Monday, January 26, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Shades of Edit Ink: AuthorHouse and Objective Entertainment

Edited to Add: Objective seems to have discontinued these referrals. Since the fall of 2009, Writer Beware has received no further reports.

Over the past couple of days, I've heard from several writers who queried agents at Objective Entertainment, a relatively new literary agency with a strong track record and experienced staff, and received the following response:

Dear [name redacted],

Thank you so much for contacting us at Objective Entertainment. We have reviewed your material and we would like to refer you to one of our Publishers who we trust and believe will be able to serve you best. In order to do this I need your permission and the following information so they can either contact you via Phone or Email. The following information we need is if you would like to receive their newsletter and special offers. I think this is an amazing opportunity for you.

Please reply with the information we asked so that we can get you that one step closer to getting your work published!

Best,

Tracey Ravenelle
Objective Entertainment


When the writers, eager to know the name of the publisher, requested more information, they received this response from Ms. Ravenelle:

We work with Iuniverse and AuthorHouse. Iuniverse has the number 5 book this week on the NY Times Best Seller List!

The writers then asked why Objective was recommending a self-publishing service. As of this writing, only one has received a response, which I am reproducing exactly as it was sent to me:

Because we believe they would be the most beneficial for you at this point in time. Then you would come back to us after the sales starting racking up and we go major! This is the best way for an author to get their work out their. One of their books is number 5 on this weeks upcoming NY Times Best Seller list. So we believe they can help our potential future clients immensely.

There's much here that's puzzling. The most pressing question, of course, is the one the writers themselves asked--why Objective would refer rejected clients to a self-publishing service. AuthorHouse does offer a Referral Program that pays $100 to anyone who makes a successful referral, and I have heard from literary agents who've been solicited by AuthorHouse to participate in this program. Even with the probably huge volume of queries Objective rejects every week, however, it's hard to imagine that $100 apiece for the small number of writers who might actually sign up with AuthorHouse would be an incentive for a successful literary agency (unless AuthorHouse has offered a special, more remunerative arrangement). Still--shades of Edit Ink, the crooked editing firm that paid kickbacks to literary agencies that sent rejected clients its way! Most of the agencies that hooked up with Edit Ink were fraudulent or amateur, but a few legitimate agents did participate in the scheme.

But Objective isn't just suggesting that rejected clients check out a self-publishing service--it's encouraging them to do so in a wholly misleading manner. Not only is AuthorHouse described as a "publisher" they "trust," it's described as "our Publisher" and an "amazing opportunity for you." Not only are writers encouraged to believe that self-publishing is "the best way...to get their work out their [sic]" (for most authors, it's not--see the Sales Statistics section of Writer Beware's POD Self-Publishing Services page), the carrot of representation is extended to sweeten the deal. As a "potential future client," this is an opportunity that can help the writer "immensely." Once "the sales starting [sic] racking up," writers can come back to the agency "and we go major!"

Edit Ink agencies held out the same carrot, encouraging writers to return with their edited manuscripts. If they did, the agencies claimed that their focus had changed, or that their lists were full, or made some other excuse to blow the writers off a second time.

Also deceptive: the book claimed to be on the New York Times bestseller list is Lisa Genova's Still Alice, which is currently number 7, but debuted last week at number 5. However, although Genova originally self-pubbed through iUniverse (which is owned by AuthorHouse), her book was picked up last summer by Simon & Schuster. That's the book on the bestseller list, not the iUniverse version.

Last but not least, I find it puzzling that Objective would employ an individual who appears to have significant problems with grammar, spelling, and punctuation--or at the very least, with proofreading. Look especially at Ms. Ravenelle's third message. I see this kind of error-ridden writing all the time from people at disreputable literary agencies--where a command of the English language, along with actual agenting skills, is not a job requirement--but it doesn't seem like the kind of writing one would expect from a staff member at an established literary agency.

It's all so strange that some observers of the situation have suggested that someone has hacked into Objective's computer system, and is sending out fake messages in response to queries. As conspiracy-theory as that sounds, it doesn't seem all that much more farfetched than the notion of a borderline-illiterate staffer at a successful agency trying to convince rejected writers that AuthorHouse is their ticket to fame and fortune.

So what's going on here? Has anyone else received an AuthorHouse referral from Ms. Ravenelle? Let me know.

79 comments:

tasha said...

I got the same email from them yesterday. I checked on Beware and Background checks and found out everyone else was getting it too. This is a shame. I have already been ripped off by Publish America but this takes the cake!

Victoria Strauss said...

Tasha or anyone who got this email, please forward it to me at beware@sfwa.org. All information and documentation shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence. Thanks!

JMS said...

This is great info! Thanks so much for taking the time to post it!

~Jennifer (http://jennifershell.blogspot.com)

nightsmusic said...

Out of curiosity, I took a look at OE through the link you posted. I don't see any submissions link on their site, don't see this Ms. Ravenelle listed on their Manager's Bio page, (all of whom have a specific email address by the way) and on a lark, clicked on their Goff Law Corporation whose homepage looks legitimate but whose blog has been removed from blogspot.

I'm not too sure your comment on conspiracy theories is too far removed from the truth. Maybe someone was able to hack into their system which would explain the lack of submission information.

Odd...

Anonymous said...

Might this be a rogue assistant who's in charge of reading the slush pile and trying to carve out a little side business for herself?

nightsmusic said...

I'm wondering why the people insisting things have been forwarded haven't looked at the full header in the email including the originating IP. It wouldn't be unheard of for someone with an ax to grind to hack into their email accounts and have all queries forwarded to a bogus account.

That and someone posted a 'reply' from Jarred Weisfeld all typed in lower case. I find it hard to believe someone as successful at huge book deals would be that incompetent at writing, though I could be wrong.

Also, people are commenting that they're posting to Elizabeth Jote's blog asking questions which is all fine and dandy, but there's been no activity on her blog since June or July of last year.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

Anonymous said...

The blog has a main page where you can post comments not related to a specific post.

The comments require moderation, so it checks that they're not showing up.

It's just too bizarre to be believed.

thinkhappy said...

