The Business Rusch: Responsibility

The Business Rusch: Responsibility

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Recently, a major agent in the science fiction and fantasy field died unexpectedly.  Many of you know who I’m talking about, and many of you don’t.  I’m not naming him here because his death—sad and surprising as it was—is not the topic of this column.  In fact, I’m not mentioning his name because I don’t want you to think I’m writing this column about him, his clients, or anyone he’s associated with.

It was just that his death, coming while I’m focusing on business for the completion of The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, put me in mind of my mother.  Seriously.  My mother was a housewife.  Technically, she didn’t have a career. But she had a partner—my father—and they split the tasks of their lives rather ruthlessly.

My mother took care of the house and the children.  My father financed all of our lives.  Part of his job, as head of the household (which was how they both referred to him), was to manage the money of the household.

By today’s standards, my parents never had a lot of money. They didn’t really have a lot of money by the standards of their friends, either.  As I mentioned before, my father had a major career reversal around his fiftieth birthday—he was, in modern terms, a whistleblower (although that’s not quite how it functioned then)—and he became unhirable, except by an old friend.  My father eventually turned that new job into something quite positive.  He got hired away by the university of his dreams, and in the last years of his career, the incident which caused the reversal forgotten, garnered the respect of his friends and colleagues that he had craved.

He also rose to the top of the university pay scale, and my parents, for the first time in their lives, had extra money.  My father saved much of it, invested other parts of it, and managed it as best he could. Because this was the 1980s, saving money in savings accounts actually had a point—you got interest on your accounts (good interest).  For the first time in their lives, my parents’ money made money.

Then, in 1990, my father died.

He had done all the right things.  He had a great life insurance policy.  His pension included my mother and would continue until she died.  Because he never took a sick day, she got some kind of extra financial benefit from his health insurance plan, which also continued for her.

But the investments…

To call my father disorganized isn’t fair to disorganized people.  The only time I can recall my mother taking care of the family books happened when I was about fifteen.  I came home early from school to find her at the kitchen table, cursing.  She had one of those gigantic 1970s calculators beside her and she was punching in numbers like the calculator itself offended her. All around her were pieces of paper with scribbles on them.

It seemed that my father had “balanced the checkbook” in his head for at least a year, and it had caught up with them.  Mother found out before he did, and started to work on it.  He came home and told her that, as a mathematics professor, he was better suited to repair the damage.  Then they launched into a quite memorable fight, which she won.  Or lost, depending on your point of view.  She ended up being the one to balance the checkbook.

Fast-forward fifteen years.  Dad’s gone, and Mother’s left with piles (and I do mean piles) of paperwork.  He had a filing cabinet next to his desk, with actual files in it.  And sometimes he would put the proper pieces of paper into the files and sometimes he wouldn’t.

To my knowledge, he never told my mother what he had done with all of their money.  He had taken care of it—and her—for more than fifty years.  He didn’t expect her to worry about it.

But she was on her own now, and she was the most organized person I have ever known.  She dove into those piles of papers, made lists, discovered where the money was, and thought she had it solved.

Until the end of the first month after my father died.  Bank statements from accounts she had never heard of showed up in the mail. She took care of those.  Then at the end of the full quarter after he died, she got more bank statements.  And then at the end of the calendar year.  And intermittently throughout the rest of her life as certificates of deposits became due or as other things, needing someone’s signature, happened.

My mother died in 1997.  A year after my mother died, my brother, who was executor of the entire estate, was still discovering accounts my father had opened.

My  mother, my siblings, and I had no idea what my father had done with his earnings in the last decade or two of his life.  I doubt my father remembered it all either, given that balancing-the-checkbook-in-his-head incident.  For all I know, there might still be money out there that belongs to our family, but there’s no way to find it and no way to know where it is without a lot of work that I am not willing to do.  If I were to mention it to my brother, he would probably run away screaming.  Managing my parents’ estate, filing and refiling, cost him a lot of gray hairs.

