Friday, June 30, 2006

A.C. Crispin 57 - iUniverse's Publishing Program, and Placement in Barnes and Noble Stores (Revised)

Okay, folks, here, at long last, is the first part of my report on iUniverse's advertisement re: giving shelf space to books from their "Publisher's Choice" program in Barnes & Noble bookstores.

In this post, I'm going to answer, first of all, the basic question that was posed about iUniverse's "Premier Plus/Publisher's Choice" program. (There's another program iUniverse has called the "Star Program" that is also a possible way to get books on the shelves in B&N stories, but it's quite different, and I'll deal with that in my second post.)

First, a brief recap. A few months ago, a writer posted on Miss Snark's site that she had been handed a brochure and told by a B&N employee that if she just paid enough money to iUniverse, they would guarantee to put her book on the shelves in B&N stores. The writer wanted to know if what the clerk had told her about the iUniverse publishing programs called Publisher's Choice was, indeed, true.

The answer to this writer's question is, NO. It's not possible for a writer to "buy" her way onto the shelves in B&N stores via any of the iUniverse programs. The clerk evidently misunderstood what she'd seen in the brochure that was referenced, which I have a copy of right here.

Books self-published through iUniverse's Premier Plus plan are ELIGIBLE for the Publisher's Choice program, but not automatically guaranteed to get into it. Books that are made part of iUniverse's Publisher's Choice progam are guaranteed to be be placed on the "new releases" table in a B&N store of the author's choice (that's ONE STORE) for a minimum of 60 days.

I did a lot of research on this topic, and received assistance from both B&N and iUniverse itself. The President of iUniverse, Susan Driscoll, actually called me from the beach on her cell phone to tell me about these programs. I found this to be an encouraging sign, because when an actual scam is going on, the LAST thing scammers want to do is cooperate with a watchdog group.

The Premier Plus plan costs an author $1,099, (I gather they sometimes run "specials" that reduce that price) but authors can end up paying more than that. For example, the PP package contains what they call an "editorial evaluation," that's included in that price, but not copyediting, for which they charge extra. Other services are included, such as "a Thorough Design Concept, Evaluation and [IUniverse's] Cover Copy Polish service [and] a 'tune-up' of the all-important promotional text on your book's cover." How much these "extras" are actually worth is debatable. For the author that has written a poor book, no amount of "extras" will turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.

What this all translates to, is that IF you pay the $1,099 for the Premier Plus package, you are then ELIGIBLE for the Publisher's Choice program, which guarantees that your book will be placed on the "new releases" display in ONE B&N bookstore of your choice, and it will be kept there for 60 days.

Note the word "eligible." It's important. Susan Driscoll explained that no Premier Plus books will be made Publisher's Choice books unless they have been read and approved by editors at iUniverse. Does this mean anything? Actually, it does. If you review the credentials of the iUniverse staff, you find that many of them actually have commerical publishing backgrounds. Susan Driscoll and the Editorial Director, Diane Gedymin, for example, both worked for commercial publishers, including HarperCollins, Penguin Putnam, and Holt. (Contrast that with PublishAmerica, for example, where no one in the driver's seat has ever worked for a commercial publishing house.)

So, in order to be made a Publisher's Choice book and placed on the display table at ONE B&N store of your choice, the author has to do the following:

1. Pay the $1,099 for the Premier Plus package

2. Have the book approved by the editorial staff at iUniverse so it is placed in the "Publisher's Choice" program.

So, not all Premier Plus books will be chosen for the Publisher's Choice program. And being chosen for that program doesn't really add up to all that much. Display in ONE bookstore of the author's choice? One bookstore might equate to several dozen sales, but hardly more than that. It does say that if the sales are promising iUniverse will consider placing the book in other stores. The program is too recent for this to have happened yet, if it ever does.

iUniverse sent me three of the books they've chosen for the Publisher's Choice program (the designation is on the back of the book). I skimmed all three of them. Two of them were what I would call "coming of age" slice-of-life books, one with a romance subplot. The third was a detective thriller featuring a supernatural/horror type villain. The first two books were written pretty well, though I didn't find either of the storylines particularly compelling. But the style flowed, and I've seen worse between the pages of books published by commercial publishers. The third book was not, in my opinion, commercially publishable. The style was awkward, the pacing uneven, the characterizations shallow, and the premise silly and not well executed.

