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

February 29, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- 2008 Indie Book Awards

Over the past week or so, I've gotten a number of questions about a brand new contest/award that is advertising itself heavily across the Internet: the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Open to English-language books produced by independent authors and publishers anywhere in the world, the contest offers 70 different entry categories and cash prizes totaling $3,500. Other benefits for finalists and winners include a listing in a catalog that will be distributed at BEA 2008, a listing on the awards' website, the opportunity for winners and finalists to purchase gold award stickers for their books, and review of the top 70 books for possible representation by established literary agent Marilyn Allen of Allen O'Shea Literary Agency.

Money, exposure, literary agency review--what's not to like?

For one thing, the entry fee. Entrants must pay $75 per title, plus an additional $50 per category if they want to enter their book in more than one category. That's steep.

For another, who's judging this award? It's promised that the panel of judges will include "expert editors, writers and publishers in the book publishing industry"--but there's no indication as to who these experts are. That's information you definitely want to have when considering whether to enter an award or contest--especially an expensive one--since the prestige of an award/contest depends in part on the judges' credentials. If you don't know who the judges are, you can't tell whether they are qualified to provide professional opinions--nor can any agents or editors you're hoping to impress.

There's also the time span. According to the call for entries, the entry process must be complete by March 21, 2008. On the Awards page, it's stated that finalists will be selected by May 15. That's just over seven weeks to evaluate a contestant pool that, given the extensive advertising, is likely to number in the hundreds, if not a thousand or more. An important factor in a award/contest's prestige is the rigorousness of the judging process. Even given the likelihood that poor presentation or poor writing will quickly disqualify many of the books, seven weeks doesn't allow much time for rigor. When I served as a World Fantasy Awards judge in 2006, we received between 400 and 500 books; we started reading at the beginning of February and didn't select our finalists until the beginning of July.

Also important--who is behind this award? Another source of award/contest prestige is the prestige of the sponsoring group--but in this case, a lack of available information makes that difficult to determine. According to the award website, the sponsor is something called the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group, whose singularly uninformative one-page website identifies it as "an organization that aims to promote professional standards in independent book publishing...and provide support and recognition for the independent book publishing profession." The IBPPG claims to have started up in 2005--although, puzzlingly, its domain name wasn't registered until November 2007--but there's no staff list, no membership list, and no sign-up information for prospective members. Instead, anyone who is interested is instructed to "return to this site next month for more information and a membership application."

The brand-new IBAs (to coin an acronym) bear a strong resemblance to the more established IPPYs (the Independent Publisher Book Awards). Both are targeted to independent publishers and self-published authors. Both have a large number of categories--70 for IBA, 65 for IPPY. Both have high entry fees--$75 for IBA, $85 for IPPY. Neither names its judges. Both have short judging periods: March 21-May 15 for IBA, April 1-May 9 for IPPY. Both have scheduled their "reveals" for BEA 2008--IBA with a catalog, IPPY with a gala awards ceremony. And for both, the awards look to be a moneymaker. In its Application Guidelines, IPPY reveals that it received over 1,500 entries for last year's awards; at $85 a pop (more if the entrant decided to enter one of the regional contests as well), that's a minimum gross of over $125,000.

There are also significant differences: IBA's cash awards (IPPY has none), IBA's promise of literary agency review for its top books (IPPY's top books must settle for the honor of winning), and IBA's wider territory (it's open to English-language writers worldwide, while IPPY is limited to North America). Given the slighly larger number of entry categories and the slightly lower entry fee, it's hard not to wonder whether upstart IBA is attempting to move in on more established IPPY's territory.

We know who sponsors IPPY--the Jenkins Group, a custom publisher/book producer--but, as pointed out above, IBA's sponsor is something of a cypher. So I decided to do a bit of digging.

Googling "Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group" turns up its website, the IBA website, some press releases and blog entries on the IBAs--and a site called, which describes itself as "the world's leading publisher of information about dream careers", and sells guides for job hunters with titles like Become a Celebrity Personal Assistant and Become a Published Writer. Note the similarity between the Fabjob website and the IBPPG website (oh, those purple bars). The IBPPG's domain name is registered anonymously--but its IP address is identical to FabJob's. And here's the clincher: the Calgary, AB contact address for the FabJob Privacy Officer (provided on FabJob's Privacy page--scroll down to the bottom) also appears on the IBA's Contact page.

