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  1. #1
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    This is nothing like an official FAQ

    INDEX

    Message #1: Assessing agents and publishers who leave no trace in the world. Also: Agents who claim their client list or sales record is confidential information. Also: Agents who claim they'll represent poetry or short stories. Also: Will your book get more attention at a small publishing house than at a large one?

    Message #2: Is it true that you have to have your manuscript "professionally edited" before you can submit it to a publisher?

    Message #5: A well-known scammer is threatening to sue me for saying he's crookeder than a dog's hind leg. Should I worry?

    Message #6: A scammer has my manuscript, and I'm afraid he's going to steal it.

    Messages #10-11, #15: Clarifying the part about agents, editors, and publishers having histories and leaving footprints.

    Message #13: Why you should read Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven's The Street Smart Writer: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World.

    Message #20: What does "Premium Publishing Company" mean? Also: How to tell whether a prospective publisher gets real distribution. Also: What is Ingram? Also: What's the difference between being available at bookstores, and being distributed to bookstores nationwide?

    Message #21: How can I get back the rights to my book if it's gone out of print or my publisher has gone out of business?

    Message #22: What's the best way to avoid having to go through the slush pile?

    Messages #24-25: There are many questions about writing contests. They all have the same answer.

    Message #33: Why an honest and well-meaning agent who charges fees is still a bad bet.

    Message #35: I'm trying to sell my projected six-volume fantasy series.

    Message #40: Is it true that the publishing industry is on the verge of collapse?

    Message #41: Do I need to start a weblog to promote my work?

    Message #45: Can I build a writing career by self-publishing and self-promoting my work?

    Message #46: Is it worth it to get reviews from sites you pay?

    Message #53: Definitions: independent publisher, privish/privishing, and bestseller.

    Message #56: Bad self-promotion methods: spamming, disaster tie-ins, and fake reviews.

    Message #78: What makes readers decide to buy books, and how can I get them to buy more of mine?

    Message #80: How much will a "virtual author tour" of weblogs improve my sales?

    Message #81: How about promoting my book via podcasts, streaming media, video trailers, or other exotic book promotion schemes?

    ==========================================
    ==========================================

    Q. An agent, Kirlian Muesli, has contacted me. She says she wants to represent my work. I've looked her up in Google and I can't find a bad word about her. In fact, I can't find any word about her. That must mean she's okay, right?

    Q. I've been looking at this publisher, Buggered Books? I can't find anything about them on the web. If nobody has any complaints, that must mean they're okay, right?

    A. No. They are not okay. That's like saying a movie with no reviews is a movie with no bad reviews, so it must be a really good movie. If publishers or agents are doing their job, they aren't invisible.

    Real agents get talked about. Their new clients tell all their friends. Their successful clients mention sales they've made. PR people at publishing houses announce major acquisitions, and mention the agent's name in passing. They get Amazon-searchable books dedicated to them, or show up in their Acknowledgements section, and thus become known to Google's database.

    (Note two additional rules: First, being talked about online is no guarantee that an agent is good. Second, a good agent is mentioned in connection with real books, real authors, and real publishing houses.)

    The principle of necessary visibility is even more true of publishers. To publish is to make public. If you can't find evidence of their published books, they may or may not be printing them, but they sure aren't publishing them in any meaningful sense of the word.

    Q. Oh, that's not a problem -- they're just starting up, so it's no surprise that you can't find any information about them.

    A. It's still not okay.

    Good agents aren't people who up and decided one day that they wanted to be an agent. Most often, they've been working for other agents for some time now, and are striking out on their own. Sometimes they're moving over to agenting from some other part of the industry, most often editorial. An agent who isn't already acquainted with people in the publishing industry is not going to be able to do squat for you. One who is will have gotten talked about.

    Brand-new publishing houses that are started by people who already have track records at real publishing houses are one thing. Brand-new publishing houses started by people with no contacts, no track records, no experience, and no history of publishing-related activity are another. In the latter case, the publisher is probably someone with a lot of enthusiasm and very little know-how who thinks it would be a swell thing to start a publishing house. Most of them mean well. Most of them fail. All of them fumble and stumble and improvise when they're starting out.