Why did the death of this agent make me think of my mother?

Because of all those agent myths out there.  For those of you who are not in the writing business, let me tell you how this goes.  New writers—and established professional writers—often let their agent handle all aspects of their business, from the marketing of books to the receipt of checks to accounting—everything, in short, except the writing itself.

I keep track of my agent.  I know where my manuscripts get marketed.  I know what deals are on the table, who owes me money when and when royalty statements (accounting from the publishers) are due.  If my agent were to leave the business suddenly—and agents do that a lot more than they die with their boots on—then I would know everything that he has done for my business.  I would also know where to check on things I was uncertain about.

I also know what would happen to my agented works.  One of the first questions I asked my agent before I hired him was what happened to his small agency if something happened to him.  The agency, a corporation, was a strict separate legal entity, and would continue.  He told me about the contingency plans, and they sounded sufficient to me. But my agent also happens to be a lawyer, so he knows the importance of estate planning.

Most agents are not lawyers.  Many have not given this side of their business any thought.  I have heard of elderly agents dying, owners of agencies bearing their names, with no estate planning in place, even though the elderly agent was ill for years before passing away.  I was still editing when one major agent passed away, and the conversations I had with the other agents in the business were terrifying.  They asked: Did I have any manuscripts on my desk from that agent? Did we owe the agency any money?

That agent—and that agency—apparently had adopted my father’s record-keeping methods.  I’m sure the clients of that agency never got all the money due to them.

It’s not just about money, however.  It’s about career management.  So many modern agents promise to take care of their clients the way that my father took care of my mother.

Assume that all went smoothly during life.  Assume there was no embezzlement or impropriety. When an agent—or anyone, really—who “takes care” of clients dies unexpectedly, those clients find themselves in the exact same position my mother was in.  And in these cases, it concerns the entire career.

Which editors are considering your latest novel? Which overseas markets have asked to see the latest manuscript? Which Hollywood producer has nibbled on a novel published five years ago? Who hasn’t sent royalty statements even though they’re owed? Which contract is fully negotiated? Which isn’t?

And who takes over for the newly deceased agent? Someone else in the agency?  One agency I know, with three agents plus the principal agent, disbanded immediately. Those three agents wanted to hang out their own shingles and didn’t want to be tied to the agency. At least, that was the cover story. For all I know, the agency itself was tied to the deceased agent’s personal finances and those other agents didn’t want to wait for probate to continue with their own careers.

Most writers have no idea what will happen to them if their agent dies.  This isn’t just a problem of small agencies.  Large ones have the same issue. A friend of mine got assigned a new agent when her agent suddenly left the business, and was told that no other agent in the same agency would take her on.  In other words, take this new guy whom you don’t know and haven’t vetted or leave now.  And leaving would cause bad feelings, so getting answers out of the existing agency without a liaison would become difficult.  She stayed, but was extremely unhappy with the new agent.

Writers aren’t the only ones who face these issues.  The September issue of Vanity Fair has yet another article about rich people getting screwed by their financial advisor.  This guy wasn’t Bernard Madoff.  In fact, the article’s teaser says this:

“The shocking thing about Kenneth Starr’s alleged Ponzi scheme wasn’t the amount–$59 million, pocket change by Madoff standards—but his client list.”  It goes on to detail names you would recognize, including reporters like Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, people who should know better than to hand their money over to someone without doing due diligence.  Considering all the stories about financial malfeasance they’ve reported over the years, these folks should also know to keep an eye on those advisors at all times.

But, honestly, it’s easier to have someone take care of you.  My mother did it.  Writers do it.  Rich people do it.  Middle class people do it.

And not just with financial advisors, but with lawyers and accountants, with housekeepers and caretakers, with anyone who promises to take the burden off and to make life easier.

Let’s assume that everything goes well.  Let’s assume that the person who takes care of you does a good job.  My father left my mother in very good shape financially.  She got a lump sum upon his death that paid off her house.  She got enough money every month to pay her bills and to have a lot left over.  She had health insurance. She was fine with just what she knew about.

