book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing, scams

Your Publisher May Not Be A Publisher

computer-virus-rev-1-300x200 Each and every day brings an exciting pronouncement that so and so has been published. It’s a thrilling announcement, one which envisions a bright future for the impending literary scion, and one that is, so often the percentages died aborning, wrong.  I’m not going to slam self published authors – at least not today – rather I’m going to help clarify some terms. They are important ones to know if you’re serious about your craft. The word “publisher” dates back to the 1500’s. It originally meant “one who announces in public.” which makes complete sense even today. The more modern interpretation,  “one whose business is bringing out for sale books, periodicals, engravings, etc.” dates back to 1740. Whether or not a publishing company pays an advance to a writer they do, or are supposed to, provide certain services for a fee based on sales, or, to be clear, work on commission. No legitimate publisher charges an author up front monies for anything.

Those services, in a nutshell, are promotion of the work, marketing, licensing (when possible), and distribution. Included in that will be the arrangement of some interviews and other forms of personal publicity which are designed to sell the author just as much as the book.

Should sales, or projected sales, warrant it the publisher may suggest the author ascertain the services of an agent. That person will take over the job of selling you and all your intellectual properties to the unsuspecting world all while trying to get you a better publishing deal than that piece of shit you signed (every agent just laughed here, every author just whimpered).

Good news, no reputable agent will charge an author any upfront fees either. Bad news, like unicorns and South American hockey teams, they are difficult to wrangle. If, as noted in the previous paragraph, you find yourself in need of one many publishers will offer suggestions but no more than that. It’s in their best interest for you to succeed, not to interfere  or micromanage your life. They have other shit to do.

Consider all of the above bullet points to refer to when you’re talking to publishers.

Now, which companies aren’t publishers?

Amazon KDP
Book Baby
Create Space
Draft2Digital
Ingram Spark
Liberio (recently out of beta testing)
Lulu
Nook
Smashwords

All of the above use the phrase “publish your book” but use it very carefully. They mean the phrase literally. They are all, with a variety of different options available to writers, print on demand services. They do not vet your writing in any manner, other than for formatting or decency standards (if they have those). If you write a book claiming that Iron Sky, my favorite movie series involving space Nazis, is a documentary, and that numerology proves it, no one stops you. You just hit send and off it goes to the Internet. Where it goes after that depends on how much money you want to spend. None of the companies listed above are going to have a single unpaid intern lift a finger on your behalf. That means all of the tasks I noted above are now yours.

Which means, and you need to understand this, you are the publisher. It is now on you, and nobody else, to present your work to the wider world.

Now, for some help. since the majority of writers reading this blog are involved in sci-fi or fantasy, I’m going to share a list of scams sited on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) website.

As you cringe through the many instances of fraud, all of which have been adjudicated, you’ll note some common themes.

  1. Film deals were based on getting talent signed first, all you need to do is provide a little “seed money.” Just FYI, there is no such animal in the film industry. It’s financing first and then that money attracts names. If an actor or actress likes the author they may “attach” their name to the presentation, but they are under no obligation go appear, support, or otherwise do a damn thing. At least not until they have a contract and money. Not “or” but “and.” That’s important to remember.
  2. Authors were charged fees for services unrelated to, in wildly in excess of, what they needed. Yes, editors charge fees. But agents and publishers are not editors. At least not exclusively. When you’re ready for editing hire someone who does that, and only that, and you’ll save yourself agita and money.
  3. Celebrity endorsements. Be extremely wary of these. The number of faux agents I’ve seen touting them is amazing and, always, a lie. Just last week I reached out to someone I know to ask if she was really “cheering on an amazing author.” Her response, edited for profanity, was “no.” Unless you have evidence, photographic is best, you could end up getting a wonderfully threatening “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer who makes in an hour what you earn in a year. That said, they do happen. I have gotten them from Rosario Dawson and John Fuglesang, for example, but even then I’ve been careful not to use them in advertising or any other commercial venue. You can post them on social media, as I have, but anything else requires a contract. Simply put, “don’t worry about it, they’re friends” is bullshit.
  4. Reading, evaluation, and/or marketing fees. These are where your money goes to die. The SWFA has a litany of reasons why you should run screaming from the room if they’re mentioned. Simply put, they are designed for people to make money no matter what happens to you. And, far more often than not, nothing happens that benefits you in any way.