In reading the iUniverse website or brochure about their publishing programs, the word that comes to mind is "spin." They put the best possible face on what they do, which they call "supported self publishing" instead of vanity publishing. However, any author with two brain cells to rub together can discover via their materials just how it works, so in their case, "spin" does NOT equate to the outright lies favored by the scam vanity publishers like PublishAmerica. iUniverse tells you right out that they publish 400 books each month. That's 4800 books per year. And they also tell you that 3-5 of the books they publish get picked up by commercial publishers every month. If you figure 4 as an average, that's 48 books per year. So...1 book out of 100 has a chance of being picked up.

Does PublishAmerica tell you this in black and white? No. They don't. IUniverse does, even if the reality is not emphasized and their few success stories are. Writer Beware has not gotten any complaints about iUniverse since shortly after they opened their doors. iUniverse is not deliberately misleading their authors in the way scam vanity presses do.

I have more to say about the iUniverse publishing programs, especially the "Star" program, which also promises authors that their books will get into B&N's, but this post is getting fairly long, so I'll address them in my next post.

Best,

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com


P.S. Does this mean I think all of you should immediately run out and sign on to become iUniverse authors? No, of course not. Writer Beware doesn't endorse any publishers or agents. BUT, if a writer told me she/he had decided, after doing his/her research, to publish POD and asked me to suggest some vanity POD publishers that I would personally consider using, if I wrote something that I knew had no commercial potential (for example a personal memoir, or a family history, or a poetry collection), the ones I would suggest would be (in alphabetical order): Booklocker.com, Infinity.com, Lulu.com, and iUniverse.com

P.P.S. Also for the record, I don't write memoirs, poetry, or family histories. Just novels. (grin)

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Edited to add: Since this post was written, iUniverse has been acquired by Author Solutions, the company that also owns AuthorHouse, a more problematic POD self-publishing service (see Victoria's post about the merger). We feared the merger might result in a deterioration of iUniverse's services, and based on the comments that follow the post, as well as complaints we've received, that does seem to be the case.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Some Thoughts on Lists

Since Ann and I published the Twenty Worst Agents List, people have been asking us why we don't also publish a Twenty (or Thirty or Forty) Best Agents List. As helpful as it is to know whom to avoid, they tell us, it'd also be useful to know whom to approach.

There are several reasons why we prefer to stay away from recommendations.

- One size doesn't fit all. Just as every writer has his or her own particular subject, genre, style, and tone, every literary agent has his or her own particular skills, specialties, interests, and way of doing business. For the best results, there needs to be a good match between what the writer brings to the table and what the agent has to offer. The best agent for one writer may be the worst agent for another.

It's just common sense that if you're a fantasy author, you won't query an agent who specializes in romance, or if you're a commercial fiction author you won't query an agent who specializes in literary novels. But less obvious issues are also important. How active a role do you want your agent to take in steering your career? How important to you are particular kinds of subrights sales? How much do you want your agent to work with you on editing? Do you prefer the clout of a large agency, or the more informal style of a smaller, boutique agency? All these things need to be carefully considered. Labeling an agent "best" for the sake of a stellar track record (which would be the most obvious criteria around which to build a Best List) fails to take any number of equally important factors into account.

It really is best for the writer him or herself to choose whom to approach. That's why, instead of recommending specific agents, we prefer to recommend a research technique that's designed both to help you identify appropriate agents, and to exclude the questionable ones from your query list.

- Change happens. Good agents don't always stay good. Not that they wake up one day and poof, turn into scammers--but agencies get sold, come under new management, switch specialties, or just, sometimes, go into decline.

- It's not our mission. Writer Beware's mission is to provide general and specific warnings about literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls, and to collect documentation on questionable agents, publishers, and others. There are only two other organizations we know of that provide a similar tracking/documentation service--and as far as we're aware, the detailed warnings on our website are unique. By contrast, there are many, many resources to help writers locate and identify reputable agents and publishers.