But she had so much more.  Investments, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, things she didn’t even know she had.

So many writers are in my mother’s position whenever an agent dies or quits the business.  So many people are in my  mother’s position when their financial planner or the person who manages their household dies.

I’m not saying here that you need to do the job yourself.  At a certain point, you can’t do everything yourself.  But I’m going to say what I always say: be informed.  Just because someone promises to take care of you—just because someone is taking care of you—doesn’t mean you should let them be the sole keeper of knowledge about that aspect of your life.  My mother could have asked my father about the finances.  Or, better yet for both of them, she could have offered to do his filing for him.  That alone would have saved the headaches that existed for more than a decade after his death.

One more note: my parents were not wealthy people.  My father was a university professor whose family did not have money.  Take this situation and multiply it by hundreds or thousands of details, and you have the situation of a wealthy person.  Or add that level of detail and you end up with the career of a long-term working writer.

If you don’t monitor these things, no one will.

Ultimately, you’re the one responsible, not just for your career, but for the details of your life as well.

Keep track.  So that when something happens to your caretaker or your spouse or your agent, you know what is going on.  You may not have all of the details on the day the circumstances change, but you know how to find those details—and that those details even exist.

Right now, there are a lot of people who let their agent take care of them whose careers are stalled.  I’m sure there are even more people who are in my mother’s situation because of the death of the person who handles the money in their families.

You might recognize yourself in this picture.  You may trust the person who takes care of you—and that person might be worthy of that trust.  But what happens if, God forbid, that person dies suddenly? What happens to you?

That’s a question you need to answer, and you need to answer it now.

As you can probably tell, I’m one of those people who likes to take care of herself. But I’m not above asking for help when I need it.  And I do need to fund my new nonfiction habit. So if you like this piece, please hit the donate button.  Don’t forget to share the blog with friends and anyone who might need to read it.

Thanks for all your help and support!


“The Business Rusch: Responsibility” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

24 responses to “The Business Rusch: Responsibility”

  1. Kawi gurl says:

    I wish I could write like you as Margaret Laurence once said “When I say “work” I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.”

  2. Marcelle says:

    Really good ideas here, everyone. Thank you. And thanks, Kris, for bringing up a hard subject. When my husband and I parted ways, I set up my own will, with two executors: my sister for my “regular” stuff, and my friend for my published works. My friend is a published writer who knows a heck of a lot more about the publishing world than does my sister.

    I knew to do this thanks to Kris and Dean drumming it into my head at various workshops.

    One of the many positive things that came out of the split up was that I needed to figure out how my new house works. It meant reading a lot of instruction books and calling people for advice, but I am now much more confident about how my house runs and how to use the tools to keep it running. And my daughters are learning that we can do/fix a lot of things by ourselves.

    Laura, great idea about the “notify” list and the password list.

    • Kris says:

      You’re welcome, Marcelle. And good point about the double executors. That’s helpful when you have a specialized estate, like a writer or artist does. Anyone with a small business, by the way, should have a plan for that business’s future should the owner die or become incapacitated. And someone should know what that plan is before the will is read, because the business has to run for those days between death and funeral.

      Good stuff everyone. Thanks!

  3. Maggie Lynch says:

    Great post, as always, Kris. I’m rather anal about financial tracking. My husband and I each drew up wills in the first year of our marriage and we revisit it every year in case there have been changes in our lives.

    Our financial planner is only in his 30s and quite healthy. Yet, when we signed the first contract with him we insisted on an inclusion as to who specifically would be assigned to our account should something happen to him (leaving the firm, death, illness, etc.). That was very important because he’s with a large company with many planners. Like agents, not all planners are alike. Some are brilliant, some barely passed the licensing. Some work hard, others are lazy. I wanted to meet the person who would take over and approve of the choice.

