our work—if a publishing industry professional thinks our manuscript is good enough to be published, then we get a warm glow inside—turning our attention back to writing new material and washing our hands of the business side.

What do you think?

 
#2
That is a shocker.

BUT too right I would like industry validation for my work before I put it 'out there'. I've seen far too many self- published novels out there with plenty of promise, but they're going to miss their mark for lack of an editor. It's hard to do that alone. Even if it's the last 2 % of the job, there has clearly got to be another, very fierce set of eyes on that MS.

If I wasted time maybe I sent out too soon, before I was properly ready. The rest is luck but warm glow be damned. It's that final polish of editorial expertise - that final push- I'd want from a publisher. And not from a professional editor who charges for the work, sends it back and is not invested in your book after that point. Time is money. The publisher is putting their money where their mouth is.

An agent, to sign you, is also putting their money where their mouth is. You sell nowt, They get nowt. It doesn't mean your book is great, that's a matter of taste. It might be someone's idea of rubbish, but it does mean they think someone, a few people, enough people might pay to read it.
 
#3
It seems there is a dark side to every aspect of life. If a human is intrinsic to the process, then with it comes the natural hazard of human error, laziness, ineptitude, or even the temptation for a criminal act. I can see how easy it would be to change a 500 to a 499; the simple invoice or whatever authors receive when they open their email to see their sales. Furthermore, I highly doubt many agencies hire people to specifically scour the internet for every work, of every one of their represented authors to check for rights abuse. It's not like, as authors, we would chase our agents up for explicit records of all related dealings, and if we did, all it would take is the same number change and occasional omission that would continue the charade.

Of course, people will always go for the agent when entering "the game". They are the gatekeepers, they hold all the keys, know all the right people, and are the ones that you look to, to set the course when you're a debuting author. It's easier said than done to go it alone; you've only given yourself a three-day migraine discovering all the best ways to traverse the labyrinth of attempting to get an agent, to then get a publisher. Going it alone is going to significantly alter that migraine into a debilitating brain tumour, what with all the pitfalls of trying to create your own success story from absolute scratch. Most people are happy to go to Ikea, pay for a table that they can hammer in a few nails and call it a day. They don't want to cut a tree down, let the wood rest for two seasons, buy and learn how to use all the heavy-duty equipment just to make a single table. If they wanted to focus solely on creating tables (I think this analogy has run dry) then they would have become carpenters.

For me, if the expectation that authors do most of their own marketing and the publishers/agents do the bare minimum I can see myself eventually going down the road of self-publishing. But I think, having a proper publisher sign off on your book--invest in it--speaks of a higher quality than an easy access, click-here, self-published book. I want an authorship first and in my mind, I need a reputable (even though it may not be) front. But that's just me.

I would like to hear @AgentPete take on it all.
 

AgentPete

Capo Famiglia
#4
It would take many volumes :) And I'm only just back from Prague, with a bulging inbox...

There are plenty of things I don’t like about the agenting biz as it stands, some of which I’ve ranted about at one time or another. Don’t get me started… quite yet.

The incident above isn’t really symptomatic of lit agencies, tho. Fraud can and does happen to many small businesses. Bottom line is that someone, somewhere didn’t do their due diligence. In this case, of course, it’s not just agency money that went missing, but authors’ too.

However, this by itself shouldn’t have brought Chuck Palahniuk to bankruptcy. The agency shouldn’t have been sitting on more than a few weeks’ worth of client funds. Or hadn’t they paid him for years? Very strange.
 
#5
I’m sorry that you are so jaded with the publishing industry @Paul. It’s a sad fact that not everyone is going to find an agent or get a book deal. But the good thing is that these days there are so many other options available. Perhaps it is time to take stock, look at why your book hasn’t found a home and then decide what you want from your writing and for this particular work. Perhaps if you accept that your path to publication lies elsewhere you won’t feel so bad about it.
 
#6
The fiction writer who does not self publish needs an agent because the industry requires that he have one. Very few publishing companies will read "unagented" submissions. And self-publishing a novel is unlikely to bring any success.You publish your book. Then what? No one knows it's there, no one buys it, no one reads it. That's my experience; the experience of others may be different. I would like to hear from any of you out there who have had any real success with self-published fiction. How did you do it? How did you manage to get visibility for your book? How did you get reviews? Did you sell print copies in bookstores or focus on e-books? I know that there must be some cases out there where the self-publishing of fiction did work. There are also some cases where individuals won a national lottery. The probabilities same to me roughly equal.

