Thursday, October 01, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- The Perils of Searching For Publishers on the Internet

Imagine you're a new writer. You've just completed your first manuscript, and are on fire to get it published. You don't know a lot about the publishing world, or how to identify a good publisher for your book--but that's okay. You have the Internet.

So you open a search engine--Google, let's say--and type "publishers" into the search box. Here's what you get.

The two top nonsponsored listings are for Random House and HarperCollins--big names that you may recognize. You navigate through their websites for submission information...bummer. In your genre, they won't look at any manuscript that doesn't have an agent.

The sponsored listings look a lot more encouraging. Instead of "Agented submissions only," they say things like "We Want to Read Your Book!" and "Get your book published today--the industry leader for new authors!" and "The only choice for new authors." There's just one problem. Of the eleven listings, ten are for fee-based publishers (though you may not realize that right away, since some are less than candid about the fact that you have to pay) or self-publishing services. The eleventh is for a "publisher search" website that includes no real publishers, only vanity publishers and self-publishing companies.

Suppose, instead of Googling "publishers," you'd Googled "book publishers." Here's what you'd see, and it's just as bad. Of the nonsponsored listings, Random House is first...and PublishAmerica is third. Again, there are eleven sponsored listings--ten for fee-based publishers or publishing services, and one for another faux publisher search website, this one registered to Author Solutions, parent of self-publishing services AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, and WordClay. Guess which publishers it suggests?

Just about any general search you may do--"novel publishers" or "find a publisher" or "getting published" or "how to get published"--is fraught with similar perils. Of course, the search pages also throw up helpful links--to Absolute Write, or Publishers Marketplace, or Publishers Weekly, or Harold Underdown's tongue-in-cheek but very helpful how-do-I-get-it-published quiz. But I've gotten enough email over the years to know that many inexperienced writers look no farther than the highly-visible sponsored links.

All of which underscores the need for caution on the Internet. (Yes, I know I've blogged about this before, but it's such a consistent issue for the writers who contact me that the point can't be made too often.) Don't get me wrong--I love the Internet, and can't imagine my professional life without it. It's an invaluable research resource, offering unprecedented access to a treasure trove of information, enabling knowledgeable writers to fine-tune their agent- and publisher-quests as never before. For new writers, however, it can pose substantial hazards, since there's at least as much bad information as good--not to mention all the people who want to sell you something that may not be good for you. Even so-called professional resources aren't always reliable--the writing and editing question forums at LinkedIn, supposedly a place for business and professional networking, are absolute pits of bad advice and misinformation--and as for writers' message boards, it's a good idea never to forget that people who know nothing are as eager to opine as people who know something.

Unless writers are able to filter the information they find online, they're at risk of making bad decisions or falling victim to predators. In other words, writers need to know something about publishing before they start searching for publishers (or agents). Rather than plunging in and attempting to learn on the fly, it's a much better idea to first take the time to build a knowledge base. There are many ways to do this, and it doesn't have to be tedious. My blog post, "Learning the Ropes," offers some suggestions.

Trust me: it's one of the best investments in your future career you'll ever make.

17 comments:

Ian said...

QueryTracker.net has just started adding a database of publishers that accept unagented submissions. From the introduction blog post:

"I resisted the idea for years because of the extra work it would generate, but the requests kept coming in and I couldn't say no any longer. So, a list of publishers has been added to the QT database. The list is short right now, because of the time it takes to research each one, and make sure they meet QT's strict requirements. This is done to protect our members. What are our requirements?

* The publisher should accept queries from unagented authors. This rules out most of the major houses.
* No vanity or fee charging publishers.
* No publishers who are "Not Recommended" by Preditors & Editors, or on the Writers Beware thumbs down list.
* The publisher should be well established with at least several published books to their credit. This is to protect members from potential scammers who are hiding behind the new publisher mask."

Charlie said...

Victoria, please don’t worry about posting the same information again and again. These warnings need repeating. I was lucky enough to find P&E early into my internet searches and it educated me to, at the very least, use caution.

At the moment, I’m not even trying to get published. There’s too much to learn (and my writing will only improve by waiting) and your blog and website are a huge help. Thank you. I’m new but I feel I’m clued in a bit. I’m an informed newbie dammit!

Nobilis Reed said...

Honestly, I think that finding reliable information on the web should be a topic we should be teaching children at about 7th and 8th grade, if not younger.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

This information needs to be repeated over and over. I get e-mails from book "publicists" and vanity pressess all the time. How do all of them find out my personal e-mail? They must have super-sleuths working for them.

Jill Edmondson said...

