Less than zero: a distasteful sub-species

In my meanderings around writers boards and the feedback I hear at writer’s conferences, I see a pattern among a sub-species of fish I call Less Than Zero who, sadly, swim in our publishing pond. LTZs are the agents and editors whose ulterior motives aren’t to the author’s benefit. They may only agree to “represent” an author if they can find an interested editor. Or maybe they make a habit of selling their clients’ books to PODs. Perhaps they’ll tell you that, “oh yes, we edit your manuscript,” and that really means they run it through Spell Check. I call them Less Than Zero because they are the gorp that gets between my toes when I go to the beach. They’re worse than navel lint because they hurt authors.

Now here’s where I channel Sigmund Fraud, so lie down on my couch and sip on one of the beagle’s margaritas. The golden thread that weaves its way through these diseased yaks is Evita Peron-ititis: “You must love me,” – meaning that their only way of getting their meathooks into authors is via flattery and kindness.

Think about it; it’s much harder to question someone you like and believe is a good guy. And they’re counting on this. It a very effective way to keep authors submissive. Sadly, I’ve seen authors defend their editors and agents clear to the death of their own books. It’s literary equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome. The minute you dare to question their abilities is when you see their true colors. They can become abusive with the flick of the switch. It’s another tool in keeping authors submissive.

While it’s true that we all try our level best to be engaging, supportive, and not scare the pants off prospective authors, we also have a job to do, and that’s to make you as successful as we can. Sometimes we don’t have time for love and kisses – especially during editing.

Less Than Zeros are slick, kiddies, and it’s all about timing. They work very hard to get authors comfortable and in love with them so they can lower the boom over their heads, which equates to, “Um no, you misunderstood. I said your book would be available to bookstores, not in the bookstores,” or “all agents charge processing fees; it goes toward editing your book, mailing and printing costs to send hard copies to publishers. You’ll get your money back when your book sells.”

By the time you hear this, you’re pliable and willing to believe them because you like them. After all, flim flam artists aren’t nice, are they? Oh, you bet your Aunt Gertie’s pumpkin pie they’re nice. It’s all they have.

And what happens when you begin to question their tactics? Out comes the abusive and rude emails. They’ll tell you you’re ungrateful or don’t know anything about the business. They will send you nastygrams about how you’re not promoting enough.

This is all about research, dear authors. If an agent has no verifiable sales to solid houses, take a step back. If a publisher only prints up 25 books and tells you, “Of course we have distribution – through Ingram and Baker and Taylor,” take a step back.

Don’t let your desire to be published color your survival instincts. There is NO WAY you can make lemonade out of lemons – not in this business. If you’re with a scank agent or editor, you will not succeed, no matter how hard you try. Cut bait and move to a new pond where the Less Than Zeros aren’t allowed to swim.

8 Responses to Less than zero: a distasteful sub-species

  1. You are so right, Lynn. If I had just one of the beagle’s margaritas every time I’ve locked horns with a writer who tells me I’ve got it all wrong and his publisher is wonderful, really cares, loves the cover he designed himself and by the way, has suggested he buys 100 copies (at cost, of course) and sell them himself because that’s future of book-selling and all these stupid big agents and publishers (who rejected him) are dinosaurs, I’d be permanently flat out on the floor burbling incoherently.

    Oh heck. I do that anyway.

  2. Ah, Sally, thank you for reminding me about the requisite, “you need to buy 100 of your books” clause in some skankier contracts. It’s extortion that many authors don’t understand until it’s too late.

    As for being laid out on the floor, I’ve asked Jane to check up on you from time to time. It’s hard on the back, don’t you think?

  3. Can you tell me what kind of agent ignores a publisher’s specific interest in a work? Even an offer of a contract to the author, a beginner with a pretty darn good self-published book she wants picked up, who contacted said publisher BEFORE she was agented? Offer is made, author says she now has an agent and passed this on to agent, publisher hears nothing from agent. So what kind of agent would do this to his client?

  4. Oh gosh, did this happen to you, Kristine? I can’t imagine any agent doing this unless they never received the email, they didn’t feel the advance was worth spending time on the negotiations, or they didn’t think the publisher in question was any good. It’s hard to guess without knowing more of the details.

    This very thing happened to a fried of mine with far different results.

    The editor of a very good house contacted my friend about her writing a book based on her blog. The offer was made. She contacted me with a, “Halp! I need an agent!” I put her in touch with a friend of mine, and the rest is history. The book came out a couple months ago.

    But I agree that being intentionally ignored by an agent if an author has a good contract in hand from a solid publisher would put this agent in the LTZ category. Shameful.

  5. Yes, and IF the agent thought all those things, I would think it would first come after a conversation with the publisher about the offer. THEN if the offer seemed not worthy of his client, he could ignore me all he wants–I would be fine with a business decision. But to ignore an offer out of hand? Without even investigating it further? Yes, sounds very much like LTZ territory. That only hurts the client.

  6. Kristine,it’s really puzzle as to why the agent ignored you. I assume this was a reputable agent, so is it possible s/he never got your email? Cripes, an offer on the table is a slam-dunk for the agent since she didn’t have to submit it anywhere, so this doesn’t make any sense. Was it a good publisher?

  7. What happened is our acquisitions editor at WiDo Publishing where I work ( a small, start up regional press in Salt Lake City) emailed the author with an offer, after the author had submitted her self-published book to us. She had paid a vanity press $5000 for 1000 copies of this book, the company was now out of business, and she was looking to get picked up with WiDo. A couple of our people met her at a conference and she gave her book to them.

    The acquisitions editor liked it, saw potential and emailed her with an offer, also made a phone call. She emailed back saying she now had an agent, who she had relayed the offer to. She never returned the phone call.

    This was a week ago, and the agent has not corresponded at all. So when I read your LTZ post, I immediately thought of him. I have no idea who he is or if he is reputable at all. We are dropping the project. What would you do in this case?

  8. How odd that the agent agreed to represent your author then didn’t even do you the courtesy of calling you to close the deal.

    What does the author saying? Normally the author would be all over the agent’s back. Is it possible that the agent thought she could find a bigger publisher and decided to ignore you – which is about as tacky as it gets.

    I’m also a bit leery about an agent who would represent an author trying to sell a vanity book. Most agents won’t rep a previously published book unless we’re talking serious money. Reason being the first rights are gone and most editors don’t want a previously pubbed book.

    In the grand scheme of things, this is small potatoes, and agents don’t want to be bothered. But, geez, they should SAY SO. Would you mind emailing me the agent’s name? lynn@behlerpublications.com

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