Friday, August 13, 2021

Bad Apples


 In the past several months, I've read posts on "agents being bad" including X, Y, and F.  These were reasonably respectable agents/agencies, until they weren't.  I'm planning to start querying soon , and yes I know there are good agents out there, and yes I've doubled my research on potential agents to query, but can you give any tips on what querying writers should be researching and considering, as we to try to screen out potential bad apples?


There are two kinds of bad apples. The kind that don't taste good, and the kind that can poison you.


I would classify the political contretemps (X and Y) as the apples that don't taste good. They may be good agents but things they've said or done make them undesirable to work with.


The only way to avoid those people is to follow them on social media.


Which is a problem if the agents are NOT on social media. Lots of the best agents have pulled back from The Twitters since it has sunk into cesspoolian depths.


My standard advice still holds: query widely. When you get offers, dig in on the research then. Ask the current clients what the agent is like to work with.


The bad apple that can poison you is the agency that's not paying you correctly. As in on time. Or with bounced checks. Or just not at all (the horrifying situation of Chuck Palahniuk comes to mind.)


If an agency is fucking around with your money, don't delay. Get immediate help. The first stop is the royalties department at the publisher.  If your agency says they didn't get paid, you can verify this.


If you're worried about this kind of thing, you can have your publishing contract direct that your money be sent directly to you from the publisher. It's called split payments. Now that I'm a sole prop I do this with my clients who have big deals. The very last thing I want is for their money to be held up if I'm not able to get to the PO and process checks courtesy of a head-on with the cross town bus.

And the pandemic has illustrated how quickly things can fall behind if someone is not in the office to process the money. 


 Bottom line:

Be wary of gossip.

Anyone can say anything on social media these days and once it gains traction, there's nothing anyone can do to calm the waters. I saw that personally last spring, and honestly, I've never posted anything about queries again on Twitter. 


As always, Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware are the place to verify shenanigans, and reports of shenanigans.  She's well-established and I trust her.


Any questions?

Me, tackling royalty statements.



E.M. Goldsmith said...

5 Posts in a week. My life is better now. I can't even say how much this means to me. Thank you, Janet.

As for researching agents, it's both the honest (won't steal your money) and stability elements I am looking for. I feel so bad for authors when their agencies and/or publishers go under. However, I can't even think how you make sure you have a stable agent/agency. The world is not on stable ground. For anyone. But I do like to see that an agency and/or agent has been around the block for a while. If the agent is new, I want their agency to be well-established. If the agency is new, I want the agents to have a long track record. I am not sure if that will guard me (if new deal doesn't work out), but that is how I am thinking of it.

As for the unsavory political winds and whims of the day- those change on a dime. Power will always be corrosive and corrupt and have its useful idiots. Throw big tech into the mix and the unsavoriness of power is now on steroids. I have been one of those useful idiots in my day so I feel like this too will pass. Or it won't and we'll all have to choose between red pill and blue pill in the near future. Just keep writing.

Colin Smith said...

No questions, just a lot of sympathy for Opie. Back when I was querying the last novel I queried, there were agents on my list then (good agents at good agencies) that would not be there today. Not that I didn't know that I would have different views than them on various issues (I'm a conservative Christian and most of the publishing industry is... not). But there are agents I formerly thought well of who have made it clear they have no truck with my sort. I thought this publishing thing was all about writing great stories, selling them to devoted readers, and everyone earning a decent living as a result. That doesn't mean we have to agree with each other politically, theologically, or in a host of other ways. These days we don't even need to see each other. My agent could be a hyper-intelligent penguin. As long as she takes time from catching fish to sell my novel, does it matter? Granted, some agent-client relationships can be close, BFF-type relationships (remember when "BFF" was a thing people said?). And that's lovely and wonderful. But at root, the agent-client relationship is a business relationship bound by a contract. The only thing the agent needs to love about you is your work.

Of course, there are nuances to this. Having a toxic personality, a murderous temper, or warrants out for your arrest can mar the relationship. But that's true in any work environment, not just in an agent-client relationship. But on the whole, I think the above applies.

So, yes, what Janet said. With much sympathy, Opie.

CynthiaMc said...

Yay! You are back! I thought I was hallucinating.

I tried posting on my phone but my new phone doesn't know it's me on this site. It wants me to use my other email which I never use so until it decides to let me change it I have to use my tablet.

Just caught up on this week's posts (I work at a hospital, we've been busy).

Loved yesterday's post - I have several flash fictions I'd like to turn into other things too - my vampire mom, my shimmy shimmy ko ko bop girls contacting aliens, my Revolutionary War time travel murder, my birthday charter story.

This month I'm working on a screenplay for Goalposts (Nanowrimo for screenwriters) since theatre is still pretty much dead (but my next production is on the books for June). I am having a blast. Screenplays are my natural home. Thinking about doing a novel version as well.

So good to see everyone!

Leslie said...

Five posts in five days is truly like an oasis in this heatwave of a week!

Good to see Reefers again! I hope everyone is doing well.

Yes, Twitter is a cesspool - especially as it brings out the worst in too many people. Starting last summer, I saw some agents act in the most disgraceful, cringe-inducing ways on there.

It's one thing to have differing political views, but there was a smallish group of agents who aggressively went after others for not being woke enough. They've managed to drive at least a few people out of the business.

At a certain point, I started to wonder how much was (inappropriately) overzealousness for the cause and how much may have been eliminating the competition. At one point, there was an anonymous Twitter (not really anon, as many people knew who it was) that went around torching agents for various sins - real and imagined.

