Saturday, December 31, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 28 "Where There's Smoke..."

Well, this is one of those cases where if I had a buck for each time this had happened to me since 1998, I could take most of us to dinner at Outback Steak House. I got a letter the other day from a poor, benighted soul who was obviously the personification of "desperate." She/he wrote: "I have a contract here from PublishAmerica. They want to publish my book, and they're the first publisher that has shown interest in doing so. They read it within a week of my submitting it, and they accepted it. They seem to really believe in my book, and I feel so grateful to them that they are willing to take a chance on me. There's only one thing...I found some posts on the internet that say PublishAmerica isn't a legitimate publisher, that they are like a vanity press in disguise. But when I look at their website, it says they've published like 15,000 happy authors. My friend who published with PublishAmerica says that those people who posted negative stuff they are "bashers" who are jealous of PublishAmerica's success, so they've posted lies about them out of spite. I don't know what to believe."

My friends, I hate to advocate listening to gossip but in navigating the Bog that can pave the road to publication, you would do well to pay attention to any "Stench." (Anyone else like Labyrinth?) Scammy publishers and agents rarely change their spots. If you read negative things on the internet about a publisher or agent, take them seriously, don't dismiss them, or, worse, rationalize them away.

Instead, write to Writer Beware to find out the straight dope before sending in that manuscript! (beware@sfwa.org) It's easy and it's free. You'll get a response within a few days. The time to do your research about an agent or publisher is BEFORE you submit a manuscript. I cannot stress this enough!

Writers are certainly capable of rationalization. Scammers are experts at gaining people's trust by telling them what they want to hear. The FBI tells me that there is still, to this day, one victim of Kelly O'Donnell's who refuses to believe she was scammed, and also refuses to believe that Kelly O'Donnell and Martha Ivery are the same person. Scary, huh?

Writer Beware gets several letters a month from writers who write to us about a scammy publisher or agent, hoping that we'll reassure them that the scammer really doesn't do what they've read they do, or that they have CHANGED. In all the time Vic and I have have been running Writer Beware, we've known of maybe two fee-charging agents that went on to start selling books for their clients, and managed to rack up a real track record of sales and stop charging fees. That's not very good odds.

So...if you're cruising around, googling publishers or agents before submitting, PAY ATTENTION if you spot a slew of posts from unhappy writers claiming the agent or publisher ripped them off in some fashion. Just one negative report, that didn't involve the writer paying out money upfront, might be sour grapes and dismissable. But the moment you see a pattern of complaints, know that where there is smoke, there IS fire.

Wishing you all a Happy and Safe New Year!

-Ann C. Crispin

Friday, December 30, 2005

Victoria Strauss -- Another Day, Another Cease & Desist

Got a second "cease & desist" notice the other night from a fee-charging agent whose company is one of those outfits that wrap themselves in a cloak of religion and Christian mission-speak, while taking advantage of writers. These deceptive operations abound in the Christian marketplace, and I find them especially reprehensible.

The very Godly owner of this company begins his second notice by saying "Maybe you don't get it..." and goes on to reiterate his charges that we've made "untrue and deceptive" statements about his company, accusing us of "acts of false advertising and misleading the public." We are instructed to immediately remove all statements about his company from our website, and to publish "a statement of apology prominently featured on your pertaining Website."

Um...well. We have documentation of this company's fee-charging, so saying that it charges fees is neither untrue nor deceptive. Actually, though, there's a more salient fact. Though we've provided info on the company's fees in response to private questions from writers, there are no statements about this company on the Writer Beware website. Not one. Anywhere.

So why's he so convinced we've defamed him publicly? Because he has us mixed up with another watchdog group (guess which one?). That's right. He's cease-and-desisting the wrong people. Talk about not getting it!

We don't feel that we have any obligation to enlighten him (and since he obviously hasn't visited the Writer Beware website, I'm not all that concerned he'll stumble on this post). I ignored his first message. On advice from counsel, I responded to his second message by instructing him to direct all future correspondence to my lawyer.

Proving what a mature and ethical individual he is, he trotted over to Amazon.com and posted a nasty and personally insulting one-star review of my latest book, The Burning Land. (Warning! Book plug alert!) Since he posts reviews under his company name, it was easy to figure out who was responsible (does he think I'm dumb or something?). I wrote to the nice folks at Amazon and the review was gone the next day. I wish now that I'd saved it--it was actually kinda funny. He obviously skimmed enough of the plot description to know that The Burning Land involves religious issues and questions of faith, but he seems to have missed the fact that the religion in the book is entirely a product of my imagination (though this is obvious from the other reviews) and assumed it was an anti-Christian screed. He accused me of, among other things, attempting to poison people's minds by promulgating bizarre and distasteful philosophies, and being a bitter and confused woman trying to work out my personal problems through fiction.

Gosh. I'm crushed. Simply flattened.

I'm going to go work out some more problems now.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ann's Martha Ivery Interview

I've gotten permission to post Ann's full interview with SciFi.com. It includes lots of interesting info on Martha Ivery and how she was brought to justice, but SciFi.com felt it couldn't publish the interview without giving Martha and/or her counsel a chance to comment. (!!) Since Martha's lawyer didn't respond and they couldn't find contact info for Martha, they nixed the interview and ran a general article instead (linked in my previous post).

Too bad. I would have loved to see what ol' Martha had to say for herself--other than, as at her bankruptcy hearings, blaming Writer Beware for all her troubles and describing me as Ann's "sidekick." Feh.

(1) Please explain what Writer Beware does.

Writer Beware consists of several dedicated volunteers who help aspiring writers avoid writing scams. We maintain the Writer Beware website, monitor chatrooms and newsgroups, answer questions, exchange emails with authors who contact us requesting information about publishers or agents, and maintain the world's largest database of information about questionable agents, publishers, editors, and contests aimed at writers. Our database is well-researched and contains hundreds, even in some cases, thousands of pages of documentation about the fraud artists who are scamming writers in this country. (There are hundreds.)

Writer Beware is hosted and sponsored by SFWA, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. SFWA is the only professional writers' organization that is sensitive to the pitfalls that await aspiring writers, and attempts to help them avoid being ripped off.

(2) How and when did WB first become aware of Martha Ivery's fraudulent activities?

Back when Writer Beware was first founded in 1998, Martha Ivery, in her literary agent alias as Kelly O'Donnell, was a frequent visitor to AOL chatrooms and various writers' message boards, trolling for victims. I became aware of her claims to be a topnotch agent, checked them out, found them to be false, and began spreading the truth about Ivery/O'Donnell. She began losing business on AOL, one of her prime "feeding grounds."