    I currently don’t have an agent, but if I do contract with one I already know three things will be part of the contract: 1) I get notification of every transaction and its outcome; 2) I get the money split so that my portion comes directly to me from the publisher; and 3) I get in writing what happens to me and all manuscripts/books at the agency when that agent is no longer working there. Everybody dies some time, and lots of people change jobs. Not planning for it is crazy.

    • Kris says:

      Great idea, Maggie. I’ll add that to my bag of tricks. I’m surprised I hadn’t thought of it. (That was a well, duh moment for me.) Great.

  4. Laura Ware says:

    Thanks for this one Kris. After reading it I asked Don to explain to me what accounts we have, since he does the investing in our house. I am shocked at how many accounts we have with money in them and begged him to write it all out for me so I will be able to sort it out.

    On the flip side he’s clueless on the computer stuff and asked ME to make up a list of my passwords, etc. so he could access my computers and files. I hadn’t even thought of that but it could be important, especially with the writing stuff.

    Something that came up in our discussion that bears a thought. He asked me to make up a “notify” list of people online who might want to know if something happened to me. If you are active on the Internet with a lot of far-flung friends such a list might be nice for your spouse to have.

    • Kris says:

      Laura, the notify list is a wonderful idea. I didn’t find out that my best friend in high school, who was also the maid of honor at my first wedding, had died of breast cancer until nine months after her death. I hadn’t even been told she was ill. (She died within three months of diagnosis.) I was so shocked. Now, I wasn’t on the priority list of people to tell, but I was one of the only friends not in town, and no one had thought to send me a note. So Don’s idea is perfect.

  5. Annie Reed says:

    When my mother-in-law passed away suddenly a couple of years ago, my father-in-law had no idea how to take care of his monthly bills. She’d been doing that for more than thirty years without his help. Luckily for her family, she was good at organization, but my husband and his sister still spent a great deal of time trying to deal with financial aspects of their parents’ lives that didn’t occur on a monthly basis, like whether life insurance policies were still in effect.

    When my husband was injured earlier this year in a car accident and couldn’t do any of his chores around the house, I discovered that I had no idea how to run the lawnmower or reset the pilot light on the hot water heater when the wind blew it out. Simple things, and sure, he was around to tell me what I should do, but what if he wasn’t? What if I’m not around to handle the finances, which is my family chore? My husband would be as clueless as his father was, I’m afraid. That’s something I’m going to have to fix.

    And that’s not even mentioning all the literary estate stuff.

    Thanks for this article, and making me think about things I’d rather not but need to take care of anyway.

    • Kris says:

      Wow. Pilot lights and lawnmowers. Dean explains such techy things to me on occasion, and it’s like my brain is made of sand. Must concentrate harder next time. Thanks for that! Great points on all of it.

  6. Okay, I have to state this really quickly as I used to work in life insurance. Suicide does not void an insurance policy if it has been two years since the policy was taken out. Just an FYI.

    On the subject of agents. I do not want anyone to take care of me (unless I’m sick, in which case that doctor better know d*mn well what he’s doing). I take care of myself quite well for the most part and have done so for a while now. I panic if I don’t know what’s going on, especially when it comes to money and work. I’m by no means a control freak, but I like being in the loop. I’m more paranoid than anything. If someone’s not telling me something, they’re up to no good.

    My boyfriend and I have talked about this. What do we do in a worst case scenario? Our accounts and debt are separate and we’ve both taken care of who’s in control of what if something happens. Maybe not as well as we could have, but it’s there. It should always be there, no matter how young or old you are.

    • Kris says:

      Thanks for the mention on suicide & life insurance, Amanda. I’m sure a lot of folks didn’t know that, and if the worst happens, they might not know what they’re entitled to.

      I’m like you with control. Dean and I used to do everything separately until we married. Now we do everything together, including picking a time each week to pay bills. We both know what’s happening here. Both systems work. (The second one was recommended to us by Damon Knight & Kate Wilhelm and it’s been a godsend.) Everyone should do worst case scenario planning, even minimal stuff. I know it’s hard to face, but better now than after the worst case happens.

