More thoughts on the subject of being pursued by angry agents and publishers...
One of the things that the people who’ve been the focus of writer complaints sometimes get worked up about is that Writer Beware doesn’t usually contact them to get their side of the story. As far as they’re concerned, this invalidates anything we have to say, because we haven’t “gone to the source.”
In fact, we do go to the source. Wherever possible, we ask writers to document what they tell us. Nearly all of our files contain not just complaints, but contracts, correspondence, brochures, emails, etc. When an agent’s representation agreement includes a sentence like this, it’s pretty unambiguous that the agent does indeed charge fees: “Additionally, I understand that I will be charged $3,250 for in-house services...All monies paid to agency are non-refundable.” All in all, I’d say that’s pretty reliable source material.
The agent whose agreement I’ve just quoted is one of those who have slammed us for not getting in touch with her directly. She’s right: we haven’t. What’s she going to add to the voluminous documentation we already have on file (we’re talking hundreds of pages, gathered between 1998 and the present)? Is she going to tell us that the contract we just saw had a clerical error? (Sorry, but there’s 20 more exactly like it in the file.) That she only offers fee-based contracts to some of her clients? (“Some” is no more legitimate than “all”.) That she’s phasing out the fee-charging? (We don’t believe it--and even if that’s true, writers have a right to know about her past history.) That there’s a really really good reason why she has to charge fees? (We don’t care; it’s not legitimate practice.) That we’re too ignorant to know that most agents charge fees, and some charge even more than she does? (Bzzt. Wrong. Don’t confuse us with your potential clients.)
(She could just say, "Yeah, I charge a fee. I know it's wrong and I do it anyway. Get over it." That would be refreshing. But we're not holding our breath.)
All of the above, by the way, are excuses and explanations we’ve actually been given when we do contact the people we get complaints about, or are contacted by them. Which should make it pretty clear why we’d rather rely on documents. Either these people bullshit us, or they lie.
And why shouldn’t they? Even the most clueless fee-charger is usually at least dimly aware that things don’t work that way in the real world of publishing--though unfortunately, many of them really believe that “new” agencies can’t afford to represent writers for free, or that charging for publication isn't taking advantage of gullible newbies, but opening doors for aspiring writers.
As for the con artists, lying is their business philosophy.
Here’s another example. A vanity publisher that charges five figures for a “marketing” campaign (many vanity publishers try to bamboozle their victims by switching their fees to something other than the printing and binding of books) recently became a subject of discussion on a popular blog. The publisher got wind of the discussion, and posted a long screed solemnly swearing that the fees were part of a start-up strategy (never mind that the last documented instance of fee-charging occurred more than three years after the publisher put out its first books), and had been discontinued. He was literate and persuasive, and most of the participants in the discussion were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t convinced--but you never know, so I decided to wait and see. Within a few months, I’d gotten two more documented reports of fees.
That’s right. He lied.
I'll stick to documents, thank you.