Guess what. We still don't care.
Since ol' John, whoever he may be, has accused us of "knowingly" posting false information for personal reasons, I thought it might be helpful to discuss Writer Beware's standards of documentation as well as our definition of questionable practice.
We define "questionable" as nonstandard practice not in writers’ best interest. This includes:
- Fees of various kinds (agents who charge reading fees, evaluation fees, retainers, “marketing” or “submission” fees; publishers that require writers to pre-purchase their books or to pay for some aspect of the publication process)
- Conflicts of interest (agents or publishers that recommend their own paid editing services, agents who send writers to publishing operations they own, independent editors who pay kickbacks for referrals)
- Abusive or nonstandard contract terms (an agent who claims a financial interest in a client’s future work, whether or not the agent actually sells it, or a publisher that charges all kinds of expenses against royalties)
- Unprofessional practices (agents who “blitz” submit or use their clients’ own query letters, publishers that make writers responsible for getting their own books into bookstores, independent editors who claim that manuscripts have to be "professionally" edited in order to be competitive)
- Nonperformance (agents who’ve been in business for more than a year and still have no sales, publishers that don’t fulfill their contractual obligations)
- Dubious qualifications (an agent, publisher, or independent editor who sets up in business without a relevant professional background--such people are often well-intentioned but simply have no idea how to do the job)
Most of the reports we receive involve one or more of the issues outlined above. We ask writers to substantiate their reports with documentation wherever possible (letters, e-mails, contracts, websites, brochures, publicity information, etc.) and we don't start a file on an agent, publisher, or independent editor unless we've received at least two substantially identical reports, or a single report with documentation. Most of our files contain at least a dozen separate reports. Many contain a lot more. Our largest file (which gets bigger every week) has upward of 300 reports.
Occasionally we hear from people who have general gripes about the submission process, or are upset by something that's fairly routine--long turnaround times, for instance, or failure to return manuscripts. These things aren’t enough to put someone on our watchlist--while they’re regrettable, they happen a lot, and writers have to be prepared to deal with them. We also sometimes hear from writers who are angry that an agent didn't manage to sell their book, or didn't call them often enough with updates, or sent a dismissive rejection letter. We don’t often regard issues like these as documentable complaints, because they're general problems that anyone can encounter in the ordinary run of things (and often involve unrealistic expectations on the writer’s part). Occasionally, with multiple similar reports, they do add up to a pattern, and if so we feel a warning is in order. But that's rare.
So we’re very careful to distinguish between genuine bad practice and writers’ sour grapes, and to back up our warnings with as much documentation as possible. We want to provide balanced information that writers can depend on--and to do this, we must be as responsible in our data collection and our dissemination of information as we expect agents, publishers, and independent editors to be in their business dealings.
Or to put it another way: we have a lot more to lose by lying than some pseudonymous rumor-monger on the Internet does.