The Art of Finding a Book Publisher
Jenna Glatzer's excellent writers' website, Absolute Write, contains many helpful articles for writers, including "Finding a Book Publisher." For those who don't feel that self-publishing is for them, and want to submit their work to a royalty-paying commercial publisher, Jenna's article is a great place to start: "Choosing a publisher is no simple task, and it’s not a decision that should be based on impatience. Yes, the easy way out is to find one of these 'we’ll accept anything' publishers, turn in your manuscript, and have your book in your hands in a matter of just a couple of months (maybe even weeks). Unfortunately, it’s the easy way out only until you actually try to sell the darn thing - then it’s about the hardest road you could possibly have taken." Glatzer mentions reliabel resources such as WRITER’S MARKET and PUBLISHERS LUNCH.
Do You Have Publishing Street Smarts?
A conversation with authors Jenna Glatzer and Daniel StevenDo you have a book in you? Four out of five of us do, according to the survey our company conducted in 2002 that found 81% of adults we asked felt they should publish a book. Most never will, of course, but it’s plain to see that a great many of us do attempt to turn our book publishing dreams into reality.
There’s no shortage of opportunities for getting published: some 195,000 books were published in 2004, and 50,000 of those came through Print-on-Demand houses, a vast majority written by first-time authors. Does anyone buy their books? According to Publishers Weekly, of the 18,108 titles iUniverse had published through 2004, only 14 of them were stocked nationally at Barnes & Noble stores. And even though Random House has invested in Xlibris, they have never picked up an Xlibris author. Only about 30 Xlibris titles have been picked up by any commercial publisher.
In the world of unpublished authors, the news is even worse. Over 5 million writers have submitted poems to Poetry.com, a vanity publisher running an ongoing “poetry contest” where entrants pay $50 to see their poems in an anthology. Some years, more than one anthology per week is published, the the books are not distributed or available in bookstores.
The Preditors and Editors website currently lists 316 literary agencies and agents as “not recommended,” mostly because they charge upfront fees. In June 2005, Martha Ivery, aka Kelly O'Donnell of Press-Tige Publishing, was indicted on 17 counts of fraud, and the U.S. Attorney’s office is prepared to prove that some three hundred victims were bilked out of over a half million dollars, believing their work was being published and represented.
An FBI investigation finally brought down Ivery’s several fee-charging literary agencies and two vanity publishing operations. During the scam, the connection between the agencies and the publishers wasn't revealed; clients even believed that the Kelly O'Donnell who ran the agencies and the Martha Ivery who ran the publishers were two different people. Her outlandish excuses to explain her habitual nonperformance are the stuff of legend. In the aftermath of 9/11 she claimed to have been "seriously burned" in the disaster. She not only suffered numerous heart attacks, but frequently got cancer, and, as both Martha and Kelly, she died several times.
In 2004 this publication covered the story Dorothy L. Deering, a bogus agent/publisher who systematically swindled thousands of would-be writers out of millions of dollars with promises of having their work turned into saleable books. Deering, her husband, and her brother all received jail time – but many such publishing leeches and scammers are still at large.
Hence the new book from Vermont publisher Nomad Press, The Street Smart Writer: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World, by publishing expert Jenna Glatzer and publishing attorney Daniel Steven.
According to Glatzer and Steven, new writers are easy prey for scam artists. In recent years, a frightening number of scammers and unscrupulous companies have leeched their way into beginning writers’ worlds.
“Without experience, writers often can’t tell the difference between a legitimate agent and a con artist,” says Steven. “They don’t know what a publishing contract should look like, so they’re easily persuaded that it’s normal to pay a publisher for editing fees, cover design, and marketing. They toss away money on contests that serve no purpose other than lining the pockets of the contest sponsors.”
“Because I run a popular online magazine for writers, I get e-mails literally every day from writers who want to know if particular agencies or publishers are legitimate,” says Glatzer. “Instead of trying to save these writers from costly mistakes one by one, I wanted to teach them how to protect themselves. If I can show writers what to look out for, we can shut the scammers down -— they’ll have no one else left to fool!”
According to Glatzer, the most common mistake new writers make when looking for an agent or publisher is looking in the wrong places. They follow links in Google ads, they check classifieds sections of writers’ magazines, and they use Internet directories that haven’t been vetted. “In short, if an agent or publisher is paying for advertising, chances are extremely high that it’s not a worthwhile agent or publisher. Real agents and publishers don’t need to advertise anywhere.”