Which raises the question--if the IBAs and the IBPPG are projects of FabJob Inc., why not just say so?

I don't intend to imply that there is anything illicit or suspect about FabJob, the IBPPG, or the IBAs. However, the basic question writers need to ask themselves when considering whether to enter an award or contest is, "Is it worth it?" Given the newness of the IBAs, the uncertainty as to their prestige, and especially the size of the entry fee, writers might want to adopt a "wait and see" approach to this one.

February 24, 2008

Rich White - Buddy, do I have a deal for you . . .

One of the knocks against the car industry is deceptive advertising. You know, the ads in the paper that advertise a hot new car or a really nice used car for a low price. They are counting on you seeing the ad or hearing it on the radio and rushing out to pick it up while it's still available.

This is called the bait.

However, you have to really check out the fine print. From personal experience, I've noted the ads have the words, "This offer only valid on model XXXXXX , similar vehicles may or may not be available." They're counting on you showing up with buying on the mind. When you get there, it seems they've "unfortunately sold that particular vehicle,” but they just happen to have this other model that they'd love to show you. And like most people, once you've got buying on your mind, it's hard to make yourself stop and think, wait, that's not the car (or the price) I wanted. Let's come back later. They're counting on your ego not wanting to admit you made a mistake, so you wind up buying something you didn't really want or else you spend more for the same car.

This is called the switch.

Now, I'm not saying car dealers are con men. No, they're salesmen who use the concept of a loss-leader, (selling something for less than you could to draw customers in), and darn good salesmanship to make their sales quota for the month. See, there was a vehicle there for that price and if you had shown up at the right time, you could have gotten it. That's why this type of sales technique is legal.

Unfortunately, some publishers are starting to adapt this concept for their own operations.

Now, let's change the scenario a bit and we'll see if there is any correlation.

A publisher's web site talks about publishing books, giving advances, book distribution, and good royalties. Sounds good so far, so you send off your manuscript and wait. After a while, you hear back from them and they do offer you a contract. (We'll talk about whether it's a good contract or not another time.) You are ecstatic and are certain to mention this on various bulletin boards, your blog, your writer's group, etc. Of course, your book is due to come out in eighteen months to two years, but you've got a publisher who's giving you a modest advance.

This is the bait.

However, there are others who've read about this publisher and heard all these good things about them. So, they submit their manuscript and wait. After a while, you hear back from them, but unlike our first author, your manuscript was rejected. You're naturally upset to know the manuscript you slaved over for years just wasn't good enough.

However, hope is not lost. No, your manuscript is not "quite" good enough for this publisher, but they happen to have a sister imprint (know of another company, etc.) that would be happy to publish your book for you as long as you're willing to buy X number of copies from them up front. But, it's your book and you have to believe in your book. Besides, all you have to do is sell (X-Y) copies to break even and then everything else is gravy.

This, my friend, is the switch.

Publishers like this are counting on you being caught up in the "I want to be published" emotion and instead of rejecting you outright, they're offering you an out. It's like being at the car dealership. You're there, you might as well buy something, right? They're saying, "Hey, we've already developed a relationship here, why not let us publish that for you (for a small fee/guarantee book purchase, etc.)?” It's not technically wrong . . . they're stating up front that you're going to have to spend money to get your books . . . but they're preying on your state of mind and hoping you'll make that jump.

So, it's not illegal, but it's definitely taking advantage of people. Bait-and-switch publishers are trying to have their cake and eat it too: by requiring writers to buy their own books, they turn authors into customers--yet, because they aren't charging for printing and binding, they are able to claim they aren't vanity publishers. The bottom line, though, is still that you're paying to see your work in print.

February 20, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- The Top Twelve Things Writer Beware Can't Do

Ann's last post got me thinking about expectations.