As you know, I've received those emails from Tracey. And as documented, this is not a rogue person - my email was forwarded TO her by Elizabeth Jote, which was VERY disconcerting to be handled in this fashion. Not only that, but I copied Ms. Jote on all correspondence with Tracey so she has the email trail.

It's enough of an uphill battle to find a reputable agent to handle your work as a new writer, but to be mislead on top of it is really appalling.

Thank you, Victoria, for taking this public and potentially saving another newbie author from the scam.

BTW - At this posting I have not received an explanation from Elizabeth, nor an explanation from Tracey as to why she has referred me to a self-publisher (I am not the one who forwarded that response to you). And, Ms. Jote still has my questions "awaiting moderation" for her blog.

Melissa
http://www.thewomensnest.com

green_knight said...

Being curious, and because I had never heard of this agency before although they profess to represent both fantasy and science fiction, I had a closer look at the two (2) books they had, cover and all, on their website.

One is 'Blackloom Bounty' by _Jon F. Baxley "Five Star Author"_ - at least, that's how he styled himself on Amazon, and he went around and tagged all manners of unrelated books with 'blackloom bounty.' (He also uses 'book', 'novel', and 'fiction' as tags for his book.) His book is, indeed, available through amazon, both in the Kindle edition and a hardcover edition from 'Five Star (ME)' - it was originally an e-book, and nobody other than Amazon seems to list it; and I haven't been able to find a publisher listing for it.
This book appears on the amazon site with a Publisher's Weekly review, which the author claims was starred, but which carries no such distinction on the website.)

The Sci-Fi (sic!) author, on the other hand - one Darren Speegle claims to be published by Prime Books, however, I cannot find it on the publisher's website. This, too, started life as an e-book (from Double Dragon), does not turn up anywhere else on the net other than on Amazon (as a used copy), and while Speegle appears to have written other things, the only non-kindle edition was published by 'Raw Dog Screaming Press.'

Strong track record my foot. Neither of these books or authors show any signs of having been represented by a reputable agent - they're published - if 'published' is the word - by very small presses that may or may not be vanity presses, they have no distribution at all, and the authors have 'amateur/self-published' stamped all over them.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and who the heck is "Terrell Owens"...or "Al Sharpton"?

I smell something fishy too.

Anonymous said...

Its "BlackGloom Bounty", which comes up a good amount. If you are going to talk smack, at least type correctly.

http://shopping.msn.com/prices/the-blackgloom-bounty/itemid264917291/?itemtext=itemname:the-blackgloom-bounty

Its sold at at least 5 online bookstores, and this took me about 30 seconds to look up.

Anonymous said...

Green_Knight,

I too was curious--I believe you were looking at Speegle's earlier book, which is now a kindle book.
http://www.amazon.com/Dirge-Temporal-Darren-Speegle/dp/1933293381/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1233016211&sr=1-1

Also, a quick publishers marketplace search shows quite a few additional sci fi/fantasy sales over the last year, to big houses (S&S, etc). Has anyone made an attempt to get a comment from the agency (other than e-mails, which we all know agents are notoriously slow to answer)?

Victoria Strauss said...

Green knight, those are just two books. Other books on the agency's "Books" list are from large houses.

Five Star, while it's a smaller publisher, is an established one, publishing some fairly well-known authors and marketing mainly to libraries. (On the Amazon listing for Blackgloom Bounty that I found, the starred PW review is noted.) I believe its Speculative Fiction line accepts only agented submissions.

The pub date for Blackgloom Bounty is shown as April 2006, which pre-dates Objective's founding. Ditto for a number of other books on the list. I'd assume that these were books sold by Objective's agents when they were with other agencies--so while it's a bit confusing to list them as agency sales, it's kosher enough, IMO.

Publishers Marketplace lists 26 deals for Objective in the last 12 months, so I think my characterization of its track record as strong wasn't off-base.

Victoria Strauss said...

I'm re-posting a comment by Dan Barlow, whose content I haven't altered but have edited for length--Mr. Barlow quoted numerous very long reviews, which I've trimmed to convey the gist but to save space.

------------------
the authors have 'amateur/self-published' stamped all over them.

Darren Speegle's books may have been put out by small presses (what short story collections aren't?) but "amateur/self published" he definitely is not. Having published his collection Gothic Wine, I'm happy to post a small number of the comments it received:

"It's rare for a relatively new writer to have written enough good stories to create one satisfying collection let alone two in one year. Yet Speegle had forty stories--eleven published for the first time--and each is well-written, with control over the material. He's someone to watch."
--Ellen Datlow, The Year's Best Horror, 2004 edition

"Darren Speegle is a real discovery. His delicious evocation of landscape delivers the reader, quite seamlessly, from places of precisely-evoked geography into landscapes of haunting spiritual menace."
-Graham Joyce, World Fantasy Award winner on Gothic Wine

"The stories here are all infused with that wonderful enthusiasm for new surroundings — the landscape and people, and their history — with a loving attention to detail that one wouldn’t necessarily get from a native writer."
-Charles de Lint, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

"M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood, Graham Joyce and Thomas Ligotti: into this select club of writers noted for subtly horrific tales in which what is not said and what is implied evokes more terror than the explicit, we must now induct Darren Speegle."
-Paul Di Filippo, critic for Asimov's and author of Strange Trades

"This first collection of sixteen stories, by an American author currently resident in Germany, has about it the feel of older work by writers such as Blackwood and Aickman, though Speegle's prose touch is far lighter...a collection that shows there's plenty of life left in the short story form, and comes highly recommended."
--Peter Tennant, The Third Alternative

"A very satisfying mix of literary voice and grim, seedy surrealism. ...Highly recommended."
--David Niall Wilson, Cemetery Dance

While Mr. Speegle has been in Iraq for some time now, and I don't know if he has time for writing, possibly those who haven't read his books shouldn't be posting insulting comments about them/him.

Dan Barlow
Aardwolf Press

1/26/2009 7:44 PM

Anonymous said...

I'm reposting my comment from earlier today that received no answers. I'm upset about this post of Victoria Strauss as it lacks specifics. This is a very real concern of mine.

