Dear readers, writers, aspiring writers, and anyone interested in the writing world,
Brace yourself. You’re about to read a collection of personal tales of horror and deceit. This is the stuff writers don’t usually talk about. We like to pretend we exist on accomplishments and success alone, but that’s not really how it happens. What follows is my cautionary tale to others to be aware and beware. O.o
And the worst part is, it’s all true…
The Double Agent
Let’s start with the literary agency to which I almost signed over rights to my very first novel… along with a check for almost $3,000 to cover upfront fees. The year was 2005, and I had just finished my second ever full length novel. Having been rejected from Avon Romance, and a couple of others, I thought it might be time to get proper representation. Lo and behold, I found one! And all they asked for was some money up front… No, really, why wouldn’t you, right? It only took the smallest bit of research to find dozens of blog posts from authors who’ve gotten ripped off by this agency, or one like it. I quickly sent off an email politely turning down their offer for representation, but man, that was a close call!
For those of you who don’t know, upfront payment is not strictly speaking an illegal practice (I don’t think), but it is an unethical one. Agents and publishers are like you! They should want your book to sell, which means their monetary incentive should come from the same source as yours: book sales royalties. Which means they don’t get paid until the book sells, just like you. If anyone asks for money up front, they’re getting theirs, and no longer care about you and yours. Stay away.
As you can imagine, I gave up on agencies right quick after this and went back to querying publishers directly. Just maybe set my sights a little lower this time. And waited a few years before sending something out again.
The Pinpoint Publisher
Looking back, my first novel was utter and complete trash, and I’m not surprised one bit that no one wanted to give it a chance. It taught me a valuable lesson about letting my ego do my talking for me. Never a good idea. So I didn’t bother trying with my second novel, third, or fourth. I just didn’t feel they were good enough. By the fifth and sixth, I’d figured when it came to publishing I ought to start small, so I wrote short stories alongside novels and novellas, queried them to eZines, joined writers’ groups online, and got just about nowhere. I could churn out 1-5k stories every day ’til I was blue in the face, but that book deal was always dangling like a carrot in front of me. That was my real dream, so in 2010, I decided to try again with Blood Moons, which by that point was novel number 8 or 9, I believe.
Another rejection or two later, one publishing house said yes. Sort of… The back-and-forth went something like this:
Publisher: We love it!! But in order for it to fit with our catalog, it needs more heat. Give us some steam!
Me: Okay, here is a rewritten version, with 2,000 extra words of upped steamage. How’s that?
Publisher: That is so fantastic! But we need more! Focus on the sex scenes. Build them up some more. Just don’t hold back!
Me: Umm, okay… how’s this? If I add any more, this book will be humongous.
Publisher: Wow! So great! We really love what you’ve done here. But it’s still not quite hot enough, and I see what you mean about the length. What if you cut down on the chapters a bit? That way you’d have more room to play up the sex between the characters!
Me: Sacrifice plot for sex? Thank you for your time, but on further consideration, I don’t think this house is a good fit for me.
Yep, it happens. I can’t even say it wasn’t fair, because those rewrites did make the story much stronger, but when it comes to finding a home for your books, ya gotta make sure it’s the right one. And unfortunately, small publishing houses like this one don’t often have a huge selection in terms of genre. They focus on a single target audience to get the most bang for their buck, so to speak. Mea culpa yet again. Should have done my research better. Casting a wide net isn’t necessarily the best way to go in every situation.
Walking away actually ended up being a good decision for me, as the very next house to which I submitted accepted Blood Moons without hesitation. I still have that first acceptance letter framed. My only regret is that I missed the boat on print. By the time I signed with Liquid Silver Books, they’d discontinued the print portion of their publishing business to focus on eBooks only, and I wasn’t in a position to do it myself, financially or technically. I was still using tab to indent paragraphs, for crying out loud! When I got my first round of edits, it was my first introduction to Track Changes. But you learn as you go, right? 🙂
If the story ended there, it would be a great one. Alas, a writer’s journey isn’t over with a signed contract. That’s actually just the beginning. Because once your baby is out there, you have to promote it, and here is where the most danger lies.
The Black Hole Review Blogs
If you have a good publisher, they will already have a list of sites and blogs where they auto-submit new releases. But they will tell you it’s up to you as the author to help spread the word, which means looking for more blogs and sites to post about your book, read and review your book, or give you shout-outs. Many of them are wonderful, kind awesome places with reviewers who love to read new stuff and would love to tell their readers about it. Others, however, are not. And thus happened my introduction to the seedy underbelly of rip-off reviewers:
Blooger Type 1: “We’d love to read your book! Submit and upload your book here. Note that not all submissions can be reviewed, but you will be notified of our choice.” Uploaded a book. Never heard back. Not even following up.