As a point of reference, all of these publishers have been deemed scams.

  • American Book Publishing (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Archebooks Publishing (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Helm Publishing (Rockford, IL)
  • Hilliard and Harris (Boonsboro, MD)
  • Oak Tree Press (Taylorville, IL)
  • Park East Press (Dallas TX) (formerly Durban House, formerly Oakley Press)
  • PublishAmerica (Frederick, MD)
  • Royal Fireworks Press/Silk Label Books (Unionville, NY)
  • SterlingHouse Publisher (Pittsburgh, PA–imprints include, among others, Pemberton Mysteries, 8th Crow Books, Cambrian House Books, Blue Imp Books, Caroline House Books, Dove House Books, and PAJA Books)
  • SBPRA/Strategic Book Publishing/Eloquent Books (Boca Raton, FL–formerly known as The Literary Agency Group and AEG Publishing Group)
  • Tate Publishing (Mustang, OK)
  • Whitmore Publishing Company (Pittsburgh, PA)

The list of disreputable agents is too long to recreate here, so click on the list to see if the person who claims you’re the next J. K. Rowling is there.

So what to do? This part is absurdly easy.

  1. Ask for, a minimum of five, references with direct contact information. Make sure you can reach every single one.
  2. If a celebrity is attached contact their management. All that info is listed on any authorized web site.
  3. Use this new fangled Google thing to search for whoever has made you this amazing offer, you need to act on now – NOW! DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!, and add the word “scam” after their name. You’ll be amazed how much time and money that little trick will save you.

Just like having a blind date at an S&M bar, caution is your friend. Be careful out there.

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book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing

The Heart of the Matter.

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A piece on Scribophile asks an important question:

_________________________________

Yesterday, I went to my first ever writer’s conference. It gave me my first exposure to meeting an agent face-to-face in a “speed date” of 10 minutes. I delivered my pitch. She cut me down to a stump with one question:

“Okay, so I get that you have _____, and you have _____, but, like, what’s your one thing that’s going to make me want to read this book?”

I stared at her stupefied for a moment. I wasn’t able to give the agent an answer that made her go, “Oh, wow. Yes! Please send me that book. I have to find out about that.”

She asked a simple, direct question that cut to the quick: this is a woman with not enough time for anyone, and yet she’s contemplating — maybe — adding a person to her client list, if she thinks the burden is worth it. She already puts in intensive hours working for her existing clients and poring over hundreds of other submissions. What makes me the needle in the haystack? Why am I so goddamn special?

_________________________________

This is the question I have for the hoards of books touted on Facebook. There are a thousand paranormal romances out there. There are a thousand of everything. And I already have stacks – hell, mountains – of books waiting to be read. Why should I devote my time to yours?

The answer, as far as my own thing is concerned, would be: for super-imaginative fun delivered with merry wise-ass style.

Were I to encapsulate the many joys of the renowned series of naval adventures by Patrick O’Brian (that currently enthrall me), I would say, A beguiling interplay of complex characterization, adventure with a touch of mystery, and a mind-blowing knowledge of the sea. I am mesmerized!

What about you? What would be your Heart-of-the-Matter response?

 

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, Literary Agents, Research, Stories, writing technique

A Path

Lots of great ideas here but they are only ideas unless we put the time, effort & sometimes money into them to make them happen. Take the idea of WritersCo-op.com becoming a kind of wiki created by writers who have something to offer other writers. That would take time, effort & eventually, money.

