Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Barbara Bauer Redux, Redux

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or, in a later development of our correspondence, his belief that there is benefit to registering copyright for unpublished work.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.

30 comments:

P.N. Elrod said...

Here I go simplifying things, but it reads like long-winded Ludwig doesn't dare admit he made a huge mistake sticking with BB so he has to defend her, attack literary agents in general, offer up a donkey cart of argument or (gasp!) admit he was wrong. Some are like that and they don't get invites to my parties. My booze goes to people with more sense than to drop money into a black hole.

It would be less expensive for him to say "Oops, I blew that one," then move on to better things.

If his manuscripts have the same bombastic style as seen in his mail quotes, little wonder he's having no joy with publishers, with or without BB's--uh--representation.

I've no problem having my agent take her percentage. Lord knows she works her butt off keeping track of the business end of my books. I do not envy her job, because she has to deal with me. (Grown men have bitten their own heads off rather than deal with me.)

Were I to try being my own agent I'd have to learn a whole new nomenclature, wear suits, heels, and pantyhose on a regular basis, be nice to people (ack!), travel to NYC and (sorry, Miss Snark, if you read this) I don't like NYC, and, gee whiz, I wouldn't have time to freakin' write!

My agent is a specialist in her field, danged great at it, and I'm delighted she's making sales for us both.

Post this or not. If you think it might be a legal prob for you, then leave it off.

Besides, I can always write another "musical!"

::snorple::

Pat Brown said...

Here's the part that doesn't make sense to me. Ludwig essentially complains that agents are money grubbing users who take take take and give very little in return - which is true of HIS agent. But if he had gone for a reputable agent who didn't charge upfront fees (monstrous ones from the sounds of it) then the only time it would have cost him $3000.00 would have been if his agent had procured him an advance of roughly $20,000 USD! Instead Bauer hits him up for this $3000 yearly and sells nothing? This guy's a fraudulent agents dream.

AnimeJune said...

I take issue with authors who complain about agents. Were it not for his previous history of getting scammed, I would have simply labelled him as selfish, ungrateful, and entirely ignorant of the publishing process.

Agents seem to be akin to lawyers in the publishing world, in that they are needed but are stereotypically maligned. I've been to the Absolute Write boards, and sometimes the dog-piling on agents is entirely unreasonable.

I agree that agents do a LOT of work that writers don't have to. We owe them our respect.

Harry Connolly said...

You and Ann do great work, Victoria. Don't let them get you down.

Anonymous said...

An agent who willingly wades through the swamp of slush looking for something worth selling is anything but cowardly.

Hey, Ludwig--go check out Miss Snark's latest Crapometer session to see what REAL agents have to do to EARN their money. I recommend taking a supply of eye bleach and Vicodin for the trek.

Sorry, toots, but you've been ripped off, and you will continue to be ripped off by your "agent" until you get out of this denial bubble.

Ask her for a written accounting of exactly HOW she has used your money to try selling your book. If she doesn't have 3 grand worth of reciepts for postage, mailing, copy costs, then suspect you are a victim.

If she cusses you out, and otherwise verbally abuses you then you'll KNOW you're a victim.

She done you wrong. Suck it up and find someone else.

Anonymous said...

This agent's response to reasonable questions from clients is very similar to how my ex behaved.

When confronted with something like "Did you eat the last muffins?" he'd hit the ceiling, go abusively defensive, say it was MY fault because I'd left the muffins out in plain sight and how was HE supposed to know I wanted a muffin, I should have told him, and why the **** didn't I buy MORE muffins, I should know better because he eats, everyone eats, just how stupid was I?

Turned out he was an obsessive-compulsive narcissic sociopath in dire need of medication, only he was convinced he was just FINE; it was the rest of the world that was always wrong and it was out to get him.
(Forgot to mention the paranoia.)

Sound familiar?

I got rid of him, BTW.

Ludwig, here's a quarter. Buy a clue.

stay_c said...

Wait a second. One of my writing loops pointed me to Cynthia Sterling's news letter.

Is http://members.aol.com/cysterling/index.html

the scam agent? Or a weirdly coincidental name

Greg Ludwig said...

Simple question--why isn't the role of alerting writers to scam agents, etc., as Strauss and Crispin have done been assumed by the likes of the Association of Authors' Representatives? Why can't they take over that function, take Strauss's and Crispin's admirably compiled data, and maintain the function from now on, maybe associating Strauss's and Crispin's names with it to show respect for their aims in starting this service? The purpose would be to avoid apparent conflict of interest, for one thing.

Anonymous said...

why isn't the role of alerting writers to scam agents, etc., as Strauss and Crispin have done been assumed by the likes of the Association of Authors' Representatives?

