Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Writers beware

About two weeks ago I decided to query a literary agency that I found online. It asked for answers, plugged into an online form, to typical questions like what’s the book about, how long have you been writing, what have you published, etc. To me it looked like nothing out of the ordinary – except for one question I had never been asked before: would I be willing to publicize my book through a blog tour. Well, I jumped at that one because my blog had just hosted another author on her blog tour. I thought, great. Technology is finally influencing the publishing field.

Then, much to my surprise I got a positive response. In view of my answers to their little questionnaire they wanted to see my manuscript and answer three more questions. A couple of the questions were repeats of the previous. The one that was different was: was my book professionally edited, if so by whom, and if not, would I be willing to have an editor look at it. To that question I answered yes, my book had gone through an edit and a critique chapter by chapter by a writing coach who teaches at UCLA and Antioch, but that I wouldn’t mind having a fresh pair of eyes take a look at it. In fact, I’ve been thinking all along that my manuscript is still in draft form, and once I found an agent and publisher I expected that it would have to go through several more incarnations. With that I shipped off my manuscript in soft copy. This agency only works through email and soft copies.

Then this past weekend I got another email from them touting their authors and books that had just been showcased at a book expo in New York. I decided to take a look at the three websites they sent me. One opened. The other two warned me if I opened them my computer could be harmed. Another interesting thing that I found was that all of the books that had been showcased were published by their sister publishing company.

Was that a red flag or what?

I decided to do a little more googling. Mainly I looked for a website for the new name the agency was going by – different from the one I originally queried. And the first thing I found were disgruntled comments about this agency – that it would lure a writer in and then offer editing services and publishing services – not paid directly to them, but for which they would get a kickback. And, this is totally unethical in the literary agency and publishing business. Reputable folks only make a commission from the sales of books – usually 10 to 15 percent.

Well, sure enough this morning I got the word. They would love to represent me but my book needs a critique and an edit before they could move on – mentioning the importance of correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. They also included a bunch of editor’s web sites.

Now, I must tell you that I have worked as a professional writer and editor most of my life. I am known in my company for my editing expertise. So, for these guys to tell me that my book needs editing polish is totally bogus. And, I am not biting. Needless to say, I’m moving on. They gave me the option to say thanks, but no thanks, and that’s exactly what I did. Unfortunately, I still feel embarrassed that I fell into this little trap – especially since I felt to begin with that this was an affirmation about the worth of my book after so many rejections and even my husband’s negativity that I would ever get it published.

However, before I end this I want to give all my writing buddies out there two websites: one that warns about literary fraud and other schemes, scams, and pitfalls that target writers and two: the writers beware thumbs down agency list:


The agency I’ve been dealing with, and their many names and companies, are on both these lists.

We all need to learn enough about the business of writing to know there are scam artists in this business just like any other. In fact, if you need to know about a particular agency, send an email to: Victoria Strauss at: beware@sfwa.org or go to the writers beware blog at: http://www.accrispin.blogspot.com/.

And, no matter what, keep writing.

PS. No, I’m not naming names here either. No way do I want to be sued by scam experts.

PSS. I think my next book has got to be about this whole crazy business of finding an agent and getting published.

No comments: