The Business-Savvy Writer

By Jodi Brandon

For most of the year, I think of myself as a writer. As I calculate my estimated tax payments and meet with my accountant, though, I am reminded that what I really am is a businesswoman. Most writers, I assume, are like me: more interested in—not to mention better at—the craft of writing (the creative aspect) yet forced to tackle the business elements of writing (namely, marketing, promotion, and advertising; growing your business; and taxes). Writing is, after all, a business. As is the case in any industry, the competition is stiff. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent (February 2001) findings show that about 9.4 percent of all American workers are either self-employed, temporary, or contract workers. In other words, there are quite a few of us out there vying for the freelance jobs that are available. All the more reason to be business-savvy about your writing career.

Marketing, Promotion, and Advertising

Sales are generated by marketing plans, promotion efforts, and advertising campaigns. Writers can’t think of these tasks as belonging exclusively to their publisher. Doing so hurts you where it counts: your royalty statement. You must consider your own marketing and promotion initiative. Ideally, your publisher would handle your project’s publicity efforts completely and effectively. Realistically, however, only a handful of books (think those of James Patterson, Anne Rice, and John Grisham, books that would probably sell themselves off the shelves anyway’go figure) are given the money for full-scale, knock ’em dead initiatives. Take what you can get from your publisher and supplement it as best you can. If you aren’t in a financial position to send yourself on a first-class, nationwide media tour, then consider a radio tour, which you can do from your home. (And remember that you can likely write off much of the expenses you accrue while promoting your work.)

Articles (and other shorter works) are a different story. Media tours, book signings, and such aren’t things you’ll be exposed to, but that doesn’t mean that marketing and promotion aren’t important to the work you do. You’ll likely be handling the work yourself (unless you outsource it yourself, that is). Send a press release to writing e-zines and magazines, which often list articles, books, etc. recently published. Use the clip as a way to promote you and your writing ability. (Better yet, use that clip to generate a new sale by way of a reprint.)

No matter what type of writer you are, your work warrants publicity’whether it’s generated by you or someone else. If it falls on your shoulders, then consider it a learning experience. Think of the media contacts you’ll make, the people you’ll meet, and the exposure your work will receive. That exposure will leave your readers waiting for your next piece of work, so the business side of your writing life really is important, isn’t it?

Growing Your Business

No writer is happy with the status quo. We’re constantly generating new ideas. Those ideas morph themselves into new markets. As a businessperson, think of those markets as potential clients. Put another way, then, writers are always looking for new clients to grow their business.

Growing and expanding a writing business is different from other types of businesses. You need to balance the creative aspect with the practical aspect. You need to take care of the tasks you’re already doing (sending out queries, attending workshops and conferences, researching markets, etc.) as well as some tasks that don’t seem all that appropriate to you as a writer at first glance. For example, join your local chamber of commerce or small-business association. You might not have much to say to these more “traditional” businesspeople at first, but you’ll soon find that you face many of the same challenges they do. Awkward? Perhaps. Anyone who’s ever moved knows how it feels to be the new kid in school, but you also know that the feeling passes. The same is true here. An added bonus is that you might get some clients that you never even knew existed from the contacts you make through business associations and organizations.

Taxes

Taxes are, without a doubt, the thorn in every writer’s side. They don’t have to be. (I swear!) If you don’t feel like or think of yourself as a businessperson, tax season will surely change your viewpoint. I try to look at the bright side: The more taxes I’m paying, the more I must be making, right? I realize it’s a small consolation, but it’s all I’ve got. Here are a few tips to tame the tax beast.

  • Get a good accountant. The money he or she will charge you is worth it. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got much more important things to keep track of than tax law—let alone the tax law changes each year. Not only that, he or she knows what you can and cannot deduct, what will and will not raise the IRS’s eyebrow, and so on. Try to find someone who specializes in or works regularly with freelancers (freelance writers in particular, if you can find someone).
  • Keep your receipts—all of them, from all year. As I just noted, your trusty accountant will tell you what you and cannot deduct, and the more backup you have for anything you do deduct, the safer you’ll be. After a couple years, you’ll get the hang of it. There are still occasions when my accountant surprises me with something that’s deductible, and I’m always happy to have the receipt. You can deduct just about anything—as long as you can prove that it’s “ordinary” and “necessary” to your business. These are the IRS’s key words here.
  • If you’re going to take a home-office deduction, make sure you read IRS publication #587 (Business Use of Your Home) to find out what the IRS allows and what it doesn’t. This deduction often raises a red flag in the eyes of the IRS, so it’s best to be as careful as possible.
  • Take the deductions you’re allowed to. Your accountant (if he or she is a good one) will ask you for receipts for such expenses as dues for trade organizations (such as the Society of Professional Journalists or the National Writers Union), business cards and stationery, conference expenses (registration, plane ticket, transportation while in Chicago, hotel, and meals). In my first year as a freelancer, I had no idea I could deduct a trip I took to Chicago for an editing class. I ended up missing out a hefty deduction because I hadn’t done my homework. It never occurred to me, as a new writer, that I even had expenses. That sounds silly now, but what did I know at age 23, having never even done my own taxes before? I simply handed the paperwork to my mom in previous years, and the form came back with a note for me to sign and mail it.