Writer Beware's mission is described (pretty clearly, I think) on our About Writer Beware page. We maintain the Writer Beware website and blog, providing the most up-to-date information on the many schemes, scams, and pitfalls that lie in wait for writers. We maintain an enormous database of complaints and documentation, which allows us to offer a free research service for writers with questions about agents, publishers, and others. We constantly research the problems we discuss, and keep current with issues and changes in the publishing industry. We assist law enforcement agencies with investigations of literary fraud. Last but not least, we help build public awareness of literary fraud by writing articles, appearing at writers' conventions, conducting workshops and classes, and participating in online writers' discussion groups and message boards.

That's what Writer Beware does. Of course, there are also many things that Writer Beware doesn't or can't do--some of them because we don't have time, some because they don't fit our mission, some because...well, because they just aren't appropriate. That doesn't stop people from asking, though.

Without further ado, here are the Top Twelve Things Writer Beware Can't Do.

12. Submit your work to US publishers because you're overseas and we're in the United States and it's cheaper for us to buy stamps. I have actually been asked to do this. More than once. Really.

11. Tell you that normally, upfront fees are a warning sign of a questionable agent, but your agent is the exception. Sorry. We understand how much you want to believe it, especially if the fee is already on your credit card--but we can't lie to you. Go ahead--shoot the messenger. We can take it.

10. Admit that whatever writers' mythology you're clinging to is absolutely true, and we were wrong to contradict you. I've had extended email exchanges with writers who vigorously and sometimes angrily attempted to convince me I was in error when I told them that new writers can get good agents without having to be published first, or that commercial publishers do market all their books, not just the bestsellers, or that it's not an author's job to get his or her book onto bookstore shelves, or that writers don't have to give back their advances if they don't earn out. These pernicious myths are astonishingly deeply rooted--especially when they're shoring up a bad decision.

I do still get irritated when someone with no publishing experience thinks they know more about the business than I do--but I don't argue as hard as I used to. Some people have a deep need to believe that their problems come from outside themselves, and I've learned to accept that mere argument is not enough to change that.

9. Tell you what decision to make. We often hear from writers who want us to tell them whether they should sign with Agent X, even though he charges an upfront fee, or accept a contract from Publisher Y, even though it has been the focus of author complaints, or terminate their relationship with Scammer Z, who they just discovered is disreputable. We understand that such decisions can be tough (to many of us, avoiding vanity publishers and fee-charging agents seems like a no-brainer, but it gets more complicated when you factor in ignorance and desperation)--and we will be glad to tell you what we know: that reputable agents don't typically charge upfront fees, that vanity publishing is not a good way to start a writing career, that we've gotten complaints about Agent X and advisories about Publisher Y. But we can't tell you what to do or decide. That's up to you.

8. Read and critique your manuscript or query letter. We know how important it is to get knowledgeable criticism, and how tough it can be to find reliable beta readers. But critiquing is not part of our mission (not to mention, between Writer Beware and our own writing careers, we just don't have the time).

7. Post a warning about the agent or publisher that defrauded you. We have strict criteria for what can be posted as an Alert on Writer Beware. We must have received an extraordinary number of complaints (100 or more), or else the individual or company must be the focus of a lawsuit, a police or other official investigation, or a criminal or civil proceeding. And we must have documentation. Short of that, we aren't able to post warnings.

6. List an agent or publisher as "not recommended." That's Preditors & Editors, not Writer Beware. No, we are not the same.

5. Exchange links. We welcome it when people link to Writer Beware, but we can't promise a link in return. We are very careful about the resources we list on our website, and choose only those we feel are most accurate and helpful.

4. Recommend independent editors, intellectual property lawyers, or other paid services. We don't recommend any paid services, in order to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.

3. Recommend agents or publishers. Many people think it's easy to toss out a recommendation or two, but it's not--at least, not if you want to be responsible about it. The right agent or publisher for one person might be the wrong agent or publisher for another. In order to make helpful recommendations, we would need to know the person's work--and as I've said, we don't read manuscripts. (This is a beef I have with agent-matching sites, which provide broad general recommendations that are not necessarily well-tailored to the individual).

