Scam Agents and Publishers

So...you've done your homework. You've written and rewritten your novel, had other people look it over for you (not your spouse, not any of your relatives--trust me, you don't want to put those you love into that kind of situation). You've written and re-written the query letter.

Now, what about agents and publishers? Do you do a scattershot approach, hoping something sticks.

Please, please, please...don't do that. Your homework isn't over as yet.

Literary Agents

Where the Heck Do I Find Them?

You could Google "literary agents," but then you'd come up with so many (and quite a few dubious ones) that you'd probably just pass out and forget it.

Agent Query is a good place to start. You can select either non-fiction or fiction, among other things. Browse through it; get a good idea of the agents within.

Then go to Preditors and Editors (see the sidebar for the link). Check the agent and the agency in the extensive listings. If there's a dollar sign, that means the agent has sold books to publishers (exactly what you want, of course).

You're not done yet. Head on over to the Absolute Write Water Cooler and go to the Bewares and Backgrounds board. Do a search on the agent; pull up any threads that come up, and pore over them. If nothing comes up, start a new thread and ask about the agent or agency--anything good or bad, have they sold books, etc. And make sure you give a website if you've found one: A lot of people will be able to tell whether they're on the up and up by what is (and isn't) on a website.

Another site to check is the Writer Beware Blog (see link). If you email Victoria Strauss with the name and website of any agents or agencies that don't sound or feel right to you, she'll let you know if she's received any complaints on said agent/agency. She's a superb writers' advocate; read the blog, too, which will give you many more insights than I could possibly write here.

Check Their Backgrounds

Anyone can say they're a lit agent; I could, but I would be inept beyond belief.

Why? Because I haven't worked in the publishing industry. I wasn't a junior agent at an established lit agency nor did I work as an editor at a commercial publisher.

Now you're wondering...why the heck does an honest-to-goodness agent need that sort of background? Can't a published writer--or an unpubbed one who knows more than a little bit about the publishing industry--set up shop?

In a word--No. All your goodness ain't gonna cut it. And that's because when you work for a legit literary agency or at commercial publisher you have contacts with those people who can get your manuscript before the right people.

I wouldn't have a clue as to who to contact; I've never worked in any sort of publishing capacity. I might really, really be trying to get your manuscript to the right people...but best intentions aren't going to work in this industry.

It doesn't matter if you're an author who's had 10 books published by DEF Publishing Company. Unless you've got the contacts, all your hard work will be for diddly-squat.

So after getting together your list, check the backgrounds of the agents you have in mind. Do they represent the type of novel you've written? If not, scratch that one off your list; do not send an agent something she doesn't rep.

BTW, have you figured out what type it is? Is it genre, like fantasy, romance, etc? Or is it mainstream? Literary? This will help you decide what agents to investigate and which ones to forget about.

If the agent does rep that type of novel, look at the agency's website: Does it have a list of books sold to reputable publishers? These can be small graphics of book covers or just the name of the book and the author's name.

A reputable agency or agent is going to shout from the rooftops as to the books they've sold. Period. Hiding such things makes that agent/agency out to be a scammer (because they have sold anything) or clueless at best (because they don't have any inside-the-publishing-industry experience).

Check the submissions guidelines. Some agents accept email queries, but some still prefer snail mail. Follow the guidelines to the letter.

Okay. Send your query in the preferred manner--and start writing your next book. You want this to be a career, don't you? So do agents. After all, the reputable ones make a living from the commission they charge you. They don't make a dime until they've sold the manuscript to a publisher.

Remember, money flows to the writer.

I've run out of time, so I'll talk about scam publishers tomorrow.

Happy writing!


Money Flows to the Writer

Someone on one of the writers' boards I frequent wrote about someone who went to one of her book signings and asked her how much she paid to get published.

"Paid? I didn't pay anything," the novelist said. "The publisher paid me."

The man refused to believe it. "What? No, that can't be. You must've paid something. A hundred dollars? A thousand dollars?"

The novelist shook her head, and patiently explained that it was the other way around: Publishers pay writers for their book.

I've paraphrased the dialogue above, but it's so true. But, you say, how can I, as an unpubbed novelist, have the temerity to insist I'm correct?

Research. Pure and simple research.

Not that it won't take some time to look into such things. It might take you two or three months (or longer) to read through posts by commercially-published writers, to go through some really good writers' boards--that sort of thing.

But I've already written the novel; it's ready to go. Why should I do any research beyond Googling on "agents" or "publishers"?

Because them thar electrical signals are filled with live wires, just waiting to zap you.