It could equally be said that there's nothing to stop you from visiting the Association's site and checking out their agent database - membership of an organisation with a code of ethics that prohibits the charging of fees, which should be a major clue that Bauer's representation was suspect.

I'm sorry you got hit up for cash, but that doesn't mean every agent is like that. Take a writing course, join a writer's group, re-visit your manuscript and have a go at the 'normal' route to see if your chances improve. But don't kvetch at the messenger for telling you something you don't want to hear.

- Britmouse

Anonymous said...

My previous comment should have read: "given that its members are part of an organisation" instead of "membership of an organisation".

- Britmouse lacking in keyboard skills

A. C. Crispin said...

What "conflict of interest" is Ludwig talking about here? Both Victoria and I are already repped by legitimate agents with exemplary track records.

We're not agent hunting.

We don't accept donations for Writer Beware. The only money we've ever "accepted" for our efforts was when SFWA sponsored us by purchasing us our own domain, etc.

Neither Victoria nor I will accept money from writers for any reason. Not for editing manuscripts...not for anything. We've been offered bribes many times and turned them down.

I'd like to know exactly what "Ludwig" is accusing us of doing.

-Ann C. Crispin

Greg Ludwig said...

I am sorry you can't revisit my original Web site, which contains considerably more than is shown in the current version of the site. And what I say in the older version addresses certain points Strauss makes in her Sept. 5 blog entry, and also gives indications, including Web sites, of my published-writing track record. I am rather chagrined to see Strauss quoted me as I wrote in a 2005 e-mail, in which I was venting in an exchange with her that was made all the more emotional by my being in the process of electing to discontinue with Bauer, as well as starting a demanding job schedule in Manhattan (5 hours of commuting per day, and with expenses showing why some agents might charge fees). When I quoted from Strauss in my original Web site, I did not use a quote that couldn't be easily compared for credibility with published interviews of her. Moreover, I find that some comments in this particular string tend to an ad hominem style, even if they generally adhere to the "cheeky" blog fashion. All in all, the type of ratings of agents attempted by Strauss and Crispin--which as I've said is noble in general conception--done by two writers in a special genre, with the associated circle-the-wagons comments of their followers--adds up to what seems the tendentious self-defense of one side in a pitched battle. And the partisan quality of this could be relieved if a professional association assumed the agent-rating role--and by this I don't mean listing professional principles, I mean an arguably cleaner version of what Strauss and Crispin have done--listing agencies with complaints against them, and preferably legally backed up and not with "finding guilty by calling the person a scammer on the Web."
As far as my point about conflict of interest: What would Strauss and Crispin do if someone complained to them about their agents? And the point isn't about facts, it's about the general principle: Isn't their credibility a bit at stake when they are writers, represented by agents, promulgating negative claims, etc., about "bad" agents?

Anonymous said...

All in all, the type of ratings of agents attempted by Strauss and Crispin--which as I've said is noble in general conception--done by two writers in a special genre, with the associated circle-the-wagons comments of their followers--adds up to what seems the tendentious self-defense of one side in a pitched battle. And the partisan quality of this could be relieved if a professional association assumed the agent-rating role--and by this I don't mean listing professional principles, I mean an arguably cleaner version of what Strauss and Crispin have done--listing agencies with complaints against them, and preferably legally backed up and not with "finding guilty by calling the person a scammer on the Web."

What do you mean by "legally backed up"? As Ann and Victoria repeatedly say here, they keep documentary records of complaints from people claiming to have been scammed before they put the name of anyone on the P&E list. Those names are not just plucked from the ether on a whim.

Are you saying that you want some more stringent burden of proof - such as criminal convictions or successful court actions? Because if it's the latter, then you're allowing many people fall victim to predatory practices in the meantime - people like yourself who didn't know any better.

What's telling is that those who are named and shamed bluster an awful lot about suing but then lose their nerve. What is also telling is that you have an issue with two people who gave you news that you didn't want to hear. That's unfortunate, but it doesn't negate the work that they do. Personally, I don't care who I hear the message from, if there's good cause from a credible individual to believe that an agent is suspect, then I want to hear it.

I apologise to Ann and Victoria for hijacking their Blog, but I want you to know that there are an awful lot of people who appreciate the work that you do.

- Britmouse

Anonymous said...

Mr Ludwig asked why some other organization doesn't "take up the cause" and do what Ms. Crispin and Ms. Strauss do. Short answer: Because Writer Beware is already doing a perfectly adequate job, which those organizations do not have to pay anyone to duplicate.

Mr. Ludwig seems, strangely enough, to be blaming Writer Beware for doing a job no one else wants to devote the resources to do. Given the uncompensated time and effort Ms. Crispin and Ms. Strauss put into this work, I imagine they'd be delighted if some other organization took it upon itself to fill the gap. Why not ask those organizations why they don't do this work?