* * *

All of the ideas covered here are important to your writing business. Keeping the business in order enables us to do what we love best: write.

In her role as president of JBedit, Jodi Brandon has edited and/or contributed to a number of high-profile book projects, including The Barnes & Noble Guide to Children’s Books (3rd Edition), The Buzz on Beer anthology, the Frommer’s Irreverent Guide travel series, The 50 Best (and Worst) Business Deals of All Time, and Copyright Plain & Simple. In addition to her editing responsibilities, she has also completed a number of writing projects on behalf of national and regional clients, including Arcadia Publishing, Inc., Amateur Chef magazine, The Newark Star-Ledger, Bride’s Guide magazine, Lebhar-Friedman Books, The Pathway School, and TheOddSpot.com. You can find her at JodiBrandon.com

A few August 31 Fiction Deadlines

Hadley Rille Books: A Quiet Shelter There is an upcoming anthology of speculative fiction about service or companion animals. The deadline is August 31, and the pay is $10 for a story or $5 for a poem, all USD. The minimum word count for fiction is 1000 words; the maximum is 4000. That makes the payrate for fiction between 1 cent per word and .0025 cents per word (or 1/4 of a penny per word). Submission guidelines!
Editor Gerri Leen has some “Quirks” and suggests that writers check out her blog.

I Like a Little Science in My Fiction” is also slated to close on August 31. First place gets 5 cents per word, second place gets 3 cents per word, and third place gets 1 cent per word. Stories must be based on a recent scientific innovation or discovery (which must be cited!) and be set off of earth. Check out the guidelines.

RymFire eBooks wants 2,500-7,500 word stories (these sound like firm limits from what I’ve read) for their State of Horror: California anthology. As you can imagine, they want horror stories set in California. The editors were interviewed at duotrope if you want more insight into what they publish. They’re only paying $3 per story, but there’s an interesting twist. Every time they sell 150 eBooks, the authors get an additional $3. They’re publishing a print version as well, and they count print sales as three eBook sales for the purposes of reaching the $3 goal. Submission Guidelines. Their website is under construction.

Oncoming Contest Deadlines, Fee-Free Edition

Redstone Science Fiction’s “Identity Crisis” contest is accepting submissions until August 15. There’s no entry fee, and winners get 5 cents per word (4,000 word maximum). The contest’s prompt is an essay titled “Identity Crisis: Who Are We, If We Can Choose Who We Are?” which, along with the publication’s submission guidelines, can be found on the contest page at http://redstonesciencefiction.com/identity-crisis-contest/.

Filament Magazine’s erotic fiction contest closes to submissions on July 31. Filament Magazine is an adult publication, so consider this before following any of the links in this paragraph at work. The theme is “Music,” first prize is £100, there’s no entry fee, and they accept electronic entries. The editors have a few requests of entrants, so make sure read the guidelines (PDF file: http://www.filamentmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/fictionguidelines.pdf) and the contest page (http://www.filamentmagazine.com/2011/05/fiction-contest-for-issue-9-theme-music/) closely.

PoeticPower has an essay and poetry contest winding to a close on August 16. The contest is open to students between grades 3-12. There’s no entry fee, and winners get a $50 savings bond. Both contests’ guidelines are highlighted on the PoeticPower index page. Full disclosure: I thought that their website looked skeevy, but Winning Writers says “We are satisfied that this contest is not a scam.” PoeticPower has something close to a 45% acceptance rate, which is strange for normal contests, but since PoeticPower’s goal has more to do with building self-esteem in children than creating literary masterworks, I think that the contest has quite a bit of value.

If you just need more time, SPS Studios‘ 19th Bi-Annual Poetry Card Contest closes December 31st. No entry fee; first prize is $300. The editors say they’ll accept rhyming poetry, but that they think non-rhyming sounds better. Their submission guidelines and entry form can be found at http://www.sps.com/poetry/index.html.