I'm joining this discussion rather late (the one about Michele Glance Rooney initially, but just as relevant here) but I have a different take on it. You seem to put literary agents into two categories: the genuine and the scammers. To me, they are all the same. There are two groups of people I simply can't stand. One is record company executives. They roped me in during my teenage years with all sorts of special editions, collectors editions, all worth nothing today. Limited? Yeah, limited to two million or as many as they could sell. Now they complain that 95% of music is downloaded illegally. Great! I hope it soon reaches 110%. God, how i hate those people!

And then there's the people in publishing. They put me through hell. When I was 25, I had a book ready. Today I recognize that it was NOWHERE near good enough. But when you're younger, you don't see it like that. My novel was just a mixed rehashing of my favorite books, a kind of nod to my favorite writers. But instead of just taking a quick look and telling me to give up or start over, they got me into the whole rigmarole of this goddamned 'query' crap they go on about. I had to pay someone to prepare it because I had no idea what they wanted. To this day, I don't know what the devil that stupid thing is supposed to be. They made me jump through the hoops alright. Eventually, I recognized that I simply wasn't going to get anywhere with my writing and concentrated on my career instead. But my memories of my contacts with the so-called legitimate agents are not very pleasant. they came off as a bunch of fussy, stuck up morons who took delight in messing you around and playing power games. But now the book industry is set for the same path as the music industry. It is true that they have been more careful and a lot less stupid than recording executives, but the internet is the future for publishing and we'll be able to do it on our own without these a-hole middle men to mess you about. Psychological torture is a crime that's difficult to prove, so they get away with it. I was left badly damaged for years. So you can be a 'legit' agent or a 'scammer' agent, I don't care. They're all the same. In recent years, I've taken up writing again and use WB to help prepare the ground and avoid pitfalls. But I see self-publishing on the web as the future and look forward to seeing agents and publishers as bag ladies! I might throw them a quarter from time to time... if they prepare a good query letter giving me a good reason to do so.

Outside of my original post:

I am alarmed by this post and others. It seems that as soon as Ms. Strauss puts up a post, an army of people are just too readily willing to agree with her without access to the pertinent facts. I feel that this blog in general is too one-sides. As a victim of so-called 'legit' agents, I feel that this tendency to dub everyone who is not wholly in unison with the voice of the community here as a 'scammer' is precipitated. I think this blog and WB in general has developed an organizational culture of rejection that is extremely dangerous. This upsets me a great deal and think it all leads to a power fantasy. I feel that objectivity is being lost and sacrificed in favor of a good old boys network that is alarming. I'll say no more for now but it is alarming. That so many people are so ready to accept the opinion of the author of this post as gospel is upsetting. Further research is needed. Basing the whole argument on 'grammatical errors' is shaky at best.

Anonymous said...

Too great a tendency to 'smell something fishy' on this blog. Every post is followed by such comments. I'm sorry but, in the spirit of democracy, this blog is just too keen and desperate to dub everyone a 'scammer'. I think you're losing track and, with it, credibility. When someone who agrees with you makes a grammatical error, nothing is siad. When someone who disagrees makes a mistake, it is seized on with such enthusiasm that it gives the impression that, for instance, nightmusic is an alter ego of the people who run this blog.

nightsmusic said...

Um...excuse me? An alter ego?

Perhaps what your problem is, you can't read, since this was my comment from earlier today:

**It will be interesting to see what comes of this.**

I made no judgment for or against. I speculated at best.

However, since you find this blog so skewed, I do have to wonder why you're still here.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 8:04/8:08 (since I don't think it's an unreasonable guess that these two comments come from the same person), from my reading of your comment, your beef with literary agents seems to be...they made you write a query letter. Well, pardon me for being unsympathetic, but boo hoo. Every business has its own requirements--if you don't like them, don't try to get into the business. You yourself admit that your book wasn't ready for publication. What on earth did you expect?

If you see the reputable agents and the scammers as essentially no different from one another, why should you care that "this blog is just too keen and desperate to dub everyone a 'scammer'"? (Not that this accusation is true--to the contrary, I'm very careful to avoid dubbing anyone a scammer unless there's good evidence to support it.) Methinks I sense an agenda.

Given that I am very much myself online (as elsewhere), I have no need for an alter ego.

Kami said...

Anonymous: I'm sorry they done you wrong, but there *are* legitimate agents. To lump all agents in a single scammer category doesn't help anyone. There are plenty of writers who got themselves great deals thanks to their agents, and can live off their writing because of it.

Again, I'm sorry you had a bad experience, but it sounds like that not only was the manuscript not ready, but you weren't ready to decide that your manuscript needed professional preparation either. Some checking before leaping into that might have done some good. Someone might have told you, or you might have learned somewhere, that it's better to do your own leg work. It's much easier to learn how to write that way.

Even back in the day, I was able to find out what I needed to know about standard manuscript format, grammar, plot, characterization and so forth. Complaining that agents were snobbish toward amateurish work, well, words fail me. Like all of us just starting out, it's easy to take form rejections personally because everyone starts with a thin skin. Form rejections aren't snobbish. They're a necessity, and reality. Something to think about.

The rest of your post puzzles me. Tearing down people because they are cautious about calling someone a scammer before they have real facts doesn't serve any purpose. It's going several steps too far to decide that Objective Entertainment is a scam before all the facts are in, and to additionally accuse Victoria of a lack of objectivity (especially since she's being circumspect here and looking into it deeper before coming to any conclusions) is a bit odd. The post seems to suggest that leaping to the scam conclusion serves the greater good far more than finding out the truth. ?

Besides, we readers can and do our own web searches and fact-checking. Not only can we do it, many of us frequently do additional research to see what else we can dig up. Some of it leads to some very interesting reading. To imply we're following blindly is not only untrue, but insulting.

ALC said...

Annonymous said: "But instead of just taking a quick look and telling me to give up or start over, they got me into the whole rigmarole of this @!#%& 'query' crap they go on about."

'They' got you into doing a query? I seriously doubt that. If you'd sent ANY legitimate agent, agency or publishing house your unsolicited MS & not followed proper querying etiquette (& unless you know someone personally no one solicits a MS without having first read a query)they'd have simply tossed it in the waste bin (unless you had the sense to send a SASE).

