In an earlier column, Victoria brought up several reasons why the Internet should not be your first stop when it comes to finding a publisher or an agent. Yes, I know. It’s the 21st century and that statement seems counter-intuitive, but consider this before warming up your favorite search engine.
Many new authors take advantage of places like Writer Beware, Predators and Editors and various bewares boards before starting their hunt. After all, an educated writer is harder to lead astray. I’ve seen people post, “I’ve done my research. I know what to look for. I’ll recognize any red flags I see.”
Sounds good . . .
But . . . (You knew there was going to be a but.)
The internet isn’t static. In fact, one of it’s strengths is how easy it is to update information. Writer Beware takes advantage ourselves by posting new warnings and updates as soon as we can, but it isn’t a one-way street. When authors and advocates identify red flags, many questionable publishers and agents are quick to “smooth over” their sites or simply delete the problem areas. Trust me, these people google themselves to see what’s being said about them. Let me give you a couple of examples . . .
On one of the bulletin boards I frequent, questions were raised about a vanity publisher. An anonymous poster showed up to point out that they were offering "traditional publishing for “qualified people”. A quick check of this site verified they were offering “traditional” publishing (a weasel-word if ever there was one), but a different page listed fees for the vanity track and the traditional track. I pointed this out and the same anonymous poster immediately claimed the fees were waivable and no one had ever paid them.
This was curious, since the poster claimed not to be an employee of the publisher. How would they know what fees could be waived? Why would the publisher list fees if they weren’t going to charge them? What author would want to pay these fees if others didn’t have to? So, to make my point, I did a cut and paste of the specific page to show what I was talking about.
Two days later the publisher in question modified their page, eliminating the “traditional publishing program” fee section. Have they stopped charging the fee or are they simply not advertising it on their web site any more? Who knows? More importantly, if you came across the site after the edits, how would you know they had made any changes?
The second example is another questionable publisher located in the UK. Their web site had already raised several questions and the publisher was engaged in a vigorous debate on the same bulletin board via new authors and an agent (who raised more questions than he settled). A few days into the debate, we discovered an announcement that they were swamped with all the outstanding submissions they’d received and they wouldn’t be able to publish all of them. Therefore, they were starting a “subsidy” publishing arm (or in plain English, another vanity press) for the people who didn’t get selected for publication. The sister company proudly trumpeted their association with the first publisher.
As you can imagine, eyebrows rose at that announcement. What were they saying? "You’re not quite good enough to be published, but for some cash, we’ll publish you anyway?" What was the criteria between being published and paying to be published? The potential for abuse was tremendous.
Once the companies realized no one was buying into their reasoning, the virtual shredding of evidence began. Here’s where the Internet’s fluid, chameleon-like nature isn’t so great. Both web sites were edited to eliminate any written trail between the two companies. The debate participants also deleted the majority of their posts on the board. If several of the regulars on the board hadn’t quoted the original posts in their responses, this publisher would be able to deny things they had posted early on.
Examples like these are all too common on the Internet today. So is the web useless? Of course not. The web is a tool. In terms of convenience, speed, cost, and the sheer amount of information available it can’t be touched. It is not, however, the only tool available to you. Do the leg work. Use your libraries and bookstores. Find the names of publishers and agents who have credits sitting on the shelves right now and publish what you like to write. Once you have your list in hand, then go to the Internet and look up their sites. It isn’t a guarantee, of course, but you have a better chance of dealing with legitimate businesses. You’ve spent all this time writing your book, don’t hand it over to just anyone for publication.
Or to quote one of my favorite TV shows, "Let's be careful out there."