Writer Beware

Posted on February 27, 2010. Filed under: Musings, Publishing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Okay, I’ll admit the title of this post is a gratuitous stealing of the title of a blog put together by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America as well as the Mystery Writers of America. Of course, the blog isn’t the only thing they do, but it’s what I first saw, so that’s why I write that it’s stealing from the blog.

After my post yesterday, I went back to the same thread from NaNo that I’d been reading and saw a number of my fellow writers were concerned with this girl’s lack of knowledge on the subject of the Christian Manuscript Submission and other companies designed to take your nominal fee (read: almost $100) to offer you a slim chance at publication. Quite a few of the NaNo-ers commented that she needed to be careful not to get taken in by a vanity press and other so-called publishers of the same ilk.

I’ll admit: I have no real idea what a vanity press is. And I’m not even very sure what makes it different from self-publishing sites like Lulu or CreateSpace. Granted, I have no intention of self-publishing. If I ever get published, I want to do it in the traditional way: find an agent, have said agent market my work to publishers, and eventually sign that gleaming contract that speaks of royalties and other odds and ends I still haven’t researched thoroughly.

This is a little pre-emptive considering I wouldn’t even begin to query agents with the manuscript I have now. I don’t want to start the process too early and risk getting a bad deal, obviously, and I honestly want to edit my manuscript a good three or four times before I let some proofreaders come in and rip it to shreds for me.

But I thought I’d write a little about this particular blog and the thread again because I think it’s a good idea. One of the big aspects of NaNoWriMo that I enjoy is the sense of community. I’ve been referred to other writer forums where people have found similar communities to enjoy, but with NaNo, the pressure isn’t as high to edit, get an agent, and get published.

If you do, that’s great! They’ll add you to their list of published authors, and you can throw that out in your forum signature and use the shameless promotions and self-marketing threads to get your name out there. If you don’t get published, that’s fine, too. How many of the people on NaNo are published anyway? Not that many.

I was thinking about it, though, and I’d add a caveat after having read through so many forums. A lot of the people who participate in NaNo have researched the publishing process quite a bit more than I have. I’m new at all this, and I’m piggy-backing off others who have the know how I don’t yet. But I think there’s something anyone on NaNo or other similar forums should be aware of.

Just because someone’s done the research and read the agents’ blogs and fielded massive FAQs from publishers doesn’t mean they’re an expert. Offering advice is a good idea, but there’s something to be said for doing your own research, querying agents on your own, and getting those rejection letters. You get experience doing that, and there’s nothing that can replace good experience in my mind.

Again, I’m not saying I’ve done any of that. I’ve just been reading the forums and surfing the web with an eye to the publishers and agents that I come across. I don’t want to get into vanity publishing, I’m not planning to self-publish, and I don’t have an agent. I barely have a finished manuscript at this point. But it’s going to be self-edited, which is one of the first steps of experience I have to go through. And while I’ll most likely whine and complain about how difficult it is to edit my own writing and how much I like how this or that sounds but know it should be changed, I can appreciate the experience.

This much I’ve learned: being a writer requires putting all your effort into it. If you’re not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, you’re not going to make it.

So eventually I’ll put together the end results of all my work into the form of a manuscript. I’ll bravely search out those agents that might be interested and work through their submission guidelines. I’ll draft and redraft a query (or two) to send out, and I’ll begin saving those rejections I get. I’m not overly optimistic. In fact, technically I’m a pessimist, but I do believe I’ve got talent. And that talent is in writing. It’ll take time to iron out the kinks, get the agent, and secure a contract, and that might not happen till I’m 40, but I want to try for it.

Besides, I go by what my father taught me when I was in high school. In my senior year, I wanted to quit working as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. It was a class all its own, and you were required to sign up for the entire year, and by the end of the first semester, I was ready to do battle with the principal for my right to quit.

My father sat down with me when I was frustrated and angry with my teacher and the rest of the class. I can still remember telling him all my problems, and he listened patiently. It seems silly now, but he knew, and I know now, that the advice he would give would follow me for years to come.

“You can try to get out of the class,” he told me, nodding his head, “but you know it won’t be easy. Or you can stick it out.” I started to argue, and he ignored me. “If you stick it out, you can learn something from this experience.”

“What can I learn?” I asked him. It’s really annoying to admit your parents are right, but it’s always a good lesson to learn.

“You can learn something from every experience you have,” he said. “You just have to look for it. Sometimes you’ll learn how to be, and other times you’ll learn how not to be. This is a good example of how not to be.”

He was right, of course. And I’ve applied his advice to various experiences since then, and it holds true. So in this particular instance, I’m going to hold up his advice, and while I work on editing, when I’m frustrated that a scene isn’t going well, as I talk about plot holes with Desteni and others, I’ll have to remember this piece of advice: I can learn something from every experience.

Anyway, this has turned into a teaching post, which is weird for me. I don’t usually offer up stuff like that. So I apologize if it was boring, but it’s worthwhile advice in my opinion. Anyone else have some good advice for the writer? I’d love to hear what pieces of advice you hold onto as you’re trying to accomplish your goals.