I couldn't agree more with your point about getting to know what's out there. And yes, when I was getting started, I did Google (or other) "publishers" and "agents" and came up with a lot of bunk. And everyone wanted money money money - up front. And vanity printers/self publishing...

When I had a completed manuscript, I search for publishers th eold fashioned way: I looked on my bookshelf at whatever I had that was in the same genre (mystery) as my writing. Then I noted who the publisher was, checked eah publisher's website and started sending out query letters - 20 of them in fact.

I got lucky, because within 3 month, I landed a contract.

Cheers, Jill
www.jilledmondson.blogspot.com

TLH said...

Yes, I'm getting really tired of hearing from all of the vanity publishers out there. They have my email as well. The one that's really on me right now is Tate Publishing, and I'm not even sure what they are...

I'm still very new, like Charlie, but I try to be an informed skeptic. I really appreciate the work you do for us writers to keep us from getting scammed! Thank you!

~Tara

Katrina S. Forest said...

I totally agree. While Google is great for many things, finding a publisher isn't one of them. At times I have considered adding Google Ads to a section of my website entitled, "How to Spot a Writing Scam" and preface the ads with the message, "If you see an ad for your publisher below, it's probably a scam."

Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God said...

Good morning, Victoria,

I was fortunate enough to find WritersMarket.com before I tried to Goggle for a publisher. I also bought a "Christian Writers Market Guide" on impulse early in my exploration of the publishing business. I am only beginning to appreciate how much time and frustration those actions saved me.

Now, I am trying to start a non-fiction writers' community blog as a resource for those of us who do not find some of what we need on the great blogs on publishing. If anyone is interested, they can check it out at Calling all aspiring writers of non-fiction books.

Have a good weekend,

Lynnda

D. G. Hudson said...

Victoria, your vigilance is appreciated. We need to be reminded that the internet is NOT a solution for everything, and all sources cannot be trusted equally.

I prefer to be well informed and have been researching via books and the internet as well as reading a couple of agent blogs (which you have listed on your sidebar).
Your newsletter and blog also keeps me up to date on the 'dark' side of publishing. You're doing a great job of keeping us aware.

Henry Baum said...

I don't know, if you're looking up "publishers" because you're trying to get published, something's wrong. You should be looking up "agents" or "independent publishers." If you think going to RandomHouse.com is any route to getting published, you're just waiting to get taken advantage of by the Publish Americas of the world. That may be insensitive, but someone using that search term is lacking a fair bit of common sense.

Sally Zigmond said...

But, Henry, Googling 'literary agents' can dredge up some pretty queer fish, too.

Entrepreneur Chick said...

Well, you hit THAT nail on the head, didn't you?

Excellent post.

Saranna DeWylde said...

Thanks for posting this. It seems like there are a lot of people ready to take advantage of a person willing to do just about anything to get themselves published.

It's great to see those active in the industry standing up for the newbie. It's no longer a lesson learned scenario but information in the hand.

You rock, doll!

thatlovedflower said...

Really these are the issues i have been facing presently. No authentic information flows in. The bias of publishers towards established writers is there and will be there always. This bias is causing problems for newbies. The internet is full of dichotomous information that mislead instead of enlightening.

Publishers have got their own genres to publish. I was browsing for a proposal letter and found that no one agrees on a single format. There are a lot of format available and all writers differ on this.

I am now searching for a publisher. Dont know when the search will end. India is not Us and Indians have got many problems that their Us counterparts. The agent culture is not that prevalent in India and it is really very difficult to find a publisher for books here.

In the search engine if a search is made about indian publishers then the result will be nothing more than problems. No authentic sites are there as far as India is concerned. India is yet to take the benefit of internet. Many publishers would like to read a hard copy proposal. This is absurd in the age of mail.

A very good post indeed that shows the reality and cautions new writers.

thanks for the post and information.

Erin said...

Thank you for reposting this because there are new writers out there all the time running into this problem. I am one of those "newbies" and have spent many a night pulling out my hair thinking "how in the WORLD will I ever figure out this industry and not get screwed in the process".

So again, thank you for this, I will be reading your other posts on the subject soon. (For now, I must force myself to stop reading and continue WRITING, or there will be nothing for me to worry about).

Many Kind Regards,

The Crap Blog Detective said...

If you actually have written a bestseller and you cant find a publisher take up knitting.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Detective: For your information, I do both! I've written a novel and while researching (thanks to Victoria) for a 'real' publisher, I'm writing my second book. Actually, while I'm knitting, my brain is as active as my hands and I get most of my best ideas during that time...