A few months later, when Victoria Strauss and I had joined forces to create Writer Beware, Victoria entered Ivery's name and her aliases (there were many of them) into our database, and we both began warning writers who inquired about her that she was not a real agent. Victoria, who maintains Writer Beware's database and is our primary investigator, was able to track down and debunk all of Martha's claims to be a real agent or publisher.

(3) What did Writer Beware's investigation turn up?

Victoria and I discovered that Martha Ivery ran a vanity publishing company called PressTIGE Publishing that had hardly ever published a book, and that she and the literary agent Kelly O'Donnell were one and the same person. We realized that the O'Donnell Literary Agency was bringing writers to PressTIGE publishing without ever letting clients know that both businesses were owned by the same person. We discovered that Kelly O'Donnell had, despite her claims, never sold a book to a real publisher, and that PressTIGE was raking in money from clients without (in the majority of cases) giving them anything in return except excuses and abuse.

(4) The AP article says "Operators of a scam-busting Web site called Writer Beware said the FBI investigated Ivery after they collected information from scores of victims." It's unclear here, but I assume the "they" that collected information refers to Writer Beware and not the FBI? In other words, Writer Beware dug up the dirt then turned it over to the Feds?

Precisely. The FBI has a sort of unofficial monetary "quota" of losses that a fraud artist must amass before they will open an investigation. We collected data from victims, documentation, etc., and sent it to an FBI investigator who was sympathetic to the plight of Martha Ivery's victims. When we reached over $50,000 in losses, the FBI began to take a real interest, and began investigating Martha using their own resources. Eventually, they opened an official case, and did a search and seizure of her computers, business records, etc. They discovered hundreds more victims (partially by posting an appeal to victims to contact the primary FBI investigator on the Writer Beware site). Heartbreaking stories poured in from writers who had lost hundreds or thousands of dollars to Kelly O'Donnell or Martha Ivery. Many writers never realized they'd been dealing with only one person.

This FBI investigator deserves a great deal of credit. He's really the unsung hero of the case.

(5) If there's anything else you'd like to say about this case that I haven't covered by the other questions, feel free to mention it here.

When Martha Ivery realized she was losing business due to Writer Beware's warnings, she began cyber-stalking Victoria and me. She claimed to be both Victoria's and my literary agent, she sent notes to my publishers trying to cause trouble for me. She made a lot of threats, trying to intimidate us into silence -- culminating in threats of violence, including a death threat.

At the time of her bankruptcy hearing, Martha Ivery told the bankruptcy judge that the reason her business had failed was because of Writer Beware. We're very proud of that.

(6) Please give me a brief summary of your experience with Writer Beware – how long you've been running the program, and what other qualifications you may have (a law degree, etc.).

Neither Victoria nor I are lawyers. Instead, we're novelists with about 30 published fantasy and science fiction books between us. We know how the publishing industry OUGHT to function, so it's easy for us to spot scammers, when aspiring writers don't have the experience or the knowledge base to do so. Both Victoria and I have learned not to give up, that the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, and that scammers are venal, but that their greed usually gets them in the end.

I couldn't run Writer Beware without the assistance of our legal counsel, who spends a lot of pro bono time keeping scammers off our backs.

If we don't receive some kind of threat from a scammer about once a month, it's a slow month. But Writer Beware is meticulous in our research and in collecting documentation, and the truth is our defense against charges of libel and defamation.

We are in this for the long haul. Scammers, beware!

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More Martha Ivery

Ann recently did an interview with SciFi Wire on the Martha Ivery case and Writer Beware's involvement in bringing Ivery to justice. The interview was very detailed and informative--unfortunately, SciFi Wire condensed it to a paragraph within a general article about the case. Maybe we can publish the interview here--I'm going to see about getting permission.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Victoria Strauss -- Call me Doctor and Other Irrelevancies

Questionable agents, who unlike reputable agents are unable to impress potential clients with their track records, sometimes try to project an aura of professional competence by attaching lots of (apparently) professional memberships to their names. Mensaguy, whom I discussed a few posts back (his agency is a front for an expensive editing scheme), uses this technique. His letterhead prominently lists a business organization, a couple of Who's Who tomes, and, of course, Mensa. It's a good-sized list, and it might actually look impressive if you didn't realize that none of the memberships are relevant for a literary agent.

So what professional memberships are relevant?

There’s really only one kind of professional membership that’s directly relevant for a literary agent representing book-length manuscripts: membership in a trade association specifically for literary agents. These include the Association of Authors’ Representatives (USA), the Association of Authors’ Agents (UK), and the Australian Literary Agents’ Association (Australia). (There's also a New Zealand literary agents' association, but it's not clear to me how rigorous its membership standards are.) Agents must prove competence to join these associations (i.e., they must show that they’ve actually sold books to publishers) and they must abide by professional codes of practice that exclude abuses like third-party referral schemes. So if an agent is a member of AAR, AAA, or ALAA, you can be sure that they’ve had some industry success and adhere to reasonably standard business practice.

Professional memberships that are good but neutral--in other words, they suggest at least some relevant professional standing, but don’t necessarily say anything about an agent’s competence or success:

  • Membership in the Authors Guild. The Authors Guild is a prestigious group, but it’s mostly for book authors. Agents can join as members-at-large if they’ve sold at least 10 literary properties. However, if an agent is a member, you may not know whether it’s because she has published a book or because she’s a successful agent--so membership may or may not be relevant.

  • Membership in professional genre writers’ groups such as SFWA, MWA, or RWA. Membership in these organizations is advantageous for agents who specialize in these genres, but not all of them require agents who join to prove competence.

  • Membership in the WGA. It’s important for a script agent to be a WGA member, but WGA membership really isn't relevant for a book agent. Selling scripts to producers is completely different from selling books to publishers; success and contacts in one field doesn't imply success and contacts in the other. This is why so many book agents use subagents to sell dramatic rights. Also, while WGA members must promise not to charge fees to script authors, they’re not prohibited from doing so to book authors. A WGA membership tells you nothing about a book agent’s competence, success, or business practices.

And of course, there are memberships that are totally irrelevant. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them, just that they have no bearing on the business of literary agenting. All of the following are actually claimed by agents in Writer Beware's files.

  • Membership in the Publishers Marketing Association. This is a trade association for small publishers. Membership in a publishers' association provides no advantage for a literary agent.
  • Membership in the Better Business Bureau. The BBB is a general business organization. Membership says nothing about an agent's qualifications or success. In fact, it doesn't even say anything about an agent's honesty. Just about all that's required for BBB membership is that the company provide info on itself and respond promptly to complaints. That's easy for even a scammer to do. We know of numerous scam and incompetent agencies that are BBB members.
  • Membership in other business organizations, such as the Association of Women Business Owners or the International Executives’ Guild. Not relevant for publishing professionals.

