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May 29, 2011

Agents for Sale
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:14 AM * 32 comments

Want a literary agent? Don’t know what to do or where to turn? Have $199 burning a hole in your pocket?

Let PublishAmerica be your agent! From the fine folks who could have brought you Atlanta Nights (but lost the chance), Sign up today, and have an agent for your book tomorrow! (in 48 business hours, that is, which is around six business days, but “tomorrow” sounds better, I guess). In a surprise move that’s provoking derision from sea to shining sea, the guys who can’t sell your book to readers now want you to believe they can sell it to publishers who aren’t them, provided you pay $199 per title up front.

Prediction: Sorrow and tears, and authors asking “Why didn’t you warn me?”

Comments on Agents for Sale:
#1 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 11:17 AM:

This isn't as much of a bargain as it seems. Rather than paying $199 to these clowns to not-sell your book, you can send $89 to Bobby Fletcher so he can not-sell your book.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 11:49 AM:

Suitable for all those people who believe that publishing is a conspiracy against their books?

#3 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 12:53 PM:

Well heck, I guess I'm an agent too - I can fail to do anything to sell your book for a mere $25!

#4 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 01:19 PM:

America's Law: Money flows to the crook.

#5 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 01:54 PM:

Semi-apropos -- apologies if this ought rather to go in the open thread -- I'd like to know what some other publishing professionals think of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's recent blog posts, such as the one I just linked. She's arguing that besides the outright scammer and incompetent agents, there are a lot of agents who are not good to work with because they're also publishers and have a conflict of interest; also, that in the changed publishing climate, an IP lawyer is more useful to many/most authors than an agent. Does what she's saying make sense? If not, why not?

#6 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 02:34 PM:

You would think that people would be suspicious of an agent who's willing to represent any "author" with $199 bucks in his/her pocket.

#7 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 02:51 PM:

The agent-who-is-also-a-publisher has been a huge red flag for years.

The potential for conflict of interest is titanic. How do you know, when the agent finds you a deal -- either with some other house or with their own imprint -- that the agent is advising you to your benefit, or to the benefit of his/her own house?

It isn't enough to avoid impropriety. You have to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

#8 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 03:36 PM:

Clifton Royston #3: I will undertake to undersell you. I will gladly not-sell anyone's book for $23.99.

#9 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 03:58 PM:

Heck, I don't-sell my own books for free! (Ask nicely, and I'll not-sell a bonus short story with them.)

#10 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 03:59 PM:

Jim Henry #5: I'm not a publishing professional (my publishing track record thus far: one story forthcoming in Boston Review). My take on Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog posts, though, is that she's advising mid-list career writers, not the folks that PublishAmerica typically targets.

Much of her advice doesn't make sense for the writer who hasn't published anything yet. e.g., publish your out-of-print backlist as ebooks at the various ebookstores. Likewise, when it comes to using an IP lawyer, as she points out: "If you fail to tell him to check the warranty clause, then he won’t negotiate that horrible write-only-for-this-publisher clause out of your contract." Someone with publishing experience may know to check for these sorts of gotchas. Someone publishing their first novel may be better off finding someone trustworthy who already has that experience.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 07:41 PM:

I read the thread's title as "Angels for Sale". I need new glasses and/or more caffeine.

#12 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 09:45 PM:

Serge, that sounds like a great story title!

#13 ::: David Wald ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 10:24 PM:

Serge@11: I read the thread's title as "Angels for Sale".

How many angels can you get to dance for your pin money?

#14 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2011, 10:47 PM:

Serge #11: I was just reminded tonight (not for the first time) that even with freshly updated glasses, my vision is not what it was even 10 years ago. :-(

#15 ::: Zeno ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2011, 01:53 AM:

I got my book accepted by a publisher without the help of an agent! (But it probably helps that Teresa's mother reviewed the manuscript for me.)

#16 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2011, 02:46 AM:

I'm thinking that the agent/publisher combination can be run honestly, if the two sides are distinct enough. I'm thinking of something like agenting for novels while publishing photo-based travelogues. But the flip-side is that if you're any good at it, both tend to be full-time jobs.

Also, I vaguely recall hearing of one or two publishers who started out as agents, and still acted for a few established clients. But that's not somebody touting for your business.

#17 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2011, 08:22 AM:

Jim Henry -- Some things Rusch says there are flat out wrong. I'm not a New York Times bestselling author, far from it, but several of my books have earned out their advances and made me more money -- and recently. And if she's wrong about that, how can I trust what she says about the things I don't know about? I've enjoyed a lot of her books, and she's a good editor, but she's talking there like somebody who is stepping out on an edge and is trying to get everyone else to follow her onto it.

#18 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2011, 10:20 AM:

Jo #17: I'm not a New York Times bestselling author, far from it, but several of my books have earned out their advances and made me more money -- and recently.

Me neither, and me too.

There's a lot of generalizing going on. And the e-book enthusiasts ... certainly are enthusiastic.

#19 ::: David Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2011, 08:59 PM:

This offer comes from a publisher that's admitted they don't read submissions? Remember, many agents state in their contracts that they do not guarantee a sale.

