Business Musings: Learned Helplessness

Business Musings: Learned Helplessness

I was in the middle of a long blog post about writers licensing the rights to their work when the news broke about Donadio & Olson embezzling from their clients. I stopped what I was working on and wrote a different post, because I finally had public proof of something I’d been saying for years: that important, well-known literary agents mismanage and/or embezzle the monies they receive for their clients. This has gone on for decades. It’s not something new.

The next day, I wrote a follow-up blog, which focused on thoughts inspired by Chuck Palahnuik’s post on what he went through at the hands of Donadio & Olson (and what he will continue to go through, poor man, since he’s going to litigate all of this).

The second post was in the can and posted on my Patreon page when the first post went live. I tweeted about it, and so did several other readers of mine. Then another reader wrote an answer post, taking me to task about telling writers not to hire agents.

He’s argued, calmly and politely, with my advice on agents before, so that wasn’t new. We disagree. He has his reasons for keeping an agent. I think those reasons are mired in the 20th century. But that’s his choice. He seems to be making an informed decision, and is taking a calculated risk. I don’t agree with the risk, but it’s his career, not mine. (I do hope he audits his agent regularly. He monitors the payments he knows are coming, but there’s no way to monitor the surprise payments.)

Then…weirdly…I started getting emails, direct messages, and notifications (from friends) of tweets taking me to task for advising that writers not have agents. I was called names. Well-known writers who have never met me wrote that I always give bad advice and that it figures because I’m …pick your hated POV here. (According to the posts, tweets, and emails {depending on who is upset with me}, I’m either bigoted or too PC. I’m against all women or too feminist. I’m always on the wrong side of every issue, and I lie, lie, lie.)

Normally I ignore this stuff, especially when some of it originates with a stalker/troll who sticks to my shoe like stray dog poop. (About the point I think she’s moved on to other targets, she rears her ugly head yet again.)

This time I didn’t ignore the comments, because all of the people who responded based on the stalker/troll’s initial tweet opined about my terrible political and personal habits,  defended their agents, and said they wouldn’t have a career without those agents. And not one—not a single one—of those writers mentioned the massive embezzlement at Donadio & Olson. Here were people who were accusing me of being an idiot and being insensitive, while they are ignoring the pain of other writers and writers’ estates.

In fact, these writer-attackers were defending the very folks who harm writers. I found it frustrating, so I answered publicly on that Saturday with a Twitter thread. After that thread, I stopped.

Because you can’t fight myths with logic. Even when the myth forces the people spouting those myths to act against their own (and their friends’) interest.

In addition to the tweet-storm, I got some fascinating emails. I can’t share some of them—especially the ones from long-time IP attorneys who told me about the fraud and embezzlement at big name agencies. One IP attorney reminded me of the Harper Lee mess with McIntosh & Otis.  Ironically, according to Vanity Fair,

The agency, known as M&O, was created by Otis and her friend Mavis McIntosh, who had both reportedly left another agency in the mid-1920s after they discovered it to be highly suspect in its practices.

As I said, this crap has gone on for a very, very long time.

I got a lot of sad emails from writers who lost money to fraud, lost major book deals to ineptitude, and have given up on their careers because of agent malfeasance.

After I posted my Twitter thread, David Avallone sent me this Tweet:

His father was Michael Avallone, a well-known mystery writer who wrote more than 200 novels under a variety of names. I had known that his career hit a speed bump, but I hadn’t realized it was an actual wall. Note that this was the 1970s.

Then this morning (as I write this), David Kudler posted this comment on my most recent post:

Ouch. Just… Ouch.

I’ve had positive and business-like dealings in all of my personal interactions with agents — though there’s never been much money for them to steal. (That is, they never sold much. How funny that that’s a positive.)

But Joseph Campbell Foundation (for which I have been the managing editor since 1999) had looooong battles with a pair of agencies that had been ripping them (and before he died, Campbell himself) off in just this manner for decades.

JCF represents its own rights, licenses, and permissions now. Amen.

At the same time, a New York Times bestseller posted on my personal Facebook page that she was surprised people were talking about this issue at all (she was defending the people who were defending agents—although she hadn’t seen the truly vituperative stuff), because no one talks about agents in her experience.

Her comment was followed by a new writer who worried that he couldn’t sell to traditional publishing without an agent. To date, I’ve gotten six public comments, five personal emails and three messages on Facebook just like that, asking the same thing.