  7. One more very important thing, which I didn’t see mentioned, and that’s your literary estate. You may have no money or other property, but if you’ve written anything, that’s property, and might be exceedingly valuable. (Think of the estate of GB Shaw, and Pygmalion (My Fair Lady) which has earned and continues to earn millions for his descendants.

    Right now, I’m watching the trials and tribulations of the spouse of a deceased writer trying to deal with the literary estate. It’s just one more burden on the spouse, who may not be the right person to handle this. Since my entire estate goes to two charities, they will handle the money, but there’s the question of what I would wish done with the property, and they may not be the best judge of that.

    Not simple, so at least make clear in your will what you want done, and who’s to handle what.

  8. Ginny Baker says:

    The agent / owner of my agency of record for my first book did die a couple of years ago. Our contract was incredibly simple, with no instructions for representation after the book went out of print or after the agent died. Now I have no idea where I stand. Kris brings up a point that is so obvious, but that, in the blush of a first sale or agreement, just doesn’t get spelled out often enough. Wish I’d known then…

    So now I have to ask, how long does an agency that reps you during the sale of a book “own” that book business-wise? At what point (if ever) do I have the right to take back responsibility for that book? Say I decide I need new representation for that book and its sequels–or want no agent at all as I pursue options to sell direct, either for an eBook or to a new publisher? Even if my agent hadn’t died, I’d still want to know this. Is it something I need to be aware of contractually?

    I know publishers often lose their hold over a book two years after it’s no longer in print (depending on your contract statement, of course), but how does that work for agencies when that isn’t specifically stipulated in your agency contract?

    • Kris says:

      Brad, good point. That happens with writers too. Not as dramatically because early on there’s not as much money involved, but often the agent has his own best interest at heart, not the client’s. And in the case of one of my former agents, he couldn’t follow half of my instructions because “it was against agency policy” and if he did he would have to leave the agency (or so he said). So I left him and the agency.

      Excellent point, Jerry, on literary estates. They’re very tough. Dorothy Parker put Lillian Hellman in charge of her estate–typical Parker mismanagement since Hellman hated her. So Hellman did nothing. Fortunately, the money in the estate was supposed to go to (I believe) the Red Cross, who sued to get Hellman out of that position and to put in someone who would actually try to keep the work in print. It worked, and that’s why Parker’s estate still generates money.

    • Kris says:

      Ginny, I hope you’re reading Dean’s posts on agents in Killing the Sacred Cows. The diatribes (particularly in the comments from others) get one-sided and rather loud, but there’s a lot of good information there.

      As for agents/agencies, they don’t “own” a work, unless you actually sell it to them. They represent it. If you had a simple agreement, there should be something in that agreement which says that they represent the work for x period of time, which varies from agency to agency. Many agents put an “agent clause” in a contract, stating that they represent the author, the money goes to the agent, and that the agent will continue to rep the book for x period of time. Even though, under contract law, a third party cannot bind the two parties signing the contract to anything (the third party [the agent] did not sign the contract), most publishing houses honor their part of the agency clause even when the author asks them not to. It makes sense really. However, if you honor the clause, remember that the contract is completely fulfilled when the book goes OP and you get the rights back. And then the agency clause isn’t valid even if it were part of the contract, because the contract is done. That doesn’t mean the agent can’t sue you for breach of contract, but most won’t because most judges would look askance at that agency clause.

      The best thing for you to do is ask for the rights back from your book for the publishing house. Note that the book is OP. Then severe your relationship with the agency if you no longer want someone there to represent you. Unless you signed something egregious–and a lot of agency agreements these days are unbelievably egregious–you can hire someone new to represent you for that book or you can handle it yourself. Since it’s an old title, it’s probably best to handle it yourself.

      Remember, please, that I’m not a lawyer, and remember, please, that I have not seen any of your agreements, so I’m just speaking in general.

  9. I think sports agents are somewhat notorious for making decisions that are not in their clients’ best interests. Especially in the NBA.