So, the tl;dr version is that I'd use social media not so much to read the gossip but to see how people behave. I don't care about people's opinions, but I do care how they treat others

Craig F said...

I was hoping the full week of posts might have spawned a flash fiction contest, alas.

To the point; I have business relations with people I would not ask over for dinner. If an agent is disparaging writers, I would pass, but politics?

I don't live in a fantasy world where everything is copacetic, there is a big political rift that will only get bigger if we stay on our own side of the fence.

I don't care if my agent is Liberal, conservative, or somewhere in the middle, I already have friends in all of those low places.

RonC said...

Janet's blog of is one of those sites I check daily by automatic reflex for any new nuggets . . . rewarding week this has been!

BrianH said...

Colin, I agree completely that you shouldn't need to share all political or personal beliefs to work with someone. Or even to be someone's friend, BFF or not. Regardless, good luck with your search! Do let me know if you find a penguin agent. I bet they'd have an in at the Random Penguin publishing House that came up in last month's post.

CraigF, I know it's not the same, but I have a short fiction contest going on here. The prizes are smaller, as is the glory, but if you want to write flash fiction inspired by odd photos from a hike on the PCT, it's the place!

I agree, I also hoped Janet's set of recent posts might mean more opportunities to torture--er, delight--her with our stories.

Laura Stegman said...

Thanks, Janet, for posting! Regarding the "horrifying" situation involving Chuck Palahniuk, I assume that is not referring to his father's murder, since it sounds agency-related. Can anyone shed any light for me?

Timothy Lowe said...

Craig F Who says this post isn't a flash fiction contest? You just have to read it very carefully.

Clever, Janet. I am preparing my entry as we speak.

Timothy Lowe said...

“Bad Agent X! Stop with the smarmy gossip!”


“Bad Agent Y!”


“Watch out for Bad Agent F! He’s poisoned you!”

Crunching heartily. “He poisoned this apple?”

“For God’s sake, yes!”

Puzzled look. “But I already ate it.”

“Oh for God’s -- listen, people! It’s a metaphor! I told you, the worst kinds of literary agents are those who--”

Bang! Bang!

“WTF?! She was the only good literary agent left on Querytracker? Are you eliminating your competition?”

Holds up a money bag. “Who says I’m a literary agent?”

C. Dan Castro said...

Thanks Janet. Five for five is very exciting!

For screening agents, does anyone have additional methods/approaches besides Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware?

Colin Smith said...

Dan: Other than Victoria and WB, the only alternatives I can think of are: 1) Follow agents on Twitter and watch their behavior. It's not foolproof but you might get a sense of how they treat people they don't agree with; 2) Word-of-mouth/recommendations. If you're interested in querying an agent, email or direct message writer friends and ask if they know of reasons to be concerned or cautious. Also, ask for their top ten agents to query. QueryTracker used to allow users to discuss agents, though I don't know how reliable that is, if they do it anymore, or if you need to pay for that now.

Just some thoughts.

Laura Stegman said...

Re my Chuck Palahniuk comment above, never mind, I found out what Janet was referring to. Horrifying indeed!

NLiu said...

Twitter is ridiculous. (I mean, attacking the Shark? It's like they've never heard of marine conservation - or severe chompings.) I was upset a while back hearing that the most recent book of one of my favourite authors was "so racist". When the book came out I at first avoided it, but then got it from the library to see what the fuss was about. There was one passage the author had already apologised for. The rest of the criticism was pure nonsense - and I knew it was because it centred on the name of a Chinese character. A name similar to my Chinese name, my husband's and not a few friends' was apparently "inaccurate" and "made of two surnames" and even "insulting" because the critiquer assumed the character was getting called by her surname (she wasn't). Honestly, whoever wrote that stuff obviously neither spoke Chinese, nor knew anything about how Chinese names work. They must have done about as much research as the people on baby name sites who claim Chinese people are "confused about what the name Liu means" because it has "so many definitions" and/or are "unclear" whether it's a surname or given name. (Which only appears the case if you compress several homophones with separate characters into one anglicised sound. Chinese is great for homophones by the way. Puns galore. But they don't translate.)

Anyway, the whole episode angered me because I could have avoided that book and author forever based on nonsense. At least they weren't a debut author getting their career ruined before it had even started (something I'm terrified will happen to me one day). So now? I skip over all that hyperventilating about people doing supposedly egregious things and read whatever books I want. And I'd investigate carefully before blacklisting someone based on what The Twits says. /rant!

LynnRodz said...

Five! A bonanza of posts read this evening. How wonderful and how nice it was seeing many of the Reiders. Thank you, Janet, you've been missed.

KMK said...

I'm late to the party -- but so grateful that there IS a party! Just echoing our Queen's advice to query widely, and start thinking about whether you want to work with specific people when you're closer to doing so, unless they're scammers or truly evil. Your agent needs to "get" your work -- they don't have to agree with all of your views, and people you want as colleagues understand that.

C. Dan Castro said...

Thanks Colin!

John Davis Frain said...

I won't defend Twitter since it sounds like people have a legit gripe. OTOH, I will say there are spaces on Twitter where it's almost as friendly as the shark's neighborhood.

If you're thinking about dipping your toes into Twitter, or you're already there and looking for some friendly company, you could do a lot worse than hanging out at #writingcommunity or taking a stab at some flash fiction with the folks who do #vss365 (very short stories / 365 days a year).

I will caution you. A few of those folks think I'm funny, so feel free to question their judgment. But you'll never have to question whether you'll feel welcome among them. Stop on by sometime. I swear I ran into Julie Weathers' friends sittin' out on their front porch discussing the pros and cons of fly swatters.

We'll leave the light on.