Time, first. Members can keep posting articles until we have enough to seed a wiki. Then effort. I think I can find writers to create a wiki but that must be done. And we’d probably have to pay a server host to maintain our site online. I’ve set up websites since 1998 and I know we could find a home on the ‘Net for our wiki at a cost we’d be happy with.

The beauty of this path is that we do not have to decide right now. We can keep on blogging as we are doing.
When we have enough blogs, or articles, we can consider turning the site into a wiki.
If we end up with a wiki, we’ll figure out a way to fund it.

We can become a site where any writer could log on and find information on just about anything they are looking for regarding writing – from creating stories, to practical working advice, to shopping for agents, working with an editor, the publishing process, marketing tips – all on one website created by other writers:
The WritersCo-op Wiki.

What do you think?

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book promotion, book sales, Literary Agents

Secret Agent Plan

OR

Five Four Three Two One Unique Ways to Get an Agent

Oh these sad and weary tales of woe.

Nope. Not this time. We’ve all been there and done that. Personally, I’ve read so many articles over the years about how to write the ideal query letter and get the perfect literary agent that I ought to be an authority by now. Unfortunately, like the typical ‘rules for writing’ article, most of them are little more than a list of things you shouldn’t do:

DON’T do mass, impersonal, “Dear Agent” queries;

DON’T query agents for genres they don’t represent;

DON’T make hyperbolic promises about your book being a guaranteed bestseller;

DON’T lie about all the literary awards you obviously haven’t won;

DON’T spell their names wrong.

There are lots more, but they all break down to the same basic piece of advice: be professional. A query letter is a business letter. Agents are in business to make money, so don’t waste their time with a lot of nonsense. Pitch the book, give your credentials, keep it brief. And edit for typos.

I think I’ve crafted some pretty good query letters in my day, but most great query letters end up in the same place as all the poor query letters: the reject pile. I don’t want to belabor a point that has been made too many times in too many places, so let’s just take it as a given that writing is hard, getting published is hard, making money is hard, yada yada yada. You can do everything right and still end up in the slush pile. In fact, most of us do.

Of course, most of us also keep dreaming. So when an article called “5 Unique Ways to Land An Agent” appeared in my email feed this morning, I had to look. Given that I am too cynical and hardboiled to believe that there are any magic beans in the publishing world, I wasn’t expecting much.

Guess what? There wasn’t much. Nothing against Meredith Blevins, who is a reasonably successful author and, I’m sure, a fine teacher, but I had to laugh at her list of five. I’ll summarize:

1) Get a writing degree. If you do (or hopefully did), you’ll meet people who can give you references and personal introductions and stuff like that.

2) Go to a writer’s conference, for the same basic reason.

3) Really. Go to a writer’s conference!

4) In fact, here’s one writer’s conference in particular that worked for one author she knows.

5) Go to New York and talk to agents in person. (The first time I typed this, I wrote “talk to agents in prison.” Sometimes the fingers just know what you’re really thinking.)

Maybe I’ve miscounted, but that’s really only three unique ways to land an agent. Unfortunately, two of them are nearly useless. Not a lot of us have the wherewithal to fly to New York or to attend graduate school (or even writer’s conferences, for that matter.) Her bottom line advice can be summarized thus: personal contact is always better than a letter. I have no doubt she is right. But also? Wow. Obvious.

So do these things work? Does a writing degree or attending writer’s conferences at least increase your chances of landing an agent? Maybe. I’m sure they can’t hurt. But I’ve known writers who have gone to plenty of conferences and never gotten representation, because it’s still an uphill battle against very long odds.han-solo-odds

I’ve had some big name agents request full manuscripts of mine, even had one offer rewrite suggestions—which I followed to the best of my ability and conscience—only to meet with eventual rejection. Not because she thought the book was bad, but because she didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth her time and effort

The bottom line really is the bottom line.

But put all that gloom and doom aside. I’d love to get your take. Have you succeeded in landing an agent? What did it take? Did it help? Are agents even the way to go in this era?

Discuss, please.

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