#20 ::: Bryan Feir ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 03:34 AM:

David Wald @#13:
As opposed to angels dancing on the PIN pad for your money?

And now I'm imagining small angels doing DDR on a bank machine keypad.

I definitely need more sleep.

#21 ::: Chaz ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 04:54 AM:

$23.99? While you all engage in a frankly unseemly race to the bottom we will instead provide a complete lack of service to the client with a more sophisticated requirement.

For a consideration of $25,000 not only will we fail to engage a publisher, we will also 'edit' your work by replacing all adjectives with the words 'sparkly' or 'awesome'. We will then query every major publisher with a bulk email (we buy lists cheaply so you don't have to), hinting at future works under your name concerning werewolves. Having utterly poisoned the well, we will -for no further investment- change our telephone numbers, email addresses and, if necessary, names in an unstinting effort to avoid your increasingly homicidal efforts to track us down.

Because you're worth it.

#22 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 07:47 AM:

Dear Sirs:

We have the honor to offer you for publicaton this excellent work by "Chaz", one of our well-known stable of authors:

$23.99? While you all engage in a sparkly awesome race to the bottom we will instead provide a sparkly lack of servcice to the client with a more awesome requirement.

For a consideration of $25,000 not only will we fail to engage a publisher, we will also 'edit' your work by replacing all adjectives with the words 'sparkly' or 'awesome'. Then We will query every awesome publisher with a sparkly email (we buy lists cheaply so you don't have to), hinting at awesome works under your name concerning wurwolves. Having utterly poisoned the well, we will for no further investment change our telephone numbers, email addresses and, if necessary, names in an awesome effort to avoid your increasingly sparkly efforts to track us down.

Because you're worth it.

Receipt of this letter indicates your agreement to recognize our agency as the sole legitimate representative for sale of this work, and to funnel through us all revenues earned by this current work and all future works submitted by him to you, specifically noting his upcoming The Fangs of The Commentariat.

#23 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 11:24 AM:

John Chu @10:

Much, perhaps most, of what Rusch says in her weblog pertains to established midlist writers, but she also talks sometimes about beginning writers, e.g. here and here. My summary: publishers are offering more and more unfavorable contract terms, which established writers may have the clout to renegotiate but which beginnging writers must probably take or leave. She suggests that self-publishing may be a better option for some beginning writers than signing a contract from a major publisher with subtly bad reversion clauses or which concede too many rights, and that writers who can do two or more books per year might do well to self-publish one and place the other with a major publisher, keeping more options open.

#24 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 11:52 AM:

I read the thread's title as "Angels for Sale".

For some reason I imagine this as being a lost urban fantasy by Raymond Chandler.

"When you Fall, you hit with the kind of a thump that a stockbroker makes when the markets go into a smoking spiral dive. And the only thing you have to know about Falling is that you Fall all the way to the bottom.
I Fell. Sure I did. And since then, I've been hired to dance on all kinds of heads - and none of them were attached to pins. But that's what you have to do once you've Fallen."

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2011, 01:17 PM:

My summary: publishers are offering more and more unfavorable contract terms, which established writers may have the clout to renegotiate but which beginnging writers must probably take or leave.

As opposed to the unfavorable contracts of the seventies, eighties, and nineties, or the legendarily unfavorable contract terms of the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties?

As to the "take or leave": A book that's publishable by one is publishable by many, and if you aren't willing to leave, you have no business being in the game.

#27 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 11:24 AM:

On a related note, I just got a "Call for Papers" from a group called Poems and Poets, on which I am calling tentative shenanigans.

What do you guys think?

Their website, and the text of the email:

Dear Colleague,

"Poemsand Poets" seeks poems for an anthology celebrating the international poetry year. Of special interest are poems that touch on the human relashionships, love, life, death, family, politics and nature. The editors are especially interested in themes related to humanity and/or environmental, consciousness but are open to diverse subjects.Political poetry and poetry of witness encouraged. No entry fee. Deadlines: July 15.

We hope to receive your contributions and works that deal in some way with these themes: the focus may be on issues of modern life daily experiences in poetry of any genre. What we want are submissions that address the theme(s)
of Human Relationships, War and Peace, Borders, Identity, Love, Life and Death, Inspirational, Politics, Women, etc... in new and exciting ways that allow our readers to see the multiplicity of angles and issues these broad headings generate.
Submissions are open to any creative writers in academic scholarship cycles (students, professors, etc...) and poets from confirmed ones to new young emerging ones. Also,we would be grateful to you if you can transmit and publish this Call for Papers and information among your academic poetry and literary community and websites.

For submission details, see http://www.poemsandpoets.net

Best Regards,
Eva Reynolds
Editorial Staff

#28 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 05:07 PM:

What do I think?

I think there's a reason our filters stopped Sarah's post until it could be manually cleared.

#29 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2011, 05:31 PM:

Definitely a scam. Clearly written by people too lazy even to spell check (I mean, "relashionships"?).

#30 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2011, 03:20 AM:

See Wocky Jivvy, Wergle Flomp. Maybe not the same people, but it certainly sounds like the same idea.

#32 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2011, 09:06 PM:

Relashionships-- sound like some sort of reciprocal lashing?

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