All of this is not true for nonfiction books. Different ballgame.
 

Barbara

Guardian
Benefactor
#7
I would like to hear from any of you out there who have had any real success with self-published fiction.
Didn't Andy Weir, who wrote The Martian, self-publish? I read an article about him a while ago and if I remember right, when Andy started out, he became rather dis-illusioned with the whole agent thing. He got so fed up trying to kick the doors in, he took fate in his own hands, and self published The Martian. We all know how that went. ;)

I suspect he has an agent now.

And self-publishing a novel is unlikely to bring any success.You publish your book. Then what? No one knows it's there, no one buys it, no one reads it.
Self-publishing doesn't have to mean literary oblivion. It just means leg work. It means becoming active and creative to make sure one's voice is heard. It means taking resposibilty to get one's work out there, all the way to Mars if one has to.

I feel that once we have written the thing, we need to swap hats, become business people and treat our work the same way we would sell any product. But what do I know. I'm not in print. Yet. :)

As for the scam artist agents: scam artists are everywhere. Does the Society Of Authors have a black list?
 
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#8
As I said, there Is a lottery winner once or twice a year, but I wouldn't count on it to pay the bills. but let's talk specifics: what kind of legwork, in what ways "active and creative." In what specific ways does one "take responsibility"?
 

Barbara

Guardian
Benefactor
#9
As I said, there Is a lottery winner once or twice a year, but I wouldn't count on it to pay the bills. but let's talk specifics: what kind of legwork, in what ways "active and creative." In what specific ways does one "take responsibility"?
I totaly agree it is / feels like a lottery.

By 'leg work' I mean self-promotion. By 'responsibility', I mean not to wait for it to come to you, but go out there and make it happen. Be in charge of your sales, in a sense. I run my own business and I have to find my own clientelle. It is a good feeling to be in control.

Create an on-line presence / following, of course. Does you local paper feature local artists? They might be willing to do a small feature on your book if you talk to them. The local paper in my town does that all the time.

But you could also take a few copies of your book to an independent bookshop. Ask them to take the books on a sale or return basis, offering a sensible commission. You then check up on them every now and then to see if they have sold any. I used to make the greeting cards and I sold them in a cake shop and in a florist. You just go in and ask.

Depending on the theme of your book, you can make connections to certain organisations, i.e. if your book's topic is very women oriented, you cold do a reading at the local woman's institute.

Like I said, get creative and think of ways to get it out there.
 
#10
The examples you give, as for most self published authors, are local. A publisher can get you ‘out there’ on a national level. But if you’re happy to keep it local then do it. :)

Btw wasn’t The Martial originally published in instalments on a blog and built a following that way?
 

Barbara

Guardian
Benefactor
#11
The examples you give, as for most self published authors, are local. A publisher can get you ‘out there’ on a national level. But if you’re happy to keep it local then do it. :)

Btw wasn’t The Martial originally published in instalments on a blog and built a following that way?
I think you're right, it might have been in installments, I'm not sure.

National exposure would be so much better. :) In the meantime, if a few sell locally then great. You never know where it leads.
 
#12
It needs engagement @Tom's House. Ask someone here a question, or initiate a thread, and if they respond, then hopefully you engage in return by responding or acknowledging. Funny that some do not, will omit to respond having set a discussion in train, when you can imagine the effect of responding multiplied outwards.

Someone wrote this review of one of your books. There are other reviews as well. I bought the Kindle. Why not look up Marcus Katz. He is very much in the business of Tarot. Publishes lots. Promotes courses. Has a huge following of Tarot learners. Not my scene, his approach, but he is a scholar and he ought to know about your book.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eliphas-Lévi-occultism-Thomas-Williams/dp/0817370617#customerReviews
 
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Carol Rose

Guardian
Staff member
Ambassador
#13
I've talked about this issue multiple times before on here.

You can't simply self-publish a book, or for that matter, you can't simply allow a publisher to publish a book - Big Five or small press - and expect people to magically find you. It doesn't work that way anymore.

That business model worked before the Internet, before social media, before we became an instant gratification, digital world. Back when some publishers didn't publish almost anything that came in the door. Back when there were gatekeepers. Back when publishers did launch parties, signings in various cities, and advertised the heck out of a book. Because it was the only way to reach people.

