Would you wear your diamond necklace and gold bracelets walking down the street in a bad neighborhood?

Would you say your book manuscript is more precious than gold? Certainly you put more blood, sweat, and tears into it than some crusty old prospector finding gold in the desert, but when you start shopping it around to agents and publishers, you may be venturing into a bad neighborhood. Writer beware.

Most new authors, dewy-eyed innocents as they are, are thrilled that an agent or a publisher is interested in their work. Unless they take the time to learn the business part of writing, they are vulnerable to the shiny baubles offered by the smooth-talking sharks and polished websites of the unscrupulous. Even well-known, reputable publishers may try to sneak in contract provisions detrimental to the author.

I am sometimes appalled at how little authors know about the provisions of their contracts. It’s as if these contracts have nothing to do with them or their work, and yet these contracts could spell disaster. Exorbitant fees, restrictive clauses, and provisions that might doom an author to perpetual loss of income are just a few of the traps for the unwary. Remember the story of Maria von Trappe? She sold all rights to her book on the Trappe Family Singers for $9,000 and never reaped a penny more, despite its transition to the stage and movies as The Sound of Music.

“Writer Beware” is a website resource begun by Victoria Strauss and A.C. Crispin in 1998 to help writers discern the legitimate from the fraudulent. Googling the name will bring up the official site at http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/authors/writer-beware as well as similar sites and blogs. On these sites, you’ll find information about fraudulent practices of agents, such as charging fees, promoting their own editors, blanket submissions, etc. You’ll also find out about deceptive or outrageous practices that an unscrupulous publisher might put over on an unwary but eager author.

Another website resource is http://www.pred-ed.com, which lists agents, publishers, awards, etc., with recommendations—or not—based on their track record.

As an author, you are a self-employed business person. Learn what you need to know to protect your business.