    Usually what happens in pro basketball is an agent gets his fingers into a young player taken late in the first round or somehwere up in the second round, and who has a promising rookie stint. A bit of buzz is generated as a result, and the agent gets in the rookie’s ear about how he’s going to be the next awesome talent in the league, he can go anywhere and do anything he wants. The player — early 20s, still a child by most standards — ultimately turns down a decent re-up deal with the drafting team, goes elsewhere — sometimes for more money, but not always — then winds up performing poorly and fading into obscurity. Whoops. How much of that rookie stint was the player, and how much of it was the coach and/or the system the drafting team happened to run?

    For the player, it’s the end of their NBA career. Something they might have worked their whole life to obtain. Gone. For the agent? No big loss. They collected their percentage, and there is always a fresh crop of draftees every year. The agent could care less about helping kids develop a lasting relationship with a team or finding a spot where they can stick for a long time. It’s all about cashing in in the here-and-now. But because it’s expected and standard that NBA players have agents, 95% of them get agents, and listen to their agents, and too many of them vanish as a result of taking bad advice.

    I only know of a couple of all-star calibre players who operated without agents. They each had very, very good careers, making a lot of money in the long run — but also becoming very proficient in the systems they operated in. One of them is in the Hall of Fame now, as the greatest statistical player at his position who ever lived. His records are liable to never be broken. If he’d been a usual player and let his agent make the choices, he’d had probably moved teams several times, had a much, much shorter career, and been a pretty good player — but never Hall of Fame great.

  10. Izanobu says:

    I think one of the tough things about this topic is that it requires preparing for bad things/sad things to happen, and that means thinking about the possibilities and having to face that bad/sad things *do* happen, which is scary and uncomfortable.

    This post did make me go and show my husband where he can find the papers with the passwords and account information yet again, because if something did happen to me, he’d probably be pretty lost as to where most of our accounts and things are, despite me showing him multiple times.

    It’s a good post, and a good reminder. Thanks 🙂

    • Kris says:

      Thanks, Jerry. And good point about making sure your spouse/significant other/family knows what you know. That’s the flip side of this, particularly if you’re the caretatker.

      Those sports agent analogies are good ones, Dennis. We’ve been watching that in Portland with Rudy Fernandez, who has made it clear he wants to go back to Spain instead of remain in Portland, playing for the Blazers. He hates the NBA’s form of basketball. His position is clear, but his sports agents keep making illegal (by league rules) comments to the press. So far, they have cost him $75,000 in fines for their improper speech.

      Thanks, Izanobu, for the reasons people didn’t immediately comment on this particular post. I do think I scared people, making them think about things they didn’t want to think about. Who does, really? Glad it got you to remind your husband about where everything is. I suspect you’re better at filing and keeping papers than my father was. 🙂

      And thanks, Robin, for the support. The silence on some topics always surprises me. For some reason, I thought a lot of people might comment on this one. Shows what I know. 🙂

  11. DMcCunney says:

    The financial chaos caused by the death of Piper’s agent was the main trigger. However, an additional wrinkle was that he was apparently unhappily married. One of the things his wife had insisted upon as a condition of marriage was that he take out a large insurance policy with her as beneficiary. One person who knew Piper socially suggested that suicide was also a slap at her, as death by suicide would void the policy, and she wouldn’t collect.

    As far as agents, another thing to keep in mind is that the interests of the agent and the and the client aren’t identical. If I’m an agent’s client, the agent gets a piece of what I earn through deals she negotiates for me, and her interest will be the best possible deal in monetary terms. Depending upon who I am and what I do, that may not be what *I* want.

    I see this especially in sports agents. I’m an athlete playing a sport for a team, and my contract is about to end. If I’m a star, the agent may see an immense pot of gold at the end of a new contract rainbow by shopping me to other teams. Perhaps I’m married, with kids in school, like the city where I live, like the team I’m playing for, and don’t feel like asking my family to pick up and move. Perhaps I want to stay right where I am, and I’m willing to leave money on the table to accomplish that. There are sports agents who would have major problems with that concept.