  • Membership at Publishers Marketplace. PM is great. But anyone can be a member as long as they pay the fee. Two words: Cris Robins.

  • Membership in special-interest club-type organizations such as Mensa or the Society for Creative Anachronism. Everyone should have a hobby. But do you really care if your literary agent dresses up like Sir Lancelot on weekends, or has an IQ over 130?

  • Inclusion in one of the Who’s Whos. You know that most of these are schemes to sell the books to the people who are included, right? Even if that weren't so, people can become Whos for all kinds of Who-ish reasons that are not necessarily relevant to skill or success as a literary agent.

  • Membership in local writers’ groups or chapters. Many of these groups are mainly made up of aspiring writers. There’s nothing wrong with this, but membership in such groups confers no professional advantage.

  • A PhD. This isn't really a membership, but I'm including it anyway, because a surprising number of questionable agents claim it (some even insist on being called "Doctor"). I'm not dissing PhD's. Some real agents are PhDs. I come from a family of academics, so I know exactly how much work goes into obtaining those three little letters. But I also know that they don't say anything whatever about a person's skill as a literary agent.

So don't be overawed by a long list of memberships and/or academic credentials. Even if they aren't bogus (I'm sure it won't surprise you to discover that dishonest or inept agents often lie about such things), it's more than likely that they aren't relevant to the agent's professional competence or standing.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 27...Writing Myths...If it isn't perfect...

Okay, friend and neighbors, it's time to explode Aspiring Writer Myth No. 2 -- "Agents and editors eagerly look for even the smallest typo, they want excuses to reject your manuscript. If it's not 100% perfect, they won't give it the time of day."

Myth. 'Tain't so.

Agents and editors read slush piles much the way those enterprising treasure hunters comb beaches with metal detectors. We've all seen them. They walk along the beach, the metal detector swinging back and forth before them, and every so often it will let out a beep. Then they narrow down the location, and the next thing you see is the treasure-hunter down on their hands and knees, digging away. Probably 99 times out of a hundred, or 499 out of 500, what they've found is an old beer can, or pop top. But every so often, they find a gold ring, or a Spanish doubloon, or something else really valuable.

Agents and editors approach a slush pile the same way. They give every manuscript (every "beep") a chance, unearthing it, evaluating it. They're not surprised if the ms. proves to be worthless -- that's what they've learned to expect. But every time, they HOPE it's going to be something wonderful.

So...editors and agents aren't evil creatures, just paging through manuscripts looking for incorrect font styles, atypical heading styles, measuring margins with a ruler in hopes of disqualifying a ms. They don't even pounce on typos with glee as an excuse to reject. They are human, too, and they know everyone makes typos from time to time.

Of course, if your manuscript is typed with purple ink on lime green paper, or every other word is spelled wrong, or the grammatical errors are thick as flies on a day-old milkshake spilt in the gutter, well...yeah. They spend just enough time on a manuscript with those kinds of problems to note that they don't want to read it, and then they send it back or recycle it.

I've actually read an editor's slush pile. (Long story, I'll tell it sometime if you want.) I learned that you can usually determine within 5 minutes, often less, whether a manuscript is worth reading. I suspect my experience was pretty typical. Of the 50-60 slush mss I screened, I pulled two manuscripts out that I deemed worthy of the editor's attention. I wrote up a little note on each, describing the project, and why I thought it might be worth checking out. One of the manuscripts wasn't even the right genre, but it was pretty well-written. (I believe the editor passed it along to the women's fiction dept. in the same publishing house.) The others, I didn't bother to put post-it notes on. I just stacked them in a big pile, and put a sheet of paper saying "reject" in large letters on top of the piles. The secretaries were the ones who did the mailing back to the author. (This was in the days before computers.)

I assure you that during the three days it took me to go through that slushpile (I wasn't working 8 hour days) that hope leaped in my heart every time I took a new ms. off the stack. I WANTED to find a good manuscript to pass along to the editor. As I've noted, I found 2. I asked the editor later on whether she'd acquired the one I suggested she read, and she said she'd read it, but decided to pass on it. So of the books I screened, as a first reader, none were bought.

In none of the cases where I put the manuscript on the "reject" pile did I do so because the margins were wrong, or there was one grammatical error, or a couple of typos. I put the manuscripts on the "reject" pile because they were: (1) poorly written, (2) dull, (3) the story didn't make sense, (4) incorrect genre, (5) the story was fairly well written as to style, but the characterizations were flat, the plot hackneyed, (6) the writer made dreadful grammatical errors throughout. Sometimes I put the story on the reject pile for ALL of these reasons.

I never once cackled with glee when I put the ms on the "reject" pile. I put the story on the reject pile with a faint regret, and an impatience to get to the next one, hoping IT would be better. Hoping it would be GOOD.

So, my friends, please don't obsess about things like margins, or font styles, or typos. As long as your story is black printing on white paper, in correct manuscript format (check the SFWA site, www.sfwa.org for a complete manuscript submission guide) and you proofread it and used spellcheck, your ms. is probably fine -- at least as to format. FOLKS, IT'S THE WORDS ON THE PAGES THAT CAUSE BOOKS TO BE REJECTED.

Really.

Oh, and don't try any cutesy tricks like turning pages upside down, or inserting 20 dollar bills every 100 pages as an incentive for the agent/editor to keep reading. (Yes, aspiring writers have done this. We have it on good authority.) Trust me, the agent/editor has seen every trick in the book, and will just sigh with weary irritation when he or she sees these little ploys.

Okay, now that we've exploded another aspiring writer myth, I'm going to wish all of you a great holiday, no matter what you're celebrating. Victoria and I will probably be scarce until after Boxing Day. We're both going to be with family over the holiday.

Have a great, and a safe, holiday.

-Ann C. Crispin
www.accrispin.com

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 26 --- Writing Myths..."If I can just get it out there..."

Victoria and I were talking the other day, and decided we'd blog a bit from time to time about some myths we've noticed floating around in the world of the aspiring writer. Most of you posters are probably too sophisticated to ascribe to these, but more people read than post, so here goes:

Aspiring Writer Myth No. 1: "If I can just get it out there..."

This is the litany Vic and I have heard so many, many times from people who have signed on with vanity POD publishers, or, as these companies like to style themselves these days, "self-publishing" companies.

These writers fall into two general categories:

1. They've submitted their work to commercial publishers, or tried to get a decent literary agent with a track record of sales, and failed. Usually, the reason for their work not finding a publisher or agent representation is that the book just isn't good enough to be published, for whatever reason. Poor writing quality is the most common reason that books are rejected, but the reasons for rejection are as varied as the plots of books. Books can be, and are, rejected for all sorts of reasons unrelated to the quality of the writing.