- Our data doesn't support it. While we actively follow the publishing industry and keep track of reputable agents and publishers, we do so mainly in order to keep current with legitimate and accepted practice. We don't have anywhere near the kind of detailed documentation on good agents that we do on questionable ones.

- We don't want to appear to be endorsing people or services. For obvious reasons, Writer Beware avoids recommending fee-based services (this is why, if you ask us to suggest a reputable freelance editor, we will say no). But for the reasons noted above, we feel equally uncomfortable recommending agents and publishers. Even if we didn't use the words "recommend" or "endorse," a Twenty Best Agents list would probably be taken as such.

As always, comments are welcome.

On a bit of a tangent, Writer Unboxed has just posted the first half of an interview with me--all about Writer Beware, bad agents whose names begin with B, and other interesting stuff (including the Top Ten Signs Your Agent Is A Scammer).

Monday, June 19, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- News of the Weird

In which Writer Beware continues to bring you choice tidbits from the fringes of the publishing world.

eBay has attracted its share of writing weirdness. Writers trying to sell their unpublished manuscripts, writers trying to find investors to finance their writing, writers bidding for the right to write one page of a collaborative novel...the list goes on.

Here's a new one: a literary agency that attempted to auction off the chance for representation. (Here's a link to the cached version of the auction listing, for when it drops off eBay.)

The auction, offered by the UK-based Westwood Literary Agency, urged writers to "bid for a literary agent for your manuscript...a one-time chance to get your manuscript noticed." And why was this thrilling opportunity up for grabs? "We are offering this chance because a.) we are taking in new authors, b.) we are dissatisfied with the quality of the current manuscript submissions and c.) we have decided to try this as a new marketing technique to attract new talent."

What was the payoff for the lucky high bidder? "Upon winning, you will receive a revision contract, free manuscript revision and will work together with us towards improving your manuscript to make it more appealing to potential publishers, after which you will be taken into the client database for a whole year and your manuscript will be made available to publishers in the UK and the US. If this is what you've always dreamed of, this is your chance to become a published writer."

And just in case anyone was wondering: "This is not a scam."

Whew. Glad we cleared that up.

It doesn't really need saying that bidding on literary representation (I can't write that with a straight face) amounts to an upfront fee. But there are less obvious ironies here, and also some clues as to this agency's regular M.O.

According to the Terms and Conditions section of the bid listing, "Bids will only be accepted from authors who have a finished or nearly finished manuscript written in English." That's the only restriction. There's no mention at all of, oh, let's say, manuscript quality (which is kinda odd, seeing as how they're so dissatisfied with the quality of their current submissions). So no matter how bad a manuscript is, they'll take it on if its author is high bidder--as long as it's in English and most of it is complete.

What kind of literary agency doesn't care about its clients' writing ability? For that matter, what kind of agency is so desperate for new clients that it runs an auction to "attract new talent?" All together now: A FEE-CHARGING AGENCY!!

The clues are there, if you read between the lines. Westwood's website, of course, makes no explicit mention of fees. However, there's some suggestive language on the FAQ page: "We also...offer a revising service should you be taken in our client database to ensure that all manuscripts that hit a publisher’s desk are of a high standard." (That's not the only warning sign on this website, by the way. For those who want to play "spot the red flag," there's plenty of material.) And from the eBay listing (my emphasis): "Upon winning, you will receive a revision contract, free manuscript revision, and will work together with us towards improving your manuscript."

So if you're the high bidder, editing is free, free, free! (Well, sort of). Does that mean you'd otherwise have to pay? Writer Beware hasn't yet received any advisories about Westwood, but I'd say it's a safe guess. Dollars to donuts, this agency's main business is selling editing services.

But wait--both the agency website FAQ and the Terms and Conditions of the bid listing qualify this a bit. From the FAQ: "Although we offer revisions and our agents and authors often work closely together, it is not possible for us to go through manuscripts and at the same time correct bad spelling or grammar mistakes as this takes twice or three times the time." And from the bid listing: "Poor grammar or spelling mistakes will not be corrected." So...your ms. will be edited, but if you've got spelling and grammatical errors, tough noogies.