    Don't entrust your book to them. They can get more books if they botch yours, but you can't fix what they've botched. A book that's never been published may be published well in the future. A book that's been published badly is a very hard sell.

    Wish them well, but wait a few years until they know what they're doing.

    Q. What about this other agent over here? I can't tell whether she's made any sales -- she says her client list, and the titles of the books she's sold on their behalf, are confidential information. She says this is to protect her clients' privacy.

    Sound the alarm, turn on the flashing warning lights, raise the big red flag. When an agent says their client list and/or their book sales are secret, what that almost always means is that they've made no sales, and they're lying to cover it up. She's not gormless; she's a con artist.

    The publishing industry has a term: agent of record. That's the person who acted as agent when the contract was signed. The agent of record receives all the publisher's payments to the author, subtracts a commission, and passes on the rest. When movie people or game designers get in touch with publishers to ask about buying the movie or game rights to a book, they're referred to the agent of record (assuming the publisher didn't keep those rights). And so forth. Even if the author is completely pseudonymous, that pseudonym's agent is known.

    The agent is the public contact point for anyone doing business with the author. By definition, the names of the authors they represent and the titles of the books they've sold cannot be confidential information. In short, there's no such thing as a secret agent.

    Q. I've been approached by an agent who says she wants to represent my poetry.

    Q. I've been approached by an agent who says she wants to represent my collection of my hitherto unpublished short stories.

    A. Don't do it. She's not a real agent, and no good can come of it.

    Poetry is not a paying field. An occasional book of poetry gets published by a commercial house, but that represents only a tiny fraction of the poetry that gets published every year. Publishing contracts for poetry don't usually need an agent, which is good, because there's no money to pay an agent a commission.

    I don't know of a single legitimate agent who represents poetry. If an agent claims to do so, they're either working for free, or their money is coming from some source other than commissions. This always turns out to be the writer.

    Short stories do pay, but they don't pay a lot, and very few agents will handle them. When they do, it's mostly as a favor to a client whose book-length work they represent. A lot of authors have an agent for their book-length work, and handle their short work themselves. Thus, an agent who announces that he or she represents short fiction is either clueless or crooked. Either way, you don't want them.

    That goes double or triple for an agent who undertakes to represent a collection of short stories that haven't sold in the short fiction markets. Collections are a tough sell even if the stories appeared in well-known magazines, and the author has a recognizable name. A bunch of demonstrably unsaleable stories that have been bundled together become even less saleable than the individual stories were on their own.

    Q. Won't my book get more attention from a small publishing house than a large one?

    A. It might; but that's not the way to bet. It depends on the house in question. Are we talking about houses like Night Shade or Small Beer, or do you mean the small-press versions of Buggered Books? The latter are more numerous.

    Large houses will often have far more resources to devote to your book. You may only get a fraction of a publicist's time, but it will be a professional publicist who has access to all that house's contacts, and is backed up by a substantial organization. Your editor will be an experienced full-time editor, not the publisher in his spare time, or the publisher's cousin who majored in English. The sales force will sell your book right along with all the other books on offer that season. A small publishing house may well have no sales staff, or have their books be one of several lines sold by their distributor's sales force.

    How often do you hear about an author who's had several books published by a small press or presses, then turns down an offer of publication from a large well-known trade house?

    Q. Thank you for the many hours you've spent explaining publishing to me, especially given that I did zero research on the subject myself; but I've decided to go with Buggered Books anyway, because that way at least my book will get published.

    A. It won't work, you'll be miserable, your book will be a flop, and you'll be sorry you ever wrote it; but hey, don't let us stop you. Next time, though? If you're not going to listen to a thing we say, do your own damn research.

    (to be continued)
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 09-23-2013 at 05:06 AM.
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  2. #2
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. Is it true that I have to have my manuscript "professionally edited" before I can submit it to a publisher?

    A. No. And furthermore, anyone who tells you so is either clueless or a scammer. Don't listen to them.

    Why do so many fake agents and other scammers spread the "professionally edited manuscript" meme? The biggest reason is that they want to refer you to a crony of theirs who'll do an expensive (and often not particularly good) job of "editing" your manuscript, pay the scammer a kickback for steering you their way, and hand you back to that scammer afterward for further plucking.