Not so anymore. And publishers don't have advertising budgets like they once did. Why? Because vendors like Amazon have changed everything. Because publishers are losing scads of money thanks to vendors like Amazon. Because we're a different society now. Because we get our news on a computer screen or a smart phone. Because we buy books by trolling what our friends are reading via Twitter and Reddit. Because as an author, you have to be out there - in the inter webs - talking to readers. Talking to other authors. Interacting with them. Hanging out online with them. Promoting the heck out of yourself amongst the tens of thousands of authors all doing the same thing.

This is not rocket science, folks, and it's really not new. The bulk of marketing and promotion has always been networking. We've simply morphed into a society that no longer does that only in person, or by way of TV and radio ads. We now do the majority of it online. Wrap your heads around that concept, embrace it, and you will sell books, no matter if they're self-published, published by a small press, published by a digital first press, or published by one of the Big Five.

Stay offline and refuse to join the lemmings, and you'll be disappointed. ;)

Books have never sold themselves. Word of mouth is still the number one vehicle. But you have to do your part, too. You have to be social and let people know you're out there. You might not like it. You might not want it. But it's the reality of today, plain and simple. :)
 
#15
Self publishing is still pretty much a vanity... I have a few of my own books on Amazon, and actually like holding them in my hand (and also given them to friends and family for criticism and correction), but no-one will find them if I don't seriously invest in some publicity, and from what I gather, that means shelling out. I'm not averse to shelling out when I believe it has an end result (well, if I could afford to), and I've been doing a bit of research into how to go about it. But I want to write. I don't want to become my own publicist. That's where an agent scores. I will keep trying to get one. Not such a rare breed, but evasive.
 
#18
The statistics suggest that authors making a good living from self publishing are few, and largely inhabit specific genres. The only self-published authors I have met come into the lower scale of income, so this naturally prejudices perception. Stats also suggest that the majority of authors who self-publish on Amazon sell very few books, the average being around 20, I read. In arguments and stats there are both truths and misconceptions.

I am interested in knowing how to self-promote, of course, and will study the articles, so thanks for posting the links. I only recently began to delve into the whole self-publishing thing, but would, by far, prefer to sell to a mainstream publisher, which is why I will continue to seek one, and hope that should this ever come to pass, it will be a bonafide and honest agent. I have author-friends who have nothing but good to say about their agents, and one who 'sacked' hers because the agent was doing her no favours.
 

Carol Rose

Guardian
Staff member
Ambassador
#20
The statistics suggest that authors making a good living from self publishing are few, and largely inhabit specific genres. The only self-published authors I have met come into the lower scale of income, so this naturally prejudices perception. Stats also suggest that the majority of authors who self-publish on Amazon sell very few books, the average being around 20, I read. In arguments and stats there are both truths and misconceptions.

I am interested in knowing how to self-promote, of course, and will study the articles, so thanks for posting the links. I only recently began to delve into the whole self-publishing thing, but would, by far, prefer to sell to a mainstream publisher, which is why I will continue to seek one, and hope that should this ever come to pass, it will be a bonafide and honest agent. I have author-friends who have nothing but good to say about their agents, and one who 'sacked' hers because the agent was doing her no favours.
I know real people doing this, @ChrisLewando. Stats aren’t real people. This can be done. :)
 
#21
Some more horror stories for everyone--though they may be old; more information, means more informed.

Case studies

One interesting case--if you can make it there--was where an agent says a MS needs a professional edit, and of course recommending such an editor. The editor then charges exorbitant fees and gives a 'referral fee' to the agent, who then continues a shady practice. Almost the same rules as not paying an agent, but rather, don't let an agent dictate an editor.
 

Amber

Benefactor
#23
I think self-publishing is always an option. We live in a time when none us needs to query agents if we don’t want to. We seems to forget how lucky we are. We have choices we didn’t have before.

But it’s difficult to be a great writer, a marketing genius, a great cover artist and if you are lucky enough to have a degree of competence in all the areas needed for self-publishing, would you really have the time to do everything which needs to be done?

I also think having an agent who believes they can sell your work and getting picked up by a publisher who is willing to promote you is by far the better deal. Why should you have to split your efforts if you don’t have to? I also think it’s becoming a more rare deal.

And another thought I have which will prove unpopular .... all of us don’t need or deserve to be published and as much as the idea of choice appeals to me ... I dearly wish less people would self-publish.
 
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