"I had to pay someone to prepare it because I had no idea what they wanted."

A little research via your local library (I'm assuming this was before the internet was in practically every household) would have saved you time, money & grief.

"To this day, I don't know what the devil that stupid thing is supposed to be."

Head over to agentquery.com. The website has a very detailed explanation of exactly what queries are & what they are supposed to contain. It's explained so well & so simply that even a 7th grader could probably understand it after a single read-through.

"...I see self-publishing on the web as the future and look forward to seeing agents and publishers as bag ladies!"

I wish you all the luck in the world. May fortunes rain down upon you. May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back, etc., etc.

" In recent years, I've taken up writing again and use WB to help prepare the ground and avoid pitfalls."

From reading your post, I'd have to say that this seems to be the first smart move you've made (as you apparently have never before been in the habit of doing any of the necessary legwork involved in learning how to present yourself to agents or publishers (both of whom require queries).)

"It seems that as soon as Ms. Strauss puts up a post, an army of people are just too readily willing to agree with her without access to the pertinent facts."

Actually, Ms.Strauss has posted the pertinent facts. She has also expressed her concerns about the matter. It is entirely up to the readers of sed post to decide for themselves what they think based upon these facts.

Let's see ... hmmmmm.... A literary agency has started steering writers towards a vanity publisher (swear that this self-publishing outfit is not VANITY if you like, it's entirely up to you). This is not an "assumption" by VS, this is fully supported by more than one corroborating account by separate individuals.

Those are the facts. Draw your own conclusions.

Oh! And, here's my favorite (possibly from a different annonymous poster):

"Too great a tendency to 'smell something fishy' on this blog."

Ahem, shall I spell it out for you? This blog is run for the express purpose of warning would-be authors about "fishy" things. Or, didn't you figure that out from the blog's title?

***Writer Beware Blogs!
Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, shines a light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.

The title tells newcomers the EXACT purpose of this blog's existence. It's all about "fishy" stuff.

'Nuff said.

Anonymous said...

There's no such word as Nuff.

Patrick said...

Yesterday I removed this agency from the QueryTracker.net listing because I also received several complaints for the same thing. I will contact those authors and recommend they forward their letters to Writers Beware to be added to the collection.

BuffySquirrel said...

Anon 7:35, there is however such a word as "huff".

Anonymous said...

Buffy can make rhymes. Where were you when Duran Duran needed you?

Anonymous said...

I think the whole thing speaks for itself. You don't shoot from the hip when you're totin' a loaded rifle.

Anonymous said...

And so Biff has become a buff; or is it Buff who has become a biff? Whatever...

Anonymous said...

scardogI looked at the site, but I never saw any actual claim by the agency of selling anything that was posted. It just said books and then listed books. On the film end, they listed a bunch of authors with book sales, but none of them were listed on the page where they listed books, and they never said they represented any of them.

What I mean is they claim to represent 100 clients, but they didn't have a list anywhere of who sold those books or if the writers are even with that agency. At least, nothing I saw.

I would tend to believe it's a dummy site set up to forward authors to pay to publish sites and then taking a kickback.

Anonymous said...

"I would tend to believe it's a dummy site set up to forward authors to pay to publish sites and then taking a kickback."

They also have over 25 sales on Publisher's Marketplace, so if this is a dummy site, it is incredibly elaborate.

This is a crazy witch hunt.

ElanaJ said...

Thank you for the information. This is why writers must do their research. Thanks for sharing.

Victoria Strauss said...

I would tend to believe it's a dummy site set up to forward authors to pay to publish sites and then taking a kickback.

There's such a thing as cautious. And then there's such a thing as paranoid.

Come on. This is a ridiculous suggestion. There is no question that Objective is an established agency with experienced staff, a strong track record, and a history of making lucrative deals for its clients. THAT IS NOT IN DOUBT, and my post was not intended to put it in doubt.

Is this a successful agency? Yes. Has it recently initiated a distasteful policy toward clients it rejects? It appears so. I believe that the AH referrals are wrong and I believe they should stop, and I hope this post encourages Objective to re-think the policy. But everything in this industry is shades of gray, and this is a very good example of that fact. People want things to be black and white--it's easier to imagine that an agency is simply evil than to imagine that good and bad can co-exist, and that one doesn't necessarily cancel out the other.

Anonymous said...

Let's see if I got it right cos I'm a bit confused here. The agency really is an agency. It has sold books to publishers for its clients, real books, not pods or self publishing, books that pay royalties. Is that right so far? but when they reject a prospective author, they send him packing to their vanity publishers that they run as a sideline. Is that it? Sheeesh!

Anonymous said...

How can it have a 'strong track record' and be a scammer at the same time?

Anonymous said...

"How can it have a 'strong track record' and be a scammer at the same time?"

It just depends on your pov. If you were rejected and referred to a self publisher they are a scammer...if they have sold your book to a major publishing house then they have a "strong track record"

A. C. Crispin said...

Anonymous, Writer Beware did not call this agency a scam. Please check your reading comprehension skills.

Writer Beware's policy is to use the term "questionable" when agencies or publishers adopt policies or practices that are outside normal, accepted business practices in the field of agenting or publishing.

We never use the term "scam" to describe an agency or publisher unless that entity has been indicted by the authorities.

Some of the folks who post here on the blog make free with that four letter word, but Writer Beware does not.

That's the official policy.

I, too, wish someone from OE would read the blog and write to us to shed some light on what is going on.

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

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, Writer Beware did not call this agency a scam. Please check your reading comprehension skills."

These people here are so touchy. Reading comprehension? Christ, I'm not in the fifth grade! But I can hand in my assignment by the end of the week...

Anonymous said...

Whether you call them scammers of questionable, you've still soiled their reputation.

Anonymous said...

'her book was picked up last summer by Simon & Schuster.'

Doesn't that mean that iUniverse is a great way to get noticed by publishers? Maybe that was the key to her success. Without iUniverse and this service here, the book would never have gotten onto the best seller list. You have to keep an open mind.

