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> I've just been offered representation from The
> Robins Agency in Mt. Home, AR. The company is
> named for Cris Robins, and the person I am
> dealing with is Katherine Kenner. I've been
> trying to research them, but so far haven't had
> any luck finding anything, good or bad. They
> seem above board (no reading fees, standard
> commission, etc.) If anyone knows anything about
> them, I'd be grateful to hear it.
If you intend to write for income you need connections in New York, not
Arkansas. Remember that MOST deals are made between agents & editors over
lunches in Manhattan. Quite often a "new" writer gets sold ONLY because
there was a meeting to sell Bestselling Author #419 who "your" agent also
represents; & because your agent cares about you, your book gets mentioned
after terms for the much more inevitable sale (of the established seller)
has been agreed upon. You have only half an agent (at best) if the agent
is not on a daily basis plugged into that fundamental reality. The reality
is new writers aren't very salable, even if they're completely adequate as
to talent & applicability to a line. A manuscript submitted to Random
House by a B-agent from the hinterland has only the slightest credibility
above getting it straight from the author also from the hinterland. It's a
who-you-know business; otherwise your manuscript goes on the "unknowns
submitted by unknown agents slushpile" rather than just the "unknown
writers slushpile" & it's a toss-up which is less mined for publication.
If you only need to reach a few low-paying regional presses then who knows
Arkansas might be just the place to begin.
If they are members of the Association of Authors Representatives they
might not be crooks at least. If they are not members, that would be
because they do not qualify. And the disqualifier is failure to sign on to
the Association's list of things NOT to do that are NOT in any author's
best interest. They have a server code of ethics that protects authors
from unscrupulous or fraudulant agents whose number are legion.
It's not easy for a newcomer to get a credible agent & the decision to go
with a hinterland agent will be very hard to pass up if you've no
indication a better connected agent will look at you twice. If you
establish A.A.R. credentials, you can be fairly certain they're honest,
but that still isn't proof they are competent. Your next move would be to
find out who the "big" writers are they handle. If it turns out, unlikely
though it is, that they have a few giants on board, then editors in
Manhattan will not regard them as outsiders merely because they're far
away (though yes they are still at a disadvantage to sell new writers). If
they fly WEEKLY to NYC for meetings -- monthly is not nearly enough -- &
their stable of writers is not predominantly newcomers -- then you might
be on somewhat safe turf. Though another ingredient to the decision would
be WHAT you write fitting well with WHAT their established writers write.
If they have five big-name or solid mid-list mystery writers, but you
write children's books, that agent is not going to have the right
relationships with the right editors to sell your book. Especially from
I'm in a hurry right now but I'll try to remember to post information
about A.A.R. later today when I get another UseNet moment (not to be too
greatly confused with a Malox Moment) because I've noticed nobody around
here has ever posted anything about AAR & it's SIGNAL information for
anyone who seriously has a chance at obtaining an honest agent & doesn't
want to screw themselves by looking in the wrong direction.
-paghat the ratgirl
The Robins Agency is listed in Jim Fisher's report as charging fees. They've
either changed their policy, or (more likely) they haven't told you about the
fees yet. (Lots of fee-charging agents are becoming quite cagey about
mentioning upfront fees these days, due to the public becoming more savvy.
That doesn't mean they don't collect their money, though...)
There is a link to the AAR website on SFWA's Writer Beware site.
Click on Writer Beware.
(Hey, Paghat, ever thought of joining SFWA so you can help out with our writing
scam-awareness efforts? <g> These days it's a tossup as to who will answer
these kinds of letters first: you, Victoria Strauss, or me!)
-Ann C. Crispin
If _they_ contacted _you_, it's a bad sign. Unless there's solid evidence
that commissions from your writing will make you a profitable client.
If they have a brochure, that seems to be a bad sign.
If they say they're particularly interested in new writers -- forget them.
I was a member for a decade & even helped collate staple & mail the
Newsletter during the Novitski editorship as we were neighbors. But then I
got bored & dropped out & another decade passed. About once every three or
four months I have a momentary thought of rejoining but as that might take
more than just writing a check it's not worth the extra effort.
>If you intend to write for income you need connections in New York, not
>Arkansas. Remember that MOST deals are made between agents & editors over
>lunches in Manhattan.
<snipped rest of the way it is reality check>
If you had several finished fiction novels which you have
from sound sources are written well enough to be publishable
how would you go about acquiring a New York agent should you
have no contacts? Is there a chance in hell one can land a
good New York agent without previous contacts?
"The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane."
--- Mark Twain
> On 15 Aug 1999 17:14:32 GMT, paggersSP...@my-deja.com
> (paghat) wrote:
> >If you intend to write for income you need connections in New York, not
> >Arkansas. Remember that MOST deals are made between agents & editors over
> >lunches in Manhattan.