    The same holds in entertainment. Actor Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi on Babylon 5) talked about not appearing in a couple of B5 spin offs because his agent had passed on the deals without mentioning them to him, and he would have accepted the parts. I suspect similar motivations at work: the agent thought he could get a more lucrative role for Doyle elsewhere, and make more himself in the process.

    So it’s up to me to make sure my agent is clear on my motivations and goals, and will support what I want to do. I certainly want to make money, and want my agent to make money helping me make money, but money itself may not be my most important concern.
    ______
    Dennis

  12. Robin Brande says:

    Another great–and necessary–post, Kris! Thanks for tackling this one. Important at both the personal and career level. Great stuff!

  13. Kris,
    I sure hope at least a few of our writer friends take this essential column to heart. Myself, I think I’m doing the right things. I had a check on that last year when I was told I had two weeks to two months to live. I beat the cancer, so far, but at the time, I made an assessment of whether everything was in good shape, and Dani was ready to take over various matters, including financial ones.

    I passed all the tests. It made the prospect of dying a lot easier for me. That’s enough reason to take care of all these matters.

    I don’t have an agent. Never had one, but I’ve made a lot of money as a writer, and saved systematically–enough to live very comfortably. I avoided “get rich quick” schemes, and never understood why the very rich would ever “invest” in them. Enough is enough. After a certain point, I’ve just given all the money to various charities I value.

    Anyway, it’s possible to earn a living as a writer, but it won’t happen if you don’t take responsibility for your financial affairs.

  14. DMcCunney says:

    Yes, I know which agent’s death you refer to. He was apparently universally well regarded on both sides of the table, and publishers considered him tough but fair, understanding that the best deal is the one that pleases both parties.

    For another horrible example of the problems you mention, consider the late H. Beam Piper. His agent was keeping his affairs in his head. When he died unexpectedly, he threw Piper’s finances into chaos. (I heard one report that Beam was shooting pigeons from his window for food.) Piper decided he was not capable of supporting himself, and chose to suicide rather than impose a burden on any one else. There were others in the SF community who would have been happy to lend a hand to get him through a rough patch, and when he died, John W. Campbell was trying to find him, as he’d just bought a Piper story for Analog and wanted to get him a check.

    If I’m a freelance writer, I certainly want an agent. The agent knows the market better than I do, can do a better job of selling my work, and a better job of negotiating a contract once an editor bites. But it’s my career, and my responsibility to manage it, including my relationship with my agent. I’ll want to know what the current status is, both in general “This is how the market looks” and specific “This is where I’ve submitted your manuscripts, and what I expect if someone bites.”

    And it’s vital that my agent and I are on the same page about my career and what I’m doing/want to do. My agent is ultimately working for me, to help me achieve my goals. A friend on another list a while back was wondering about the protocol in dropping an agent. She had an agent, and was shopping a mystery. She’d already done a rewrite at the agent’s request to “spice it up”. The agent was asking for another rewrite that would change it from a mystery with spice to a spicy romance with a mystery background. I just said “If you and your agent can’t even agree on what kind of book you’re writing, it’s time to look for another agent.”

    It’s my responsibility to insure that happens. I may delegate tasks to my agent, as someone better suited than I to perform them, but I certainly won’t ignore the process once delegated. I’ll expect useful status reports, ask if I don’t get them, and ultimately terminate the relationship if I’m not getting information or we can’t agree on my career direction.
    _____
    Dennis

    • Kris says:

      Thanks for the comment, Dennis. 🙂 I knew that H. Beam Piper committed suicide. I had no idea what one of the triggers was. Wow. What a lesson.

      And sounds like you have a good agent attitude. So many writers want to be taken care of that they forget whose career it actually is. And again, I don’t think that’s just writers. People give up their own responsibility for themselves in a variety of levels. It’s amazing to me.

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