A Gent's Outlook

A Literary Agent Divulges the TRUTH about Publishing

Sunday, September 18, 2005

He said, I said

I got a call the other day from some jerkoff with a whiny nasal voice saying something like, “Um, Mr. Kitzler, I am from ACME Writers Watchdog Group, Inc. and we have some questions for you.”

“Fuck off,” I said. But he proceeded to waste my time with the following conversation.

”Um, Mr. Kitzler, we have had a complaint that you charge reading fees. Do you charge a reading fee, Mr. Kitzler?”

“You’re goddamn right I do,” I said, “Fuck off.”

But he persisted.

“Um, Mr. Kitzler (hack, snort, cough), we here at ACME Writers Watchdog Group, Inc. don’t believe that it is standard practice for agents such as yourself to charge any fees before you sell your clients’ work. We believe that you could be what we call a scammer and…”

“Spell that,” I requested.

“Um, “s” and “c”, then “a” and two “m”’s and an “er”,” he said.

“Fuck off and rot,” I said. But he droned on.

“If you don’t stop charging reading fees, Mr. Kitzler, then we will have to advise the writers who contact us that you are engaging in practices that are not standard in the industry,” he explained. Hack. Snort.

“You can also advise them that I make goo-goo faces at editors and eat only one meal a day consisting of taco chips and wine. Also, I co-mingle funds—makes it easier to steal from my clients that way.”

“What? I didn’t get all of that, Mr. Kitzler,” he whined.

“Hey, pal, you ever been an agent?” I asked. Politely, of course.

“Well, um, no, Mr. Kitzler, but I am a writer with 12 published novels to my credit and I know plenty of agents and none of them…”

“Listen up, Mr., er, what was your name again?”

“Todd Smith.”

“Okay, yes, that’s right. Okay, listen up, Mr. Dipshit. You don’t know what you are talking about. You have never been an agent. You seek the adoration of writers who hang on your every word because you pretend to fight for their rights against big, bad, evil agents like me, when in reality you don’t know a goddamn thing about this business except as a writer. Got it, Mr. Dipshit? Oh, by the way, fuck off.”


Now, this isn’t quite what was said. I am paraphrasing here, and, believe me, I used way more expletives. But it’s close. Normally I don’t give a fuck about this stuff, but every once in a while some dweeb will call or write and threaten that their organization will “put me on their list” of agents to avoid. The thing is, I couldn’t be happier. I only take clients by referrals from people I have worked with for years, and the only reason I get queries at all is because my name is in some old outdated writer’s guide—which I never requested to be in, by the way—and so I still get some yo-yos who say things like, “Oh, Mr. Kitzler, I am willing to take a chance on you, even though the writer groups say you charge a reading fee. Your record speaks for itself, and I am willing to consider you as my agent.”

Really? Really, really? I am so thrilled. They usually don’t write back after I send them my standard reading fee request with a note that I don’t review any manuscripts without one. This keeps the riff-raff out of my hair. The people who I get by referral are more than willing to pay me to read their work because they know I have picked lots of winners in my time and they know me by reputation. I don’t refund it, either, if I take them on as a client and sell their work. And they don’t get a written critique or any of that bullshit. That’s extra. Way extra. That reading fee money pays for my expertise in determining whether or not their work is marketable. It is an “application fee” just like you would pay at a college. When I take someone on, they get an education, and that reading fee pays, at least in part, for the knowledge they gain, which is a damn sight better than at college where you pay an application fee and then have to pay for the actual classes, too.

If I were starting out today, I probably would think twice about agenting. Why? Because everyone claims to know everything about the biz when in reality they only know their teeny-tiny little part of it. Everyone thinks it is easy to agent. You wouldn’t believe the stupid questions I get. How in the fuck was I supposed to know if Mr. Todd “Dipshit” Smith was actually with the group he said he was with? I was waiting for the phone query to start—writers will try anything to get to an agent. Who polices these yahoos? Does anyone ever call them up, wasting their time asking ridiculous questions about what they do? Are there whole websites dedicated to being able to spot a fake “watch group”? No, dumbfuck writers just believe them.

On a final note, since I am an actual real-life agent, I will take it upon myself to return the favor to these people and set standards for what they do. Here we go-go…

1. A watch group who claims to help writers avoid scamming by agents or publishers should be headed by someone in publishing or agenting who has been in that field for 10 years or more, with legitimate experiences and knowledge to determine what may or may not be standard practices.
2. Writers should not be allowed to participate in these groups, because of the potential conflict of interest. Duh.
3. These groups should be pro-active in going out and dialoguing with agents and publishers (which is why you need someone they would recognize instead of some writer, unless it’s John Grisham) on a yearly basis and keeping information updated by actually contacting people as opposed to sitting around and waiting for a writer to complain.
4. This would be set up as a non-profit organization, with the workers actually getting some compensation for what they do. Never trust anyone who works for free.
5. The goal should be to help clean up a crap-filled industry, not help poor writers avoid getting scammed. The industry is bigger than one group of people. If you really look around in publishing, you will find that writers are not the only group of people who get scammed.

There we go! Now go out and spread the word so that all those concerned writers out there can find these standards and start comparing how their watch groups hold up to them to see if they have chosen wisely.

I won’t hold my breath.


  • At 9:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sammy says:

    "If I were starting out today, I probably would think twice about agenting. Why? Because everyone claims to know everything about the biz when in reality they only know their teeny-tiny little part of it."

    I say:

    You mean like the AAR? The professional trade group for agents? Which most successful agents are members of? Which specifically prohibits the charging of reading fees by members?

    Duh, indeed.


    Another Dipshit Watchdog

  • At 2:00 PM, Blogger Anne Merril said…

    Wow. The immensity of your ego blinds me. Whoo! The windyness goes on, my hair is awry and, yes, I do believe you may categorise me as flat chested.

    At least I know I will be safe from ever accidentaly sending you a manuscript. Whew! That was a close one.

    Ciao baby.


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