Challenge,  publishing

Oh, my…

All I Can Say…

I was sent a couple days ago a court case about one author taking the work of another author. This has been a public case and I am going to make no comments on the case itself or let any comments through about the case. I do not know the facts beyond what I have read in the suit.

Of course, there is an agent in the middle of the entire mess. And also named in the action. No comment there other than I stand by my solid belief that all agents are crooks and steal writer’s money.

So why am I writing this… why am I so, so shocked at something that has been stipulated in the facts of the case that all I can say is, “Oh, my….”

Are you ready?

The beginning writer rewrote the novel 54 times for the agent.

Yes, that is in the case… 54 times. The writer rewrote one book FOR AN AGENT 54 times.

The myths of the dying part of the publishing industry are very strong. Agent myths, rewriting myths, combined, things get ugly.

54 rewrites… of the same book… for an agent…

Oh, my…


  • S. H. Miah

    We writers naturally believe our fiction is the worst thing ever known to mankind. We’re terrible judges of our own work.

    Early on, I wished to be traditionally published through an agent just for that stamp of approval, and I know many writers are the same. That need for validation (which is pointless anyway since we should write for ourselves before anyone else) often spurs many to rewrite many times because “of course the agents and publishers know best”.

    Writing what I love and for myself has really helped me shed that mindset, as well as writing into the dark instead of outlining.

  • HBL

    Assume/concede/pretend that that editing your way into print is the way to go . . .
    I can see where multiple agent revisions would be quicksand. Writer sends out batches of query letters, seems to be making inroads with an agent who’s helping him polish his manuscript to ensure success. However, if an agent’s goal is to sell the book, why wouldn’t he just have the writer “fix” everything in one pass? To put it another way: why were the changes in revision fifty not addressed in revision one?

    Along those lines, the Association of Author Representatives (AAR) changed their name to The Association of American Literary Agents (AALA), which seems way more accurate. They’ve revised their canon of ethics to allow agents to charge editing fees. However, that’s considered ethical because those fees (under the canon) are supposed to get refunded once the writer signs a formal contract for representation with said agent. So I have to ask: what’s to stop an agent from stringing a prospective writer along for thousands in fees only to decide the book “isn’t right for them” in the end?

    Industry stalwarts are defending the above practice as reasonable and fair. I don’t get it.

    • dwsmith

      Never look for logic with book agents in a dying part of the industry. Just look to theft. And even having their own association say it was all right to steal from baby writers is just one of many examples. Realize no agent knows how to write a novel. All a scam.

    • Kris Rusch

      The head of that organization in the 1990s embezzled from me and countless other writers. It hasn’t become a better organization with the passage of time….

  • Jason M

    Translation: “I was so frustrated at the endless rewrites that I finally stole published work so my agent would be happy”.
    What an absolute mess of a dying system.

    • dwsmith

      Jason, the case is the other way around. Young idiot writer does 54 rewrites, agent takes it and give it to bestselling writer. Again, all book agents steal from writers in one fashion or another. In this modern world of smaller markets and much, much smaller advances, only way they can stay afloat and pay New York overhead if theft.

      • allynh

        I keep searching and can’t find the case online. HA!

        Last time you did this — hinting all the way — I wound up finding a completely different story than what you meant. That was useful, totally bizarre, but this one is driving me nuts, and to find out that the rewritten story was given to another author. Yikes!

        (link deleted by Dean… Sorry)

  • topaz

    I’m shocked. 😮 Rewriting 54 times? That author could have finished 53 other books instead of rewriting this one.

    If I remember correctly, I think you said, about publishing book 20 discoverability starts to kick in. Which means that author could have become a successful published author by now.

  • Kristi N.

    54?!?!? I…have no words for that. Other than correcting horrible grammar/spelling errors, there is no reason to pound a story flat like that. It might not be to the agent’s taste, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t work or isn’t acceptable as is.

    On a different part of the rewriting myth, I’ve been toying with the idea of trying serial fiction, and pondering a question that comes up in writing groups often enough–did the pulp fiction/serial fiction writers of the Golden Age ever change their story in mid stream based on the response of the readers? (For example, a minor character who resonated with readers being given a larger part in the story.) Or did they write their story and then give the minor character a larger part in the larger story arc?

    Thanks for bringing this case up. Sometimes it’s very instructive to see what has been done (and very likely will be done again).

  • T Thorn Coyle


    Was having an opposite end of the spectrum conversation yesterday about someone who writes one novel a decade.

    That would feel as excruciating to me as rewriting something 54 times.

    I need to be in the flow of the story for it to work, and to feel satisfying. Even with my one research heavy alt history series, I did a ton of research, then wrote, and just looked up occasional details as needed.

  • Cynthia Lee

    The agent rewrite nonsense makes my blood boil, truly!

    After I’d written my first book, I was in a big hurry, of course, and querying all the agents. I did this for a year and a half and it was just so boring. Finally, an agent offered representation but only if I’d rewrite. When I read this agent email, asking me to rewrite, I probably blinked in incomprehension.

    Then I got mad. It makes me mad just thinking about it.

    I mean, who in the hell do these people think they are?

    I’ve heard of writers spending years rewriting their books. That’s time away from your friends, family, pets, not to mention the toll it takes on a writer’s mental health. I knew a writer (sadly not writing anymore) who spent 2 years rewriting her first book for an agent and then the agent ghosted her completely. She was devastated, dreams dashed.

    It’s absolutely disgusting.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, you are right, Cynthia, but heaven help you if you get between one of these myth-focused writers and an agent with any kind of logic and common sense.

  • Brad D. Sibbersen

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following exchange:

    Expert On Publishing Who Doesn’t Even Read: “You need an agent.”
    Me: “You mean someone practicing contract law without a law degree? No thanks.”

    Generally shuts the person right down.

  • Sheila

    A few years ago, I read a story about one of trad pub’s latest darling debut writers. She was proud of having written upwards of 100 drafts before it was “perfect”, and hence accepted and published. The moral of the story seemed to be “never give up, you too can one day finally get something published and be somewhat, briefly, famous”. My take was, if she couldn’t get the story right without spending years and writing that many drafts, she likely wasn’t going to have much of a career. Hope she kept the day job.