Again, we'll tell you what we know in response to specific questions, and we try to provide tools writers can use to do their own investigating and make their own decisions--such as this research technique designed to identify appropriate agents and eliminate questionable ones. But we don't do recommendations.

2. Represent your manuscript. We aren't agents. We're writers. We like it that way! (To the guy who keeps sending me screenplays via snail mail: please take note.)

And the number one thing Writer Beware can't do...

1. Publish your book. I shouldn't need to point out that Writer Beware is not a publisher. Nevertheless, I hear several times a year from people who want to submit their manuscripts to us for publication. Usually this just involves a query--as with the inquiry I got recently from a Romanian writer whose written English was, well, not very fluent. But every now and then the entire manuscript will be attached--or, in a few memorable cases, pasted into email. Once, I even got illustrations.

February 16, 2008

How 2 Rite Qwerry Lettrs

Everyone knows that all of us at Writer Beware are saints. This is a given. We unstintingly give of our time to help others, with no expectation of remuneration. We're unfailingly kind to writers, and only snarl and snap at scammers. (And if it's a good day, we do worse than that, just ask Martha Ivery, Melanie Mills, George Titsworth and Janet Kay.)

Saints. There is no doubt.

Excuse me if I remove my halo for a second, here. I'm going to blog about something that is a growing trend among aspiring writers, and I'm probably going to sound like Oscar the Grouch. So be it.

I spend a lot of time over on I "patrol" there, looking for posts from hapless aspiring writers who ask questions like, "Why not sign the contract I've been sent by WL Literary Agency? Paying a fee for a critique doesn't sound so bad," or, "I just signed a contract with PublishAmerica and they're paying me a whole dollar as an advance! Now I see that PA bashers have negative things to say about them. What's wrong with these people? Are they jealous because I'm getting published and they can't make it?"


Despite having been doing this for a whole decade (that's right, Writer Beware was founded in 1998, this year is our tenth anniversary!) I resist the urge to post snarky comebacks, and am as polite and helpful as I can be.

There is, however, one prevailing topic in the Agents area on that I'm going to have to back away from. That's the practice of critiquing and rewriting query letters when authors post them for commentary.

After much thought, I've decided that, while helping a writer "tweak" his or her query letter so that it's got a good shot at getting the attention of a desirable agent is probably a worthwhile endeavor, I'm going to draw the line at offering major critiques, much less any rewrite suggestions. I've come to the conclusion that doing this doesn't do the aspiring author any favors.

As the veteran of teaching many "Getting a Real Agent" workshops, and workshopping many query letters, this may sound hypocritical, and possibly it is. But when I teach workshops, I'm interacting with the writers who are sitting around that table with me. I'm listening to them speak, I'm gauging their writing level, and I'm able to give them direct, frank feedback on what they've done right or wrong. In other words, I'm TEACHING them. In many ways it would be easier to just do it for them. But that wouldn't help these writers to learn, and improve.

I suspect I could take almost any query letter and rewrite it so it would get the attention of a fairly high percentage of the agents who read it. But if the writer in question can't produce a well-written query letter, what are the odds that his or her manuscript is well-written? Not very high, I suspect.

When I see a query letter written by someone who obviously never researched how to write one, rife with typos and grammatical errors, full of inappropriate personal ramblings, warnings that the work has been "copywrited," (so don't even think about stealing it, Mr/Ms Agent!), one that's 2 or even 3 single spaced pages long, what's the point of fixing it for the writer? The overwhelming odds are that the book the query letter is touting is every bit as depressingly bad.

Exit saint, enter curmudgeon. And I'm not going to apologize for it.

With all the information out there on the internet and in various writing guides, every writer who has the skills to write a publishable book should be able to produce a decent query letter. I can understand workshopping it with your writing workshop, or critique group. Or your beta readers. But to post the thing on a board full of strangers, some of whom are kind enough to just rewrite the thing in order to be helpful...well, it's not doing the writer any favors.

This also applies to "services" that charge writers fees to produce query letters for authors. I don't believe the writers who use them are doing themselves, or their books, any good.

