For an embarrassingly long time, a link on the index page of the Writer Beware website has promised that a feature on Writers' Services is "coming soon." It's now (finally) online.
Why did we feel a need to add this section to the website? Over the past few years, we've encountered more and more services targeted specifically at writers--from companies that will submit query letters for you, to outfits that claim to market your self-published or small-press-published book, to websites that will provide you with a review (for a fee). This explosion of writer-focused services is a result not just of the (astoundingly, to us) enormous numbers of people who want to publish a book, but of the Internet-fueled proliferation of print-on-demand self-publishing services and electronic and POD-based independent publishers. Whether deliberately, or because the people running them have little knowledge of the realities of publishing and marketing, many of the services prey on the ignorance and misconceptions of inexperienced writers, offering things that are overpriced, ineffective, or just plain pointless.
Here's what you'll find on the new Writers' Services page:
- Manuscript Assessment and Appraisal Services. Does buying a critique from a manuscript assessment service give you a leg up with agents and publishers, as some assessment services claim? We don't think so. If the service is qualified, you may find a critique personally helpful, but it's not likely to get you closer to publication.
- Query and Submission Services. The worst of these are simply a ripoff (we provide examples). The best do no more than you could do yourself, with time and effort. If you have the cash to spare, you may feel it's worth it to avoid the busywork of submission--but don't expect the service to confer any advantage beyond time saving.
- Manuscript Display Websites. Once touted as the Great Writers' Hope of the Millennium, display sites fell out of favor for a while. Recently, they've started to make a comeback. These sites, which display your writing online in the theory that agents and editors will be interested in visiting an electronic slushpile, are minimally effective at best. You may feel it's worth the fee to cast a wider net, but don't consider a display site a substitute for conventional submission.
- Copyright Registration and Timestamp Services. Playing on the common (and totally unfounded) new writer's fear of plagiarism, these services register copyright for you, or timestamp your work to help you prove the date of completion. Our judgment: save your cash. These services do nothing you couldn't do yourself, as easily and much more cheaply.
- Pre-Publication Publicity Services. The theory here is that hiring a publicist will help an unpublished author build a "platform," making her more attractive to a publisher. But unless she already has a high profile, the only thing newsworthy about an author is her book--and a book isn't news until it's published. These services are a total waste of money.
- Publicists. Is a publicist worth the considerable expense? That depends. Not all books are suitable for a publicity campaign, and unless you have a clear (and realistic) idea of your goals going in, you may not get your money's worth. Plus, there are many charlatans who pass themselves off as publicists. We provide some some tips on how to assess a publicist, plus some thoughts on publicity in general.
- Book Marketing Services. There are many Internet-based services that promise to market your book. This may sound especially appealing if you've chosen one of the POD self-publishing services or have signed a contract with a small publisher that has limited ability to market and distribute. But the cornerstone of most online book marketing services is press releases and book announcements--among the least effective of all publicity strategies--disseminated by means of junk-mail-style methods that most recipients regard as trash or spam. They're rarely worth the (often inflated) expense.
- Book Review Services. Post-publication reviews are a must for authors whose publishers don't send advance reading copies to professional review venues such as Booklist. A growing number of websites cater to this need. Which ones are worthwhile--and should you ever consider buying a book review?
- Book Display Services. Many websites offer to display information on you and your book in hopes of attracting readers. Some are free; some charge a fee. Most have tiny audiences, making this a dubious investment.
- Vanity Radio. Should you ever pay to be featured on a radio program? A growing number of stations, especially on the Internet, charge a fee to guests, or expect hosts to pay for producing their own shows. Audiences are miniscule, and the shows aren't always professionally run. Our judgment: keep your credit card in your wallet.
- Miscellaneous. Stuff that doesn't fit the other categories, such as mega-spammer VendorPro and those outfits that promise to take your book to major book fairs.
Please let us know what you think of our new section. Comments, corrections, objections, things you think we ought to add, fulsome praise--all are welcome. Just email us.