Soaps.com Looking for a Substitute Recap Writer

Hey, AWers – I just received an email from Christine Fix, the Editor-in-Chief at Soaps.com:

Substitute Recap Writer:

Soaps.com is seeking a strong writer who resides in Ontario Canada to write “day ahead” recaps for the following soap operas: “Young and The Restless” and “Days Of Our Lives.”

The candidate will be open to receiving emails and or calls to substitute for the regular writers without much advance warning.

The candidate must have a fast internet connection, be able to type at least 40 wpm, be able to recap the episode, proof and post on the website within an hour and a half of the start of the episode. Having a screen capture card will be an asset to you.

The episode recap should be no more than 800 words and be in the same format used by the website.
The pay is $25.

Applicants can contact Christine Fix at contact – at – soaps.com with a resume and four writing samples.

If you’re an Ontario writer with a love of soaps, this just might be for you!

Independent Anthologies that Want YOUR Writing!

I’ve noticed a lot of indie anthologies popping up lately, and since three of them ended up in the Water Cooler‘s Paying Markets forum, I thought I’d share a few leads here that never found their way into our forum’s warm, loving arms.

But first, one of the three that posted on the forums still has plenty of time before its deadline. For the dark fantasy and horror writers out there, consider putting something together for Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, edited by Eric J. Guignard. Writing guidelines, what he wants and doesn’t, contact information, and updates can be found at http://ericjguignard.blogspot.com/
1 cent per word payment.

The anthology titled Cat’s New Eye Bella is looking for, wait for it, Spec Fic stories about cats. Their guidelines mention that they want humor twice, so consider sticking some lol on any cats you might lob in their direction. More information here: http://darkwineandstars.blogspot.com/search/label/Anthologies%20Paid%20Info
1 cent per word payment.

My personal favorite (because I’m studying Chinese, I suspect) is a yet-untitled Wuxia anthology, which is a labor of love-type project meant to generate familiarity with Chinese Wuxia, a word that roughly means “hero” or “knight.” As a genre, Wuxia refers to stories that are a bit like crossing the much-romanticized U.S. Old West with Chinese sword fighting and martial arts. The editor, John Dishon, has a much better explanation of the genre here: http://wuxia.genreverse.com/what-is-wuxia/.

From his submission guidelines:

If your story is a borderline case, or you’re not quite sure if it’s wuxia, then send it in anyway. The worst that can happen is it gets rejected.

The guidelines exist over at http://wuxia.genreverse.com/submissions/ and payment is set to range between 1 cent per word and 5 cents per word. If you’ve never even heard of Wuxia, this is a fantastic opportunity (and dare I say motivation?) to learn about a new genre.

Absolutely write hard, write true, and write on!

-BK

Interview: Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency, Inc.

Spotlight on Deidre Knight
Interview by Christina Hamlett

Name: Deidre Knight

Title: Agent

Agency: The Knight Agency

Address: P.O. Box 550648, Atlanta, GA 30355

How long have you been an agent?

I began agenting nearly seven years ago, in the spring of 1996.  My husband, Judson Knight, has been a silent partner since that time, and in 2003 will join our staff full-time as business manager. Our staff also includes administrative assistant Lisa Payne, hired in 1999, and agent Pamela Harty, who joined us in 2000.

What attracted you to the business of representing writers? 

I have always had a talent for selling, an interest in books, and a sense of what works in a story. Agenting gave me an opportunity to combine all three.

What categories are you the most excited about selling these days?

Romance and women’s fiction remain key areas of interest for the Knight Agency, and we are always in search of quality literary fiction. In nonfiction, we are interested in business, self-help, pop culture, travel, health, inspirational/religious, and reference books.

How does an author become a prospective client of your agency?

We usually recommend that a prospective client visit us at our Web page (http://www.knightagency.net), learn a little about the agency, then query us via e-mail. Snail-mail queries are also welcome. Romance writers interested in representation are encouraged to attend major national conventions, such as Romance Writers of America in the summer, as a means of meeting agents working in that genre.

Conversely, what really turns you off?

Prospective clients who query or submit manuscripts by means other than the ones that are recommended either by our agency or by authorities on the business in general. Whereas e-mail and regular mail queries are welcome, phone calls are not. If someone becomes our client, we will probably talk regularly on the phone, but until then, we are simply not equipped to handle phone queries. If we request a sample or manuscript, we expect to see something that looks professional, as per Writer’s Market, Jeff Herman’s Writer’s Guide, or a similarly authoritative guide. Keep in mind that, with thousands of writers for every agent, the agent must pick and choose authors with whom he or she will work, so it pays to be polite and considerate.