    Thanks to the internet, more and more writers are becoming aware that it's improper for an agent to require that they pay for their services. Scam agents sure aren't making their money via commissions on works they sell. Gouging would-be authors via the "professionally edited manuscript" scam is one of the more viable remaining ways they can make money off you.

    One other proof that this isn't a requirement: look at publishers' guidelines. Do they say your manscript has to be "professionally edited"? They do not. In fact, very few of them say it has to be edited at all. All it has to be is good.
    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 08-09-2009 at 05:33 PM.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW KCH's Avatar
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    Q. Thank you for the many hours you've spent explaining publishing to me, especially given that I did zero research on the subject myself; but I've decided to go with Buggered Books anyway, because that way at least my book will get published.


    Love it!

    In the interest of realism, though, you might want to eliminate the part where the questioner says "thank you."

  4. #4
    Grumpy writer and editor Absolute Sage Gillhoughly's Avatar
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    I love the phrase "I have been approached by."

    It's a bit vague, but makes me think the agent came to the writer first, rather than the other way around.

    If strangers approach out of the blue offering something tempting you tell your kids to run away. Seems like a good habit to keep!


  5. #5
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. A couple of years back, when I was a naive newbie, I accepted an agent's offer of representation. He charged me $650 a quarter plus $14 per submission he made. That was an extra $700 - $812 per quarter. Imagine my shock when I ran across his name on the Twenty Worst Agents List.

    I started checking up on him. I found he hasn't made a sale since 1996, and in that case the author did all the work. I couldn't get him to tell me where he'd submitted my book, so I phoned a bunch of publishing houses, told them I was his assistant, and asked about the status of my book. Every one of them said they'd never heard of him or of my book. I don't think he ever submitted it to any of them.

    So here's my problem: I wrote about all this on my Live Journal, naming names and dates and amounts. I said he was a liar and a crook. Now he's sent me a letter threatening to sue the pants off me for libeling him.

    Where the hell does he get off, and can he actually do anything to me?


    A. Where the hell he gets off is that he's been a scammer for years. He's lost track of honest ways to make money, and has forgotten what it's like to work for a living. Outing him online as a scammer has to have taken a big bite out of his income. Naturally, he resents that.

    Also, he hasn't been in the habit of thinking of himself as a con artist and crook. He resents that too.

    You know what? Tough. He's spent years taking money for work he didn't do. At some point that stops being situational nonperformance and starts being a scam.

    As for the question of what he can do to you: Until such time as he actually brings a lawsuit against you, the answer is "not bloody much." He can huff and puff and threaten to blow your house down, but your house won't fall down; and in the meantime, the huffing and puffing will amuse your friends.

    Very few scam publishers and agents are so stupid that they want to go to court and have their business practices and sales figures made a matter of public record. If yours actually goes that far, try not to worry. The fact is, standard industry practice calls for agents to submit books, make sales, and derive their income from commissions. Your former agent manifestly did none of these things, while claiming to be an active and effective agent. He collected substantial sums from authors while doing nothing on behalf of their books. The per-submission charge is especially indefensible, since it was levied for specific tasks which were not carried out.

    The same goes for scam publishers, by the way; and that includes the ones that have their employees sign dubiously legal non-disclosure agreements at the time they're hired. Again: as long as all they're doing is huffing and puffing, they can't make your house fall down.

    UPDATE: Some of these slime molds have actually started filing lawsuits, most likely because the Twenty Worst Agents List has gotten enough exposure for them to be losing business. If you're seriously worried, either use a pseudonym, or limit your remarks about them to observations rather than inferences. "He's a scammer" is an inference. "He's been in business as an agent for fifteen years, and has yet to make a legitimate sale" is an observation.
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 03-09-2008 at 02:08 AM. Reason: corrected my math; added update
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  6. #6
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. I've broken off relations with my former scam agent, but he never gave me back my manuscript. I'm afraid he's going to steal my work.

    A. Don't be afraid. There's nothing an agent can do with it except sell it to someone; and if this guy were capable of selling manuscripts to publishers, he'd be a real agent. He isn't. He's a scammer. It's a different profession.