Aconite
Aconite

p.n. Elrod said...

"tendentious"

Whoa! That's it, I'm getting me one of them sweet word-a-day calendars!

WOOT!

But tomorrow--today I am the mood for a chocolate martini.

The ladies Strauss and Crispin are cordially invited to join me in the bar where we'll discuss whether or not the waiter is flirt-worthy.

After all this **** you deserve some frivolity.

tripodella said...

Ach - ye have taken on the thankless job of warning those who do not want to be warned. Keep up the good work!

Victoria Strauss said...

A couple of clarifications, in no particular order.

1. Writer Beware and P&E are separate organizations. P&E and its lists are 100% the province of the estimable Dave Kuzminski. We share a mission, and often exchange information, but other than that we're entirely independent of each other.

2. Cynthia Sterling the author, whose website URL is given in stay_c's comment, is not the same person as Cynthia Sterling the fee-charging literary agent/vanity publisher.

3. I don't think Mr. Ludwig is accusing Ann and me of anything (though he does seem to feel that what we do constitutes some form of restraint of trade). He's simply taking issue with our statements about the publishing industry in general and literary agents in particular, and questioning our qualifications to provide advice.

Mr. Ludwig, as I told you in an email, I would not have responded publicly to your document if you hadn't posted its URL on this blog. I'm sorry you aren't happy that I quoted you, but quoting is more accurate than paraphrasing (your paraphrases of some of my statements are quite inaccurate), and the angry sentiment expressed in the quotes is evident throughout our correspondence.

As to why the AAR or some similar organization doesn't undertake to track and warn about bad practice among literary agents...there are, I think, a couple of reasons. The first, as someone pointed out, is that Writer Beware and P&E are already doing a pretty thorough job, and have been for the past eight or nine years. Also, we don't confine our warnings to literary agents--we address the full spectrum of publishing schemes, scams, and pitfalls, from agents to publishers to freelance editors to contests, to whatever else we feel writers need to be warned/informed about. It's unlikely that an agents' trade association would be willing to do that.

The second reason is the more important, in my view. While many established literary agents are aware of the prevalence of literary fraud, and support the activities of Writer Beware and other watchdog groups, the issue of fradulent/incompetent agents simply isn't an urgent concern for the professional agents' trade groups like the AAR, because it has so little impact on the legitimate business of agenting. Bad agents are a bother for publishers, who have to deal with their substandard submissions, but apart from this, they operate in a realm of their own that has nothing to do with the real business of selling manuscripts to publishers. The only point of intersection is writers.

Finally, we are not interested in, as you say, "finding guilty by calling the person a scammer on the Web." We are interested in collecting documentation and dispensing warnings based on that documentation. A full explanation of how we assess complaints, how we establish files, and what we consider questionable practice--and what we don't--can be found on our About Writer Beware page.

Mr. Ludwig, if you feel it'd be helpful, I'll be glad to post your original document (or whatever version of it you'd prefer) online and provide a link to it here. I have a feeling that many people haven't seen it because it's a download, and people often prefer not to download documents from unknown sources.

roach said...

I'm not aware that Writer Beware "ranks" anyone.

Also, I don't think it would be in the best intrests of anyone to have a group like the AAR take on the watchdog role. I would think such a case would raise even more concerns of conflict of interest. You can't have someone completely outside of the publishing industry running a site like Writer Beware or P&E because in order to spot scams you have to have a working knowledge of the industry. Being writers does not disqualify Dave, Victoria and Ann in the least. In fact, in my own (not so) humble opinion it gives them an edge in that they are writers looking out for other writers.

As a complete and utter non-sequitor, I'd just like to thank Victoria and Ann for the 20 Worst list and Dave for P&E. I've just started my agent search. After writing up a list from the Literary Market Place I cross-checked the agents with both sites and managed to cross off quite a few scammers, saving some time and postage in the process.

(*waves frantically at Aconite* hey there!)

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

If Mr. Ludwig would do his research, he would discover that the Agent Research & Evaluation Service exists. Go look it up, Mr. Ludwig.

I also take exception to his slap against science fiction ("a special genre"), implying that as Writer Beware's authors are from sci fi/fantasy, this must be inherently suspect. As an award-winning mystery writer, I can attest that writers from many genres read these pages, and Crispin & Strauss have

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Sorry--got cut off in the last post--

Crispin & Strauss have reached across genre lines to help many writers.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Ooohhh, estimable. I liked that.

Okay, as was stated, P&E and Writer Beware are independent operations. Neither of us tell the other how to operate even though we do share information and have for the almost ten years that Writer Beware has been active. I was really glad to see them come into being the year after P&E started.