ALC said...

Annonymous said:"Whether you call them scammers of(sic)questionable, you've still soiled their reputation."

No. The agency tarnishes its own reputation when it begins to engage in questionable business practices. Warning would-be authors of sed practice is a service to inexperienced writers who might fall prey to such practices.

Another annonymous poster said:"The agency really is an agency. It has sold books to publishers for its clients, real books, not pods or self publishing, books that pay royalties. Is that right so far? but when they reject a prospective author, they send him packing to their vanity publishers that they run as a sideline. Is that it? Sheeesh!"

No. They are not "scammers" they are simply engaging in inappropriate business practices by encouraging would-be authors to use a vanity publisher. No one has made the claim that OE is running AH as a "sideline". It has simply been pointed out that AH DOES offer kickbacks for referrals, therefore, an agency involved in providing sed referrals has crossed a line (that line being a "conflict of interests" for the agency).

Other annonymous poster said: "'her book was picked up last summer by Simon & Schuster.'
Doesn't that mean that iUniverse is a great way to get noticed by publishers? Maybe that was the key to her success. Without iUniverse and this service here, the book would never have gotten onto the best seller list. You have to keep an open mind."

While it would be lovely to imagine that this is true, statistics show that it is highly unlikely. Of course, only the author could verify exactly HOW S&S picked up her novel. It's entirely possible that someone with connections happened upon a copy of her book & noticed that she was 'self-published' & decided that her story was worthy of S&S. The odds are astronomically against the book having sold enough copies to garner the attention of the big-leagues, but it is possible. Again, not likely, but possible.

And, even if this was the case, it is the exception not the norm. So, in a word, NO, it does not mean that iUniverse is a great way to get noticed by publishers.

A bit of research on the statistics & realities will support this assumption.

A. C. Crispin said...

I addressed the "if you can just get it there (via POD)" fallacy that Anonymous is talking about in a previous post.

I think it's time to re-post it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005
A.C. Crispin - 26 --- Writing Myths..."If I can just get it out there..."

Victoria and I were talking the other day, and decided we'd blog a bit from time to time about some myths we've noticed floating around in the world of the aspiring writer. Most of you posters are probably too sophisticated to ascribe to these, but more people read than post, so here goes:

Aspiring Writer Myth No. 1: "If I can just get it out there..."

This is the litany Vic and I have heard so many, many times from people who have signed on with vanity POD publishers, or, as these companies like to style themselves these days, "self-publishing" companies.

These writers fall into two general categories:

1. They've submitted their work to commercial publishers, or tried to get a decent literary agent with a track record of sales, and failed. Usually, the reason for their work not finding a publisher or agent representation is that the book just isn't good enough to be published, for whatever reason. Poor writing quality is the most common reason that books are rejected, but the reasons for rejection are as varied as the plots of books. Books can be, and are, rejected for all sorts of reasons unrelated to the quality of the writing.

Some of the most common reasons for rejection are:

a. first and foremost, poor quality of the writing

b. other writing problems, such as poor characterization, overdone plot, etc.

c. plot similarities with one of the publisher's/agents established writers (this happens more often than you'd think -- remember that old saw about Great Minds think alike)

d. the publisher's publication list is full/the agent's client list is full

2. The second category of writers has never submitted their work anywhere. They frequently believe it's hopeless, so they don't bother. Or they are lazy. Or they want a "shortcut" and see POD as a way to begin a career. Some think commercial publishers will steal their ideas/copyright, so they want to maintain "control" over their work. Some actually believe that people who self-publish make more money because they get a higher percentage of the book's proceeds -- a vile canard fostered by many of the vanity POD companies and author mills.

For whatever reason, these writers take their manuscripts to vanity PODs and author mills with this logic: IF I CAN JUST GET IT OUT THERE, PEOPLE WILL BE ABLE TO BUY IT, AND SINCE IT'S REALLY GOOD, THEY'LL READ IT, WORD OF MOUTH WILL SPREAD, AND IT WILL TAKE OFF AND I'LL BE SELLING LIKE HOTCAKES.

(sigh)

This logic is fallacious for a couple of reasons:

1. POD companies usually have no means to distribute the books, so they aren't really published "out there." The books don't appear on bookshelves in bookstores, where browsing readers can spot them, leaf through them, and perhaps decide to purchase. The main place a reader has to go to purchase a POD book is to the internet, and we all know that the internet follows the old 80-20 rule. (80% of everything is crap, IOW)

2. Even having a book on the shelf in bookstores (something that's beyond most POD companies and certainly beyond the capability of author mills like PublishAmerica) doesn't guarantee bestsellerdom. Even having a good book out...even a well-written, exciting tale, spun by an expert storyteller won't bring a writer automatic Stephen King-dom. Why do I know this? Well, Vic and I have both been publishing for years. Our books are regularly featured on bookstore shelves around the country. They are "out there." Yet neither of us has become a household word. (What can I say, there are some shortsighted readers out there...)

Are there exceptions?

Sure. They happen about as often as people winning the Super Mega Lotto, but they happen. Books like The Christmas Box, The Celestine Prophecy, Chicken Soup for the Soul, etc., were originally self-published and went on to sell big. You'll note that they are all non-fiction. If you can self publish your non-fiction book and demonstrate that it will sell several thousand copies rather quickly, say, within 6 to 9 months, then you may well be able to interest a commercial house.

But most POD books sell fewer than 100 copies, and most of those copies are purchased by the author, and his/her friends and family.

There have been far fewer examples of novels that have begun as self-published books and gone on to commercial fame and fortune. Eragon is the shining example. But if you look closely at that book, and its history, you'll see that Christopher Paolini was NOT publishing with a vanity POD company. He had advantages that most writers can't hope to have -- like parents who owned a small press and were experienced editors/publishers.

There are also a lot of writers who are also excellent public speakers -- teachers, trainers, experts in some field, etc., who do well with self-publishing. These folks have a built-in venue for their book sales. They give a talk, and at the end of the talk, they sell their books to the audience. They often do very well.