    But say he did manage to sell it to some publishing house. What then? Obviously, you wouldn't be around to sign the contract. He'd have to forge your signature on a document containing an indemnity clause that says "I have the right to give you permission to publish this work." The minute you showed up saying "Hey, that's my book," that contract would be out the window. And you would show up. The more successful the sale, the more inevitable the discovery.

    I can't begin to tell you how unhappy the publisher would be with your ex-agent at that point. The money they pay the author is only one of the costs they incur when they publish a book. Suddenly, all their time, effort, and expense has been for nothing. And if the book's come out, they're in the dread position of having published a work for which they don't have a signed contract. It's a bad, bad day for everyone.

    Agents and publishers are not going to steal your book. If a real agent thinks your manuscript is hot stuff, they don't want to steal it. They want to be its legitimate agent of record. Likewise, if a legit publisher thinks your manuscript has major potential, they don't want to steal it. They want to have a signed contract with you, saying that they have the right to publish the thing. In both cases, it's the only way they can make money off your book. Meanwhile, your true scam agents almost never read their clients' books anyway, and in many cases they don't even bother to submit them. Having them steal your work is an extremely low-probability event.

    I make no guarantees about your fellow authors.
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 01-23-2010 at 10:30 AM. Reason: to make it better
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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW
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    A small addendum

    Quote Originally Posted by HapiSofi View Post
    Q. An agent, Kirlian Muesli, has contacted me. She says she wants to represent my work. I've looked her up in Google and I can't find a bad word about her. In fact, I can't find any word about her. That must mean she's okay, right?

    A. No. They are not okay. That's like saying a movie with no reviews is a movie with no bad reviews, so it must be a really good movie. If publishers or agents are doing their job, they aren't invisible.

    Real agents get talked about. Their new clients tell all their friends. Their successful clients mention sales they've made.
    Wow, Hapi, what a great idea for a thread!

    I'd add one modification to the statement about agents and their visibility, however. An agent with no sales record who has just joined a great agency can be a good choice. Obviously everyone has to start somewhere. If the agency has a great track record and they have hired a newbie agent, that gives the newbie agent far more credibility in my eyes than if they have hung out their own shingle.

    It's worth talking to the agent and to the agency about how much sales support the agency gives to new agents, since this varies. (I've had this conversation with a brand-new agent at a killer agency. They are willing to talk about this.) In many cases, the agency uses its clout to help the newbie build her sales record. (This isn't because they are wonderful people. The agency owners get a percentage of her take.)

    But, what a great FAQ! I look forward to more.

    I'M ADDING THIS UP HERE AS I THINK IT MAY BE USEFUL TO THE DIRECT DISCUSSION:


    Folks might like to look at what Miss Snark has to say on the subject, as well as a post from Miss Snark's Guest Agent.

    If a newbie agent is building their list at a major agency and has previously been in Foreign Rights, Publicity, or Marketing, or has simply been working her way up from assistant, you may find she doesn't have many Google references apart from those mentioning that she is now at Agency X, is seeking clients, etc.
    Last edited by David I; 04-02-2007 at 12:18 AM. Reason: Bring up links lost to side discussion

    From Macmillan New Writing, September 7, 2007. (Pan mass-market paperback in September, 2008). In the UK at Goldsboro Books, Borders, Waterstones, and other fine bookstores. Overseas, Amazon.co.uk and most other online retailers.

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  8. #8
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    To the best of my knowledge, off-the-street hires don't start off working as agents at literary agencies, any more than off-the-street hires start working as editors at publishing companies. In both cases, they do clerical and support work while they're learning their trade.
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW
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    I'm not sure I understand....

    Quote Originally Posted by HapiSofi View Post
    To the best of my knowledge, off-the-street hires don't start off working as agents at literary agencies, any more than off-the-street hires start working as editors at publishing companies. In both cases, they do clerical and support work while they're learning their trade.
    Actually, I think most of them move into agenting laterally from publishing or marketing (I never said anything about off-the-street hires, did I?).

    But that's not the point, is it? You're saying that anyone worth considering will have a major web footprint. I'm saying, yes, usually, but...