Do you charge fees?  If so, what do they cover and are they charged up front or as reimbursements after the sale?

The Knight Agency does not charge a reading fee, nor do we charge for basic expenses such as copies and general mailing expenses.

How many titles have you sold in the past year? 

Forty.

What is your commission? 

Fifteen percent on domestic sales, and 20-25% on foreign and film rights sales if a sub-agent is employed.

What percentage of manuscripts do you reject and what is the most common reason for that rejection?

Sadly—and this is true of virtually all literary agencies—we reject more than 99% of the manuscripts we see. The most common reason for this, in the case of fiction, is that a novel simply lacks that “something special” that would make it a standout in the marketplace. Many times, we review books that are perfectly good, yet fail to grab the reader, and we are forced to say “No.” In the case of nonfiction, rejection is likely to be for reasons that include the following: the market is too broadly defined, the market is too narrowly defined, or the author lacks credentials that would give him or her the “platform” sufficient to make the book a success.

If you could have lunch with any author (living or dead), who would it be and what would you most like to ask them?

Ernest Hemingway—in a sober moment, pre-World War II. I would ask him how he finds the courage to let go of all those extraneous details that writers love to hold on to but should leave on the cutting-room floor.

What would you say is the most important contribution you make to your clients’ careers? 

I see my role not as simply that of selling manuscripts to the publisher, which is only the beginning of a process; rather, I help the author plan an entire career. An active writer needs an agent who will serve as an advocate at all stages of the sale, and who will help him or her gain additional benefits in the form of foreign sales and so on. My job is to assist the writer in developing a recognizable “brand name” (or several brand names); therefore, rather than focus on the current book or the next one, I help the author create a strategy for an entire body of work.

Best words of advice to new writers? 

Just keep writing. History is full of stories about classics that were rejected over and over and over by publishers. All too often, writers—and this is especially true in this era of instantaneous everything—want it all now, and that’s not usually how it works. If you’re a female Olympic gymnast, then yes, it’s likely that you would need to achieve something within a certain age window, but for writers, no such restriction exists. If anything, age can improve an author’s work, and it usually does. Be patient with your work, and give it the respect it deserves; don’t just throw something out there. In fact, if you want something that will give you instant reward (other than the rewards inherent in writing itself), then writing isn’t for you. The process of taking a book from manuscript to published work takes a long time, so why shouldn’t it be the same for taking the book from idea to completed manuscript?

How to Write a Book That Will Actually Sell

By Patricia Fry
Is it possible to predetermine the success of your book before you start writing it? To a degree, yes. Some of your choices during the planning and writing phases of your book can definitely influence eventual sales. There’s no sense in leaving the future of your book to chance, when you can help to create a greater potential for its success.

As the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and an international speaker, I meet many authors every year who are disappointed in their book sales. I think it’s fair to say that 100 percent of the time the fault lies with the author. Here are eight common mistakes first-time authors make and tips for how to avoid them:

1. The author writes the wrong book for the wrong audience.

This author hasn’t discovered the true audience for his book. He may have written a bulldozer book– one designed to change minds. It may be a valid book subject, but he plans to promote it to an audience who isn’t interested.

Many of us enter into the world of publishing with hopes and dreams. We want to make a difference, change wrong thinking, offer positive alternatives, teach better methods of being, for example. More often than not, however, our perceived target audiences don’t really give a darn. They aren’t interested in a new perspective, a different way of living and they certainly don’t want to be told that their thinking is wrong.

Examples of bulldozer book topics might include, smoking, religion, politics, parenting techniques, and pregnancy issues.

Remedy: Early on, study your chosen genre/topic and identify your audience—those people who would want to read this book—not those who should. Write the book for an audience who cares.

2. The author doesn’t know that he is responsible for promotion.

Obviously, this author didn’t take the time and initiative to study the publishing industry or he would know that his job isn’t over once the book is published.

Remedy: Study the publishing industry. Discover all of your publishing options, consider the possible consequences of your choices, and learn about your responsibilities as a published author. Read my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book by Patricia Fry. Also read books by Marilyn Ross, Brian Judd, Dan Poynter, and John Kremer.

3. The author doesn’t take the opportunity to build promotion into his book while he’s writing it.

Savvy authors think about their target audiences while they are writing and designing their books.