I once helped a writer extensively with his/her query letter. I critiqued multiple drafts of it, offering suggestions for rewording, reorganization, etc. I had misgivings about doing this, because I'd read the synopsis and first couple of chapters of the book the writer was submitting, and I knew that it was unlikely to sell. Not that the book was awful. The writer in question had fairly good writing abilities. But she/he lacked the ability to tell a story in a way that would keep the reader turning pages. It was, in a word, dull. (I had made some suggestions for improving the writing and the story, but this writer is not someone who is receptive to criticism.)

I heard through the grapevine recently that this writer had hit 200 rejections for that book. The writer had received more than 20 requests for full reads of the book, based on that query letter. Did I do the writer any favors by helping with it? Obviously not.

(heavy sigh)

Now I'm going to wander off in search of my halo. It's somewhere here on my desk, I know it...

-Ann C. Crispin

February 10, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- WriteWise: BookWise Branches Out

A while back, I blogged about BookWise, a multilevel marketing scheme focusing on books. (That post earned me some nasty comments from BookWise Associates. I daresay what follows will earn me a few more.)

BookWise, now a little over a year old, has just launched BookWise Publishing, which offers a program for aspiring writers called WriteWise. "Do you have a book in you? Have you dreamed of becoming a published author?" asks the WriteWise brochure. "Realize your aspiration of writing, publishing, and marketing a bestselling book through WriteWise from BookWise Publishing."

How does it work? Here's a list of program benefits, from the website of one of the BookWise Associates who is offering to sign writers up for the program (there are numerous similar WriteWise websites, many of which employ identical templates). These include a variety of mentoring services (including a two-day "intense" seminar--the qualifications of the seminar staff are...interesting); guaranteed publication of your book by BookWise Publishing; various editing, design, and promotional services (you can judge cover design quality here); 50 softcover copies of your book; and endorsement by BookWise founders Richard Paul Evans and Robert G. Allen.

If you think this sounds too good to be true, you're right. Here's the bottom line:

For anyone who is a serious writer, you will know that the benefits described above could easily cost you $20,000 - $30,000 from individuals far less knowledgeable or connected than Richard Paul Evans and Robert G. Allen.....

However, this program will NOT cost you tens of thousands of dollars.... for you to become a SERIOUS published author in 2008 the cost to you is......

only $5995...

So...basically, WriteWise is vanity publishing.

And that's not all. WriteWise isn't just a pay-to-publish program for writers--it's an income opportunity for BookWise Associates. For every participant they sign up, Associates get a $1,000 commission. That's some hefty dough for encouraging aspiring writers to vanity publish.

(There's actually some discrepancy regarding program costs. While the websites linked above all say that it's $5,995, the WriteWise brochure says it's $4,995. Why the difference? Price hikes, judging by this entry from the official BookWise blog. The first WriteWise session apparently cost $3,995; for the second, the fee went up to $4,995. I guess we're now on on Round 3.)

There's another twist to the story. For writers accepted into WriteWise, Richard Paul Evans and Robert G. Allen will become their literary agents, receiving, according to the WriteWise brochure, "the standard agency fee [of] 15% of the royalties that an author receives from the publisher." The brochure makes it clear, however, that not every book will be shopped: "...depending upon circumstances, BookWise Publishing may also present your book to other major publishers." In this arrangement, most of the benefit is on the agents' side: they don't actually have to do anything for you (unlike in a normal author-agent relationship), but if they do, they get paid twice.

WriteWise does seem to employ some selectivity--would-be participants are evaluated by a "book producer" (whatever that is), and payment is refunded to those who aren't accepted into the program. This should prevent writers who are completely unpublishable from spending six thousand dollars on a pipe dream. Yet selectivity has a flip side. If only competent writers are chosen, people who actually are publishable may wind up paying a small fortune for a program they don't need.

