Even in Success, You Somehow Failed

After we were very successful and had sold enough projects to qualify for AAR membership (be a full-time agent for at least one year, sold 10 properties in 18 months and have 2 AAR members vouch for you), we dropped off the watchdog’s radar. Although there were still a few negative comments on Absolute Write’s Beware, et al about us, most of the prior bullying stopped, for a while.

We took on another full-time agent who was also an attorney. This was a business decision. New York based literary agencies do this all the time and, of course, no one on Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks challenges their decision or their right to do so. If they say anything it might be a note of congratulations to the new agent. However, because we were small, not located in NYC and because they are bullies, their Head Bully believed it her duty to question our decision and thus check our ability to make a business decision. She, this head bully, asked what our new agents qualifications were to be a literary agent. Unbelievable.
In an ordinary world, who would think of doing such a thing? But this was, and still is, a bully’s paradise.

Our new agent, being a smart and gracious lady, answered the challenge by stating she Princeton graduate, finished law school, was an author, had taken courses in intellectual properties law, had handled contracts and had been a practicing trial lawyer. In typical bully fashion, all comments ceased. This usually happens when someone more powerful enters the fray. Could it be they feared reprisal if they said more? There was no doubt. It was that close.

This, however, was not the case when we took on an agent trainee. He made the bad mistake of going on AW and announcing himself. And let’s just say he was pounced upon, challenged by every howling watch dog on their Beware et al pages specially dedicated to us. When they challenged him, he tried to stand up to them—tried to explain that he just a trainee, which again was none of their business. The poor guy actually thought he was dealing with reasonable people instead of packs of slobbering, howling idiots.

From this first encounter, he was continually harassed. Before its end, it had even boiled over onto our blog. Finally, he’d had enough and resigned his agent training because he felt he had brought us harm.

The bottom line in all of this is you don’t go into a mad dog’s yard and think you’re doing to win. Mad dogs do what bullies always do. One of their dogs will piss on the hydrant by cutting a part or parts of what you write, out of context of course, then make you look silly by misrepresenting its meaning. Then other dogs will join what has now become a dog fight and will verbally rip anything you say to defend yourself to shreds. This is a typical junk yard dog and bully tactic used on every school playground around the world. But these are children. It would seem that adults, actually supposed educated, cultured writers, would not stood dog level, would have a little more control—but they don’t.

They set a trap. Someone, usually an insider, puts the name of a professional editor, new literary agent, or a new publishing house on Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks. It normally read, quite innocently like this: “Does anyone know anything about blank, blank, blank?” Then one of the other bullies answers, usually with something derogatory like: “Yes, they’re a small startup with not much of a record. I wouldn’t send them anything until they’re better established.”

So how in the world is a new anything going to get established if almost immediately you’re being bashed online? Not only that. If you search on this new establishment, guess what comes up first? Absolute Write!!

If you happen to best them, if you’re better at their game than they, you still don’t win because one of their site monitors will ban you from the site, shut you down. This way THEY always win and YOU always lose. The bad part is your words are a permeate record of your disgrace and defeat for literally the world to see, for ever and ever. Guilty? You are always guilty on Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks. You’re always guilty, always a scumbag, always a scammer, always suspected of doing something because of the negative connotation of the word BEWARE.

After being very successful, after launching many, many fabulous authors into writing careers, we gave up fighting and closed shop on January 1, 2012. The day we announced our closing, some on Absolute Write stated they didn’t understand why a successful agency like ours had decided to close. Give me a break, please. No, Absolute Write didn’t run us out of business. We decided we could help writers more by actually publishing their works. And, of course, almost immediately, it all began again.

The Biggest Mouth Wins

Part VI

The Pikes Peak writer’s conference we attended was in April, 2004. In June, Sharene and I married and honeymooned in Florida.

As is usual, when returning to any job, there were miles and miles of emails to work through. One particular email was from a client informing us a group trying to make trouble for us. One of her critique partners mentioned that her agency (us) was now “Not Recommended” by Preditors and Editors.

Since I didn’t know who Preditors and Editors were, I called her. From our conversation I learned there were these “writer advocacy groups” and somehow we were now on their radar for charging fees. It seemed that any agency charging fees of any kind were taking advantage of unsuspecting clients and thus were labeled as scammer. This was true even though reimbursing is not a fee but technically repayment of money loaned.

Puritanical outrage is an awesome thing to behold.

What a wonderful thing to come home to after a week of wedded bliss. Anyone can open a used car lot and sell flood damaged cars but asking people to repay money spent for copying and postage considered awful? When you order an item doesn’t the company you buy from make you pay postage and shipping charges? Do they defer that charge until you feel like paying it? Of course not.