Remedy: If yours would make a good reference book, for example, you’ll want to include a complete index. For a novel, choose a setting that is conducive to promotion. Give a character a popular ailment and present it in a positive light. Build promotion into your how-to book by involving a lot of experts and/or organizations through interviews and by including them in your resource list, for example. Solicit testimonials for your back cover from high profile people in your field or genre. Find ways to make your book more appealing to a larger audience.

4. The author neglects to establish a platform.

An author’s platform is his following, his reach, his way of attracting his target audience. Most successful authors today have a platform in place before they produce a book.

Remedy: Begin establishing or building on your platform even before you start writing the book. Your platform for your book on phobias might be the fact that you’re a psychologist in this area of study, that you suffered a severe phobia for years, that you work with women with phobias and/or that you’ve written articles and papers about this for years. Establish a platform for your cookbook by entering and judging cooking contests, writing articles for magazines, teaching online cooking classes, for example. Create a platform for your novel by becoming known as a short story writer (submit stories to appropriate magazines– lots and lots of them), building and maintaining a large mailing list, getting involved in sites related to your genre.

5. The author has unrealistic expectations.

Many first-time authors (we’ve all been there) expect to sell their books by the truckloads through mega bookstores. They believe that any good book will be eagerly welcomed by bookstore owners and managers. The reality is that few people outside of traditional royalty publishers with track records can get new books into bookstores. And space on bookstore shelves does not guarantee sales. In fact, books that are not selling will be returned– sometimes within the first few months.

Remedy: Have a promotions plan in place before deciding to produce a book. Don’t expect that your book will sell well just because it exists. Understand that it is going to take work and time to get your book noticed among the thousands of others. Having your book accepted for sale in bookstores is not necessarily your key to sales and riches. It’s still up to you to promote it– to spread the word about your wonderful, useful, exciting book.

6. The author plans to give promotion just a lick and a promise.

I’ve seen it often: An author brings out a book, notifies her local newspaper, sets up a website, visits a few independent bookstores, attends a book festival and then goes back to her previous lifestyle. She realizes a brief flurry of book sales and then they stop. She doesn’t know why.

Remedy: Authors need to understand that book promotion is ongoing. It should start before you write the book and continue for as long as you want to sell books. Your book will sell only for as long as you are willing to promote it.

7. The author gives up.

I can’t tell you how often I hear this, “I can’t sell my book, so what’s the use?” You won’t achieve the level of success you desire if you quit.

Remedy: Adopt a never-give-up attitude. Adapt the same measure of persistence, stick-to-itiveness and patience it took to complete your book project and get it published.

8. The author grows weary of the book promotion process.

Sure you’re going to suffer burnout. Promoting a book is a long, hard process.

Remedy: Tap into your sense of creativity in order to spark book sales. Try new, interesting and even exciting ways to boost sales. Plan a trip and take your book along. Visit bookstores and negotiate consignment deals. Rent a booth at a book festival locally. Give a performance featuring your book and invite the entire community. With the help of a publicist or marketing genius, launch a mail order campaign.

There’s a lot to consider when entering the huge and competitive publishing business. And promotion is a major consideration. Whether you land a traditional royalty publisher, self-publish (establish your own publishing company), or go with a fee-based POD publishing service, it is up to the author to promote his or her book. And the time to start thinking about promotion is before you ever sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Patricia Fry is the president of SPAWN. She is also a full-time freelance writer and the author or 28 books. Ten of her books relate to writing and publishing. She blogs at Matilja Press

Agents — Who Needs Them?

By Apryl Duncan

Many authors, especially first-timers, think a literary agent is someone you associate with names like Stephen King, Judith Krantz and John Grisham. Truth is, having an agent handle your work really depends on your own personality.

Before taking on an agent, you have to first evaluate yourself. Are you the type of person that has to do everything yourself or can you hand off important responsibilities to others?

You have to be willing to trust your agent. Trust that he or she is out there negotiating with publishers for you. Trust that your money will be collected, 10 to 20 percent taken off the top for your agent’s fee and then the rest sent to you promptly. You even have to trust your agent to choose the right publisher for you . . . even if it’s not a major one.

Before you decide you’d rather do all the legwork yourself, consider this: Agents are a powerful force in the publishing world.

On your own, you could send out your manuscript to 10 different publishing houses. But an agent has an insider’s view of what those 10 currently need. This helps you eliminate a waste of time and money sending out your manuscript to a publisher that’s not interested from the start.