All of this leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. I'm also seriously non-thrilled by the way that Associates are apparently being encouraged to pitch the program. According to one Associate website, WriteWise "will save you tens of thousands of dollars, and years of frustration and rejection." According to another, "WriteWise is a program that lets you become a published author for considerably less than the standard costs associated with book publishing." Claims yet another, "Traditionally people have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to get published and now thanks to Write Wise, paying such a high cost is no longer necessary." Such inducements are incredibly misleading and exploitive, playing as they do upon the ignorance of aspiring writers, who may believe that there is always a cost involved with publishing, or that paying to publish is a viable way of starting a writing career.

Of course, BookWise/WriteWise is an MLM scheme. MLM schemes are not really about the product or the customer--they're about building your group of income-generating associates. Given the vulnerability of new authors, however, this seems like an especially unscrupulous way to make a buck.

February 5, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Tidbits

Things that piqued my interest last week...

Again, In-Store Publishing

About a thousand years ago in digital time (i.e., around 2000), a company called Sprout produced a stir by partnering with Borders and a consortium of independent booksellers to initiate an in-store publishing program, using Sprout's print on demand equpiment to print and bind books while customers waited.

In 2004, a company called InstaBook installed its digital printing machinery in a bookstore in Ridgewood, N.J. With 10,000 digitized titles available for printing, as well as the capacity to produce bound books from author-provided disks, InstaBook offered booksellers the option of turning themselves into bookseller-publishers.

Well, the Sprout deals fell through, and Bookends' special website for its InstaBook service is defunct--but the in-store publishing idea refuses to die. According to last Monday's Publisher's Lunch, Ingram recently presented an experimental program that would make it possible for ABA member bookstores to set up their own in-store publishing services. "The vision is that independent stores can serve as 'niche publishers focused on regional and local interests,' leveraging relationships within their communities and using their expertise to identify public domain material appropriate for reprint. Conceivably, stores can also offer their own 'self-publishing' services to patrons looking for a place to launch and sell their manuscripts."

Maybe the third time will be the charm--although I can only imagine the headaches for stores beseiged by their own self-published authors begging for shelf space.

Facebook Fatigue?

Every writer is looking for a magic bullet, Internet self-promotionwise. New paradigms for self-promotion arise a regular basis, and are hailed as the Next Big Thing--until the Next Next Big Thing comes along. First, author websites promised to revolutionize the mechanics of self-promotion. Then came blogs. Then came plogs (remember plogs? I didn't think so). Then came social networking sites, free book downloads, and book trailers...each holding out the hope that it, at last, would prove to be the Holy Grail of self-promo, the Shangri-La of author marketing, the One Ring of Internet publicity--the ultimate, single strategy that would finally, provably work.

Unfortunately, even as older strategies prove not to be magic bullets after all, newer strategies don't supplant them--they merely expand the field of self-promotional activity, adding to the burden of non-writing tasks that writers must fit into their schedules. If you don't know what works, you've got to do it all, right?

Maybe not. If, like me, your Facebook fatigue is triggered by the mere idea of setting up a page (not to mention maintaining it)...take heart. According to this article in The Register, people are getting bored with social networking. Apparently, "Bebo, MySpace and Facebook all took double-digit percentage hits in the last months of 2007. December could perhaps be forgiven as a seasonal blip when people see their real friends and family, but the trend was already south."

So maybe by the time my next book is published, social networking will have become a self-promo has-been, and I won't have to feel guilty about not wanting to deal with it.

The Publishing Tortoise

One of the things that seems to drive writers toward self- or vanity-publishing is frustration over commercial publishers' long lead times. Between book acquisition and book publication, a year, a year and a half, or even two years can elapse. Impatient authors often don't see why they should have to wait that long. Many take the delay as yet another indication that the "traditional" industry is moribund--a sign, like the five-mile turning radius of a cruise ship, of Big Publishing's juggernaut-like inertia and inefficiency.

In fact, there are very good reasons for publishers to take their time bringing books to market--among them the need for careful editing, effective cover art, pre-publication reviews--and, as discussed in this recent article in the New York Times, the vital importance of generating word-of-mouth excitement well in advance of the publication date.