> <snipped rest of the way it is reality check>
> Thanks Paghat,
> If you had several finished fiction novels which you have
> from sound sources are written well enough to be publishable
> how would you go about acquiring a New York agent should you
> have no contacts? Is there a chance in hell one can land a
> good New York agent without previous contacts?
A second rate agent is about the same as no agent at all, & a first rate
agent is apt to have a sufficient number of authors in her or his stable
that you probably have slightly more chance of finding a publisher on your
own than of finding an agent on your own. Really agents are for writers
who've gotten far enough along in the process that they honestly do need
an agent in order not to be continuously robbed by publishers. The first
few steps are taken by the author alone -- in journalism, or short story
markets that agents rarely handle, in regional presses, whatever you can
get a toe in. It's not so much the agent's job to transform a beginner
into a professional; it's the agent's job to assist the professional in a
business where authors are easily replaced & the first to get a
broomhandle crammed straight up if no one is looking out for them.
And yet it does happen that someone who has done nothing previously gets a
thumbs up from an agent who really believes in you on the basis of a
finished but unsold book. Frankly that usually means something pretty
artless, like a "tell all" book ghostwritten for some woman who screwed
the president. But I've also seen agents go out on a limb for something
intelligent. Rare, but it happens. Usually you'll have to have something
COMMERCIAL enough (and at least competently written) to attract a
qualified agent in New York.
If you happen to hang out in the same places as writers, editors, &
agents, you'll find out a lot of useful stuff the only way possible -- by
word of mouth. Like, you'll find out who are the young turks of agenting
who're getting great contractgs but still building their author base & for
whom a really good writer on board is as important as one who is already
Most of what you need to know can be found at the website of the
Association of AUthors Representatives, here:
including a membership roster (DON'T go with any agent who is not on the
roster -- those who are not members either charge fees, or higher than
acceptable percentages, or are simply known crooks who've been booted
out). And including the "Canon of Ethics" (DON'T go with any agent who
even HINTS of breaking any section of this agents' code). And a sensible
FAQ that addresses most of the questions a beginner has -- A FAQ hammered
out between agents themselves based on what they get asked over & over
again & answered truthfully.
They won't tell you quite everything of course because some stuff that's
simple reality sounds meanspirited & wicked to beginners. Like working
agents really don't need a lot of beginners harrassing them for attention
in the same way editors are constantly badgered by pathetic no-talents who
just won't face reality & go the hell away. The industry is set up to keep
as much junk at bay as possible -- & that frequently means the one item in
three-thousand that isn't junk is also kept at bay because there you are
in that pile of junk & you can't really blame them for tossing you in a
black hole along with the 2,999 other items that are complete gibberish.
Sometimes the haystack is simply too big to merit looking for the needle,
especially when you have a whole bunch of needles in a pin cushion.
You should seek an agent who knows the field in which you are writing. If
you write mysteries, join MWA and read the newsletter religiously &
anything else you can lay your hands on relating to the profession
including Publishers Weekly & watch for who is selling what for whom. If
you write fantasy or sf, subscribe to Locus & watch for the little news
bits about what agency sold what to whom. And so on. Do what it takes to
find out in advance who is genuinely plugged into the markets you need
access to. Having the top agent in New York for selling coffeetable art
books really won't be that helpful if you're hoping to place books on
angels & astrology. Most agents are "generalists" & not highly
specialized, but they don't do everything well & it is a big plus for both
author & agent if you're NOT the only writer on board writing "that sort
Sometimes you simply have to sell a first novel all by yourself -- it can
frankly be easier to find the publisher as a newcomer than to find an
agent as a newcomer. Especially for genre fiction whose key editors do pay
some attention to the slushpiles. When you have any show of interest,
THAT's the time to ask for assistance from the best agent you know
something about. Because the publisher will offer you $3000 for your novel
& act like you're a moron when you say it's not enough; but the same
publisher will give the agent an opening offer of $5000 and you could well
end up with more. Publishers do screw writers who have no agent because
writers are mostly scared & silly & easy to push around & no matter how
badly they're treated they think they're in love with the first editor who
ever praised & offered to buy that author's work. It may seem unfair, but
it's actually completely realistic that a good agent can't be wasting time
on unproven authors while their proven authors are producing & need
attention. But that same agent is right happy to step in and negotiate a
sure-sale & from that moment on you're part of the "proven" crowd.