Just what kind of editing is this? How will leaving bad spelling and poor grammar intact make manuscripts "more appealing to potential publishers?" Could it be (gasp) that Westwood's owners don't give a rat's ass about how appealing their clients' mss. are to potential publishers? After all, once the check for the editing fee clears, they've made their dime (or their 10p). There's not a lot of incentive to get out there and sell their clients' work.

Just in case anyone is tempted to bid, the auction is closed. According to the notation on the auction listing, "The seller ended this listing early because of an error in the minimum bid or reserve amount." Yah. No one placed a bid.

------------------

Edited to add: Since posting the above, I've gotten two reports from authors who contacted Westwood and were asked for an "administration and revision fee" of 50 pounds/75 euro/$100, because "hardly any manuscript, [sic] which we receive is truly free of any mistakes, and we spend a great amount of time polishing manuscripts before sending them to publishers." I love it when I'm right!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 56 Important Announcement! Attention, Writers!

If you have had a problem with any of the following literary agencies or related companies, all of which are owned and operated by Robert Fletcher, please send me an email. My address is: anncrispin@aol.com

The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following:
-Children's Literary Agency
-Christian Literary Agency
-New York Literary Agency
-Poets Literary Agency
-The Screenplay Agency
-Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency, formerly Sydra-Techniques)
-Writers Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)

We all know Aol can be temperamental, so if by chance you get a bounce when emailing to my address, please re-send your email to Writer Beware's address, which is: beware@sfwa.org

The reason for this request is that I have some information for you that may help you out.

Thanks very much for your assistance.

Sincerely,

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
anncrispin@aol.com
www.writerbeware.com

A.C. Crispin - 55 How To Write to the Authorities About Being Scammed

Okay, my friends, here's my promised second post for today.

I'm presuming that you've read Post #54, and that you're ready to report a scam literary agency (or publisher). For the purposes of this post, I'm going to use the term "agent" but what I'm saying applies to any type of writing scam.

Here are the steps to take to produce a cogent report that will gain the attention of the authorities who review it:

1. Organize your materials. Make copies of every bit of correspondence you had with the scammer, every email, snail mail, etc. If parts of their website are germane to your complaint, cut and paste those parts into documents. Identify each document briefly at the top of the page, i.e., "Contract Received from ImAScam Literary Agency." You may need to request copies of cancelled checks from your bank, etc., to add to your documentation.

2. Go through your documentation, and make notes, like a brief chronology, so you have all relevant names, dates, and places handy.

3. Write a cover letter addressed to the authority in question. Make sure you use spellcheck. Keep your cover letter concise, and to the point. It's okay to use phrasing about your feelings during the experience, but don't rant on and on about how angry you are. Start at the beginning, describe how you encountered the scammer, what they said to you, how much you paid, who your contact was, what promises were made to you, etc. You're writing a summary of your experience.

When the wording on the site or correspondence is clear, point out where the website or correspondence was deceptive. Explain how much money you paid, in each instance, and what the money was allegedly for.

Explain briefly what attachments you're enclosing with your complaint: copies of cancelled checks, an agency contract, correspondence via email or snail mail, etc.

Try to keep your letter brief, two pages or less. Your letter is basically a guide to the documentation you're sending, which is the most important part.

After you've finished the letter, spellcheck it again, proofread it, and then put it, and the documentation into an envelope and address it. One of those manila envelopes is probably a good size.

Then send it. You might want to send it Priority Mail, which includes an envelope and isn't very expensive. I'd suggest paying the few extra cents to add on "tracking" so you will know for sure when your document is received.

Okay, next post is coming right up.

Stand by.

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
www.writerbeware.com

A.C. Crispin - 54 - What to Do If You've Been Scammed, Revisited

Hi, Folks: Back in Post # 29, I wrote the following message, and it's still relevant today, so I am reposting it. I will also be adding a Part 2 Today, entitled: "How to Write to the Authorities About Having Been Scammed. THEN in the next post today, I'll be making a very important announcement, and you'll see it here FIRST. So stay tuned!

Here's my Post # 29, Copied and Pasted.