I got to noodling all of this in my head—more proof, more stories, lots of us who say we do better without agents, that we can handle our own businesses, and then I went to lunch with a new friend who has worked in the arts for sixty years. She handles her own business affairs, still.

We talked business in passing. But we both have had lifelong careers. We deal with our own stuff. We’re survivors. Neither of us talked about the people left behind or who vanished from our art worlds, but that was because it wasn’t that kind of lunch. I’m sure both of us could match each other with story after story.

Artists are supposed to be feather-brained. Artists are supposed to be bad at business. Artists who are good at business are anomalies or worse. Artists who are good at business are only in it for the money. Artists who are good at business don’t understand art.

Of course, the people who are defining what that art is are mostly professors, who were unable to succeed at the business side of the art, so they have to keep their day jobs.

Some of those professors are writers with big book deals and agents.

As I was noodling all of this, though, what bothered me the most were two things in combination: that comment from the New York Times bestseller about silence and the variety of plaintive messages from beginners who are still pursuing their dreams of being the kind of writer they grew up admiring. But how do you get to one of the big five publishers without an agent?  one of those writers wrote on Twitter this morning.

Well, that assumes that a savvy writer wants a contract with one of the big five. The fact that this guy wrote the question this way proves he’s not savvy. I wouldn’t let anyone go into that shark-fest without a lot of education, the ability to negotiate, and a tough-as-nails IP attorney on their side. And even then, I would hope the writer has a good reason for going traditional, because the best negotiator in the world won’t be able to get the kind of deal that we used to get as a matter of course in the 1980s.

It was the comment though about silence that really got me. Because the New York Times bestseller was right: writers rarely discuss the problems with their agents. Writers only brag about their agent’s successes.

The writers who have been screwed by their agents are either too embarrassed to write a blog post like Chuck Palahnuik’s or those writers have signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of a settlement with that agent. Only a few of us refused to sign NDAs, refused the settlements. And when we talk about what happened to us, we’re called crazy, delusional, and outliers. When we say we handle our own business affairs, we get dismissed because we’re successful so it’s easy for us. We are lucky. Or famous. Or have connections no one else does.

The thing is…

Well, let’s unpack this a bit.

Every person in the world who starts a small business—and that’s what writing is…it’s a small business—learns how to conduct the business part of the operation. If the small business owner doesn’t learn that, then they go out of business really fast.

Artists have safety nets that most small business owners don’t have. A professorship based on a few published books and stories (as well as an expensive PhD). Or an ability to get grants. Or an employed and tolerant spouse.

The myth is that artists can’t make money. And before I confuse some of you further, I’m going to stop using the term artist (for dancers, painters, musicians, writers), and hone down to writers alone. But this applies to all of the creative arts. Artists have safety nets.

You’ve all heard that writers can’t make money, so why even try? You’re writing for the love. You’re writing to create something lasting. You’re writing to become famous or well-reviewed or accepted in your own literary circle.

You’re not writing to make money.

Only fools and hacks write for the money. The more someone publishes, the worse their skill must be. The more financial success they have, the more their writing abilities go downhill as they “sell out.”

That’s counterintuitive to the way that humans operate. The more humans practice something, the more they refine their techniques, the closer those people get to the top of their game. Their game might not be as good as someone else’s, but writers—like everyone else—improve with practice.

Those professors with a handful of novels and tens of thousands of teaching hours behind them? They’re probably quite adept at teaching. But their writing won’t improve much over the years.

This myth that writers can’t make money plays right into the hands of embezzlers and con artists. Think about it: I’ll handle your negotiations, your paperwork, your money, so you don’t have to bother your pretty little head about it.

Money gets pocketed, writers need those teaching jobs, and the leech who made the offer benefits from the myth. The writer sure doesn’t.

And then there’s the silence.

Silence is the hallmark of abuse.

I’ve worked at suicide hotlines and rape crisis centers. I worked for a forensic psychologist. Without going into my own personal history too deeply or the history of my friends and family, let’s just say I have a lot of experience with the dangers of silence. I will say this: when I was nine, I had a bike accident (an actual accident, not abuse) that left me with bad injuries all over my face. I looked like I had been punched repeatedly. It took more than a year to heal. For that entire year, no stranger met my gaze. Everyone averted their eyes. No one asked me how I got those injuries. No one asked me if I was all right or safe. Not a single soul.

