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)