So...the next time you hear a writer friend saying, "If I can just get it out there..." you might want to give them the link to this blog. They need a little dose of reality. Nobody should go into self publishing or POD publishing expecting fame, fortune, and a big commercial publishing contract -- yet writers do it every day.

I suspect desperation plays a part, as Vic has noted.

-Ann C. Crispin
www.accrispin.com

BuffySquirrel said...

Must.Not.Play.With.Troll.

Austin Williams said...

Two things repeatedly bother me with exchanges and solicitations like these. First, the horrific grammar and spelling of the con-artist. One would think that if they were going to get into the business of literary scams, that they might at least try to put out the veneer of legitimacy by not writing like a high school dropout.

Second, it's that wannabe' authors either a)don't know enough about grammar and spelling themselves to be wary, or b)don't care, and idiotically trust someone who can't even differentiate between "there" and "their" with their manuscript.

Anonymous said...

A. C. Crispin: thank you. This is the sort of post I wanted to read. Yes, I have criticized some of the past posts by authors of this blog but this time, 100% spot on. Democracy in progress, the way it should be. I will be far more wary in the future with this information presented objectively.

I'd just like to add one point. One aspect of self-publishing or pod books is that the author knows he or she won't sell many copies, and may not even wish to sell many copies, knowing that the book is targeted at an extremely limited audience. In this case, pod can be a useful way to make a little collection available that actually looks liek a book. We can all print a few sheets and collate them, but pod offers a service that is worthwhile to many authors because you can get a nice book format that actually looks like a book. I, several years ago, prepared some essays for my students. In 1995, I made them into a little booklet that I printed up, photocopied and collated. My students had the essays all together, but it would have been nice to have them looking like a book with a spine instead of a spiral. In those days, I would have gone for pod if it had been widely available (maybe it was available and I just didn't know about it). It's a nice option. We don't all aspire to DaVinci Code levels of sales! In those days, about fifty copies of my essays in 'book' format would have been all right for me.

Thanks for being more objective in your last post.

Victoria Strauss said...

People, once again: THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF ANY SORT OF SCAM HERE. It's (in my opinion) a misguided policy, but I do not think that there's a scam involved. Please, please stop jumping to that conclusion.

JS said...

Is this a successful agency? Yes. Has it recently initiated a distasteful policy toward clients it rejects? It appears so.

This is the second questionable response pattern to rejected queriers: remember that a few months ago there were some people on Absolute Write reporting that they had been referred to a specific editorial service in their rejection letter.

This is even less appropriate, of course, but the first was not appropriate either.

JBaer said...

A few months ago in a chatroom I met a published novelist--I'll call him Mr. X--who read the first chapter of my novel Star Struck . He gushed over it, so I asked if he wanted to read the whole thing. He said yes, so I happily e-mailed it to him. Once again, he sang my praises and then promised, among other things, to help me find an agent.

Mr. X never lived up to any of his promises, but he kissed my posterior quite a bit in the chatroom--and usually when it wasn't relevant to the chat. Suddenly, in December, he claimes an agent at OE wanted to take me on as a client. So Mr. X called my apartment and spoke to my girlfriend, saying the agent absolutely loved what I wrote. Just one problem: THE AGENT never spoke to me.

I called OE to speak to the agent, but instead I told the receptionist about my suspicions regarding Mr. X. To make a long story short, I found out Mr. X lied all along.

Ms. Strauss's piece makes things even more interesting because it seemed Mr. X and the agent might have been in cahoots to do something unkosher with my novel. By now, however, one can rest assured I will have nothing to do with OE.

Thank you, Ms. Strauss. And I hope Writer Beware puts this fraudulent excuse for an agency out of business.

Anonymous said...

JBaer

I don't follow. How does OE have anything to do with your being scammed? You seemed to have called OE and they told you whoever was talking with you on some blog was lying.

BTW, what "unkosher" things would someone do with your novel anyway? Whether you want to believe it or not, OE is a real agency that sells lots of books to real publishers...what was their "scam"...to make an entire Benjamin off referring your book to a vanity press?

behlerblog said...

"Then you would come back to us after the sales starting racking up and we go major! This is the best way for an author to get their work out their."

It bears repeating that authors should run from those who offer this advice. The actual numbers of vanity press pubbed books that are subsequently picked up by commercial presses is very low - it's a Cinderella. The first rights are gone, and many publishers don't accept previously published works, especially from vanity presses. This is not how to launch a writer's career.

A. C. Crispin said...

To JBaer:

It's most unfortunate what appened to you, but the "fraudulent" actions you refer to belonged to the writer you have named "Mr. X," rather than to Objective Entertainment. Objective Entertainment is, as many have pointed out, a real literary agency with a solid track record of sales.

Writer Beware regrets that you had such an unfortunate experience, but it sounds as though OE was not part of that experience, beyond having their agency name bandied about by Mr. X.

I need to add here that there are few writers with the power to "get" another writer an agent. I've made a few referrals in my time, on books that I've read and liked. My agent has, in a number of instances, agreed to read said manuscripts. But I don't believe any of my referrals have ever led to a writer being signed. It happens, but it's quite rare.

Any writer that claims he or she can "get" any other writer an agent is talking out his/her wazoo...in my experience.

As Chair of Writer Beware, I want to remind all readers of this blog that Writer Beware has NOT used the term "fraudulent" or "scam" in connection with this agency. If things are indeed as they have been reported, my opinion is that they're behaving in a tacky and distasteful manner, and it seems unethical.

But it's not illegal.

This kind of thing has happened before. We've investigated cases where otherwise legit agencies/publishers began making referrals. In at least one case that comes to mind, when their new "policy" caused a furor and criticism, the entity in question quietly discontinued it. Perhaps that would be the best solution for the current situation, too. Just a suggestion.

We'd still welcome any contact from any official OE representative who might care to enlighten us as to what is actually going on, and whether it will be a continuing policy.

This thread seems to be winding down to a natural close. It has brought attention to the situation, and that is a good thing.

Now it's probably time to just wait and see what happens.

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

JBaer said...

Ms. Crispin,

I apologize for sounding overwrought in my previous post; it was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. The bottom line is OE did not ask to represent me despite Mr. X's insistence otherwise.

