Many years ago, when I was just starting to get serious about having a career as a writer and becoming a novelist, I foolishly signed with a co-op that would publish my book if I footed half the bill. Young and naive at the time, and not so aware of the various types of publishers out there and ones to avoid, I went through with it. I didn't revise my manuscript. I didn't get any crits or feedback on it. I didn't do any research on the publisher or even know much about what kind of publishers there were. Those were my mistakes and even though my book got into print, I was left with a manuscript that is in poor shape and one which is very hard to buy a copy of. (As it is, I have remainder copies of this novel, but I have not been very zealous in promoting it for the very reason that it is poorly written.)
Just starting out, I apparently got taken in by a shady business with even greater shady dealings. What happened to me today stands only as a reminder to never again be so lax about understanding the various types of publishers out there, being aware of scammers and checking people out.
I recently came across information about a literary agency that was sending writers a referral, first to use their editing service then providing the suggestion that the writer self-publish their book instead. To say the least, I was outraged. This suggestion came only from a query letter (under normal circumstances), and a writer querying a literary agent is obviously not interested in self-publishing their novel. (Self-published novels are a hard sell.) The response this agency was handing out was not only confusing but very unprofessional.
A literary agent or acquisitions editor will give you one of two responses to your query letter: "Yes, send me more" or "No, sorry, not for us." Those are the only two kinds of responses you, the aspiring author, can expect to receive.
If an agent or publisher says something like "we'll get you published if you use our editing service to whip your manuscript into shape!" or "here's a contract, give me money" or "your writing is so brilliant that I want to post your sample chapters on my site for a small fee and we'll hope a publisher somehow or another finds your marvelous work then offers an advance" then run away. RUN. AWAY. Do not sign with these agents -- and especially a publisher who promises you the world for all rights to your work, ownership for 7 years and/or an up-front fee. (Somehow, these people will convince the writer who doesn't know better that publishers and acquisitions editors spend hours surfing the Internet looking for new talent. Sorry to say, they don't.)
Besides being wary of responses to your query such as the above, another good habit for any aspiring author is to never jump the gun. If you're offered a contract, don't blindly sign on the dotted line. Read the contract first. Study its terms and ask a fellow writer about anything which might leave you a little confused. (Don't ask the agent or editor; if there's a chance they are shady, they'll only confuse you even further with their twisted lingo or tell you not to worry about that, it's just standard). Make sure you agree with the terms in the contract. If you're not comfortable about something, try to negotiate with them. (You can negotiate the terms of your contract!) Go with your gut on this. If something doesn't sound right, chances are it's not.
Also, don't believe lies a shady agent or publisher will tell you. It is NOT standard to pay to get your book published. It is NOT standard to sign away all of the rights to your book.
A final word of advice: Do your homework. Check out agents, editors and publishing companies. Look into the kinds of books they've done, if they're available in major bookstores, if they are in professional condition (good covers, little to no typos and pages that are professionally set). Try to netwok with some of their authors. Visit the agent or publisher's blog or look them up on social networks such as Facebook or MySpace. Take the time to see what they are all about. Google them. Read what other people are saying about them. In this process, time is your friend. Give an agent, editor or publisher a little time and see what they're doing, who they're doing business with and how things move along with them.
You can check out agents, editors and publishers on sites such as Absolute Write (check out "Bewares and Background Check"), Preditors & Editors and Writer Beware. Newsletters for writers such as WritersWeekly will often have a "warnings" section that will let writers know if someone is better left avoided.
Bottom line: Go the extra mile to make sure the agent and publishing company you sign with is legit. Check out their background, check out their work and take the time to examine just exactly what a contract is asking for. Your career as an author will be much better for it.
Labels: agents, books, literary agents, publishers, publishing companies, writers, writing