Agents target the right publisher for your manuscript. They know the editors. Have lunch with them. See them in social settings. It’s a more casual approach than a hard sell.

Publishers also consider agents a valuable resource because they weed out manuscripts that aren’t ready to go. This saves the publisher the extra effort of having to slave through a pile of manuscripts for the one that screams, “Jackpot.”

Another advantage of having an agent is the money factor. Many writers are so anxious to see their work in print, they tell the publisher money doesn’t matter. Be glad that, for agents, money does matter. They’re motivated to get you the best deal. On your manuscript. On advances. Even on paperback and foreign sales.

And they don’t stop there. While turning your novel into a movie is a long-shot, an agent does have connections in New York and Hollywood that can help turn your dream into a reality.

Unfortunately, many authors are scared off by the 10 to 20 percent cut for the agent’s commission. But after the negotiation process, most authors find they do better with an agent even after a 20 percent cut.

Now if you’re ready to find an agent, don’t think it’s as simple as opening the phone book and hiring a plumber. Most literary agents reject 98 percent of materials that come across their desk. The market has tightened so much that agents can literally pick and choose the manuscripts they want to represent.

To increase your chances of landing an agent, research the agents you want representing you and your work. Then prioritize a list of the ones you’re most interested in. Make sure your choices accept the type of work you write. If you like to dabble in the different genres, search for an agent that handles all types of fiction.

Also, consider an agent’s member associations. The Association of Authors’ Representatives Inc. (AAR) keeps its agent members informed of changes in the publishing, movie and television industries. Agents must subscribe to the organization’s Canon of Ethics and meet certain eligibility requirements in order to become a member.

While narrowing your list of agents, pay careful attention to their submission requirements. If an agent says No Phone Calls, they really do mean no phone calls.

You’ll also find out how they want your information. Some may want a query. Others may want to see your sample chapters and book proposal.

Agents aren’t just for big-name authors. With a little research and a strong manuscript, you can find an agent that will help you reap the benefits of being published.

This article originally appeared on FictionAddiction.net. Reprinted with permission.

Apryl Duncan is the founder of FictionAddiction.NET, an award-winning site for fiction writers and readers. She is an author, workshop instructor and professional freelance writer who enjoys writing everything from mystery novels to how-to articles on the writing craft.

The Pulse of Publishing

Guest Post by Marian Perera

Changes always seems to be going on in the publishing industry. New publishers appear, editors change jobs, more authors are self-publishing and scams are revealed. How much of this should writers be aware of?

It’s easy to spend hours reading about current news—or even old but scandalous scams—in the publishing industry. That can also produce TV Tropes syndrome, which is a condition where you read one site which links to you to another equally interesting site which makes you aware of a third, so at some point you realize two hours have passed without your being aware of it. I don’t mind the time because I find most of it fascinating, but that’s not always the case for other writers.

And if they don’t find publishing news inherently interesting, is it necessary for them to be up-to-date on it?

When it affects them directly, I believe they should. If writers consider signing with a particular agent, they should be well aware of relevant news about that agent—for instance, by checking the agent’s website or blog, reading interviews with that agent and looking up sales in Publishers Marketplace. The same applies to publishers. The research does take time, but it’s risky at best to only look at the publisher’s website, discussion board or Facebook page.

And in this case, no news can be as much of a warning sign as bad publicity. Reputable agents and publishers have an Internet presence because of the books they’ve sold.

How to find such information or warnings? It’s a good idea to check watchdog sites like Writer Beware or Preditors & Editors. On the other hand, if an agent or publisher has just opened for business, these sites may not have had time to update their records—and they can’t cover everything. That’s a good reason to read as much as possible about publishing. Knowing what’s normally done or not done in this industry can help writers avoid questionable agents or publishers. Both scams and amateurs thrive on inexperience and misinformation.

Should writers be aware of more general news that may not apply to them directly—such as the Cooks Source scandal? It depends. For instance, if I were going to a conference where I expected to speak with agents and editors, I’d want to be at least a little informed on whatever was happening in the industry.

It’s also a good way to connect with other writers, either by discussing such issues on blogs and discussion boards, or by letting inquiring writers know of relevant experiences we ourselves have had. Because writers don’t only read the news—we may even help make it. And keeping our fingers on the pulse of publishing is one way to do so.

Marian Perera studies medical laboratory technology (final year of college!) when she isn’t writing. Her first novel, a romantic fantasy called Before the Storm, was just released in paperback. She blogs about writing, publication and every step between the two at Flights of Fantasy.

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