Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

November 13, 2015

Why Writer Beware Doesn't Make Agent or Publisher Recommendations

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Since Writer Beware was founded in 1998, we've run a free email advice service to help writers who are looking for info on an agent's or publisher's reputation, or have questions about publishing in general (you can reach us at beware [at] sfwa.org).

Two of the most frequent questions we receive: Can you recommend a good agent/publisher? and You publish "Thumbs Down" lists--can't you also publish "Thumbs Up" lists?

For obvious reasons, Writer Beware avoids recommending fee-based services (this is why, if you ask us to suggest a reputable freelance editor, we will say no). But we don't feel comfortable providing other recommendations, either. There are several reasons why.

- A bad agent or publisher is bad for every writer, but a good agent or publisher is only good for some writers. Just as every writer has their own subject, genre, style, and tone, every agent, publisher, and editor has their own focus, specialty, and strength. For the best results, there needs to be a match.

It's just common sense that if you're a fantasy author, you won't submit to someone who doesn't agent or publish books in your genre. But other issues also need careful consideration. How active a role do you want your agent to take in steering your career? In editing your manuscript before submission? Is your goal one of the big publishers, or would a smaller publisher be preferable? Is a print edition important, or would you be satisfied with digital-first? It's a complex web of factors, and they all need to be taken into account when choosing agents or publishers to approach.

It really is best, therefore, for you to do the choosing, since you know your work and your goals best. That's why, rather than providing recommendations or Thumbs Up lists, Writer Beware prefers to offer information and suggest research techniques to help you make up your mind (and, just as important, to avoid the deadbeats),.

- "Good" is subjective. How do you define a good agency? A premier New York City firm that represents famous names and deals mainly with the Big 5? A boutique agency with a small client list and sales to solid independent publishers? If your idea of good doesn't tally with mine, any recommendations I give you might not be helpful. That subjectivity is another reason why you should do the choosing.

- Change happens. Agencies and publishers get sold, come under new management, switch specialties, or just, sometimes, fall into decline. The change isn't always public knowledge, or doesn't become apparent until well after the fact. Recommendations and Thumbs Up lists--even where based on best knowledge--have the potential to unintentionally mislead people, and Writer Beware doesn't want to risk that. (By contrast, bad agents and publishers don't change: once bad, always bad. Which is why we feel comfortable pointing our thumbs down).

- We don't have the resources. Writer Beware's mission is to provide warnings and collect documentation to help writers avoid questionable agents, publishers, and others. We don't have the staff to also function as an agent- or publisher-matching service--something that, to be done right, would require careful, time-consuming research (we are all volunteers). Also, while there's only one other organization we know of that provides warnings about schemes and scams (Preditors and Editors), there are many, many resources to help writers find and identify reputable agents and publishers.

- Writer Beware strives to be impartial; we don't endorse people, companies, or services. This is another reason not to provide recommendations or Thumbs Up lists, which could be taken as such.

I hope this clarifies things. As always, comments are welcome!

8 comments :

Iola Goulton said...

Change happens. Oh, yes. THis week I happened to visit the website of a small press which has published a couple of writers I know. Not only did I find they are now offering "author services" and "co-operative publishing", but those vanity books will be issued under the same imprints as their "traditional" books (their quotes, not mine):

"We aim to offer high quality services, from individual processes to full package author-funded packages. Your books will be treated as one of our own, will join our imprints as appropriate, and will be given a Sunpenny ISBN."
- http://www.sunpenny.com/#!imprints

In my view, this taints all their authors with the vanity brush, which is awful for the writers I know. There was no indication of this when they signed their contracts.

Dennis Latham said...

I've always enjoyed your columns and your honest approach to writing advice. You hit the nail on the head with this article. Agents are people and subject to the strife in the outside world. An agent who is sick, hung over, having trouble at home, etc. may not be as receptive to a writer as when things are going well. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

This verbally abusive site is of value to no one.

Victoria Strauss said...

Our occasional troll makes an appearance.

Patsy said...

It's a shame you can only post negative lists, but I understand the reasons for it.

Anonymous said...

Where is it written you can't make a recommendation? This is just another "because I say so" posting with no logic at all to it.

Christine Tripp said...

I love your troll following Victoria, they are so "eloquent" in their use of the English language:)

Lola G., it's a shame. Even the biggest publishers have seen the money to be made off of indie Authors and I'm sure it's such a tempting way for the small pubs to add to their income. They may even be justifying it as a way to make money and continue publishing their published Authors?

To this post, I've seen the writers that call for a "good publisher" list from you Victoria and from AW. It just seemed obvious that a list like that would be almost impossible to put together. I think all a writer needs is to be informed of the obvious scams and pay to plays out there, who to avoid, then after that they can assume what is left is legit but still do their own research before sending their manuscript out. Once you learn the pub services "speak" it's usually easy to spot them and their web sites.
There are market books (like Writers Digest) that CHARGE for such information, to expect someone to do all of that for free would be insane!

Anonymous said...

The Writers Digest books are hopelessy out of date. Herman just regurgitates his old files, and doesn't really have a handle on what is going on.

 
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