Saturday, January 26, 2008

Richard White - Caution on the Internet (Part II)

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."

17 comments:

Gregory Ludwig said...

I think coming up with a list of reputable agents to send queries and the like to is like how Robert Conquest described being a scholar of the Soviet Union: basically he said you use what solid evidence you have; you admit that some other evidence isn't fully reliable but is the best there is on a given point; you construct a web of hypotheses about the reality you are studying, based on the solid and not-so-solid evidence; and you correct yourself as time goes by. This is solid scholarship for any field of endeavor, let alone an area like the Soviet Union, parts of the publishing world, gangs, or any other area that features a lot of shadiness.

I would not consider the Internet a litmus test to check what info I get by print means. I find errors on the Web. You might find some Web info that to all appearances updates your print info, and you still may find you were misled.

You should use all sources--various print sources, Internet, occasional testimony by people you could trust--and build a web of hypothetical info that serves your needs. And various writers' webs of hypothetical info will be different.

Kristi Holl said...

This struck me--in a humorous way--how much this is like the current dating world. I've heard of occasional happy endings to the "we met on the Net" stories, but most of them ended badly. The person turned out to be "not as advertised," just like the "publishers" you've mentioned. In the dating world, you learn to shut up and give the guy/gal enough rope to hang him/herself--if s/he's shady. If you protest or question things early on, they clean up their act too, telling you what you want to hear until the deal is made. I wish writers would approach agents and publishers the same way they should check out their "dates"--with time and caution.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Good advice, Richard. By the same token, every writer should make copies of sites they visit and submit to. Then there's proof for later should any problems emerge.

When P&E visits a site, we always document anything shady we find with a Save to become a file on the P&E computer. Then it doesn't matter how much cleansing the business does. We've got it on file and we open the file right after making it to make certain the evidence isn't garbled. It can be embarrassing to say the least when the evidence can't be read later. I've had some complaints from businesses suddenly become very silent when informed that P&E has their earlier statements on file.

Deb said...

I do wish that agents would not list themselves as representing "fiction," then on rejecting your submission, say they don't look at "novels." How on earth do you define a novel, as not fiction?

This sort of slipshod treatment of authors is entirely under the agency's control. IMO they should be more careful in stating what they will look at in a submission.

Marion Gropen said...

A wise author would also learn a bit about publishing, in order to evaluate whether the publisher is making sense. The gaps in some new publishers' knowledge can be fatal to your book's prospects, even if they're not quite fatal to the business.

Of course, understanding your customer is also important to your sales effort. And make no mistake, your first customers are the agent and publisher. Knowing what it takes to successfully publish a book makes it much easier to show them that you have what it takes to be a good author for them.

samuel tinianow said...

deb:

If these past few years are any indication, maybe they're looking for memoirs. ;-)

Caitlin said...

Another problem... I have Google ads on my blog. Unfortunately I have no control over the ads and I frequently find it is displaying ads for self-publishing - some of which may be legit, and others that could well be scams. The only way I can prevent this is either to remove all Google ads from my blog, or to never write about books, writing or publishing. It's very frustrating.

Natalie said...

Caitlin, is there no way to ask AdSense to remove specific ads? For some reason, I thought their was...

More on topic, the incidences outlined in this post are examples of the main reason the ascendancy of the Internet worries me. I worked at my college's library for two years, which gave me a much deeper understanding of the work of librarians. I also depended on their expertise while doing my undergraduate thesis. But the Internet is in its infancy as a communications medium, and there aren't a lot of Internet librarians - maybe there are none. The Internet Archive can be useful, but that's essentially the web equivalent of a book depository - it has little intervention by information specialists, who can organize and catalogue information.

Anonymous said...

Off topic - Many may have heard that iUniverse is closing its Lincoln office and moving to Authorhouse headquarters in Bloomington, IN. The purchase of iU by AuthorHouse sullied the former's reputation and the move is the final nail in the coffin. iU will continue in name only. As one poster on the Lincoln Journal-Star website put it:

"The real losers in this ploy will be the authors. Employees of iUniverse in the Lincoln office will recover. They are talented, exceptional people who do not deserve the insults they have received this past week. To a person each one is dedicated to serving their authors. This won’t be true once the office closes. ASI will institute major changes in procedures. Forget about having a single person to talk to. AuthorHouse is a call-center business. The label ‘iUniverse’ may be on the product, but it will be AuthorHouse processes doing the work. AH pays less, provides less service and is less customer service oriented. There is no sign this will change, since the talent who know how to do this are not going to Bloomington. All I can say is, “Bloomington watch out! You’re next when ASI has sucked out all they can from you.”

http://journalstar.com/articles/2008/01/22/news/business/doc4796825960813789657217.txt

iUniverse is dead, sold out by its CEO.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, what you describe is exactly what I thought would happen re: the AuthorHouse purchase of iUniverse. I'm copying your comment to my post on the purchase.