Some of the most common reasons for rejection are:

a. first and foremost, poor quality of the writing

b. other writing problems, such as poor characterization, overdone plot, etc.

c. plot similarities with one of the publisher's/agents established writers (this happens more often than you'd think -- remember that old saw about Great Minds think alike)

d. the publisher's publication list is full/the agent's client list is full

2. The second category of writers has never submitted their work anywhere. They frequently believe it's hopeless, so they don't bother. Or they are lazy. Or they want a "shortcut" and see POD as a way to begin a career. Some think commercial publishers will steal their ideas/copyright, so they want to maintain "control" over their work. Some actually believe that people who self-publish make more money because they get a higher percentage of the book's proceeds -- a vile canard fostered by many of the vanity POD companies and author mills.

For whatever reason, these writers take their manuscripts to vanity PODs and author mills with this logic: IF I CAN JUST GET IT OUT THERE, PEOPLE WILL BE ABLE TO BUY IT, AND SINCE IT'S REALLY GOOD, THEY'LL READ IT, WORD OF MOUTH WILL SPREAD, AND IT WILL TAKE OFF AND I'LL BE SELLING LIKE HOTCAKES.

(sigh)

This logic is fallacious for a couple of reasons:

1. POD companies usually have no means to distribute the books, so they aren't really published "out there." The books don't appear on bookshelves in bookstores, where browsing readers can spot them, leaf through them, and perhaps decide to purchase. The main place a reader has to go to purchase a POD book is to the internet, and we all know that the internet follows the old 80-20 rule. (80% of everything is crap, IOW)

2. Even having a book on the shelf in bookstores (something that's beyond most POD companies and certainly beyond the capability of author mills like PublishAmerica) doesn't guarantee bestsellerdom. Even having a good book out...even a well-written, exciting tale, spun by an expert storyteller won't bring a writer automatic Stephen King-dom. Why do I know this? Well, Vic and I have both been publishing for years. Our books are regularly featured on bookstore shelves around the country. They are "out there." Yet neither of us has become a household word. (What can I say, there are some shortsighted readers out there...)

Are there exceptions?

Sure. They happen about as often as people winning the Super Mega Lotto, but they happen. Books like The Christmas Box, The Celestine Prophecy, Chicken Soup for the Soul, etc., were originally self-published and went on to sell big. You'll note that they are all non-fiction. If you can self publish your non-fiction book and demonstrate that it will sell several thousand copies rather quickly, say, within 6 to 9 months, then you may well be able to interest a commercial house.

But most POD books sell fewer than 100 copies, and most of those copies are purchased by the author, and his/her friends and family.

There have been far fewer examples of novels that have begun as self-published books and gone on to commercial fame and fortune. Eragon is the shining example. But if you look closely at that book, and its history, you'll see that Christopher Paolini was NOT publishing with a vanity POD company. He had advantages that most writers can't hope to have -- like parents who owned a small press and were experienced editors/publishers.

There are also a lot of writers who are also excellent public speakers -- teachers, trainers, experts in some field, etc., who do well with self-publishing. These folks have a built-in venue for their book sales. They give a talk, and at the end of the talk, they sell their books to the audience. They often do very well.

So...the next time you hear a writer friend saying, "If I can just get it out there..." you might want to give them the link to this blog. They need a little dose of reality. Nobody should go into self publishing or POD publishing expecting fame, fortune, and a big commercial publishing contract -- yet writers do it every day.

I suspect desperation plays a part, as Vic has noted.

-Ann C. Crispin
www.accrispin.com



Monday, December 19, 2005

Victoria Strauss--Shades of Gray

Ann is away for a few days, which is why you're seeing so much of me just now.

I just did a brief interview on WAMC, the NPR station in Albany, NY, about Martha Ivery and writing scams in general. It went well--the hosts always ask smart questions--and I was able to mention Writer Beware's URL. So Martha, you're famous--though maybe not quite the way you wanted to be.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I've been characterized as being on a "jihad" to inform writers about scammers, and having a "very black & white" view of what a scammer is. It kind of amuses me, since I've gotten in trouble at other times for being too attentive to shades of gray--for instance, for pointing out that most agents who charge fees are not deliberate scammers, or that a small number of "legitimate" agents ask for some kind of upfront money, or that fee-charging can no longer be considered an infallible indication of non-legitimacy (track record, or lack of it, is a much more reliable indicator--though there are shades of gray even there, because even a very experienced publishing professional who is transitioning to agenting will lack sales initially). Whatever.

On a related note, I've seen discussions in several places recently about reading fees, and whether agents could or should charge them. Here's one of the more interesting.

I think that at least a theoretical case can be made for reading fees. Agents do spend a lot of time considering and reviewing submissions, and it's not unreasonable for them to want some sort of compensation for that. But in my opinion, any arguments that support the use of reading fees are outweighed by the fact that reading fees are just too easy to abuse. The danger isn't so much that legitimizing reading fees would result in a huge new crop of scammers (with the right tools, scammers aren't that hard to avoid), but that established agents would be tempted to ask for submissions in which they had little or no interest, in order to get the fee--or to set up reading fee "factories," a la Scott Meredith and his Discovery program. Not every agent would do this, of course. Perhaps most wouldn't. But some would. In a world of reading fees, writers could never really be sure that an invitation to submit indicated real interest in their work. They could never really know whether the fee was a good "investment."

I think this is the reason the AAR prohibited reading fees for its members--not because of reading fee scams (too many people in the publishing world are hardly aware of the scam industry), but because of successful agents who were using fees as a way to make an easy profit.

There's also the issue of incentive. An agent who profits only when her clients do is highly motivated not just to sell her clients' work, but to get the most lucrative possible deals. A fee--even a small one, because you have to multiply that small amount by the many submissions the agent is going to request over the course of a year--diminishes that incentive, and makes actual sales less urgent. Maybe only a little less urgent. But do you really want your agent trying even a little less hard on your behalf?

What do you think?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Victoria Strauss -- Scam Tales, With Haiku

Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Happiness is possible in the very here and now." My meditation teacher encourages me to be aware of the moments of joy that arise spontaneously in the ordinary process of living. So today I was sitting in the sun with my morning cup of tea, enumerating the reasons for contentment, and it occurred to me that I'd composed a haiku.
A good book, a sleepy cat.
Birds outside the window.
Why is it that a snowy day seems warm?
Don't worry, I'm not planning to make a career of it.

On to scammery. Today I'm going to talk about agent replication. No, they don't climb into a machine that makes living copies, or grow clones in a lab. But they do sometimes twin themselves, in an effort to rope in more clients and rake in more dough. They aren't usually terribly smart about it, however.