Blogger Type 2: “We’d love to read your book! Query here.” Send a query, get an enthusiastic response, submit book. Never hear back. Follow up and get this response: “I am so sorry, I am so far behind. Rest assured, your book is in my reading list, and I will get to it very soon.” Wait longer. Follow up again. “I am so sorry, I had an emergency that made me fall behind. Your book is the very next on the list. I will review ASAP.” Wait longer still. Follow up a third time and get no response. Check the website and discover that it had been taken down by the reviewer… the day after their second follow-up response.
Blogger Type 3: “We’d love to read your book! Query here. Because we get so many submissions, a review is not guaranteed, but if you’d like to up your chances, you can purchase an ad package for only $20.” While not stated outright, this is essentially buying a review. If it were a print magazine with a solid reputation, and you were guaranteed real estate on the page, $20 would be a huge bargain. For a personal blog with less than 2,000 followers? Rip. Off. But writers do need the exposure, especially new ones and Indies. So imagine hundreds of hopefuls flocking to that site and dishing out the cash, just to be seen. Sound like a great way to make a buck? Yep.
Blogger Type 4: “We love to read books. But this is not our job. Writers need to wake up and realize we are taking time out of our busy schedules to read your books, and then more to write up a review and post it. We’re doing you a favor, giving you all this exposure. You should be grateful, not complain about our fees. And if you do want us to review, please note the following will be required: free copy of the book for the reviewer, giveaway for the readers (usually a book or a cash prize, some donate an eReader), full participation on the day of the posting. We will let you know when it is so you can prepare ahead of time.” Yeesh… Heil Hitler… seriously. This was a case of RUN AWAAAAAYYY!
I have lost count of the number of websites and blogs where I’ve submitted my books for review over the years (not counting the above-mentioned auto-submits). Maybe 30% of them have responded at all, and of those only about half have actually reviewed. But they all received a free copy of my book, in digital format, and what happened to those copies after that is anyone’s guess. Bottom line: I no longer submit unsolicited books for review. It is simply not worth it to me.
The All Around Gutter Scum
And lastly, let’s talk about the side industries which have cropped up in response to “needs of Indie authors” recently. I say Indie, because this is the demographic most vulnerable to abuse–they have no one to guide them through the gauntlet. It is so easy to click that Publish button, authors rush in, starving for that sight of their book on virtual shelves, not realizing there are sharks in the water. Now, let’s be clear. I am not talking about stand-up professionals whose living it is to provide publisher-like services to those without publishers. Editors are essential to the publishing world. I don’t care how good you think you are, you can still miss stuff. Cover artists are another example of people you need–though in some cases, authors with a big enough creative spark are able to create their own professional-looking covers.
I am talking about people and institutions who prey on the Indies’ need for validation. It could be one person, touting services they aren’t qualified to provide, or a group of people who, under the guise of helping each other, use social media warfare to gang up on others and destroy reputations, turn friends against each other, flood Goodreads and similar sites with negative 1-star reviews for no other reason than someone somewhere has a grudge. The sad thing is, this can be anyone from reviewers, to self-proclaimed street teams who hide behind the author, to the authors themselves.
I’ve been lucky so far in that, by keeping to myself, I’ve avoided a lot of the drama going on behind the scenes, but I do see it happening. I’ve seen authors quit over being bullied and harassed. I’ve seen them have very ugly public fights on social media. I’ve seen bloggers be targeted as well. I’ve seen publishers act unethically, even illegally toward their authors, event organizers horrifying not just authors but reader attendees, and I’ve seen authors behave in ways that made me glad I kept to myself. What is seen can never be unseen. The Internet is forever…
The ugly truth of the matter is that the industry makes no difference whatsoever. A person’s character will remain the same no matter where they work or what they do. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few good ones. My advice: stick with them. Good friends are hard to find. But in the end, you really just have to ask yourself why you do what you do. Do you write for the recognition, or do you write for the sake of the story? The former will push you to seek a tribe. The latter will contend you on your own.
I can’t pretend to be innocent in all this. That just wouldn’t be true. Whether through lack of experience or lack of sense, I might have done or said questionable things in the past which I am not proud of. But I have also extended a helping hand whenever possible. I’ve never asked money for advice or a favor when someone needed it, and I’ve done my damndest to help and encourage authors I’ve met over the years. A firm believer in Karma, I’d rather give aid than offense whenever possible. To that end, I give you the Author Resources page on my site. It’s not new, but might be new to some. 🙂
Until next time! (I’ll try to keep it shorter in the future…)