    Just being an agent at a top agency is significant. Even without sales.

    From Macmillan New Writing, September 7, 2007. (Pan mass-market paperback in September, 2008). In the UK at Goldsboro Books, Borders, Waterstones, and other fine bookstores. Overseas, Amazon.co.uk and most other online retailers.

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  10. #10
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    I'm saying that there will be evidence of the professional ties and activities of a real agent, even if they're so old-fashioned that they don't have a website.

    Here's the footprint of a big agent. Here's quite a well-established agent. Here's a British agent you may or may not have heard of. Here's one that started out as an editor. Here's an up-and-comer (and doing very well). Here's an insider's insider, an excellent agent who keeps a fairly low profile. Here's one that started out as a sub-agent at a big old agency, moved on to be one member of a three-way, partnership, and now is on his own.

    Ignore their agency websites and instead concentrate on the amount of chatter there is about them. Notice how much of it is written by real authors and industry professionals. That's something scammers and hapless wanna-be's can't match.

    Writers write about everything that crosses their minds. That includes their agents. If you can't find people with real credentials talking about an agent, that agent isn't real.
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 10-01-2008 at 07:09 PM.
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  11. #11
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David I View Post
    Actually, I think most of them move into agenting laterally from publishing or marketing (I never said anything about off-the-street hires, did I?). ...

    Just being an agent at a top agency is significant. Even without sales.
    Some agents start out in editorial or marketing, but they don't have a simple majority in their industry, let alone merit being described as "most of them".

    I've never seen an agent at a top agency who didn't have sales. Their young'uns start having clients of their own, and therefore sales of their own, before they get listed as "agent" on the letterhead.

    What's your interest? You're being very emphatic about this.
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  12. #12
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Agents also like to talk about their client's books. Ask for names and titles and go look for them at the bookstore. Who published the books? Is it a legit publisher?

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  13. #13
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. I have a few questions here... (unfolds foolscap sheet covered in minuscule handwriting).

    A. Give me that. (Takes sheet, starts reading.) Hmmm ... uh-huh ... yeah, that one too ... thought so. (Hands sheet back to writer.) All those questions are covered in Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven's The Street Smart Writer: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World. Why haven't you bought a copy and read it?

    Q. I thought I'd ask you first?

    A. Jenna used to run this place. The book is full of the distilled advice of Jenna, Daniel Steven, and people like Jim Macdonald, Victoria Strauss, and all the rest of the jolly crew that answer questions here. Also, it's selling for $13.22 on Amazon. Tell me again how much you figure my time is worth?

    Q. More than that?

    A. More than that.

    Q. What are its flaws? It's got to have some.

    A. It's got a fugly interior type design; IMO, "Street Smart" and "Self Defense" should have been hyphenated; and it doesn't mention me. On the other hand, when you consider that most books about writing and publishing could have a book-length critique written about the errors they contain, that's not too bad.
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 01-22-2010 at 05:22 PM. Reason: You need a reason for editing?
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  14. #14
    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    My agent was an editor for many years before she switched over to agenting. She joined a reputable agency and after a few years, had considerable success. (And managed to sell my book)

    But if I had been around when she first set out, I wouldn't have found much of a footprint or track record. Would it have been wise then to wait until she had proved herself? Could she have sold the book without the track record she eventually established? What if I had been unable to find representation with an agent with a solid track record? (It's not easy, you know.) Would taking a chance on this "new" agent have been a mistake? Better to have no agent at all?

    I have no agenda here. These are actual questions.

    I actually had the nerve to turn down an offer from an agent I didn't care for, after querying fruitlessly for six months and having no prospects on the horizon. In the end it was clearly a good decision, but it could have just as easily turned out badly for me.

    What think you?

  15. #15
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Rugcat, go back and look at my messages again. Editors leave footprints too. Here's one I'm pretty sure you won't have heard of. Here's another. They're both legit. If they quit editing to become agents, they'll still have a traceable back history of interactions in the professional publishing world.
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  16. #16
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    I've moved a number of posts to a thread called "Side discussion."