Literary Agents

Anyone can say they're a literary agent; sure, there's the Association of Author's Representatives, which has a canon of ethics its members agree to adhere to. But not every reputable agent belongs to it.

So what to do? Remember the research I talked about above? Yup. Before you start sending out your query letters or synopses or first five pages, go to writers' sites to get an idea of who to look for. Things to keep in mind: deciding what type of book it is (mainstream or a specific genre), whether the agent is looking for that particular type of story (there are plenty of agent blogs out there; check 'em out), and whether they accept email or snail mail queries (check out the agency website).

This isn't an exhaustive list, not by any stretch of the imagination. Not sure where to start? Check out the link in the sidebar to the Absolute Write Water Cooler. They have a forum called Bewares and Background Checks. Go through the listings of the good and not-so-good agents. Absorb the info there. Write it down, if you have to.

As to what queries and all that other stuff is: go to the same place for information and ideas. Then, once you're walking, Google other sites, sites where you can find legitimately published authors. An easy to find out is to look up the names of the authors at Amazon and see if it brings up their books.

Better to have this info ahead of time than to just blindly launch yourself into the publishing world.


What if you decide that your story isn't so commercial, that its appeal is limited? You might want to research small presses. Google them and look at their websites. Then go back to the Water Cooler for initial research, and then research them some more.

Does this press fit your book? How long does it take for them to get you from the manuscript phase to the publication phase. Are their books stocked in actual bookstores (not just online)? Ellora's Cave used to be only e-books and strictly online, but I hear they've branched out into print books (with their books shelved in real bookstores).

Let's say you've gone down the list of small presses and have been turned down. What then? You may want to check out e-publishers. Be wary; many a start up has closed down just a year or two later. Again, do your research ahead of time so you know your options, so you know you won't be fleeced.

Tomorrow, I'll be zooming in on certain scam publishers and agents. Yeah. Those are the ones you want to avoid like that pothole engulfing two lanes of a three-lane highway.

My Story

I'm about ready to start the outline of Cats of Manhattan. I'm getting ideas of how to get the juices bubbling from a fine book called "Plot and Structure" by James Scott Bell. I've written the back blurb copy (for my use, naturally), and am trying to decide which type of outline I'm going to use (probably the most anal-intense one, knowing me ;-)). At least he doesn't say, you have to do an outline/you don't have to do an outline. With writers, all that matters is what works, what gets the story written and sold.

I've decided on a name for the protag: Marina Zarhagian. I imagine that sounds like an Armenian name. Meh. I tend to go for Eastern European names in my stories (because that's my background). I looked up names that had some sort of cat connotation, but didn't like anything I saw.

Of course, the name may change half a dozen different times. I've also decided she's a working woman, a paralegal, working as a temp in either a corporation in Manhattan or a law firm. She temps because of the way her life is at the moment: she has to take care of her mother every afternoon, plus she has to visit her grandmother before that. Plus, she's an animal activist, albeit a quieter one than you'll see on the news or portrayed in movies; she traps feral, or wild, cats. The idea is to trap them (humanely, of course), have them fixed, then send them back out. The reasoning is that such cats would scratch the hell out people and thus wouldn't be likely to be adopted.

Whew...that's all for today!



My First Post...and Hopefully Not the Last

It's easier said than done to write a publishable novel. But I'm diligently setting up to write one (all right, I've taken a stab at writing the first chapter, but hadn't thought it all out ahead of time ::sigh::). It's urban fantasy, and it's probably the most complex plot I've attempted (I'll admit here that I got the idea from Rachel Vater's excellent blog (see the sidebar for the link).

Now, my problem is actually finishing a novel-length story. The last one I started and revised the heck out of...well, let's just say I was chugging along when I hit a pothole in the middle of the road. I just couldn't come up with anything to propel the story any further about the 8th chapter in (give or take). Damn.

That's why with this one I'm actually thinking things through before starting in on it. Working title: Cats of Manhattan. Yeah, I know it sucks, but I once read in some how-to book (or was it writing software?) that one of the first things to do when writing a novel or short story is to give it a title. Must be some psychological thing (you must know that a lot of commercially-published writers and wannabes like me need all the psychological help they can get where writing is concerned).

At this point, I'm hoping this blog will keep me writing and thinking...and occasionally I may throw some writerly advice into the mix. Take that last with a cliched grain of salt - as I'm unpubbed in the novel arena. However, I have learned quite a bit about the publishing biz on different websites, so maybe my advice won't be too off the mark.