Silence.

Imagine if those injuries had happened at the hands of an abuser. Nine-year-old me would have received no help at all. Not even an offer of help.

Silence allows abuses to continue.

And then there’s one other thing, something the word “silence” coupled with all of those beginner questions brought to mind. A phrase I first learned at the first rape crisis center I worked at. A phrase I began to study after that.

The phrase is “learned helplessness.”  Learned helplessness explains so much in an abusive situation. It’s why an abused person needs support networks, because the abused person has been so emotionally and mentally beaten down (in addition to the physical abuse) that they can’t do much for themselves.

The phenomenon has been studied in a variety of ways, not just in classic abuse cases but also in education and other non-life-threatening situations. From an article by Kendra Cherry on VeryWellMind.com:

Consider one often-used example: A child who performs poorly on math tests and assignments will quickly begin to feel that nothing he does will have any effect on his math performance. When later faced with any type of math-related task, he may experience a sense of helplessness.

Studies have gone on to show that people might have learned helplessness in one area of their life, but are very competent in other areas.

And that makes the term on point for what we’re discussing here.

One writer tweeted that she couldn’t run an auction for foreign rights. She needed an agent for that. I took my hands off the keyboard. Because my half-finished blog post from a few weeks ago was about one way that writers can license all kinds of rights in their properties, ways that writers can do it better and more creatively than anyone in publishing has in the past.

(Yes, I’m going to finish that, and the post that comes after it. Today’s post comes first…because that writer said that writers can’t do it.)

Where did that writer learn that she couldn’t hold an auction for her own work? It’d be so easy to say she learned it from her agent, whom I’m sure reinforced it. But that would be wrong.

Because her response…and the writer who initially blogged by telling me his agent got him deals he could never have gotten on his own…and the writer who said that her agent gets her Hollywood contacts she couldn’t get…and all the other writers who said their agents got them more money or an open door into a world they couldn’t have entered…all of those writers swallowed the helpless artist myth.

And the myth started with this:

You can’t make any money at writing.

Or the more insidious variation:

You can’t make money writing good books.

That lesson gets reinforced by writing professors (who never made money at their writing) and by other published writers (with day jobs) and by reviewers and by critics and by the entire culture.

Writers come into the business of writing just like other business people enter their chosen professions. Writers want to learn. So they seek out people who have already “made it” as writers—usually people who have published a few things. Writers also learn in school, with MFAs (never an MBA). Writers read books about writing, which rarely cover the business of writing, and almost always reinforce the myth that writers can’t make money at writing.

Beginners rarely question any of this. They accept that their fellow professionals need grants to make art or that those professionals need a day job or that those writers have a generous spouse. Beginners rarely look around and see all the writers who actually do make a living as writers.

Because, guess what, most of writers who do make a sizeable living as writers have learned to avoid talking business with our less successful colleagues. Not because of envy or backbiting (some of which was on display last week), but because we’re “special.” We “know people.” We “got lucky.”

Anything to keep the myth continuing.

Writers as a profession, particularly traditionally published writers, suffer from a form of learned helplessness.

Those of us who refused to play along got blacklisted in the bad old days and wrote under secret pen names. We fired our agents and negotiated our own deals and did very well thank you.

But except for a few foolhardy souls like me and Dean, successful writers who do the work themselves never discuss what they do. I still don’t discuss some of my negotiating techniques online or in public. I tell my students how to do it, but I don’t let them record that session. And there are a few other tricks I don’t share with anyone except Dean because to do so would harm my business.

I will say this: I’ve conducted my own auctions, and not just with foreign publishers. But with movie and TV producers as well. They are a little unsettled at first, and then they relax into it. Often, they tell me about others who are just like me. Or realize that they are just like me, because most of them also conduct their own negotiations and auctions and run their own business affairs. Sometimes they have an intermediary, but that intermediary does what the boss tells them. The intermediary is a mouthpiece only, not the initiator and certainly not the person in charge of the business.

Dealing with someone who has learned helplessness in a certain area is hard. Because logic does not help at all. The person with learned helplessness is reacting from their own personal (and sometimes painful) experience. No amount of argument will change their mind.

Instead, you have to work with them, one small step at a time. That is why, as I said above, abuse survivors often need a lot of support networks doling out the kind of support the survivor can actually grasp, given all the life experiences.