Agent One--let's call him Joe Schmoe--charges his clients a per-submission fee for photocopying and Priority Mail postage. Supposedly, Joe sends the first 100 pages of the client's manuscript, plus a synopsis and cover letter, to 20 or 30 publishers at once. (This is known as "blitz" or "shotgun" submission; it's very unprofessional, and editors, who can tell when they're getting a form submission, hate it.) How can someone make money at that, you ask? Well, there's evidence that Joe often doesn't actually send anything out. When he does, he cuts corners and keeps the change--sending just a synopsis and cover letter by ordinary mail, for instance, and bundling several submissions in a single envelope (also really unprofessional and hated by editors).

Need I add that Joe has no sales?

For a fee-charger, Joe is relatively restrained. His clients wind up out-of-pocket by "only" a few hundred dollars, not several thousand. Maybe that's why he felt the need to replicate--by running two agencies instead of one, he could double his income. Like criminals who use sound-alike aliases, however, he left too many clues. His first agency is Schmoe & Associates, run by Joe Schmoe. His second agency is SA Literary Agency (Schmoe & Associates--SA--get it?), run by Joe Schlemiel. He uses the exact same M.O. for SA Literary as for Schmoe & Associates...and the two agencies have the same mailing address. Duh. It didn't take the Writer Beware detectives long to figure that one out.

Agent Two--let's call him Mensaguy, because one of the "credentials" he lists on his website is Mensa membership--runs an agency that's a front for an editing service. He charges $4,500 for editing that he provides himself, despite his total lack of qualifications to do so, having (as far as the Writer Beware sleuths know) never actually worked in publishing or published a book.

Everyone who submits to the agency gets a recommendation to edit. Because Mensaguy knows that $4,500 is a big sum of money--and probably also because he just can't help himself--potential clients are bludgeoned into submission with pages and pages of verbiage justifying paid editing services in general and paid editing services for them in particular. Your average scam editing pitch is two or three pages--a letter recommending editing, and maybe a marked-up manuscript page. Mensaguy's pitch runs twelve closely-written, single-spaced, often incomprehensible pages. The pitch is personalized for each recipient (like those junk mail solicitations I sometimes get that start "Dear Victoria") but essentially the same each time. Here's a sample:

To win, here's what needs to happen: The story sets (chapters) leave nothing to the imagination and are creative, in-sequence and novel. Further, they provide good acuity. That is, the reader knows why you are taking him/her on the journey as the author wishes events to unfold. What's not right is the lack of commercial panache necessary to sell the manuscript! Fail to see this and you've penned the title for nothing...because it will never happen the way it is.

Ouch. I'm sure I don't need to say that Mensaguy has no sales either.

When Mensaguy decided to replicate, he was smarter about it than Joe Schmoe. He gave the new "agency" an unrelated name. He endowed it with an address in a different city (probably a PO box, though I don't know for sure). As the new agency's Director, he adopted a brand new name that didn't suggest his own--and just to make double sure, he changed sex. What didn't he change? The $4,500 editing fee--and his incredibly verbose materials. That's right--as the new agency, he sent out the exact same mind-boggling twelve-page pitch. The minute Ann and I got the documentation, we made the connection.

Please, scammers--you're making it too easy for us. Cover your tracks better. Don't leave so many clues. Give us a challenge! We're asking nicely.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Victoria Strauss -- More on Desperation

In my last post, I talked about a writer who knew better, but still paid $8,500 to an agent with no track record. I've gotten a number of comments, mostly from people who find it hard to believe that anyone could get so desperate. Why would this writer think that an agent with no track record could help her? Why would she keep trying to sell a manuscript that, given the number of rejections she'd received, was obviously unmarketable? How could anyone--whether or not they knew you shouldn't pay for representation--possibly rationalize handing over such a huge amount of money?

Actually, that aspect of the story boggled me too. It really is an enormous amount of money. Most bad agents ask for a few hundred, not thousands. But if even a few people can manage to rationalize $8,500, imagine how many are able to rationalize $150 or $300 or even $550. Especially when the agent who's asking for the fee is the first person to say good things about their work, to confirm what they've known all along, despite all those other agents who ignored them or told them different--that their manuscript is publishable.

But why would a writer think that an agent with no track record could sell her book? That's an interesting question, which I'll discuss in a future post (the short answer is that many people, who wouldn't consider hiring an accountant without asking for a CV or employing a building contractor without checking references, are willing to accept a literary agent on the basis of promises and a good attitude). In this case, the agent lied about his credentials, with a bio on his website that presented an impressive list of accomplishments.

Of course, his claims of books and scripts sold to major publishers and production companies weren't supported by any verifiable detail--no book or film titles, no publishers' or producers' names. But while it's easy to say that writers should always do their own research to make sure such claims are true, really, how many of us are that suspicious? Sure, I am. And maybe you are. But plenty of us are not. The agent is a professional. He, or she, is the expert. Who are we to dispute what he or she says? If an agent who has expressed enthusiasm for our work tells us that he's sold six books to Random House in the past year, how many of us will ask for titles and authors so we can check up on him, and how many of us will say, "Random House! That's great!"

Also, unless you have quite a bit of experience in tracking these things down, it's not so easy to find out about an agent's track record if he doesn't list specifics on his website or at a venue like Publishers Marketplace. Especially when you're desperate, it's a whole lot easier to take the agent's claims at face value.

How desperate do you have to be, though, to keep trying with a manuscript that has been rejected and rejected and rejected? Why (especially in preference to handing over a huge sum of money) wouldn't you put your rejected manuscript in a drawer and try again with a new one? To put it another way...at what point do you trade belief in your work--your brainchild, your lifeblood, the sweat of your brow--for an acceptance of failure?

Belief in one's work is essential to the process of seeking publication. Without it, we couldn't endure rejection at all, let alone keep submitting. But what divides a true certainty of one's own talent, as in those inspiring stories of writers who persevered through years of rejection and then went on to make it big, from self-deception? How can we know the difference? Should we know the difference? And how seductive is it when an agent--any agent, even a fee-charging one--confirms our belief in ourselves with enthusiastic praise and an offer of representation? At that point, especially if we've been turned down again and again, the line between belief and desperation is very thin indeed.

Desperation is insidious. It twists our perceptions, often in ways we don't consciously recognize. It makes us do things we shouldn't--even things we know we shouldn't. It encourages us to compromise, to settle for less. Maybe we wouldn't pay $8,500. But would we pay $100? Maybe we wouldn't sign with an agent who'd never sold a book. But would we sign with a marginal agent? Maybe we wouldn't seek out a book doctor. But would we pay editing fees to an apparently professional agent who promised she could make our manuscript publishable? Those of us who are well-educated about the publication process, who understand the warning signs and have the research skills, are better defended--but we shouldn't become complacent, because in this bruising business, all of us are vulnerable.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 25, More Writing Hints

The Old Bay Crabcake mix does serve as a great "starter" for my crabcakes, but if you're a purist, you can just add extra breadcrumbs and seasonings, and skip the mix as a start. If I skipped the Old Bay mix, I'd put in a couple dashes of cayenne pepper, plus lots more Old Bay seasoning.

