In a post from November 16 of last year, I discussed a legal threat against Writer Beware by "Agent B" (since revealed as Barbara Bauer of the Barbara Bauer Literary Agency), and mentioned one of Agent B's clients, as follows:
One writer, who was with Agent B for eight years, paid over $3,000 in annual fees during that time, plus additional fees for office and phone expense (apparently if you wanted an “in-depth” phone call, you had to pay for it in advance). This writer had several manuscripts with Agent B--I’m sure it will surprise no one that none of them were ever sold.
As is Writer Beware's policy, I didn't identify the writer. However, he has identified himself in the comments section of my August 29 post by signing his name, Greg Ludwig, and by providing a URL at which a document detailing his correspondence with me and his defense of Bauer can be downloaded.
I'm not going to respond in detail to this document, whose points Mr. Ludwig and I have already debated in private correspondence, and which is, in any case, largely self-refuting. I believe the source of his pique with me is not so much my characterization of Ms. Bauer as a questionable agent, but my refusal to agree with him on a number of issues on which he has passionate opinions--including his extremely negative assessment of literary agents in general (quoting from one of his emails: "Who are these people, agents, who do not do creative work (most of them) and try to profit off someone else's creative work? As someone who has always been something of a craftsman, this seems like a disgusting parasitism that only a certain kind of cowardly nonentity would want to do for a living."), his view that upfront fees are (quoting again) "often a necessary part of the equation of using an agent today, hence the issue is to determine for yourself how much of a fee is justified;" or, in a later development of our correspondence, his belief that there is benefit to registering copyright for unpublished work.
There are a couple of points, however, on which I'd like to comment--the first because it goes to the heart of Writer Beware's credibility, the second because I believe it's an attempt to intimidate us (though not by Mr. Ludwig).
In one section of his document, Mr. Ludwig describes my journey to first-time publication (which is no secret; I've discussed it in a number of interviews, including this one at Absolute Write), identifying me as a fantasy writer who got her start in the 1980's. He then asks: "Now my question is—-how does she have qualifications to know what the right way is to agent for books that are written for a more mainstream audience that may be a hard sell, today, not in the 1970s or 1980s when agents were less crucial to the process of publishing trade books?"
Writing in a particular genre doesn't necessarily mean that one's knowledge is confined to that genre, any more than getting one's start in the 1980's means that one's understanding of publishing has failed to advance since that time. By this argument, no one could be an expert in anything beyond the end of his or her own nose, and research would count for nothing. Moreover, while agenting styles differ, and different markets require different contacts and approaches, there are generally accepted standards of business practice that are adhered to by most established agents, regardless of their specialty. These are expressed in, among other things, the ubiquity of the 15% domestic commission; the focus of author-agent agreements, which vary greatly in their details but address the same basic set of issues; and the Canons of Ethics and Codes of Practice adopted by the various agents' trade groups: the Association of Authors' Representatives in the USA, the Association of Authors' Agents in the UK, and the Australian Literary Agents' Association in Australia.
As to Writer Beware staff's personal credibility, both Ann Crispin and I have published regularly over the years since we sold our first novels; my most recent book came out in March of this year, and Ann's next book, second in a trilogy, will be out in 2007. We make it our business to keep current with the state of publishing by attending conferences, following industry publications such as Publishers Weekly, maintaining membership in professional writers' organizations such as SFWA, NINC, and the Authors Guild, keeping in regular touch with reputable literary agents and in-house editors, and interacting with a wide variety of commercially published authors, both personally and by means of listservs and newsgroups. We're advised by an experienced intellectual property and consumer protection attorney, and we've assisted the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and various local police departments (none of whom had any problem with our qualifications) in their investigations of fraudulent literary agents and publishers. Between us, we possess a substantial amount of knowledge--and where we don't know something, we aren't afraid to admit it, or to ask someone who is more qualified.
For more detail about us and what we do, as well as a description of what we consider to be documentable questionable practice, see the About Writer Beware section of the Writer Beware website.
The second point on which I'd like to comment is Mr. Ludwig's statement that Barbara Bauer has "filed a petition or the like with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition." Another source (which I won't reveal in order to protect the person who gave me the information) alleges that the petition has been filed to support a class action lawsuit initiated by Bauer. Apparently the lawsuit is based on the theory that there is a "conspiracy" in which agents' "good names [have been] tarnished, and their business revenues irrevocably lost and/or diminished by attacks from white collar criminals dealing in unfair business practices against literary agents." It's claimed that the petition has been signed by 50 "publishing executives." Another reference to a Bauer-initiated class action suit comes from a staff member of the fee-charging, track recordless Robins Agency, via Miss Snark's blog.
Leaving aside the confusion of terms (is it a petition? A lawsuit? A petition and a lawsuit?) and questions of whether Bauer has any standing to put together a class action, I'm skeptical. As readers of this blog know, Writer Beware is no stranger to threats of legal action (not one of which has ever advanced as far as a court filing), and unless I have documents in my hand, I give these threats, or rumors of them, no credence whatsoever. Also, this supposed lawsuit is suspiciously similar to an action threatened in the late 1990's by fee-charging literary agent/vanity publisher Cynthia Sterling. Cindy's lawsuit, which also claimed the participation of powerful publishing people, was a figment--it was intended to intimidate Jim Fisher, former FBI agent and author of Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent From Hell--and I'm betting this one is too.
I like to be thorough, though. So, following Mr. Ludwig's instructions, I made my way to the Bureau of Competition section of the FTC website. Per his suggestion, I entered "Barbara Bauer Literary Agency" into the search box. This produced 19,964 results--too many to go through--so I repeated the search using the "Advanced" search function. This time, there were no results. I then searched on my name, Barbara Bauer's name, and various combinations of our names together. None of these searches yielded any document filed by or mentioning Barbara Bauer.
Until I see some actual documentary evidence, I'm going to continue to assume that this lawsuit, or petition, or whatever it is, is as apocryphal as the track records of the agencies that claim it exists.