Established writers who believe their agent won’t hurt them (while acknowledging that other agents have hurt other writers) aren’t the people I write these blogs for. That’s why I didn’t keep up the Twitter discussions, why I only say a few words before I go on to other topics.

I won’t change the minds of those writers. I’m not trying to.

I’m trying to prevent indies from hiring agents to handle subsidiary rights. I’m trying to prevent writers who dream of publishing success but haven’t achieved it yet from hiring agents to handle anything at all. I’m trying to save you folks heartache and loss like Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Avallone and Joseph Campbell (!!!!) experienced.

I’m trying to save you from making those sad statements like “writers can’t make money” or “piracy has made earning a living impossible” or any of the other lies that keep writers from running their own publishing businesses.

Learn to do it yourself. And then, if you really feel you need to, hire someone to do a specific one-time job for you. If you’ve done that job yourself, you know what it takes, what to watch for, and how to monitor.

If you haven’t…and you believe you won’t make any money anyway…and if you accept the myth that as an artist you’re an idiot when it comes to business, well, then, guess what? You won’t be able to effectively monitor those you’ve hired, and you won’t make any money, and you will be a featherbrain when it comes to business.

And even if you end up with a writing career that earns millions, you won’t enjoy those millions. Someone else will, because you haven’t noticed all the hands in your pockets.

Learn the business. Stay away from agents, money managers, and bookkeepers who sign all the checks. Handle your own finances. Learn how to negotiate. Learn how to license copyright.

And question, question, question. Because believing the “old ways” is the best way to end up with a really great career—that’s got nothing to do with writing.


All my life I’ve been that person who causes scenes by asking why. Why can’t we talk about this? Why does everyone accept that guy’s terrible behavior? How come girls can’t do that too? Who says writers have to be broke?

I’m kinda used to being called crazy and paranoid. I’m definitely used to being called a troublemaker. I loathe silence, and the permission it gives to those who use it as a cudgel to hide their misdeeds.

So that’s why this blog exists. To point out problems and help writers solve them. Next week, I’ll finally have that licensing post finished. (Unless another agency gets caught with its filthy little fingers in writers’ pockets.)

Anyway, this is all a long way toward saying this blog is reader-supported. The support happens in a variety of ways from comments to shares to sending me links on topics I might have missed.

There’s also financial support, which makes me beholden to my readers and no one else.

If you feel like supporting the blog on an on-going basis, then please head to my Patreon page.

If you liked this post, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.

Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!

Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: Learned Helplessness,” copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog © Can Stock Photo / aomvector.

44 responses to “Business Musings: Learned Helplessness”

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  3. CeliaHayes says:

    I have lurked her also – as an indy writer from way back, which in these days, counts as 2008 or so. I tried for an agent rep for my first two historical novels, just to check off the form on the box – and then I took the advice of Grumpy Old Bookman (English publishing bloke who was also a cracking good writer, too). Give it a year, GOB advised, and then go indy.
    Which I did – and 18 books later …
    Yes, it is a business, at least as much as a skill, and yes, I expect to be paid for exercising it, and no, I will not consent to handing fifteen percent of what I have earned to someone who talks a good game,not after I have done the work of publishing, marketing, and yes, hand-selling. (Now and again, I get asked – who is your publisher, and I reply, with a look down my aristocratic nose, ‘I OWN the publishing company.’ Which I do, free and clear. We do other peoples’ books, besides mine.)
    I would rather — given the opportunity of someone dangling a huge payout for one of my books – to hire a good lawyer for negotiations, retaining the CPA who does my taxes, and hiring an assortment of professionals who work directly for me, to produce my future books.
    The difference being is that all those various entities work for me – not the Big Publishing Company, and not for the Literary Agency.
    But then, I’m not one who came through professional writing the usual way. I came up through mil-blogging and a relatively useless-until-now degree in English. (And 20 years in the military.)

  4. What a wonderful blogpost. Very invigorating and inspiring. I have a musician friend who invented an agent and pretended to be him on the phone (Cockney accent and all) so he could get bookings.