As for writing tips, I promised a writing tip with every post, and I've been pretty faithful with that, I think.

Since there were a couple of comments about dialogue, I'd like to expand on that topic, if you don't mind.

In an ideal world, each of your characters will have their own voice, and that voice will be so distinctive that you don't have to ID the character, just type in what he or she or it or seloz says. All modesty aside, I have a pretty good ear for character "voice" and speech patterns, and I'm pretty sure I could write a long passage of dialogue between Jezzil, Thia, Khith, Talis and Eregard and not ID them, yet still have readers able to tell who is talking. Ditto for Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Still, just to keep a scene from becoming "talking heads" you can always use some minor action as a way of IDing a character: Here's an abridged passage from Storms of Destiny where I don't use "said" at all, yet it's clear who is speaking, I believe:

************

Eregard's cheeks burned, and the audience guffawed as he blushed.

"So, citizens...what am I bid?"

A man from the front raised a languid hand, flicking his handkerchief at the auctioneer. "Five liera."

The auctioneer did not seem pleased at the paucity of the offer. "Citizens, we have a fine young male here. He can read, write, and cipher! Please, do not insult us! Do I hear ten?"

A dark-skinned blacksmith waved in the Prince's direction. "Ten."

"Very well, we have ten...ten...ten...do I hear fifteen? I can't allow you to steal this lad! Look at him! Excellent health, strong teeth. Fifteen, give me fifteen!"

A woman laughed raucously. "I'll give you ten to take 'im away, and bring out something decent!"

***********

Poor Eregard. He was not having a good day...

Question: Since posting about synopses on Miss Snark's blog, I've gotten a couple of email queries about my post. Does anyone need more info about synopses? I've made one or two posts on the topic, earlier in the history of this blog, but I'm happy to discuss them more. Writing query letters and synopses are really tough for most writers.

My take on writing a synopsis is that I try to make it as intrinsically interesting as I can. I envision my audience as having a very short attention span, perhaps that of 11 year old boys. If you can keep them reading, hook them on the story by writing your synopsis sparely, but dynamically, you'll go far.

-Ann C. Crispin
Author: STORMS OF DESTINY/HarperEos
www.accrispin.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 24 Please Don't Go...

My husband, who is otherwise a nice guy, I assure you, has just reminded me that blogs, in the same manner as black holes, need constant "content" to suck up, or they will implode. He has just been reviewing the traffic records on this blog, and saying "You've got a lot of people reading, but you don't post enough! They're leaving because you don't post enough! Post something! Anything!"

So here I am, straining to be half as clever as Miss Snark, sitting here with him standing over me, racking my feeble little cerebrum for something to say. He says if I don't post you all willl desert us!

ARGH!

A fate worse than death!

(removing tongue from cheek with a distinct popping sound)

My mind is a total blank as to things to post about, unfortunately. Perhaps I shall give you my recipe for real Maryland crabcakes.

Yes, that's what I shall do, because my best friend, Thia (some of you will recognize that name) is in town visiting from Colorado, and they can't get decent crabmeat out there. So tonight I wlll make her my very own crabcakes.

You will need:

1 pound of REAL crabmeat, the kind that hasn't been frozen or canned. Backfin, of course, is best. Around here I can get if for 7.99 a pound on sale.

1 package of Old Bay crabcake mix. It's the best!

1/2 - 1 cup of mayonnaise, depending on how much other liquid you'll be adding.

a small onion, a rib or so of fresh celery, fresh parsley,fresh lemon juice, ground mustard, tabasco sauce, Old Bay Seasoning, butter and oil.

______

First of all, THOROUGHLY pick over that crabmeat. It will take you a while. I do it front of the television, surrounded by big-eyed four-footed creatures who, fortunately, don't drool.

Second, mince up about 1/3 cup onion, and 1/3 cup celery, and finely snip about 4-5 tablespoons fresh parsley.

Mix up the Old Bay Crabcake mix, according to package directions. Add a bit extra mayo if you like your crabcakes extra moist. Be careful mixing the crabmeat in, you want to keep the hunks of crabmeat pretty intact. Using your hands is best to kind of "toss" the mixture together. You want to mix most everything in at once, so you have to mix as little as possible.

While I'm making up the recipe using the Old Bay mix, I also add the following:

1. 1/3 cup minced onion, 1/3 cup minced celery and several tbs snipped parsley

2. a splash of tabasco and extra Old Bay seasoning, because Marylanders like their crab fairly highly seasoned.

3. about a teaspoon full of ground mustard

4. a few tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice, if desired

(If you want to stretch the recipe a bit, you can add in an extra 1/2 cup to 1 cup finely ground breadcrumbs, without harming the recipe much, but you'll need to add that extra mayo. I use the reduced fat Hellman's and it works fine.)

Now, shape the crabmeat mixture into patties.

Here's the 64,000 dollar question: broil or fry?

I like my crabcakes broiled. My husband prefers his fried, or, most accurately, sauteed. Either works great.

If you broil them, stay in the kitchen! They'll burn in a trice! Brush the crabcakes with a bit of melted butter, and turn a couple times to get them a lovely golden color on both sides.

If you fry them, press the crabcakes into extra bread crumbs, then saute them in a mixture of butter and veggie oil, or you could use that really light flavored olive oil, I suppose.

Serve with tartar sauce, or cocktail sauce, if you like. Or just a squeeze from a fresh lemon wedge. Of course you can put them in buns and have crabcake sandwiches, but I like to just serve rolls on the side, and let the crabcakes take center stage. They deserve it.

Enjoy!

Oh, and here's today's WRITING TIP: There is NOTHING WRONG with the word "said." Do not drive yourself, or the agent or editor who reads your work, to the edge of distraction trying to avoid using the word "said." Having all the characters shout, gurgle, moan, grumble, ejaculate, spew or dribble their lines will get old really quickly, trust me. The reader's eye hops right over the word "said," so it doesn't become tiresome -- but half-killing yourself to come up with terms to replace "said" gets old very quickly!

Of course it's fine to have a character whisper or shout, if that's appropriate to what's happening, I'm not saying you must eschew all other terms. But remember: there is NOTHING WRONG with using "said."