Katrina S. Forest said...

Just as a follow-up to the whole idea of getting work, "out there," there are many other ways besides POD's to get people to see your work:

1. Attend conferences. Every conference I've gone to has some kind of 1st page critique, as well as the opportunity to pitch your story directly to an agent or editor.

2. Submit short stories to magazines.

3. Join local writers groups. I've read some amazing work by people in my critique group, and trust me, if they ever publish, I'll be first in line to buy a copy.

Just my two cents on the matter.

Deb said...

This referral to a vanity press may not be as hinky as some folks think--or as uncommon a practice4. Some years ago I wrote to respected CBA publisher asking for guidelines.

They sent me a rejection. Mind you, I had not sent them a word of my writing, nor even a query.

They explained that unless they already knew me, or knew someone who did, they would not respond to a query--ignoring the fact I hadn't queried them.

Included in the packet were a load of brochures for vanity presses and submission services. I still have them (it's funny, NOW) and will provide the pub's name privately.

By now, I hope their practices will have changed, so I won't smirch their reputation by going public.

But I'm wondering if this practice is really as uncommon as it appears?

Victoria Strauss said...

Deb, many of the big Christian houses routinely refer writers to one or another of the Christian submission services--ChristianManuscriptSubmissions.com or Writers Edge. As far as I know, as a routine practice this is unique to the Christian market.

Here's an interesting article that explores why these services aren't very effective. I've gotten complaints from writers who've been solicited by vanity publishers as a result of using the services.

Beyond this, I've seen nothing to change my impression that referring writers to pay-to-play services is not common practice among reputable literary agencies and publishers.

Deb said...

Victoria, thanks for the link.

I'm a member of the rapidly-growing ACFW (Amer. Christian Fiction Writers), and after 6 years of membership, I don't know a single writer who sold through one of these submission services. Most folks seem to self-submit where possible, or try their level best to sign with an agent.

Every year at conference, the services come up in conversation, and while nobody's ready to say it's impossible to sell through them, most agree it seems unlikely.

JS said...

This referral to a vanity press may not be as hinky as some folks think--or as uncommon a practice.

Deb, even if it's a more common practice than we think, it's still inappropriate as all get-out.

There is no way that it's appropriate to refer rejected queriers to one specific vanity publisher, even if the material would not be suitable to a trade publisher.

Writing to a rejected author and saying "This material isn't really suitable for trade publication: have you thought about self-publishing?" would be fine, just as saying "This material isn't ready for submission: have you thought about hiring an editorial service?" would be fine.

Where the ethical line is decisively crossed is where the queried agent or publisher steers writers to one specific vendor.

thinkhappy said...

Victoria and others,

FYI - My posts to Elizabeth Jote's blog that asked for an explanation of the letter I received from Ms. Ravenelle as well as an explanation of being forwarded to self-publishing houses was in "moderation". Now they have been deleted without ever being responded to.

There you have it. It's a shame, too, because it is actions, or non-actions, like these that leave new writers in a difficult position of trusting agents - I pity those that don't know of Absolute Write or Victoria's blog :-)

Just my opinion. Thanks, Victoria!
Melissa
aka Thinkhappy
http://www.thewomensnest.com

sunnywave said...

thank you so much for posting this important information. i wish there was a way to get this out to all writers who are working tirelessly to find a reputable agent! thank you thank you.

MidnightMerry said...

I once worked for a magazine publisher. After a huge argument about deadlines and working hours, I left the job. When the next issue was released and significant editorial errors appeared in nearly every article, this publisher hinted here and there that "someone" had hacked into the magazine's computers, accessed the files and inserted these errors. The innuendo was published in the next issue and, of course, rumor "suggested" who the potential culprit was. I laugh at it now but back then, even with dial-up modems and online access available only at during working hours, some folks believed the worst. Conspiracy theory? No, just excuses planted by those who don't want to take responsibility for their own inadequacies, errors and shortcomings.

Victoria Strauss said...

Here's the latest message received by rejectees from Objective--confirmed by two sources, both in the last couple of days.

Thanks so such for querying us, but we are unsure that this premise would work in this tight market. All said we would encourage you to do what many of our clients have done prior and self-publish with a reputable, and recommended, publisher. This is a new age in publishing, and as evidenced time and time again, neither The New York Times bestsellers list nor major booksellers discriminate against the self published. Oftentimes, authors choose to get proactive in order to build a sales record and boost their chances of being picked up.

I would like your permission to pass along your information to someone who can help you get started on your path towards getting published. If you are ready to become proactive about your career we will let them know more details about your manuscript and how to get into contact with you. There are a lot of publishers that seem to have gotten the better of new authors, the two that we refer you to are not of that ilk, they have had a number of successes.

Best,

Tracey Ravenelle

Mags said...

Victoria, of interest. Are these new letters still being sent to rejectees of the same agent the others came from, or have there been reports of this occurring with people submitting to other agents at Objective Entertainment as well?

Mags said...

All set- just got the answer to my own question over at AW. Apparently these queries have been forwarded to Ms. Ravenelle by mulitple agents, including the senior managers.

Yikes and jeez.

just passing by said...

Someone upthread said: "Two things repeatedly bother me with exchanges and solicitations like these. First, the horrific grammar and spelling of the con-artist. One would think that if they were going to get into the business of literary scams, that they might at least try to put out the veneer of legitimacy by not writing like a high school dropout."

When I saw a copy of one of these emails today, that was my reaction, too (that and how unlikely it is that they'd catch many real writers). But when I told my husband (a non-literary software designer), he pointed out that the emails could be going out, spam-like, from overseas. It would cost very little to have someone personalize the salutation and manuscript name and send them out by the thousands. If even a few very, very green would-be authors got caught in the net, it would pay off. It would explain the run-on sentences, typos, and misspellings, which are also characteristic of phishing emails.

Lastly: Ann and Victoria, thank you for keeping the thread discussions on-topic. When someone reads these posts weeks, months, or years later, there's still useful information; even the troll posts are illuminating! But member chats are "white noise" that the visitor has to tune out.

Victoria Strauss said...