"While writers bite their nails, the book editor tries to persuade the in-house sales representatives to get excited about the book, the sales representatives try to persuade retail buyers to get excited, and the retail buyers decide how many copies to buy and whether to feature the book in a prominent front-of-the-store display...In the meantime, the publisher’s publicity department tries to persuade magazine editors and television producers to feature the book or its author around the publication date, often giving elaborate lunches and parties months in advance to drum up interest."

One of the most basic misapprehensions of would-be self-publishers, and also of the amateur publishers I discussed in my last post, is that it's what you do after a book goes on the market that generates volume sales. But in the increasingly competitive world of publishing, books must be sold long before the public can actually buy them. For most books, post-publication publicity is effective only if it can build on a platform already established by careful pre-publication marketing.

Magic Pen

Have you ever, in moments of block or frustration, wished for a pen that would write your book for you? Well, this one almost does.

February 1, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- New Publishers: To Query or Not to Query

Like brand-new agents building a client list, brand-new publishers looking for manuscripts can seem like a very attractive prospect, especially to authors who are burned-out on the agent hunt, or have decided to skip it altogether.

However, like new agents, not all new publishers are created equal. The advent of epublishing and the cheapness of print-on-demand technology has made it extremely easy for just about anyone to set themselves up in business as a publisher, whether or not they have any qualifications for doing so. Inexperienced new publishers may not have the skill or resources to acquire, edit, and design books. They may offer terrible, nonstandard contracts. They may have a poor understanding of marketing and distribution, and their small budgets may severely limit any publicity efforts they do make. The consequence for authors: tiny sales, minimal exposure, and, most likely, no professional credit.

There's another risk as well. The attrition rate for new publishers is extremely high, especially if (as many amateur publishers do) they start up without a proper business plan. Inexperienced publishers may not realize that it's best to start with a small list, rather than acquiring books by the handful (overcommitment is a common new publisher problem). They may not know how to evaluate printers or work with wholesalers or manage their budgets (leading to financial problems and logistical log jams). They may be running the publisher in their spare time out of a back room, increasing the likelihood of time management issues and the possibility of getting sidelined by personal or family problems (this is a depressingly common new publisher excuse for nonperformance).

The result: delays, mistakes, broken promises--and, ultimately, closure, often only a few months after starting up. Here's one example, a publisher that opened and closed in six months. There are many more.

Publishers' closures can be a nightmare for authors. While some do the right thing by their writers, formally releasing rights before shutting down (here's one that did this), the more unprofessional or unscrupulous companies may simply vanish, yanking their websites, terminating their email addresses, refusing to respond to letters and phone calls (here's one that did that). Even if a publisher no longer exists, having your rights encumbered by a still-existing, unterminated contract may make it extremely difficult to interest a new publisher in your book. Writer Beware has gotten hundreds of complaints over the years from writers left in this kind of limbo by collapsing small publishers and micropresses.

Also, while very small publishers may not have the assets or the debts to justify filing for bankruptcy, larger ones may. Most publishing contracts include a clause allowing for the return of rights in the event of insolvency or bankruptcy--but authors should not count on this for protection, since bankruptcy courts generally don't honor such clauses. Publishing contracts are considered assets of the publisher's estate, which can be liquidated in order to pay off creditors. If a publisher declares bankruptcy, its contracts are likely to be frozen until the court can decide whether to release or sell them. (This fact caught many authors by surprise when Triskelion filed for bankruptcy last year.)

Obviously, even established publishers can close or go bankrupt--Triskelion was in business for several years before it got into trouble. New publishers, however, are at especial risk, particularly if they're run by inexperienced people (and it can be hard to find the warning signs, since, as Richard pointed out in his last post, it's so very easy to jigger a website).

So unless you are absolutely, 100% positive that the publisher is staffed by people with substantial publishing experience--and maybe even then--it's a good idea to wait until a new publisher has been in business for at least a year, and has published a number of books, before submitting. Not only does this assure you that the publisher can take books all the way through the production process, it lets you evaluate important things like physical and editorial quality, how the books are distributed, and how they are marketed. It also allows time for complaints, if there are any, to accumulate.

Tempting as it may be to join the rush to get in on the ground floor when a new publisher opens its doors, watching and waiting is a much better strategy.
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