Who is setting the rules here? Does a Web site run by an individual dictate how legitimate businesses should conduct business or does the industry govern itself? Agents have a governing body in the AAR and the AAR states that asking clients repay costs incurred in copying and shipping documents is okay. What gives anyone the right to make rules that counter this? Life is so funny.

Bullies now have a cause? What’s hilarious is their cause is protecting adults who never asked for their protection in the first place. If this whole idea hadn’t been so lame-brained I’d have laughed. In fact I did laugh and immediately swept it from my mind as too dumb to even consider. Bully protection. Ha-ha. Surely this person couldn’t be taken serious. Surely authors wouldn’t get caught up in witch hunts run by a bullies. The day is gone when the bully with the fastest gun ran the town. Authors are too intelligent to fall for that, aren’t they? Surely they would know that we were only asking that money we spent be repaid. It’s not a fee. But the internet at that time was the wild west. There is no one controlling the town so the fastest mouth wins.

Two days later, I called an author whose manuscript I’d been interested in representing. She answered and as soon as I announced who I was, she hung up on me. What the fuck?

Later that day, I got an email from her saying she was removing her work from consideration—no reason, just removing it.

Queries slowed from a rush to a trickle. It seems I was wrong. Authors believed this crap.

War had been declared and we were now the enemy.

I’ve always been a conspiracy theorist. I don’t know why, I just am. I guess I became one the day a president I loved was shot and killed for no reason except his nation, and the world, loved him.

It seemed very odd that not two months ago I had sat on a panel with two bitches, one of whom had accused me of robbing my clients. And here we are on the “bully radar.” Coincidence? I think not.

It’s a Cruel World

Part V

At the Pikes Peak conference, you are at 8000 feet above sea level. We were urged continually, the whole time there, to drink plenty of water. So there I was, sitting on a panel with no moderator beside two women who didn’t look happy that I was here.

After introductions, the questioning began. Are we all members of the AAR? They both were, I said I was not. Next question: Do we change fees? They both said they charged no fees. I said we didn’t charge a reading fee but we did ask that our clients repay us for copies and mailing their manuscripts. Question: Was that charge before or after the sale? My answer: Before.

The room turned cold. You could feel tension in the air. The woman agent sitting next to me kind of wagged her finger in my face like she was scolding a spoiled child and said indignantly, “The AAR Canon of Ethics states that no fees should be charged before the sale and therefore, even though you aren’t a member, you should still go by the AAR Canon.”

The room grew even colder.

This, by the way, was false as any supposed member of the AAR should know. But she was so involved in going for the juggler that she didn’t care about the truth–or maybe she really didn’t know. Another part of this which she apparently didn’t know is that AAR membership is for the individual agent, not the agency in which he/she works.

Somewhere in the discussion that followed, I made the fatal mistake of saying we were small, just starting out, and we wouldn’t have enough capital to stay in business if we didn’t ask our clients to reimburse us shortly after these expenses were incurred. We’re talking about hundreds of dollars here, a little too much money to loan authors possibly years; until their check came from a publisher. Also, not every book sold. When could we expect to get that money back? Sometime? Never?

The irony here was that huge New York based agencies that bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually had mechanisms in place to get their money back, some even insisting there be money paid upfront. Lawyers ask for a retainer prior to doing anything. We, on-the-other-hand, a tiny little agency in comparison, were supposed to suck it up and not ask reimbursement for these huge expenses.

A hush fell over the room. You could have heard a pin drop. Finally the head bitch said, “If you can’t bear these expenses, then you shouldn’t be in business.”

She might as well have struck me in the face. We had been hugely successful, having sold five or six of our client’s books at that time. But according to this woman, we were dirt. We were somehow robber barons picking the pockets of the poor.

In the heat of battle it slipped my mind that all our clients understood by contractual agreement when they signed with us that cost incurred in copying and sending their books to requesting editors had to be repaid. They agreed this was totally expected and above board and part of doing business with us. The facts of when and how we expected to be reimbursed were also posted on our Web site for the world to see. There were no secrets.

It wouldn’t have done any good to argue as it dawned on me that I’d been set up. The whole thing had been planned and I fell into the local agent’s little trap. This became even more obvious after this conference. This would be the nature of bullying in the future. This would not be the first and only baited trap we would step on. There would be many in our future. In a dishonest world, it is very difficult to be honest.

As the conference went, however, the rest was fine. There were only a small group attending this panel discussion and beyond that small room, we were warmly accepted for the rest of the conference.