In fact, if you look very closely at any of the other watchdog sites, you'll find that we don't always agree even when we share information. I know of several businesses that P&E has listed that some sites warn about and P&E doesn't. Similarly, P&E has some negative recommendations about some businesses that others are not warning about. I'm not going to delve into the hundred of pages of listings at P&E just to point those out. I just know they're there. The point is we have to make judgment calls based upon the documentation we can collect. Writer Beware and P&E just happen to be well trusted because we're among the oldest and both of us have criteria for reaching our judgments. We don't make these decisions lightly and we do it despite receiving threats, attempts at extortion, character assassinations, and attempted bribery.

In the meantime, Ludwig, you described literary agents quite broadly when in actuality you should have pointed out what you were describing were scam agents. Consequently, based upon your description alone, Ludwig, Barbara Bauer would be labeled as a scam agent. I think you owe Ann and Victoria an apology.

Mirtika said...

Unbelievable. If a group of doctors got together to let the public know that certain other doctors were a menace to their health and pocketbooks, were charlatans and quacks, we'd be saying, "Hurrah. They've broken the silence for the good of patients."

If priests had come forward ages ago and said, "Don't let your kids near Father X and Father Z, they're predators," we might have saved a lot of trauma and damage to lives.

Silence is not golden, sometimes.

Well, I say about Crispin and Strauss: Hurrah for trying to warn people away from those who are not up to snuff professionally.

What? If a fisherman came up and said, "Don't fish by that blue rock, your boat will get damaged", are you going to say, "Ah, you just want it for yourself."

You know, sometimes good folks really just wanna warn you about the dangers of particular "rocks."

Instead of yapping about conflict of interest, certain folks should just say, "Thanks. I needed to hear that. I'll stay away from the blue rocks."



Mir

MissWrite said...

One thing that kind of sticks in my mind in reading this is the number of times I've heard of writers saying, oh, he/she has to be legit, he/she rejected me.

LOL

It SOUNDS logical. After all, would a scammer reject ANYONE?

Yes. BB rejected me. Okay, maybe that still could count as legit, I'm not saying that any agent in their right mind wouldn't. What I am saying is that a 'good' scammer will know a writer who might be 'too slick' (as in knowledgeable enough to see the scam once it's in full frontal before them) and pass hoping to avoid such petty lawsuits.

They still catch up with them though.

Pat Brown said...

If I read the posts right, Ludwig was with Bauer for 8 years, and paid at least $3000 a year. This means he actually paid her $24,000 not just $3000. Ouch. And she never sold a book? Did he ever ask her to at least account for where that money went?

Victoria Strauss said...

$3,000 wasn't the annual payment, it was the total that Mr. Ludwig paid over the nearly eight years he was with BB.

Anonymous said...

Whoa!!!

Eight years of dashed hopes & dreams!?!

In all that time, what must he have been thinking?

Did he ever question the quality of his representation? The quality of his work?

Surely, over the span of Eight Long Years of never getting a book deal...

Granted, I'm sure there are plenty of people who've been trying for a lot longer, with & without representation, but to actually work with ONE agent for that entire time with NO Results!

Wow! Dude, what were you thinking???

Diana Peterfreund said...

I write mainstream fiction, I landed an agent in March of 2005, and the contract I have with her is precisely the kind of standard industry contract that WB describes. I pay her no fees, simply her 15% commission for domestic rights.

So it's not for people in "special genres" or in the 80s. It's how it works now, too...

NewroticGirl said...

Did he ever question the quality of his representation? The quality of his work?

BB spends a lot of time and effort making it SOUND like she's got interested editors. Hope goes a long way.

Let's say she was planning a trip into NYC. She'd pick 5 or 6 LIGHT manuscripts to bring with her. Those authors got what she called a "nibble" card -- basically a postcard saying someone was interested in their work -- BEFORE SHE EVER WENT INTO THE CITY.

Let's say a client paid for her "editing services". Her editors are told to "skim for spelling errors" and that's it. Then BB would attach a nice note about how wonderful the work was and she wouldn't change a thing.

As far as rejections went... anybody who didn't take her up on her amazing offer of "representation" fast enough got rejected. Anybody who questioned her methods got rejected. Anybody who didn't pay the fees got rejected.

I used to work for her... six-ish years ago. She may have changed her tactics since then... but that's how it was back in the day.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

Quoth Greg Ludwig: As far as my point about conflict of interest: What would Strauss and Crispin do if someone complained to them about their agents?

That's easy. If someone complained to a multiply-published author about her agent, the author has only to trot out those books her author sold for her. A verifiable sales track record is often the only documentation needed to separate the scammers from the genuine.

I've personally seen both Victoria's and Ann's books on the shelves of my local bookstores--not to mention, in Ann's case, in the hands of a random stranger on a local bus. Their books are available on shelves, are selling, and are being read. From that I presume that their agents are doing a darn fine job.

Where's Barbara Bauer's sales track record?

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