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Writer Beware and Pred-ed.com

I originally wrote this blog for www.latelastnightbooks.com, but it’s important enough to post again on my site.

Naiveté, desperation, eagerness. What does that spell to you? To me it spells V-I-C-T-I-M. It can also spell W-R-I-T-E-R.

A writer eager to find a publisher, desperate for an agent, naive enough to sign any contract that seems to promise an agent and publication. And that’s just the dirt on top. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find all kinds of “opportunities” to promote, sell, distribute or otherwise handle a writer’s opus—for a fee.

I have been a writer all my professional life and a publisher for the last twenty plus years. I know how eagerly a writer wants to be published; I know the anguish of being rejected again and again by uncaring and by, obviously, ignorant agents who can’t seem to grasp my vision. And I have been naive enough to hand over thousands of dollars for publicists who did nothing, distributors who charged more in fees than my publishing company made in sales, cover designers who cost more than the going rates or who never heard of “work for hire.”

Contests, awards, marketing consultants, advertisers, unscrupulous agents and editors, even reviewers, all add to the pile of “writer-get-rich” snares out there. Writer Beware.

In fact, google “writer beware” and you’ll find a number of websites under this name, usually owned by Ann Crispin, who wrote as A.C. Crispin, and/or Victoria Strauss. Many thanks to both of you. I once heard Ann Crispin speak on this subject at an annual conference of the Maryland Writers Association. It was an eye-opener, and the “writer beware” websites are well worth a visit.

Crispin and Strauss compiled a list of 20 agents about which they had received the greatest number of advisories or complaints. I won’t repeat that list (you can look it up) since it is dated 2006, but her advice remains the same. None of the agents on the list had a significant track record of sales to commercial (advance-paying) publishers, and most had virtually no documented and verified sales at all (many sales claimed by these agents turn out to be vanity publishers). All charged clients before a sale is made, whether directly, by charging fees such as reading or administrative fees, or indirectly, for “editing services.”

Writer Beware suggests that writers searching for agents avoid questionable agents, and instead query agents who have actual track records of sales to commercial publishing houses.
Best of all is to find an agent who is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives, which has a code of ethics. If they want you to pay “reader’s fees” or anything else upfront, raise a wary eyebrow.

One website I always check to find out the facts about agents, editors, awards, contests, etc. is www.pred-ed.com. It stands for Preditors & Editors and it’s a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to provide writers with information and contacts for the purpose of seeking publication of their work. Artists, composers, and game designers will also find the same information useful.

Go to this site, look up agents, and you’ll find some surprising comments. “Not recommended.” “Charges fee, not recommended.” “Under indictment.” Eye-opening, yessirree.

The first few years we were in publishing, we kept receiving requests for review copies from a Joan Orth. The letterhead seemed to have been cut out of a potato and stamped, so it didn’t quite look right, but eager for reviews, we sent her copies. Finally, one of our publisher acquaintances asked on a publishers’ chat room if anyone had ever seen a review by Joan Orth anywhere. The response was a resounding “No.” In response James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, Midwest Book Review, wrote a series of articles on how to spot a fake reviewer. Bless him.

So no matter how eagerly you want that book contract and a bestseller, watch out. You don’t want to become another pigeon.

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Protect Your Rights as an Author

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.

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