Less than zero: a distasteful sub-species

November 3, 2009

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.

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