The Writing Life

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Do you want to be a writer? Some things to avoid

There are some true pitfalls in the world of publishing, including agents and publishers whose primary objective is to take you for everything you've got.


The latest agency to be exposed is Hill and Hill in the UK. Check out the Bewares and Background Checks forum on Absolute write for further information. If you're a client, I feel for you. It's a horrible feeling to have your time, effort and finances wasted by a con man. Just remember that he didn't steal your dreams -- those are yours for life.

More bad agents can be found on Writer Beware. I've copied their list of the top 20 worst agents below, so that you can take a quick look and make sure these agencies are nowhere to be found on your list of possible contacts. They are:

The Abacus Group Literary Agency
Allred and Allred Literary Agents (refers clients to "book doctor" Victor West of Pacific Literary Services)
Barbara Bauer Literary Agency
Benedict Associates (also d/b/a B.A. Literary Agency)
Sherwood Broome, Inc. (also d/b/a Stillwater Literary Agency, LLC)
Capital Literary Agency (formerly American Literary Agents of Washington, Inc.; also d/b/a Washington Agency and Washington Literary Agency)
Desert Rose Literary Agency
Arthur Fleming Associates
Finesse Literary Agency (also d/b/a/ Elite Finesse Literary Agency)
Brock Gannon Literary Agency
Harris Literary Agency
The Literary Agency Group, which includes the following:
-Children's Literary Agency
-Christian Literary Agency
-New York Literary Agency
-Poets Literary Agency
-The Screenplay Agency
-Stylus Literary Agency (formerly ST Literary Agency, formerly Sydra-Techniques)
-Writers Literary & Publishing Services Company (the editing arm of the above-mentioned agencies)
Martin-McLean Literary Associates
Mocknick Productions Literary Agency, Inc.
B.K. Nelson, Inc.
The Robins Agency (Cris Robins)
Michele Rooney Literary Agency (also d/b/a Creative Literary Agency, Simply Nonfiction, and Michele Glance Rooney Literary Agency)
Southeast Literary Agency
Mark Sullivan Associates (also d/b/a New York Editors and Manhattan Literary)
West Coast Literary Associates (also d/b/a California Literary Services)


For bad publishers, the worst is PublishAmerica. One could write a book about how bad PA is and they'd probably agree to publish it. You see, they don't read the books they accept. If their daily quota hasn't been filled, they'll accept every manuscript that comes in. Their editing appears to be an automated spellcheck that includes so many misspellings as to make it almost comical. They are print on demand, or POD, and often their books will fall apart in your hands. This is especially egregious since their prices are far above market value -- paperbacks for $30 are common among PA books. They pay their authors $1.00 advance -- why that isn't a huge clue for writers I'll never know. The advance is the only guaranteed money you'll make on your book -- and royalties. Of course, they cheat the royalties, never paying for the true number of books sold.

And who gets those sales? The author. PA's business model isn't about selling books to the public. It's about selling books to its authors. In short, it's a vanity press that claims to be a "traditional publisher". I guess that dollar makes them think they're in that club. Authors are expected to do all of the marketing for their books. The titles are available on online stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but you'll rarely find them on the shelves in bookstores. If you do find one, you can bet that the author personally made that happen, usually at their own expense. PA encourages authors to buy copies of their own books. That's how PA makes its money. They have over 20,000 authors and the average sales per book is about 75. When you realize that 5,000 books sold is barely a success for a small publisher, then you can understand how impossible it is to have any success with a PA book.

When authors wake up and realize what PA is, they'll often try to get their rights back. PA's contract specifies that they own the rights to your book for 7 years. That's a long time to have your baby mistreated. When authors do get their rights back through arbitration or other means, PA keeps selling their books. With absolutely no legal rights to the material, and without paying even the paltry royalties they usually send, PA continues to illegally sell the books they don't own.

There is a lot of information about PA on the two sites I mentioned above. Absolute Write has an entire forum for it in the Bewares and Background Checks area. If you've got a book out with PA and you're waking up to who your "publisher" really is, check out the forum asap.

It breaks my heart to read the stories of what's happened to people who fall for these various scams. Every one of them had the dream to be a published author and that's what these sharks feed on. They know that people will do almost anything to realize that dream.

If you want to break in and are looking for an agent or publisher and something comes along that seems fast and easy, that's a huge red flag. It's not a fast and easy dream. It's not about getting a lot for very little effort. To be a successful writer you have to work hard, pay your dues, learn every day, and maybe, just maybe, the real thing will come along. It's a myth that new writers can't get published. Every writer was new at some point. 20% of books that came out this year were from new writers. It's also a myth that new writers can't get an agent. Of course they can if they have a marketable book. That's the true key to success, you see. You have to write a really good book. And if that one doesn't sell, write a better one. Keep trying, keeep getting better and eventually you'll have a genuine agent and will get published by a real publisher. It's not fast and it's not easy, but it is achievable.

Aren't your dreams worth the effort?

Best of luck to all,

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2001 Remembered

I had my usual all night schedule 5 years ago. I was busy doing something on the computer, but at the time, I liked watching old COPS reruns on Fox in the early morning hours from 4:30am-5:30am. What can I say? I enjoy watching stupid people getting arrested. Anyway, I didn't want to interrupt what I was doing so I started recording COPS on my VCR. I didn't think there was a lot of time left on the tape, so I didn't bother timing it. I just pressed record, willing to let the tape run out when it may.

Some time after 6am, a friend of mine called and said, "Are you watching TV?" I said no, and she said, "Turn it on. Any channel." So I turned it on. They said a plane just hit the Pentagon. I was shocked and said, "The Pentagon? Oh my God!" She said, "It's worse than that. Just keep watching," and she hung up.

Sometime during the next 4 sleepless (literally. I did not sleep at all for 4 days. I just kept watching the TV) days, I remembered the recording in the VCR. I had no idea how much after COPS it had recorded, but I knew the local news started at 5:30 am. I found the beginning of the news and watched.

It was unbearable. I watched the little clock news broadcasts usually put in a corner of the screen. I saw the clock turn to 5:46 and knew that was the moment the first plane hit. The weather girl was laughing and talking about her new shoes.

The clock continued to creep forward, and all the while it was business as usual. Lots of laughing and silliness, as that morning show team tended to do, and dozens of stories of little import. They went to the traffic guy as he flew over Los Angeles, talking about sig alerts and traffic flow as the clock slowly ticked forward.

Then, finally, they cut to the anchor and he said there was breaking news out of New York. They cut to the local Fox station in NY for their coverage.

That news team was a little edgy, but it was more about trying to figure out what had happened, than genuine fear. They had callers giving their impressions of what had happened. Some said it had been a bomb. Some said a small plane. One person said it was a huge jetliner. One of the anchors speculated about terrorism and the others hushed her up, saying they had no facts and stop speculating.

Then, with cameras trained on the towers, we all saw the second plane hit. There were gasps and even some stifled screams from the newsroom. Within minutes, everyone was talking about terrorism. No squelching speculation now. They reran the tape and for the first time, they could clearly see that it was a jetliner. Disbelief, anger, fear, horror -- it was in every voice.

The cameras continued to show the flames, the people hanging out of windows, someone jumping and then a quick cutaway to the studio. Then back to the towers with a more distant shot, everyone speculating. I watched the clock tick, knowing that the towers were about to fall and about a minute or two before it happened, the tape ended.

I still have the tape. I can't bear to tape over it or throw it away. I only watched it that once, but I'll probably always hang onto it -- laughing weather girls, traffic jams and tragedy forever captured.

-- Guanna