  5. Love this post. It was a much more eloquent, more experienced way to relay an idea that I have had been working through in my own adventures as a want-to-be-professional-writer. I believe that we are at a wonderful time, even still, where artists no longer have to abide by the rules that have been set up by these massive institutions (not that we ever had to, really).
    And given the recent news of writers like Chuck Palahniuk coming out about what happened to them, it is even more telling of the need for the whole of our community to reject the old system. We don’t need it anymore.
    Perhaps something else will rise in its place, sure. But overall, for better or worse, learning each aspect of what goes into the overall craft of the job should be a priority.
    As a manager, I have made it a point to learn everything that is done throughout my department. It doesn’t mean I am good at every task, it just means that I know what goes into it. Why then wouldn’t I do that in my writing life, a part of me that is FAR more important to me? Why had it taken me so long to ignore the bad advice as you described above (that we need an agent, a publisher, etc) and learn for myself?
    Thank you for the post. It is nice to see others thinking the way I have learned to.

  6. […] to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Colleen for the […]

  7. emmiD says:

    This: “Learn the business. Stay away from agents, money managers, and bookkeepers who sign all the checks. Handle your own finances. Learn how to negotiate. Learn how to license copyright.”

    It has to be taught every dang year, for the newbies and the toddlers who didn’t listen, and the old f*rts who thought it didn’t apply to them.

    And you teach it and preach it well, Kris. Thank you.

  8. Dexter says:

    In terms of “never needing an agent” there no caveat on this for Middle Grade fiction writers? To my understanding, the audience isn’t exactly turning out in droves to read e-books which is where the majority of my self-pubbed sales come from on my Adult SFF books.

    • Sorry. It’s not about selling the books. It’s about negotiating the contracts, understanding what you’re signing, and negotiating. Do all that yourself, then hire an attorney to help you with the negotiation/deal/contract. NOT an agent.

  9. Unfortunately, there are so many writers who are so desperate to get published, they will do anything. When I was still on writing message boards, we’d see a post up about a publisher or agent who was a scam. People would point out all the problems with the particular company, and there would be these writers who would come to the scammers’ defense. They would actually tell the sane writers that they should feel sorry for the company.

    But one of the worst comments I heard, and more than once was, “I know he’s a scammer. But it’s my only chance to get published.”

  10. Jason Adams says:

    I started my IT career as a contractor. I learned early on that I’m in charge of my own career. I learned everything I could from people I worked, self-education, and coworkers’ horror and success stories. Before taking a contract, I checked up on the agency and the company they wanted to place me at. I talked to other people who’d worked with them.

    I was told I’d never advance beyond a certain point because I don’t have a college degree, I don’t have a corporate enough look or attitude, I have a southern accent, blah blah blah.

    I learned to watch my own back, make good allies, and ignore the BS.

    Now that I’m working on my writing career, I find I have a ton of career experience to draw on. I’m still learning craft and the business, but I know I don’t have to be beholden to anyone else for my own success. All I need is some patience, some self-confidence, and a healthy blend of optimism and skepticism.

    Thank you for all you do to encourage us to make it on our own!

  11. Melisa Todd says:

    I see this all the time. People are still trying to query agents to get them to sell their books. I know multiple people with 5 or 6 completed novels they’ve won contests with, but they aren’t good enough so they write another one. I keep telling them publish it and move on. And they won’t because they don’t want to “ruin their chances with an agent/editor” Meanwhile I’m writing, publishing, and making money. A lot? Not even. But my work is out there and the more I write the more people will find my stories. Heck some of these people have back lists I’d love to have, but they won’t put it out there.

    Hmm… maybe I can offer to buy it from them? Nah, I can’t handle the stain on my soul to do that.

    • Iola says:

      Or they get a publishing contract from a tiny digital-only press or (worse) an imprint of Author Solutions, and expect you to be all happy happy for them. And you can’t, because you know that decision was dumber than leaving it in a drawer or on a hard drive.

  12. Linda Jordan says:

    I belong to a group of about twenty to thirty writers (mostly Indies, but not all) who meet twice a month to talk and learn the business of publishing. All of it. When most new people appear, one of the first things out of their mouths is “Once my book is written and ready, I want to learn how to get an agent.” Some never come back after realizing that’s not what any of us suggest.

    The idea that they could do everything themselves is so overwhelming. They just want to write their book and hand it off. It’s sort of like, “I’ve conceived this baby and carried it for nine months. You go through the birth process and raise it and I’ll take credit.” It doesn’t work that way.

    It’s very sad. The world has changed so dramatically from what they were told being a writer is to the reality of everyday life as one. Their dream has been burst and the reality is that being a writer involves a lot more work and education than they were told.