  17. #17
    Lost in the Fog rugcat's Avatar
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    Hapi, sorry, I misread. I thought you were equating "footprint" with sales track record, which you were clearly not.

    By coincidence, I'm personally acquainted with your second editor example.

  18. #18
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rugcat View Post
    Hapi, sorry, I misread. I thought you were equating "footprint" with sales track record, which you were clearly not.

    By coincidence, I'm personally acquainted with your second editor example.
    The thing about HapiSofi posts is that you really can't browse or skim; there's a lot packed into Hapi's prose and it's sort of . . . chewy (That's a Good Thing. No, really!)

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  19. #19
    Slave to the Wordcount WildScribe's Avatar
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    What a fun thread!!!!
    Words for 2013 so far: 129,295
    Sales for 2013 so far: 25
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Word total for 2012: 292,394
    Sales total for 2012: 35


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  20. #20
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. What do you think of Waterboard Books?

    A. Never heard of 'em.

    Q. They say they're a premium publishing company.

    A. Cool!

    Q. It's a good sign?

    A. No, it's a terrible sign. What's cool is that it's a new euphemism. Ann and Victoria can add Premium to the same list as Vanity, Subsidy, Joint Venture, Hybrid, Cost-Shared, Author Participation, Entrepreneurial, Co-Publishing, Pre-Publishing, Self-Publishing Services, and sometimes Boutique. They all mean the same thing: you pay to get published.

    Q. Bad idea?

    A. Very bad idea. Don't do it.

    Q. Okay, how about Smuckers Books? They seem kind of staid and respectable.

    A. Basic test: Have you gone to your local Bins & Nobble bookstore to see whether any of Smuckers' titles were on the shelves there?

    Q. Yes.

    A. A miracle!

    Q. No. Someone here ordered me to do it.

    A. Oh, well. Doesn't matter whose idea it was; the point is that you checked. So, were any of Smuckers' titles on the shelves?

    Q. No.

    A. Then don't submit your book to them.

    Q. But they say they have national distribution! Ingram, the largest distributor in the United States, stocks their books!

    A. Sweetie, if you were publishing your text by tattooing it onto live depilated gerbils, Ingram would keep a few of them in stock -- assuming the gerbils had ISBNs. It means nothing.

    Q. It says right here on the Smuckers website that their books are available at bookstores all over the country.

    A. What that means is that someone who already wants your book -- which if it's fiction means one of your friends or relatives, and probably means the same if it's nonfiction -- can go to the bookstore, order the book, pay for it in advance, and come back and pick it up at a later date. That's why Ingram keeps a couple of copies of everything: in case someone does a special order.

    Q. Oh, well. At least we're guaranteed to sell a few copies to Ingram.

    A. Nope. Ingram doesn't buy copies; it has them on credit from the publishers. All distributors do that. It's the other reason Ingram is willing to stock two or three copies of everything.

    Q. That's all very interesting. Let's get back to my book.

    A. You must be an author.

    Q. Look. This publisher. Smuckers Books. Should I go with them?

    A. Mercy, no. Did you somehow miss that point? If Smuckers isn't getting other authors' books onto the bookstore shelves, they won't do it with yours either. Don't cherish hopes that with your book things will turn out differently.

    Q. What happens to the hypothetical tattooed gerbils?

    A. Never ask a question unless you're sure you want to know the answer.
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 06-28-2016 at 01:45 AM. Reason: added "hybrid" and sometimes "boutique"
    Winner of the Best Drycleaner on the Block Award.

  21. #21
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. I've got a problem. A couple of years ago, I signed a contract with Mulch Press for them to publish my first mystery novel. For all practical purposes, they went out of business six months ago. They aren't taking submissions, no one's answering their phone or e-mail, and you can't buy copies of their books. The only sign of life is a rudimentary page that went up on their site after they folded. It says that Mulch Press is still in business.

    This is ridiculous. There's an agent who's interested in my mystery series, but that first novel sets the whole thing up, so it needs to be part of the package if we're going to sell the series to a publisher. How do I get my book back from Mulch Press?