Sad to say, though we try our best, Writer Beware can't save all the writers out there from scam agents, publishers, contests, book doctors, editors, etc. This grieves us. Some of the toughest letters we receive are the ones from from writers who write something like, 'I paid Agent B a $50.00 'submissions fee' and then I paid her a $600.000 'evaluation/consultation fee' when I signed the contract she sent me. Then I saw on Absolute Write (or Writers.net, or The Rumor Mill) that Agent B isn't legit, she's a scammer. NOW what do I do? Is there any way for me to get my money back? Will she take my book manuscript, put her name on it and sell it as her own work? Can you help me?'

Well, no. We probably can't, except to offer advice.

(There is a ray of hope, though. If you send money and your book to a scam agent, or a scam publisher, you're probably never going to see your money again, but your BOOK is probably safe from plagiarism. Scam agents and publishers are interested in MONEY, not in selling books. If they could actually sell books, they might not have to charge those upfront fees. Selling a book is a lot of WORK.)

So, if you've been scammed, we suggest you do the following:

1. REPORT the fraud to law enforcement. File a complaint with your local sheriff or city police, or State troopers. Have the cops forward a copy of the complaint to the appropriate authorities in the jurisdiction where the scammer is located. (For example, for Agent B, that would be a small town in New Jersey.)

2. GO ONLINE. Post a report about what happened to you on Writers.net, Absolute Write, The Rumor Mill, Usenet, any place that you can think of where other writers will see it. Don't be coy, give names. You may be able to keep some other writer from suffering the same fate.

3. If the scammer had to cross State lines to email you, or snail mail you, that makes the fraud a federal crime. Report the crime to the FBI Field office near you. Write a complete chronology of what happened, giving the dollar amount of all expenses, and include documentation, such as cancelled checks, credit card statements, etc. Save all correspondence with the scammer and keep it in a separate file, both in hardcopy and electronic versions, if they communicated via email or fax. Write a "phone log" if they contacted you by phone. KEEP your records. It can take law enforcement YEARS to begin prosecution of a scammers.

4. Send a copy of your chronology to Writer Beware, including documentation. Also email Preditors and Editors about what happened. We track and keep a database of scams, as you know. Sending us your information will help us warn other writers away from that scammer.

5. If you lost a lot of money, say, over a thousand dollars, you may want to invest in getting an attorney to write the scammer a threatening letter demanding your money back immediately. With PublishAmerica, this won't work. They don't even read such letters. But with some scammers, they have shown that they'll cave under this kind of threat, and refund your money. "Agent F" for example, will usually make a complete refund if the author threatens to inform the Better Business Bureau and local law enforcement of the scam.

(Note: the Better Business Bureau is totally useless as a source to detemine the legitimacy of agents or publishers. The BBB was still listing the Deering literary agency and publishing house as "legit" the day Dorothy and Charles were led away in handcuffs.)

I know it's tough to get scammed. You feel violated, you really do. But if you don't report what happened, due to embarrassment, the scammer will blithely go along, scamming other victims. If you report them, and post what happened to you, you'll be able to hurt them back, at least a little.

Scammers are ugly, sociopathic predators, who don't just steal money, but dreams. Their worst fear is exposure and the inside of a courtroom. Every time they're reported puts the public one small step closer to being rid of them for good.

Let's hope that today I was wasting my keystrokes and that this post doesn't apply to ANY of you!

-Ann C. Crispin
www.writerbeware.com

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 53, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Tonight I am not going to share with you the wisdom of the universe. I'm not even going to tell you how to write better. I'm going to be a crabby person and grump, here on the blog.

You folks may or may not be aware of it, but there are writers out there who don't like us. Not scammers, but fellow writers. Hard to believe, isn't it?

The most common reason people don't like us is that they feel we're too hard on agents and publishers. Some people think we're really mean to the well-intentioned but clueless agents we warn against. They point out, truthfully, that their intent is not criminal. Well...yeah. But if they charge fees and have no sales, their INTENT becomes rather secondary, don't you think?

We also sometimes have people get unhappy with us who have written to ask us if an agent or publisher they've queried is legitimate. When we reply back with info that reflects the data we've gathered on that agent or publisher, and the info we provide is negative, they climb aboard a reed boat and push off into that big river in Northern Africa, "De Nile." "Does this mean I shouldn't sign their publishing/agenting contract?" is a response we receive all too often, I'm afraid. Even worse, they'll say, "Does this mean I shouldn't have signed that contract and paid them X amount?"