  13. I do believe I’ve heard Oprah Winfrey say on more than one occasion that she signs her own checks.

  14. This is the reason I don’t visit any writers forums anymore. It’s all full of myths, You need an agent, legacy pub contract etc etc. If you try to say anything else, even politely, you are attacked.

    Which is sad, as writing is a very lonely job. I wish writers had a good forum where we could discuss business, new tools, better methods of working. Like, I found out about Vellum from your blog, Kris, and was surprised to hear it has been around for years.

    Im a programmer by day job, and coders have forums where we discuss better ways of working, new tools, advances in industry etc.

    Yet when you put 2 writers together, they will immediately start talking about getting agents, or marketing their current book. No one wants to learn new stuff, no one wants to grow as a writer.

    I don’t know; this toxic enviroment is turning me off. I’m slowly moving away from writing.

    • I know a lot of very supportive indie writers. Dean and I have a network of very supportive writers that anyone who attends one of our in-person workshops can join. I’d suggest coming to the Master Class in October here in Vegas. You’ll meet a great, supportive, active group of writers. https://www.wmgworkshops.com/business/

      • Liz says:

        Do you ever do webinars? Would love to learn more about dealing with publishers directly.

      • Travelling to America look uncertain at the moment, Kris; not just because of budget problems, but also the visa regime has become tougher.

        Would you be open to having an online forum, dedicated to people who follow your and Dean’s philosophy? This way, people from all over the world can participate.

        I’m willing to do the technical parts, if you would be interested

        • That’s too much to think about right now, Shantu, because we’re moving and revamping so much. But suggest this in November/December. And I certainly understand the travel issues. I wouldn’t travel to the U.S. right now either. Thanks for the suggestions!

      • Harvey Stanbrough says:

        You and Dean also have a wildly supportive cast among the hundreds who have taken the online workshops and lectures. I and all of my own “followers” follow your and Dean’s blog almost religiously and will continue to do so. Finances preclude me from probably ever attending an in-person workshop, much as I’d love to. But I’m a sponge for knowledge about writing craft and business, and I enjoy being a conduit to spread your common sense, personal responsibility message. Just sayin’.

    • Catrin Lewis says:

      You can try WritingForums.org. Yes, there are published authors there who swear by (and not at) their agents. There’s a whole forum on how to write a query letter. But there are also forums on indie publishing and marketing, as well as general forums on various aspects of the writer’s craft. The members by and large are very civil and tolerant of how others go about their writing careers, and the excellent moderators keep a sharp eye out for meanies and trolls.

      In fact, WF is where I first found a link to Kris and her blog posts on the business of writing.

      If WF has a drawback, it’s that it’s too easy to spend hours chatting and playing there when one should be writing. Not that I’ve ever been guilty of that, oh, no.

    • James F. Brown says:

      Which is sad, as writing is a very lonely job. I wish writers had a good forum where we could discuss business, new tools, better methods of working.

      We do. Quit a few of them, including TPV, Writer Beware, Kris and Dean’s blogs, Joel Friedlander, Joanna Penn, David Gaughran, Scriverer’s Error, and Joe Konrath, among others.

  15. Cynthia Lee says:

    Years ago, I read an interview with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana in which he or she mentioned somewhat obliquely that Larry did not make as much money from Lonesome Dove as he should have. So sad.

  16. Ken Hughes says:

    Another comprehensive piece on the problem. (It’s interesting, in the last few months I’ve written a couple of Quora answers about publishing, and when I mention contracts I added specific warnings about leaving that to an agent. Now that’s out in the open– until the noise gets swallowed up again, too likely.)

    What are your thoughts on getting a traditional deal without an agent? I know the evidence on traditional publishers is nearly as harsh as on agents, but what about the writer who decides they’re the best distribution for their book?

    • I’m all for a writer making an informed decision to negotiate with a traditional publisher. The writer needs to understand copyright licensing, and to know what they want from the deal before making it. The writer needs to be willing to walk away if they don’t get what they want. The writer also needs back-up from an IP attorney on the offered contract (which the writer can continue to negotiate or can walk away from). If a writer goes in as an informed business person, then the writer can go into trad pub if the writer believes that serves her needs. But only then. IMHO.

  17. Alan Spade says:

    Inspiring post, Kris.

    I recently wrote a blog post about how a bookstore which received me for signing sessions, allowing me to handsell more than 500 paperback books in 8 years, suddenly decided to receive only “new authors”. How I felt that the confidence built between us was suddenly destroyed.

