Thursday, January 12, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Worthless Services for Writers, Part 1

Writers' services are proliferating across the Internet, targeted to both aspiring writers and writers who are self/vanity/POD-published. There are submission services and manuscript display sites; there are book marketing services and electronic press release websites and book review services. Some are free. Some are modestly priced. Some are eye-poppingly expensive. Are they worth it?

Well...

Today I got an email from a writer who wanted to know if a service called Bookblaster is likely to be effective. "Picture this," Bookblaster's website begins, "...you open your email inbox and there are numerous requests from literary agents and publishers, all wanting to read YOUR manuscript." And why are you suddenly in so much demand? Because of Bookblaster's "comprehensive query campaign," which "can deliver almost instant results." All you have to do is send Bookblaster your query letter, and they'll email it to over 350 agents for the low, low fee of $95 ("Finding an agent to represent your novel has never been easier!"), or over 500 agents and publishers for just $145 ("This extensive query campaign represents great value!").

The fees aren't terribly high (you might spend that much if you snail mailed that many queries). Bookblaster has compiled agent and publisher contact info so you don't have to. They even generate the emails from your address, so that agents and publishers can respond directly to you. Happy testimonials from authors suggest that response is swift and enthusiastic.

So why is this not a good idea?

  • The first reason's pretty obvious. The queries are sent out by email, which many agents and publishers don't want to receive. This is something that's rapidly changing--I'm guessing that in a few years equeries will be the norm--but as of now, if Bookblaster is contacting reputable people (a big if--see below), most of the contacts will be viewed as spam.

  • There's no information on who runs Bookblaster, or how the agents' and publishers' addresses are gathered. So you can't know whether the service has made any effort to vet its lists to ensure only legitimate agents and publishers will be approached. Odds are that a good number of amateurs and scammers are mixed in. Unlike so many legit agents and publishers, scammers usually don't have any problem at all with email queries--so if you do hear back from agents and publishers as a result of Bookblaster's query campaign, guess what kind they're likely to be.

  • There's nothing on the website about targeting the query campaign to agents and publishers that are appropriate for your book. So a lot of the queries will be going to people who won't have any interest. Of course, since most of them will be hitting the delete key, this point is probably moot. Still, it's one more thing to potentially annoy the recipients.

  • Did I mention that most of the people who get these queries will regard them as spam? And guess what--since the emails will appear to be coming from you, you're the one who will get angry requests to be taken off "your" mailing list, and whose ISP will get spam complaints.

As for all those happy authors...note how the many testimonials conveniently leave out important details, such as the names of agents and publishers. Gee. Do you suppose they could all be made up?

There's a similar service for screenwriters: Scriptblaster. (Why am I thinking of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome?)

Save your money, folks. This one definitely ain't worth it.

13 comments:

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yea, and if you believe any of those scams, I've got some swampland in Florida to sell as beachfront property!

Bernita said...

Please take "Thank you" as an automatic comment under every post.

glo said...

Excellent information! No one should ever use any kind of service that doesn't provide complete details on the owner(s) and contact information. If a site doesn't have that, then run the other direction, immediately. If it does have it, then do more research. If you don't know how to research, then find out how and save yourself a good measure of grief.

occasional_anonymous said...

I did some research into a few of those testimonials when Miss Snark reamed Bookblaster out. You can see the results here:

http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2005/10/yet-another-helping-hand-reaching-for.html

azumuth said...

Yeah I found one for screenwriters called 'So you wanna seel a script', however it does list the people behind the website with their credentials, contact phone numbers and lists all the production companies and agents it sends queries to. As well there are blogs from people who have used the service and said it works so it could be one of the few that aren't a scam...

azumuth said...

Yeah I found one for screenwriters called 'So you wanna seel a script', however it does list the people behind the website with their credentials, contact phone numbers and lists all the production companies and agents it sends queries to. As well there are blogs from people who have used the service and said it works so it could be one of the few that aren't a scam...

Pools said...

This was really helpful. I almost bought the service.

Yael said...

Thank you for even exsisting for us
I had the worst experience with a publisher who took $750.00 for 2.5 pages preliminery editing, and just never responds to my e-mail or my calls. I was virtually robbed by her. Her name is Darnella Courdier and her Publishing Comapny is M.H.Sugarsweet products. It was my first experience and a real nighmare. I am very scared that she had stolen my manuscript and will use it for her self serving purpose like she took my money. She just came to talk to me and give me an estimate for editing.
Sincerely
Yael

Mekhong Kurt said...

Although I've never tried to publish a book, I do write extensively on my own website, and I taught writing (nonfiction and business) in universities for many years -- and I had foolish dreams of being the Next Great American Author (naturally!) as a young man. So, I'm interested in this sort of discussion and information.

Over the past several years, I've researched a number of these places, and with precious few exceptions, found them to be scams, some mild, some horrendous.

It might be worth mentioning one *potential* getting-your-toe-in-the-door tactic: having a university writing professor read your book for quality of writing. If it's s specialized work -- a science book, for instance -- have a professor in the specific discipline read it for scientific accuracy. In fact, get several such professors do this, independently -- and ask them to write short letters of recommendation.

I knew someone in graduate school who did this (with a novel), and she went on to get a good agent fairly easily, without all that many queries (which she individualized for each agent), and her agent got her a publisher within just a few months. She didn't get rich, but last I knew (many years ago, admittedly), she went on to publish a few more works with increasing ease.

This tactic is a rather awkward one, particularly if you don't know any professors. Some will ask "Why not get a professional published writer of a similar book to read it?" Well, yes, that's even better, by far. (After all, maybe that author can connect you with his/her agent) -- but how many aspiring writers actually *know* any professional authors? I happen to be close friends with three, but that's due to a whole series of unusual events in all of our lives.

Thank you, Ms. Strauss, for taking time to investigate and report.

Best wishes --

David said...

Holy Smokes!! I almost fell for the BookBlaster scam. I Googled it before signing up and I'm so glad I did because I found your blog. You've certainly saved me from what could've been a huge mistake, thank-you.

Victoria Strauss said...

Update: In this post, I note that "most" agents and publishers don't want to receive email queries.

That was true in January 2006, when I wrote the post. But in the nearly three years since, things have changed. Most agents and many publishers accept email queries now as a matter of course.

That doesn't make Bookblaster a good idea, though. The other problems I identify still remain.

Victoria Strauss said...

Here's another reason not to use BookBlaster and its ilk: it pisses agents and publishers off.

BuffySquirrel said...

Every agent or intern who I read online and who has mentioned BookBlaster-type emails indicates that they delete them.

Whether scriptwriters have had some success with the email-blast approach is irrelevant, as it's a whole different industry that works very differently from publishing.

I can get my own emails deleted; I don't need to pay for that 'service'.