That cannot stand as universal advice because there are some areas of
publishing where unagented writers just never are read, period. That's
where the Catch-22 is a REAL catch, because you can't get an agent until
you've proven yourself & you can't prove yourself until you get published
& you can't get published without an agent. In such cases you have to
build some sort of reputation in a tangentially related area (it cannot be
an unrelated are because children's book editors really could care less if
you've sold ten romance novels or essays for Inside Kung-fu; they may in
fact expect an author established in a different field to use a pseudonym
to get away from the reputation for something an editor elsewhere is never
going to be publishing).
The basics are at the A.A.R. website. The nuances are hard to convey. Most
of the nuances seem alien, irrational, or cruel to beginners but that is
in great part because an outsider's or an amateur's perspective is vastly
more limited than they realize. The issues & problems become TOTALLY
different from the inside & probably no one can quite convey to a beginner
how completely & utterly different the inside looks from the inside.
But one thing's certain, if beginners read & understood the A.A.R.'s Code
of Ethics statement, then no beginner would ever be ripped of by a faux
agent ever again, because everyone'd recognize the hoodwinkers the instant
they opened their smiling mouths to bite your ass. That doesn't mean every
beginner can thereby find a real agent, but at least you'll end up looking
in the right place rather than (like most) going at it bassackwards.
-paghat the ratgirl
> In article <37B766E7...@bestweb.net>,
> vstr...@bestweb.net wrote:
> > I've received numerous complaints about the Robins Agency from writers
> > who've been asked to submit their manuscripts, only to be offered
> > editing services at $3.50 per page. In addition, the agency runs the
> > Faustine Winchester Writing Academy, the New Writers' Publishing
> > Evaluation Service, and the New Writers' Publishing Editing Service,
> > I think it would be fair to say that their main interest is book
> > doctoring.
> > They also decline to divulge their client list or track record of
> > sales.
> > -Victoria
> > --
> > Victoria Strauss
> > Homepage: http://www.sff.net/people/victoriastrauss
> > Writer Beware: http://www.sfwa.org/Beware/Warnings.html
> Interesting. They've e-mailed me a contract which shows no fees short
> of the 15% commission on royalties. They've also read the entire
> manuscript, said they have paid an outside agency to check for errors,
> and have told me none had been found. I'm planning on talking to them
> and asking some pointed questions. Did the writers you mention go
> through a similar process, or is my experience with them unique?
They paid an outside agency to check for errors? Will that cost be passed
on to you? First, they shouldn't have to pay anyone to do that. If there
are serious problems with the manuscript, they should spot them themselves
in their reading. Second, it sounds like a cost that you will be charged,
without your having authorized it.
And this agency found NO errors? Not a single typo, not a comma out of
place? I've been an editor and a copyeditor, and I never saw a single
manuscript -- out of hundreds that were being published -- that had no
Be very cautious around these people.
Interesting. They've e-mailed me a contract which shows no fees short
of the 15% commission on royalties. They've also read the entire
manuscript, said they have paid an outside agency to check for errors,
and have told me none had been found. I'm planning on talking to them
and asking some pointed questions. Did the writers you mention go
through a similar process, or is my experience with them unique?
> They paid an outside agency to check for errors? Will that cost be
> on to you? First, they shouldn't have to pay anyone to do that. If
> are serious problems with the manuscript, they should spot them
> in their reading. Second, it sounds like a cost that you will be
> without your having authorized it.
> And this agency found NO errors? Not a single typo, not a comma out
> place? I've been an editor and a copyeditor, and I never saw a single
> manuscript -- out of hundreds that were being published -- that had no
> Be very cautious around these people.
Actually, my manuscript is science fiction and it was my understanding
that they sent it out to check for technical and continuity errors.
Still, I'm very leery after hearing what was posted here.
A lot of excellent stuff, snipped for brevity.
Thanks enormously for the informative post! I copied it to Word so I
will have it for later reference, and I emailed a copy to a friend of
mine who's looking for an agent. I hope it'll save her, and me, and a
lot of other people, some agony in the future.
Every writer I've heard from has cited an offer of paid editing.
Sometimes this comes after reading 3 chapters; sometimes it comes after
the entire ms. has been read and a contract offered. The price varies
from a low of $2 per page to a high of $4.
I'd be concerned about that outside agency they say they paid. That
strikes me as weird, and possibly bogus. If you are asked to pay for
this, you should refuse, since it sounds like it was done without your
Agent Research & Evaluation offers a good free agent verification
service: http://www.agentresearch.com/agent_ver.html. They'll check
their database to see if the agent has made any sales that are part of
the public record, and let you know if they've received any complaints.
I have a hunch that their answer on Robins will be much the same as
mine, but it's always good to have a second opinion.
Even if they're legit, they'll be at a big disadvantage being so far away from
any of the very few cities (NYC, LA, Boston, and maybe Chicago) where books are
actually sold to publishers.
Tim Horrigan <horr...@aol.com>