    In the comments, an anonymous person named “bookseller” asked me how I dared write such a blog post. The person made sure in his/her comment that I felt the difference between the earthen pot and the iron pot, if you know what I mean.

    I knew if I had kept silence about this, I would have allowed an abuse against myself. Abuse empowers abusers, if allowed.

    Another time, I denounced the way indie authors were systematically frowned upon by some bloggers. Doing so, I felt I had touched the tip of a massive iceberg. The reaction was huge.

    I define my blog as an account of my writing career.

    So yes, we have to stand up and fight!

  18. Thank you. You leave me feeling more ignorant every week, which is why I keep coming back.

    • Linda Fox says:

      Don’t say that you’re more ignorant – instead, point out that you are now aware of how much there is to learn about these topics. You’re not clueless – you’re moving from complete newb on this topic to emerging level.

  19. Ron says:

    Thank you for posting your article and for refusing to back down.

    The thread of “silence” is woven throughout our society:

    –how many men didn’t say anything about women being sexually assaulted in Hollywood?
    –how many people are looking the other way with the unethical behavior of our government? (Separating children from their immigrant families?)
    –how many women kept quiet and did not talk about their salary compared to men?

    There is a reason why silence is the chosen weapon of abusers and people with power: It divides and helps with the gaslighting effect.

    In relation to your opinions about agents: If someone doesn’t want to listen to you, then they don’t have to. But if more and more people are speaking out and sharing their stories about how money was stolen from them by their agent, well, I want to hear those stories. And there are a lot of other authors who want to hear those stories as well.

    Looking the other way and thinking, “Oh, my agent would never do that to me,” doesn’t make it true. Without auditing and a true sense of the numbers, there is no way for an author to know if money is being stolen from them or not. Isn’t it better to have the conversation, a discussion and each author decides for themself what to do?

    Silence perpetuates unethical behavior and stealing that’s taking place by some agents.

    The same tactic has (and continues) to be used throughout our society.

    It is my hope that others will join up and speak out.

    Otherwise those who abuse, steal and obfuscate will continue to do so.

    It’s my hope that when people look back at our period in history, the tide was turned because people stood up, organized and broke the silence.

  20. Reminds me a bit of this post by Zack Smith he talks about how the status quo tends to sustain itself and how the myth of artists being flakes is harmful and encouraged:

    http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2016/12/stay-in-your-lane.html

    Specially this part:

    Capitalism wants artists’ talents and ideas because they can be used to sell things, capitalism wants artists to have a liberal education so they can steal ideas from all the world’s culture. Capitalism would like to meet artists at parties—where the artist can simultaneously entertain the capitalist and can be introduced to patrons in an informal setting outside the recorded and legalized confines of the application process (where there are difficult questions concerning how many people of what kind you’re taking applications from)–so it wants artists to throw parties, or at least go to them, and so be at least social enough to handle that. What it doesn’t want is artists who have money (artists are creative, so if you give them money they won’t necessarily invest in things and hire people to make more money, they might just spend it on firecrackers and beanbag chairs) or power (artists are nearly by definition people with unpredictable and radical ideas, and capitalism wants stable or at least controllable governance) or who are taken seriously outside the world of entertainment (unpredictable ideas plus the ability to communicate=trouble).

    And, lo-and-behold, what kind of personality types do we get? “Artists are crazy,” “Artists are flakes,” “Guitarists are drug addicts,” “He’s a genius behind the piano but in real life he was a disaster”, etc. etc. Lovable but “unstable”. You’d never vote for an artist.

    Are these myths promoted to keep them in their place? Or descriptions of the personality-types that the institutions and conditions most favorable to survival produce? If, like lawyers, artists had art firms come around their studios around graduation time and offer them jobs they could keep for life we might well have a very different stereotype of them. Or maybe not. Whether chicken or egg isn’t actually important to my point, the point is however artists got there, capitalism has exactly no incentive to change their position. They have them right where they want them: always unstable, always vulnerable, always available.

    • Dawn Watson says:

      Capitalism is an economic theory. In and of itself, it does not DO anything; being merely an idea/philosophy, it cannot act on its own. Humans can act within a capitalistic system, but capitalism itself does not dictate whether artists are perceived as flakes, are “oppressed,” or anything else.

