Midwest Book Review

Writer Beware and

I originally wrote this blog for, 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 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.


About Book Reviewers

As a self-published author (Shadow of the Rock, a historical novel), I eagerly seek reviews of my book to establish credibility and open the way to library sales. So I was pleased to receive a positive review from Foreword Reviews, which called my book “A bold adventure” that moves “quickly in a mixture of danger, excitement, and pure enjoyment.”

Great! Then I received a very positive review from the Midwest Book Review, which called my book “a riveting story of time and humanity, highly recommended.”  Hooray!

You may think this is a shameless bit of self-promotion, but actually I want to applaud James Cox, editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review.

We independent and self-published authors owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his support . First, his publications review our books when almost all the snooty major reviewing media  turn their backs, aggravatng an already hostile situation. This situation is becoming less hostile to small and self-published presses as print-on-demand,, and e-books open the market to all of us.  But the major reviewing media like Library Journal and Publishers Weekly are still mired in tradition, insisting, for instance, on perfect-bound galleys three or four months ahead of publication date.  Ludicrous.

The big publishers, the agents, and the reviewing media try to keep the gates closed, preferring to hawk their established authors and cater to any celebrity whose book might bring in a buck.

Second, James Cox has come forward with his knowledge and experience to help us discern the difference between legitimate and predatory reviewers.  I’ve been an independent publisher and member of the Independent Book Publishers Association for a long time. It was through the IBPA and James Cox that we started questioning those terse, poorly written requests for review copies. We even succumbed once before someone  in IBPA (then Publishers Marketing Association) asked that memorable question: “Has anyone, anywhere, ever seen a review by …?”

Third, I have learned from and enjoyed the numerous panels on which he has participated at PMA and IBPA Publishers University.

Many thanks to James Cox for his years of impartial support to independent publishers and to self-publishers.

If you are considering self-publishing your book or forming a publishing company, join IBPA and the IBPA affiliate in your region or state. The information, education, and cooperative marketing opportunities you gain will far outweigh the costs of membership. This is a tough business. You need their help.


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