Another common mistake writers make is not knowing how to verify an agent’s sales, or how to determine if a publisher can actually get their books on store shelves. It’s pretty simple to do, but new writers need to learn the appropriate steps.
In the book, Glatzer and Steven explain the four major categories of publishing:
POD, or print-on-demand, is a digital technology that allows books to be printed one at a time as they’re ordered. The term has become synonymous with vanity publishing, though that’s not really accurate. Writers usually associate POD with well-known newer vanity presses such as iUniverse and Xlibris, but there are also many commercial publishers that use POD technology for titles that are not expected to sell in large quantities.
Vanity publishing means that the author bears the expense for publication, but someone else coordinates it. You pay, and the “publisher” (really a printer) prints your book, with no regard to its quality or marketability. Typically, writers pay an up-front fee for publication, with additional fees for editing, custom cover art, marketing services, etc., but among a few companies, it’s charged on the back-end: The books are priced high and you’re expected to buy a certain number of copies yourself, or your friends and family are expected to order directly from the company. Vanity-published books are very rarely found on bookstore or library shelves, and writers have an uphill battle to get reviews and mainstream publicity.
True self-publishing means that the author is responsible for each step: hiring an editor, a proofreader, a printer, a cover designer, and a distributor; buying an ISBN, sending out review copies, and so on.
Commercial publishing means that the publisher pays all the expenses associated with publishing the book. In most cases, the author gets paid an advance against royalties. While the author is expected to help with publicity, the publisher bears most of the responsibility for marketing and distributing the book.
Trouble is, most commercial publishers find prospective authors through literary agents, adding another layer of difficulty to the process. And getting involved with a bad agent is worse than having no agent at all.
“Editors figure out pretty quickly who the scam agents are, and they don’t exactly look kindly on authors represented by those agents,” warns Glatzer. “They will assume you couldn’t do any better, so you’re really better off submitting on your own. You don’t want an editor’s first impression of you to be that you’re naïve or hopeless.”
“A bad agent will tie up your work, submitting it aimlessly (if at all). He’ll send out your work before it’s ready, thus ruining your chances of resubmitting it after it’s polished. He’ll encourage you to take lousy deals just so he can make a buck or add another “success story” to his website.
Ouch! What’s a novice author to do? How can writers avoid being cheated by fake agents and bad publishers?
Here’s a checklist based on some of the points Glatzer and Steven cover in their book:
1. If an agent asks for any kind of up-front fee (reading fee, editing fee, representation fee, retainer, marketing fee, website fee, set-up fee, fee per submission, etc.), run.
2. If you cannot personally verify that the agent has made multiple sales to reputable publishers, run.
3. If the agent counts vanity-published or self-published titles as “sales,” run.
4. If you cannot walk into your local bookstore and find titles published by that publisher, be cautious. Is that what you want for your book?
5. Check in with the numerous online resources we list in The Street Smart Writer. There are several free sites where you can check for warnings and read about others’ experiences with particular companies.
6. If an agent or publisher refers you to a paid editing service, run.
7. If the publisher’s website’s front page advertises that they’re looking for new writers, run. Legitimate publishers are more concerned with advertising their books to the public than recruiting new writers.
8. Don’t forget to run a Google search on the company and the names of the agents or editors.
Q. What’s the best advice you can give an author looking for representation and publication?
A: Put your wallet away. Don’t let rose-colored glasses cloud your vision just because someone has written you an e-mail that says he or she believes in your work. You’re much better off being patient and persistent and honing your craft until you get a real offer instead of jumping at the first “opportunity” that comes along.
* * * * *
The Street Smart Writer: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World
By Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven
Nomad Press (January 2006)
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of AbsoluteWrite.com, the popular online magazine for writers. She's a full-time freelancer who's written for magazines such as Prevention, Physical, Woman's World, and Women's Health & Fitness, and she's a contributing editor at Writer's Digest. The best-selling author of nine books, Jenna's latest include Outwitting Writer's Block and Other Problems of the Pen and Words You Thought You Knew.
DANIEL STEVEN is a publishing lawyer, creative writing instructor, former editor and publishing executive, and creator of the legal resource for publishing professionals, publishlawyer.com. His novels have over 150,000 copies in print. He also co-wrote a television script and has published legal articles, prize-winning short fiction, and a reference book for health care providers.