    • Melisa Todd says:

      This idea fascinates me. I’ve never regarded myself as particularly creative, but others always tell me I am. But I like math (okay up to calculus then I’m done) and my day job is working with databases and writing reports. All very logic driven. But even for myself I figured I wasn’t an “artist” because I LIKE logic. I apply it everything and get frustrated when people react emotionally to stuff instead of thinking it through.

      Huh – so even to myself I bought in that I couldn’t be an artist because I’m logical. Wow – talk about having a paradigm reset. Thanks!

      • Linda Fox says:

        You are not alone – I also created, managed, and programmed databases in an earlier career. I’m a cross between a somewhat math-y person, and one who enjoys writing and creating. I’m finding a niched in the indie world, with short stories, one completed (except for the final polish) book, and several books in various stages – early planning, 1st draft.
        I’m recently retired (still do some day-to-day subbing), so I have some financial back-up for my business, with my pensions (yes, several – it’s a long story).
        Kris’s blog has been a lifesaver, as I’ve resisted the agency/trad pub trap. I just don’t waste my time with chasing that option – I’m learning how to DIM – Do It Myself.
        If you ever want to talk about our shared and somewhat unusual background, and how it fits into our new career, drop me a line at Lfox368806@yahoo.com

    • AlexB says:

      Capitalism wants people to exchange money for goods and services, the transaction enriching each party in different ways. Capitalism does not care if an artist spends their money on firecrackers and beanbag chairs or invests it in their company. Both benefit the economy. Capitalism wants wealth to be created and spread around, and cares not for government except to the extent government restricts trade and access to the free market. It does not have any issue with artists being wealthy, powerful or in a position to be taken seriously, (unless of course the artist is advocating socialism or communism. That said, as long as the artist continues buying and selling their work/ideas and their followers do the same, capitalism will happily ignore the hypocrisy).

      Crony Capitalism wants government intervention on behalf of the companies that are “too big to fail” (see B&N etc), creating red tape to stop smaller businesses gaining a foothold and making things complicated to discourage “artists” and the like from trying to learn business. Capitalism hates crony capitalism because it destroys the level playing field capitalism aims to create.

      Don’t blame capitalism for this mess. Capitalism would have them learn business, invest in works for hire and help build a competitive marketplace. Capitalism would have them rise or fall based on the quality of their work and consumer interest, not because the publishing house got in a spat with their primary outlet. Capitalism is in favour of the professional artist. Capitalism is an indie.

    • Dick Mitchell says:

      Mr. Smith is attributing to Capitalism the activities of people, of societies. Apparently, he also believes all artists are dishonest and will “…steal ideas from all the world’s culture.” given the opportunity. He also insults the intelligence and financial acumen of artists. What a load of juvenile ****.

  21. Felix J. Torres says:

    Funny how this needs to be repeated to often, huh?
    Any time somebody pays you for something you are engaging in commerce, running a business.
    The numbers don’t matter; you either do it for pay and are in business or you do it for free and it’s a hobby.
    Just ask the IRS.

    Carry on, Ma’am.
    The message may still get through.

  22. Stephen Hunt says:

    Yep, agents to propel budding new authors into … what kind of market, exactly?

    Big money corporate trad publishing is finished … Dead Man Walking. B&N is on the way out in the USA. Waterstones in the UK is now a swap-token among private equity firms at the vulture-capital end of the market. When those two bookstore chain stalwarts flush down the porcelain throne, the legacy gatekeepers will have toll-booths overlooking a nuked black-glass desert.

    The best you’re going to get now heading down the old legacy route is a couple of weeks launch window on a bookshelf in a largely empty store next door to a miniature Zen Rock Garden kit 50%-off for Father’s Day.

    Then it’s off to the POD special-orders dungeon for you, with your e-books available in only a handful of international markets, because the Publisher’s extra-national Divisions are actually separate companies that compete with your country and wouldn’t deign to do Number Ones on your novel if it was on fire.

    If anyone thinks that’s worth signing over their books for Life +70 with a 5% effective share of the loot, then please contact me … I’ve got some magic block-chain coins you’re really going to want to be in on the ground floor for.

    Special price, just for you, baby!

  23. jrmurdock says:

    I’ve lurked here for a LONG time. Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for your brutal honesty. It’s refreshing.

  24. writerchick says:

    All I can say is, Give ’em hell, Kris. Keep doing what you do – your voice is needed. Thanks for all of it. And bless you.
    Annie

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