(heavy sigh)

Don't get me wrong, the vast majority of people who come to Writer Beware for help are nice folks and quite grateful for our help. Every so often, however, we get nailed on a message board by writers who are just plain not Our Fans. Why?

The most common complaint, as I said, is that we're too tough on agents and publishers. Another complaint we hear from time to time is that we're not "qualified" to be watchdogs because we are not police officers or associated with law enforcement. Or people say we can't know what a scam is because we're not lawyers.

The thing that's ironic about all of this, is that if we WERE your average garden variety police officer, or lawyer, we wouldn't know enough about the publishing field to know when someone is behaving in a suspicious, scammy fashion. Most of the law enforcement officials we've worked with, we've had to explain, in painstaking terms, how a REAL agent functions, or a REAL publisher functions. Then we explain how the scammer in question functions, and point out how writers are being defrauded. The officers and agents we've worked with are smart folks...they catch on quickly. But publishing is an esoteric field, and publishing scams operate a bit differently than your average con.

So...we're not lawyers, but we do have an IP/Copyright attorney who once specialized in prosecuting scammers in his former life, looking over our shoulder. "Jaws" keeps us pretty well aware of the law and how it applies to the scammers we deal with.

I've noticed that Dave Kuzminski has come under fire lately, too. Dave, you've got my sympathy. It's really tough to be out there trying to help people, only to have them turn around and whack you on the shin for your efforts.

As for my report on the iUniverse/B&N publishing and bookstore placement situation, I'm still working on it. One of the things I set out to do in preparing this report requires that I at least skim the 6 books iUniverse sent me so I could see what kinds of books they're talking about for their "Star Program" and "Publishers Choice" placement programs. Even skimming six books takes some time.

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

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- New Feature on the Writer Beware Website

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.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- It's Alive!

Absolute Write returns! The problems have been fixed, the data is stable, and the forums are open and ready for visitors. Hooray!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Home Again, Home Again

Just got back from a week's vacation in lovely Hughesville, Maryland, courtesy of Ann and her husband Michael. We had a busy time--visited the National Arboretum in Washington DC plus several local gardens (both Michael and I are plant nuts), walked the picturesque streets of Annapolis, spent some time at a historic site that recreated a 17th-century tobacco plantation, ate a lot and talked a lot and generally had loads of fun. The weather was hot and sunny--not normally an item for comment, but I'm from Massachusetts, and after May's torrential rains and way-below-normal temperatures, it was nice to be reminded that, yes, June is actually summertime.

We also attended Balticon, where Ann and I did a two-hour workshop on how to acquire an agent. We were prepared for 15-20 attendees, but nearly 30 people showed up. It went very well and we're considering doing it again next year. We also participated in a Writer Beware panel--lots of interesting discussion and questions--and a well-attended Lost panel--lots of speculation and conspiracy theories about the future of the show. Neil Gaiman was the guest of honor; Ann was able to speak with him for a few minutes and thank him for his support of Writer Beware, Absolute Write, and the fight against writing scams on his blog. The Barbara Bauer Affair has definitely increased our visibility--we were thrilled by how many people came up to us to say thanks, and to let us know that they value what we and Preditors & Editors and Absolute Write do. Very gratifying!

As I'm sure most of you know, the fight to revive Absolute Write continues. Right now, the technical wizards are trying to install the data onto AW's new host, run checks, and make sure that everything is in stable condition. This is a slow and meticulous process, and it's hampered by people trying to log onto the AW site to see what's going on. Please DON'T log on; stay away from AW until there's an official announcement that it's open for business. As soon as I hear anything, I'll post it here.

Legal and other bills have piled up over the past week, and with the forums in the dark, AW hasn't been able to generate any income to support itself. To keep going, AW needs our help. Please consider making a donation--it doesn't have to be large, every little bit will help. Donations can be made through the PayPal button on Jenna's blog, or by sending a check or money order to: Absolute Write, PO Box 621, Islip NY, 11751.

Other ways to support AW:

- Dawno's CafePress site.

- Jason Tudor's CafePress site.



Thanks, everyone.