Best,

-Ann C. Crispin

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 23/ Copyright 101, the Other Half

6. Are there exceptions to this advice (that you, the author, should wait for your publisher to register the copyright on your book in your name)? Sure.

a. if your book is Print on Demand or an e-book, and if you paid to publish it, you'll need to register copyright yourself. One of the things that distinguishes a "real" publisher from a vanity press or author mill (like PublishAmerica) is that the author must register his or her own copyright, as opposed to the publisher handling this.

b. these days the copyright laws regarding short stories are a bit muddy, and have come under some question, especially as regards anthologies and magazines. SO...if you write short stories, it's not a bad idea to grab a handful of them, and register the copyright on them yourself. You can send in five or ten at a time, for the same fee.

c. if you are an aspiring author and extremely paranoid that someone will steal your book and attempt to publish it, sure, go ahead and register your copyright yourself. That way, if your worst fears are realized, you'll be able to sue for big bucks in damages. HOWEVER, if you do this, for goodness sakes keep the fact that you've done it to yourself. DO NOT put a line in your query letter or cover letter to the effect that: "Oh, and by the way, this book is copyrighted, so don't even think of stealing it, because I'll sue you."

Hey, I know you're rolling your eyes, but I assure you that agents and editors get letters with warnings like these all the time. And those letters earn their author a quick trip on the Round File Express to Dumpsterland.

7. Are there any times when an author's name will NOT appear on the copyright page?

Yes. When an author does what is called "tie-in" or "franchise" writing, in a universe established by another creator, the work will be copyrighted to the original creator of the universe, or the corporation that owns the license, rather than to the person that actually wrote the book. For example, if you look at the copyright page of any of my Star Wars novels, you'll see that the work is copyrighted "Lucasfilm" rather than "A.C. Crispin."

But this is not something you need to worry too much about, since franchise universes don't deal with authors unless they have recognized literary agents and a good track record of sales.

The ONLY exception to the above is the horrendous demand made by a few lunatic fringe scam publishers that the author should sign over his or her copyright to the publisher. This is such an outrageous demand that even Writer Beware has only found one scam publisher that currently does this -- Royal Fireworks. Obviously, they are a major AVOID.

9. With the above in mind, it should be easy to remember that when you, the author, sell a book, what you're selling is the RIGHT TO PUBLISH, not the copyright. Remember this, and remember it well: copyright and publishing rights are NOT the same thing.

10. If you feel the need to protect yourself against plagiarism (though to be brutally frank, unpublished manuscripts are fairly worthless to anyone but their authors), spend the money and register your copyright with the US Copyright Office. Don't fall for the advice of clueless writers on the internet, or even some so-called "publishers" (PublishAmerica springs to mind, cause they do this) and decide to use the "poor man's copyright." Sending your manuscript to yourself in a sealed envelope is not the same thing as actually registering your copyright. It's worthless, and won't hold up in court as proof of authorship.

(Thanks for reminding me of this one, btw...I almost forgot to mention it!)

Anyhow, hope that little primer is helpful.

Best,

-Ann C. Crispin

Friday, December 09, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 22 My Post Truncated

I guess there's a limit to how long a post you can make in one of these blogs. Only half of my "copyright" post showed up today.

I'll try and re-created the other half and post it tomorrow. Wish I'd realized that was a limit!

Anyway, I'll start again with item 6 tomorrow, and go on through item 10. If I can remember what I said...

-Ann C. Crispin

A.C. Crispin - 21/ Today's Lesson: Copyright 101

Well, in searching for a topic to post about today, it occurs to me that it might not hurt to discuss copyright from a writer's point of view. Here are a few basic things I've learned over the years:

1. You cannot copyright an "idea." Only the tangible execution of an idea.

2. Titles are not copyrightable. That's why you'll find different books by different authors with the same title. Two examples are "Millennium" and "White Light."

3. Under US law, your work is copyrighted as soon as it is produced in a tangible form. That means, from the moment that it leaves your mind and is typed, keyboarded, spoken, filmed, or written out in longhand, etc., it's legally copyrighted to you, the author.

4. When people talk about "copyrighting" their work, what they actually mean is REGISTERING the copyright with the US Copyright Office. This will cost you something on the order of 30 bucks, (or has the price gone up?). You'll need to fill out forms, available on the US Copyright Office website, and send a copy or two of the work in. Then your copyright is REGISTERED to you.

5. Do you need to do this? Probably not for a novel, or a nonfiction book. Why not? Because your publisher will copyright the book in your name for you, after they acquire the rights to publish the book by paying you money. By the time the book is published, they will have registered the copyright, so you, the author, don't have to do that. I've never registered the copyright on any of my books.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Victoria Strauss -- When Bad Agents Go Badder

I got a letter yesterday from a writer who signed with an agent who has long been on Writer Beware's watchlist for charging reading/evaluation fees. (Reading and evaluation fees used to be the most common kind of upfront fee, but writers have become so aware of the fact that they're non-legit that most fee-chargers have switched to the more benign-sounding "submission" or "marketing" fee. You don't often run across reading fees these days.) Not a lot of money, as these things go--just $350.

That's canny fee-charger strategy, by the way. For many writers (though obviously, as the following will make clear, not for all), $300-350 is right on the borderline between "I'm tired of getting rejections--what's a couple of hundred dollars?" and "You want me to pay WHAT?!!"

Anyway, the writer was kind enough to include a copy of the agent's contract (I love it when people send me documentation). Reading through it, my jaw hit the floor. Reading fees, apparently, are no longer lucrative enough. The agent is now charging "a minimum retainer of Eight Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($8,500)."

Do you love the way it's all spelled out, so there's absolutely, positively no mistake about the amount? And here I'd thought that the agent with the $3,250 retainer was the fee-charging champ. No matter how bad an agent is, there's always room to be badder.

I picked up my jaw and read on. In addition to the retainer (which the agent obligingly allowed the author to pay in monthly installments of $500), the writer was required to reimburse "all expenses including long distance telephone, Xerox, postage, and wire transfer charges" (what, $8,500 isn't enough to cover paper and stamps?) and to pay a 20% commission. That nonstandard commission, of course, is the one thing the writer didn't have to worry about paying, because this particular agent, like most fee-chargers, has no record of recent sales.

The writer was with the agent for seven months. During that time, the agent mailed her manuscript to a number of inappropriate publishers...including PublishAmerica (which of course offered a contract. Fortunately the writer did some research and didn't sign it).

Some of you may be thinking, "How ignorant was this writer?" or "Only idiots give their money away." But this writer wasn't ignorant or stupid. She'd done her research, and knew that fee-charging wasn't kosher. She'd also spent nearly two years submitting her ms. to established agents without success, and had decided that "it was impossible for a new author to get an agent" (her words). This is what desperation will do to you, folks. Think it can't happen to you? Think again.