Just to confirm: from the beginning, the AH referrals have been sent to rejectees of multiple agents at Objective. Also, just since yesterday I've heard from three more people who received the referral I just posted. So it seems to be an ongoing policy.

December/Stacia said...

Has anyone checked their client list to see just how many of those people did in fact self-publish before being signed?

I suspect I know what the number would be. But I am curious, since they're claiming in their email that "many of our clients" have done this.

Victoria Strauss said...

Today I heard from a writer who was rejected by Objective back in June, and just got the AH referral email. If this is a pattern rather than a fluke (and again, this is the first evidence I've seen that Objective may be mining its backlist of rejectees) it takes the situation to a whole new level, IMO.

Stacia, Ian Kleinert's client Relentless Aaaron (real name Dewitt Gilmore) self-pubbed his street lit books before being picked up by St.Martins. That's the only instance I know about, but of course there may be others.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note on Objective Entertainment and Author's House: I have received mailings from AH long before I ever met with a rep from OE, which tells me that I'm on some kind of mailing list. I can honestly say that OE never heard of me until well after AH contacted me.

mike said...

How can an author get published legitimately without connections? Trying to get a literary agent is like swimming through shark infested waters. Objective Entertainment came after me and I was stupid enough to send them my address and phone number. But that's as far as I'm going.

Victoria Strauss said...

Mike, authors don't need to be "connected" to find an agent or a publisher. You see a lot of chatter about that on the Internet, but it really isn't true. I had no connections (or any publications, either) when I found my agent, and that's true for most of the professional writers I know.

Have a look at an earlier blog post of mine, in which I explain that it's really very easy to avoid the sharks, if you just follow a couple of simple principles. You may also find my article on agent-hunting helpful; it suggests a research technique designed to help you steer clear of questionables.

The biggest "if" of getting published isn't who you know, or how much you network, or whether you've got credentials or a platform. It's whether you've written a marketable manuscript. This eliminates 90% of the hopefuls right at the start. If your manuscript is marketable, and if you are diligent with your research and persistent with your querying, your odds are better than not.

Mary Lindsey said...

I know of someone who received one of these letters in response to a correspondence that WASN'T a query. They are not even reading their emails, it appears.

This makes me sad. I used to be one of their clients.

Philip S. Night said...

Jarred Weisfeld sent me a response to my query that simply said:

"Please send"

Nothing more, nothing less.

-What do you guys think?

Victoria Strauss said...

Philip, Objective is a successful agency. If you want to submit, go ahead--just be prepared for an AH referral if you're rejected.

Anonymous said...

REF: Objective Entertainment

First, I'll introduce myself. I'm Jon Baxley, author of THE BLACKGLOOM BOUNTY from Five Star (Cengage Publishing). The book is a legitimate hardcover title that DID get a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and has sold quite well for Five Star. It is NOT, nor was it ever a self-pubbed title as was implied by someone here in this blog. Check your facts before making accusations, please!

Now, on to the issue at hand--Objective Entertainment. I'm represented by Brendan Deneen, formerly with OE but just last week, having moved to FinePrint Literary. I can't say why he left OE but I can say that it IS a legit agency with lots of big names in the stable. I've never seen nor heard of any unusual dealings with authors by OE, so this blog surprised me when it popped up in a Google search--especially the vehemence of some posters who have no firsthand knowledge of the company. Suffice to say, I would be shocked if it was something OE was doing on their own.

That said, it's a tribute to the web that people can voice concerns over 'shady' issues, even if they don't always have their facts straight. I'll get off my soapbox now and go back to writing the next blockbuster fantasy.

JFB

calendula-witch said...

I just got one today, and thought it sounded familiar (and creepy). From a query I sent 12/20/07!! I'll send it along.

Victoria Strauss said...

I've now heard directly from five writers who queried Objective a year or more ago, and just received the Tracey Ravenelle email. On Absolute Write, several other writers have posted the same thing.

So it does seem that Objective isn't just sending the email to current rejectees, but mining its query archives. I may be wrong, but I can't see any reason to do that, unless there's some return on it for Objective.

A.L. Sirois said...

I received an email from OE, identical to those discussed here, in response to a query about a YA novel. It may not be a scam but IMHO it is a bit unethical.

Evan said...

Here's the one I got today. It's very similar to those above, but updated for the down economy, apparently:

Thanks so such for querying us, but we are unsure that this premise would work in this tight market. All said we would encourage you to do what many of our clients have done prior and self- publish with a reputable, and recommended, publisher. This is a new age in publishing, and as evidenced time and time again, neither The New York Times bestsellers list nor major booksellers discriminate against the self published. Oftentimes, authors choose to get proactive in order to build a sales record and boost their chances of being picked up.

I would like your permission to pass along your information to someone who can help you get started on your path towards getting published. If you are ready to become proactive about your career we will let them know more details about your manuscript and how to get into contact with you. There are a lot of publishers that seem to have gotten the better of new authors, the two that we refer you to are not of that ilk, they have had a number of successes.

Best,


Tracey Ravenelle


One would figure that writing a frigging novel and sending it out to 20 agents would be a sign that I'm "ready to get proactive."

P.S. My book is about the aftermath of a pandemic. "Unsure this premise would work?" Hellooooo - swine flu anyone? Of all the reasons they could have said no, this is probably the most nonsensical, and makes me think it's a scam.

Anonymous said...

Objective has a horrible reputation within the industry. They work with D-list celebs, and their shady practices have alienated a number of editors at a number of big publishing houses. Avoid.

Eirin said...

I just want to be notified of updates on this thread. Have nothing of worth to add, so don't mind me.

Anonymous said...

I got the Tracey Ravenelle letter today, and I must say it struck me as somewhat odd. Which is how I ended up on this blog. Sigh. I've been trying to wade through all the blog entries here, but I'm not sure if anyone has answered the questiona s to whether OE is aware of this practice and/or why they permit it to go on. They must understand that it makes them look bad.
Dan Green

Solomon said...

This is a bit creepy. I'm a new writer that queried Objective, bit not Tracy Ravenelle. I got the same exact message everyone else did. This is crazy.