    A. Dig out your copy of the contract. You're looking for a thing called a reversion clause. In a standard contract, the reversion clause says that if your book goes out of print -- i.e., if copies are unavailable for sale -- you can have your book back. All you have to do is ask. If your contract specified that the license to publish the book was for a specified period of time rather than until the book went out of print, the reversion clause will reflect that agreement.

    Never sign a contract that doesn't revert your rights if the publisher goes out of business or stops selling the book.

    If you're selling the book to a packager who's selling the book to the publisher, your contract should also specify that if the packager goes out of business or ceases to do what he's supposed to do, you can either collect royalty payments directly or get your book back, depending on how it's selling.

    Q. Great. I wish I'd known that when I signed the contract. Trouble is, there's no reversion clause in my contract and I can't get hold of anyone from Mulch Press. Is there any other way to get my book back?

    A. No.

    Q. You're kidding.

    A. I just wish I were.

    Here's a weird approach to the problem: some years back, a blogger proposed that in cases like this, authors should change their names, change the book's title, change the chapter titles, rewrite the frontmatter and backmatter, and go through the book changing all the proper names and place names. The idea was that if your former publisher can't recognize the book, they're not going to sue you for reselling it to another company. This is not an officially approved theory, but it might work.

    Q. Not in my case. My books are political thriller/mystery novels about a forensic entomologist who lives on Capitol Hill and solves mysteries that usually involve some branch of the national government. You really can't disguise them.

    A. Good luck tracking down the people who ran Mulch Press, then. They're your only hope.
    Winner of the Best Drycleaner on the Block Award.

  22. #22
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. What's the best way to avoid having to go through the slush pile?

    A. There isn't one. You can't avoid the slush pile. Every route to getting published by a real publishing house passes through at least one gate where an agent or editor has to evaluate your book and decide whether to take you on. Sometimes you go through several gates like that. All those agents and editors have too much work to do and not enough time to read, so they've accumulated a stack of unread submissions. That stack is a slush pile.

    Very occasionally, a new author will dodge the slushpile. It's not usually anything he or she planned to do. It just happened. If you try to do the same thing, it won't work.
    Winner of the Best Drycleaner on the Block Award.

  23. #23
    House Dragon Anya Smith's Avatar
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    Thank you for this post, Hapi. There's so much info here for a beginner.


  24. #24
    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Q. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Contest blah?

    A. Easy question. There's exactly one rule about writing contests: Can you find mentions of them in the cover copy of books published by real publishing houses? As in Booker, Pulitzer, Quill, Edgar, Prometheus, Nova, et cetera? If so, they're worth your time and trouble. If not, not.*

    The only exception to this rule is if a very respectable organization is sponsoring a writing contest, and the prize is a scholarship to a very respectable writing workshop.

    Steer clear of competitions that promise to publish the winners. Even major competitions can't guarantee that their prizewinners will be of publishable quality. Promising publication is a sign that the organizers either don't know what they're doing, or are doing something bad.

    The commonest contest scam is to tell everyone who submits work that they're a semi-finalist, and that their piece will be published in an anthology of the contest's winners. Then they try to sell you copies of the anthology. If you bite, the overpriced volume you'll eventually receive will be a compendium of every submission they received, no matter how awful. Your piece, badly typeset in tiny type and spottily printed, will be buried amidst the avalanche of crap.

    Sometimes scammers will announce a competition, advertise huge cash prizes, and charge an entry fee for every submission. Much later, if the prizes are ever awarded, they'll be a fraction of the advertised amounts. Alternately, the organizers may simply announce that not enough submissions were received, or that no submissions were received that were good enough, and therefore no prizes will be awarded this year.

    There are numerous other variants. Fortunately, they're all covered by the basic rule: if the award isn't mentioned in professional cover copy, forget it.

    _____________
    *This is one of Yog's other laws. All hail Yog.
    Last edited by HapiSofi; 07-15-2007 at 06:41 AM.
    Winner of the Best Drycleaner on the Block Award.

  25. #25
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Or, the prize winner just happens to be the contest organizer's chum....

    One common denominator for the worthwhile contests:

    1) They're for books that have already been published.

    A second common denominator:

    2) The publisher, not the author, submits them.

    Yes, you can find variations and exceptions. But that's the way to bet.

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