National Novel Writing Month — The Morning After

So, it occurred to me that NaNo doesn’t really end next week.  After the turkey and writing frenzy that accompany the end of November, people with their new manuscripts will edit, expand, rewrite, show their trusted friends, rewrite again, and begin to consider the step of publishing the results of their labor.

This is not a post about whether this is a good idea or a bad idea.  But it also occurred to me that now might be a good time to review some of the common, or garden variety, scams that will be oozing out of the woodwork, intertubes and the depths of assorted other nether regions to take advantage of this new work.  In fact, if there’s one problem with NaNo it’s that the scam artists now have a target date that they can gear up for.

There is one very basic rule that will allow you to spot legitimate publishers and agents, and keep you safe from roughly 95% of the scams out there, whether they come in the form of publishing or representation scams.  This rule is:


Money never, ever goes from you to them.  A legitimate publisher will NEVER charge you a fee for ANY aspect of publishing a book; not reading, not editing, not distributing, not promoting.  A legitimate agent will NEVER tell you your story is almost there, but I here is an edtior/book doctor/copy editor who will help you get it into shape, for a small fee… A legitimate agent does not charge for administration or office supplies.  A legitimate publisher does NOT urge you to contact your friends and family to buy copies of your book, or tell you you will have to buy copies of your book and the books of other authors belonging to that company.

I have an agent.  My agent gets 15% of everything she sells, but not until AFTER she sells it.  If I don’t have a signed contract and a check from a publisher, she doesn’t get a dime.  I have published some short work with electronic only venues.  I have either been paid a nominal fee up front and offered a percentage thereafter, or I have agreed to a large cut (generally between 35 and 50%) of all sales.  Again, the publisher makes no money directly from me.  All their money is made AFTER my work has sold

Now, things are more complicated than they were when I crawled out of the ocean and blinked around at the primitive publishing landscape.  Ebook readers and ebook software have greatly expanded the possibilities for self-publishing, and yes, some books self-published by authors through the various new distribution channels have gone on to gain popularity and even publishing contracts from the traditional New York Houses.   And that’s not only all fine, it’s a discussion for another post.

What I’m talking about is not legitimate self-publishing, which doesn’t promise you anything but a spot on the web for a set price and/or workload.  I’m talking about the promise that you have just found the way to get published that They don’t want you to know about.  That if you pay Us money, and pay again, and pay again, you will not just be published, you will be rich and famous and have a life style that would make Richard Castle drool.  We need just a little more work, and a little more money, and pay no attention to those evil published authors telling you this is not how the publishing industry works.  They’re just jealous.

The reason it’s so easy to build a publishing scam is that the business of publishing, like the actual work of an author, is largely invisible.  We only see the end results.  Here, from a working author’s perspective, is how it works:

Author writes manuscript.  Author refines manuscript to the best of author’s ability.

If Author has an agent or publisher, Author sends manuscript to agent or publisher and waits around for awhile.

If Author does not have agent or publisher, author researches both; primarily by going to publisher and agent websites and finding out what they’re looking for, what kinds of submissions they accept, etc. Then author puts together a submission packet, following the stated guidelines, sends it in, and waits around for awhile.

NOTE: There is much drinking of various stimulating or depressing beverages during this stage.  It is also a very good time to start the next project.

Author gets a reply from publisher or agent.  Replies come in three flavors; Yes, No and Not No.

Yes comes with an offer of money and terms of publication.  For a full-length novel I have worked for as much as $90,000 USD and as little as $3,000.  I understand one of the great scam publishers is rather huffily offering its victims $1 to prove it is not a scam.  Uh-huh.  Yeah.

No is just that.  No, sorry, not going to publish this.  It comes with a short note, and causes tears, frustration, gnashing of teeth and more drinking of stimulating or depressing beverages.  Once that’s over, it’s a good time to send the current project out to a different agent or publisher, and start the next one.

Not No is “Well, this was really close, if you make the following changes, we’ll be willing to look at it again.”  This is a time to call everybody you know, gibber nervously at them, get your favorite beverage, sit down and get to work on those changes.  This phase might result in a yes, it might result in a no.  BUT please notice what it is NOT resulting in; the suggestion that you send your mss. to any fee-collecting service for help.  ANYBODY who is doing that is getting a kick-back from that fee-collecting service, and has no interest in publishing your work.

The thing here is that while the delivery and distribution systems for manuscripts and books has changed out of all recognition several times in the past couple of decades, the basics steps toward professional publication have not.  You write, you submit.  When you get accepted, you get paid.  This is a constant.  Another constant is that the No and Not No phases can last a long time.  They can come back in the middle of a career that seemed yesterday to be going fine.  Anybody who is telling you otherwise is lying to you and they want something out of you; your money, your rights, or your cooperation in a scam.

Fortunately, it is also now easier than ever to get information on scams as well as legitimate publishers and agents.  For information on all the latest in scam publishing, check out Predators and Editors and Writers Beware.

Good luck and Good Writing.

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PATHS TO CAMELOT, the first complete collection of Sarah Zettel’s sweeping romantic series, including the final volume CAMELOT’S BLOOD.





National Novel Writing Month — The Morning After — 3 Comments

  1. The other major defense is community — other writers. A young writer does not have to operate in a vacuum. Anybody can drop an email to SFWA — you don’t have to be a member, even — and ask the Contracts Committee a question about that weird-looking clause in this book contract. There are forums like Critters or usenet groups like rec.arts.sf.composition where anybody can roll on up and ask about vanity publishing or agent fees. When a real stinker rolls up (like this packaging deal that James Frey is fronting) the word spreads fast.