EJ McKenna said...

Thank you for this wonderful site.
It's a shame that the site is even needed, but I'm glad you're here to help people steer through the quagmire.
I'm going to link you to my blog if that's OK.

Gregory Ludwig said...

Is there an e-mail address at Preditors & Editors by which one can send updates? I can't find it at their site.

Gregory Ludwig said...

Not having found out how to e-mail info to Preditors & Editors, I am giving info here (this is addressed as to Preditors & Editors):

1. The Vines Agency is no longer taking queries or new clients. This is shown in their website, which the P&E listing for Vines gives a link to; but the P&E listing itself doesn’t mention the closure.

2. Kathleen Anderson, who used to be with Anderson Grinberg, is starting her own agency. It is at the same address as Anderson Grinberg was at, 12 W. 19th St., 2nd floor, New York, NY 10011, with website www.andersonliterary.com.

3. The Leap First Literary Agency, which you (P&E) list as having an invalid address, is at a new address, Attn: Lynn Rosen, 1100 Melrose Ave., Elkins Park, PA 19027. I corresponded with them recently. (They are not “defunct” as your listing suggests.)

4. You (P&E) list Adele Leone as with Monaco, Leone & Trotta; however, in LMP 2007 she is listed as with her own agency (The Adele Leone Agency Inc.) at the same address as you have.

“Let’s be careful out there” indeed!

Victoria Strauss said...

Greg, I'm going to leave your comment up, but this blog is not the place to leave messages for other people. P&E's email address is available on its website; Dave K. also has a blog.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I'd also note that aspiring playwrights should also exercise caution on the Internet. The American theatre world (even well-respected professional theatres) are extremely exploitive of playwrights. "Submission fees" abound, and there are also many fee-charging contests for playwrights----even very respectable ones like the O'Neill grants. (I am opposed to ALL submission fees for playwrights, no matter who is administering them). But there are also a lot of fly-by-night playwriting "contests" that charge an entry fee and promise cash and/or a full production for the winners. Then those contests either never declare a winner, or the winners don't get what's promised them. I think Writer Beware should look into the exploitation that is so rife in the playwriting markets. And it's just getting worse and worse.

Gregory Ludwig said...

Here's something interesting. I had mentioned in an earlier blog comment at WB about a new kind of agent (form) response, the "excuse" response that I've been encountering. Below is a nice (if somewhat long) version of this. Because it is allegedly a form letter, I didn't think it would break confidentiality to reproduce it here. It was typed from hard copy; punctuation is as in original. This agent is in California.

Dear Author:

The nature of this business is that I’m constantly deluged with query letters and submissions of all sorts and varieties [sic]. Add to that the fact that right now bookstore sales have really dropped off, with publishers pulling way back on what they are buying. All I can say is my desk is piled so high I barely know where to begin. Were I to respond to each and every letter personally as I’d prefer to do, it might take even more time for you to hear back from me. Since I realize how eager authors are to get some kind of a response I’ve chosen this route.

As an independent agent I handle projects on a highly selective basis – working with but one or two novels at any one time and limiting my non-fiction [sic] to those projects to which I feel strongly connected. I can assure you that though this is a form response, I’ve read your material carefully, given it thought and am declining to see more only because my sense is that I’m not the best agent for you.

Clearly my response is less a reflection of your writing or of its intent, which is no doubt admirable, but is much more tied to where the project fits in with me, so I do hope this letter won’t discourage you. Though this is a tough business if you persist you’re sure to have success in some end of the publishing world.

Sincerely,

[FE]

Anonymous said...

Hi ya'll. I need for you guys to put out an all points blog to writers to please make public any complaints against AEG Publishing, WLiterary Group, or the dozens of other names they are using. I just filed a fraud complaiint against them with the FL DA's Office. I was ripped off and I am a former employee. So PLEASE do not go to work for Strategic Book Publishing or Strategic Book Marketing. They WILL NOT pay you!