One of the ways this agent acquires clients is by holding writers' workshops in various locations, including businesses and schools. Yet another reason to check the reputation of any agent you plan to take a course from or to meet with at a writers' conference.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Victoria Strauss--More Martha Ivery

News stories covering Martha Ivery's guilty plea:

AP article
Shorter AP article
The Buffalo News
Albany Times-Union
Mid-Hudson News (oddly, this report gets it wrong, stating that she pleaded not guilty)

My husband swears that he heard Martha mentioned on NPR's All Things Considered, but I can't find it on NPR's website.

Yippee!

This really is a great feeling, the culmination of such a long stretch of effort...and waiting. Lots of waiting.

We began collecting complaints about Martha in 1998--in fact, "Kelly O'Donnell" complaints were among the very first we received when Writer Beware first started up. The FBI initiated its criminal investigation in 2001. In mid-2002 Martha closed her various businesses (at least four "literary agencies" and two vanity publishers) and declared bankruptcy; in the fall of that same year, an FBI raid was conducted at her home and office.

After that...nothing. The case languished. Despite the large amount of evidence collected by Writer Beware and the FBI, despite the fact that Martha repeatedly perjured herself during her two bankruptcy hearings, attempts by the FBI agent responsible for the investigation to interest the US Attorney's office in following through with an indictment were met with stonewalling or indifference. It was intensely frustrating. But we never gave up. The FBI agent patiently continued to lobby the US Attorney's office, and Ann and I wrote letters to many different people, in hopes of finding the one who'd be willing to help. In the end our persistence paid off. The US Attorney's office finally took a real look at the file, and in a breathtakingly short amount of time (compared to what had gone before), an indictment was handed down.

We did get a little nervous when Martha's plea hearing was repeatedly pushed back--from August to September to November (twice) to today. We also expected that she'd cut some sort of deal, and plead guilty only to a few of the indictment counts--we really never expected her to plead guilty to all 15!

This entire time, Ann and I have continued to hear from new victims of Martha's many scams. The most recent contact was just last week.

We're really hoping that this will serve as a precedent we can use to convince other law enforcement agencies in other areas of the country to pursue scammers. There's one down south we've got our eye on...

A.C. Crispin - 20 Another Victory for Writer Beware! WE RULE!!!

You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen!

Kelly O'Donnell/Martha Ivery/6 other aliases has just pleaded guilty in Federal Court to ALL 15 COUNTS OF FRAUD (INCLUDING BANKRUPTCY FRAUD) SHE WAS CHARGED WITH!

Sentencing was set for April 28th, 2006. Victoria and I are planning to be there in court that day.

Folks, this means JAIL TIME. Several years of it. We're hoping for about five.

Kelly/Martha scammed, as best we can estimate, over 300 aspiring writers out of over half a million dollars. She got paid for books that never came out, books she was "agenting" that were never sent anywhere, a fake writing cruise to Hawaii, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, credit card fraud, and the forementioned bankruptcy fraud.

(Bankruptcy judges take a very dim view of citizens who commit perjury in their court, let me tell you.)

I'll post more details later, as I get them, but wanted to get this up right away. I have to call the Associated Press, they've asked for my commentary.

(doing happy Snoopy dance!)

What a nice Christmas present!

-Ann C. Crispin

Saturday, December 03, 2005

A.C. Crispin - 19 CAVEAT EMPTOR!

Speaking of ads, I remember that Kelly O'Donnell/Martha Ivery used to have a regular ad running in Publisher's Weekly. Every week, there she was, with her little ad. She had one in Writer's Digest, too. And now she's facing prison for scamming authors.

Basically, here's a quick "check" for any of you writers who are searching the internet for agents or publishers (and the internet isn't the best place to begin a search).* If the agent or publisher is ADVERTISING, then RUN AWAY. Legit agents and legit publishers have no need to advertise. Only questionable ones do.

You can also look at a website of a highly questionable POD publisher like PublishAmerica and see a huge difference in the way the site is geared. PA gears their site towards attracting authors to take advantage of their dubious "service," whereas a real, commercial publisher like HarperCollins gears their website towards attracting readers to buy their books. It's like night and day, if you look at their sites. This kind of "author soliciting" website is an immediate red flag to an experienced scam hunter.

Looks like we may be looking at getting a bunch of snow, so I need to run out and buy my horse some more senior horse chow and fresh bedding. Hope all of you are snug as bugs!

Today's WRITING TIP: No matter how many rejections you receive, no matter how many unanswered query letters you ship out, NEVER let yourself become bitter and frustrated. You can't let yourself take rejection personally, because if you do, your resentment may cause you to act or write in an unprofessional manner. I've read query letters from students who are so clearly angry with the entire publishing industry that their anger and definsiveness shows through in what they've written. No editor or agent wants to work with an angry, embittered author, trust me on this. It's just too tempting to reject someone that looks like they have these kinds of issues.

I repeat: don't let yourself take rejection personally. I know it's hard, but it's ESSENTIAL to preserve that sense of professionalism and equanmity about your work, especially in your interactions with agents or publishers.

-Ann C. Crispin

__________

*See Victoria's excellent article on The Safest Way to Search for An Agent for a concrete step by step list of how to begin an agent search.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Victoria Strauss -- AARRGH!

Remember the agent I talked about in a previous post--the one who charges a $3,200 service fee for a year of representation, and in the nearly 10 years her agency has existed has never sold any books to commercial publishers? Well, I just discovered that she has bought a membership in Publishers Marketplace, and has put up a fairly professional-looking page there (if, of course, you ignore the fact that no sales are mentioned).

Publishers Marketplace is a very popular site, and many writers use it as an integral part of their search for publication. I often recommend it as a research tool--it has much valuable information about agents' backgrounds, track records, interests, and philosophy. It is (justifiably) regarded as a very reliable resource. It really bugs me to think that a total scam artist like this agent will benefit from that reputation--that writers who've just finished looking at the listings for Manus & Associates and Donald Maass and Sandra Dijkstra and Simon Lipskar may assume that this agent is on the same professional level.

And no, she's not the only questionable or amateur agent who's a member of PM. With one exception, however, she is (by many orders of magnitude) the most dishonest.

I guess the moral of this story is always double-check. NEVER take an agent listing at face value--or at any rate, don't assume that just because an agent is listed by a reputable resource, the agent him/herself is reputable.

In better news, my husband's knee surgery last week went very well. The stitches came out a couple of days ago, and he's already walking more or less normally (though not normally enough, apparently, to go downstairs and make his own lunch. I humored him today, but his free lunch coupon runs out this Sunday). Lots of physical therapy lies ahead, but everyone seems to feel he'll make a full recovery.