Tag Archives: authors

Beware of authors

In “The Boarding House,” one of his Rambler essays, Samuel Johnson talks about his search for affordable quarters:

When I first cheapened my lodging, the landlady told me, that she hoped I was not an author, for the lodgers on the first floor had stipulated that the upper rooms should not be occupied by a noisy trade. I very readily promised to give no disturbance to her family, and soon dispatched a bargain on the usual terms.

After a short time as a tenant, Johnson becomes curious about the previous lodgers. He learns of the tailor who complained about the lack of light and skipped out owing a few weeks’ rent; the young woman from the country who paid her rent promptly but had to be dismissed because of frequent visits from a male “cousin”; and a pleasant gentleman who turned out to be a counterfeiter, and who narrowly avoided capture by creeping out the window and across the roof as the local constable thundered at the front door.

At last, a short meagre man, in a tarnish’d waistcoat, desired to see the garret, and when he had stipulated for two long shelves and a larger table, hired it at a low rate. When the affair was completed, he looked round him with great satisfaction, and repeated some words which the woman did not understand. In two days he brought a great box of books, took possession of his room, and lived very inoffensively, except that he frequently disturbed the inhabitants of the next floor by unseasonable noises. He was generally in bed at noon, but from evening to midnight he sometimes talked aloud with great vehemence, sometimes stamped as in rage, sometimes threw down his poker then clattered his chairs, then sat down again in deep thought, and again burst out into loud vociferations; sometimes he would sigh as oppressed with misery, and sometimes shake with convulsive laughter. Whern he encountered any of the family he gave way or bowed, but rarely spoke, except that as he went up the stairs he often repeated,

This habitant th’ aerial regions boast.

hard words, to which his neighbors listened so often, that they learned them without understanding them. What was his employment she did not venture to ask him, but at last heard a printer’s boy inquire for the author.

My landlady was very often advised to beware of this strange man, who, tho’ he was quiet for the present, might perhaps become outrageous in the hot months; but as she was punctually paid, she could not find any sufficient reasons for dismissing him, till one night he convinced her by setting fire to his curtains, that it was not safe to have an author for her inmate.

A bad bunch, those author types.

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Writes and wrongs

I first heard about literary agent Barbara Bauer through the good offices of the much-missed Miss Snark, whose post about Ms. Bauer and her various critics was, to put it mildly, not flattering to Ms. Bauer. The Monmouth County literary agent has now taken up Miss Snark’s challenge and filed a lawsuit against her Internet critics. Here’s the Star-Ledger’s recap:

If you believe her website, Barbara Bauer is a veteran literary agent who has helped get numerous books by award-winning authors published in multiple languages around the world.

If you believe other sites around the internet, Bauer is one of the industry’s “20 Worst Literary Agents,” charging her clients high fees for little work.

The Monmouth County literary agent says the websites, blogs and YouTube videos slamming her are ruining her reputation and cutting into her business. So she is suing a number of sources of online criticism in a case that has caught the attention of free-speech groups and online activists.

The ball apparently got rolling a couple of years ago when Writer Beware added Ms. Bauer to its 20 Worst Literary Agents list. Google her name and you’ll find plenty of complaints about her on various writers sites.

I’m happy to say I haven’t had any encounters with the agents on that list. But I can tell you this: You should never pay any reading fees or, for that matter, any sort of fees up front. Never. This is the rule from which all other rules follow.

An agent takes you on as a client because that agent sees a chance to sell your work, whether immediately or somewhere down the line after a bit more woodshedding. It’s a business arrangement, simple as that. If the “agent” tries to justify a reading fee by saying he has business costs, you tell him: Well gee, pal, so do I, but I’m willing to let you read my stuff for free. Which should be the last thing you ever say to him.

If the manuscript sells, you and the agent share in the benefits. If it doesn’t sell, you take to your bed for a few days and sob into your pillow, or go to a waterfront bar and pick a fight with the first stevedore you see. Whatever makes you feel better.

If you pay a reading fee up front, you are announcing that you are a pigeon looking for someone to take advantage of you. End of discussion. Case closed.     

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