-Rae-

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Gratuitous Author Help or Frustrating Scam?

Posted on February 26, 2010. Filed under: Manuscript Submission, Publishing | Tags: , , , , , |

I surf the NaNo forums a lot these days, and I found this post yesterday that caught my eye. The author, to make a long story short, has managed to write a novel for the Christian world, but of course, she can’t seem to find a place where her novel fits. The reason for that: somewhat in the neighborhood of 90% of all Christian fiction these days has an element of romance in it. The publishing houses are loving it, and the majority of Christian fiction readers are women apparently, so they continue to publish period romances and coming-of-age tales of innocence and romance.

I have no problem with that, but it was what the poster wrote in addition to her publishing woes that really surprised me. Apparently a lot of Christian publishing houses are asking authors and those who would otherwise submit unsolicited manuscripts to instead send them to one of three “holding tanks” for manuscripts.

The first is a place called Christian Manuscript Submissions and is billing itself as a place for authors to get exposure for their manuscripts to a number of high end Christian publishers. Normally this would excite me. A place for someone like me to submit a manuscript where it will be viewed by publishers? That’s every writer’s dream.

Yes, for only $98 you can submit your manuscript to this website’s system where it will be made viewable to their affiliated publishers! (For six months only, of course, and then you’ll be required to renew your term of viewing by paying another $98 for a second six months of visibility.) And if you’re really dedicated to getting your novel out there? Pay another $300 for a critique by one of the company’s readers, guaranteeing you either a bronze, silver, or gold medallion on your novel and more visibility to publishers.

Well, what’s the point of doing that when I can pay an equivalent amount to get someone at CreateSpace or Lulu to edit my manuscript for me? Then I can choose my marketing and publishing packages and self-publish to my heart’s content, free in the knowledge that I’m at least getting published after spending all that money.

The same kind of services are offered at another Christian manuscript holding tank. This one, The Writer’s Edge, is a little different in that they screen book proposals and the first three chapters of a manuscript. You send in your chapters via snail mail along with a check. The service is completed, and if they like your manuscript and feel it fits their criteria and the image their company looks for, they’ll change your proposal to fit their readers’ critiques, post it to their website, and let their cadre of publishers sift through the books they feel are worthwhile.

The problem I’m seeing with both these services is that they don’t offer any hope that you’ll really get published. Even if you get through The Writer’s Edge screening process, it’s likely you’ll be dropped into a report with a dozen like-minded authors and set on some publishing agent’s desk only to be ignored like so much dross. To me, I think that’s a genuine waste of my money. I’d prefer to spend money on stamps for the elusive query that can be sent out to multiple agents. At the very least, if I secured an agent for my book, I’d be assured that the person would be looking for a publisher for me. These services don’t care one way or the other whether their authors get published. Authors are paying them.

I’ve read in places it’s best not to submit manuscripts to places where you have to pay, so why are publishers asking authors to do this? Sure, if it were a free holding tank for authors that publishers could go to, that’s a whole different ballgame. I’m sure they’d get thousands upon thousands of manuscripts, and it’d be the same thing as a regular slush pile any publisher deals with. But is paying $98 to get a manuscript on a list really going to do me that much good when the publisher’s more likely to look at Joe Blow on the next page with the bronze medallion next to his work since he paid the $300 to get it reviewed?

Now this last company that was listed by the NaNo-er is actually a branch off Harper-Collins, a publisher most people will recognize. The group is called Authonomy, which is a play off the author’s autonomy, I’m sure. What Authonomy does is different from both groups listed above, and it gets me even harder than those two.

First, Authonomy is free, so of course, there are a lot of people already publishing there. What it encourages is authors to put up at least 10,000 words of a manuscript for perusal by the other members there. Members read, comment, and occasionally “shelve” the books they enjoy. If a book gets “shelved” enough times, it goes to a higher position in relation to the other books.

If I’m recalling what I read correctly, the top five books with the highest number of shelves are sent to the editors’ desks at Harper-Collins where they’re read and reviewed. Of course, this doesn’t say anything about possible publishing, and really , Harper-Collins has said they expect to find good new talent through this service. But there’s no guarantee anyone from the company will ever read an excerpt of your work, especially as it’s the readers who are doing the choosing for the publisher.

Authonomy asks that you have as complete a manuscript as possible, allows you to upload 10,000 words to the entire novel, and lets you attach a piece of coverart for your novel. There are a number of genres you can submit the novel to, and once it’s up, you can start receiving comments from the number of readers that are already a part of the site.

I noticed as I perused some of the books listed that a lot of the authors are using this mainly as a tool to get noticed. The comments ranged from very constructive to “this was great – please check out my book.” The only reason I’d put my book on the site in all honesty was if I were self-published and looking for a little more exposure as Authonomy allows authors of self-published works to include links to their sales websites.

In any event, I’ve heard from a lot of people that something like Authonomy is bad juju if you’re wanting to get published. Anything a publisher thinks is already published, even if it’s e-publishing, can potentially get you dismissed as an author. It’s why I never put my novel up on my LiveJournal account. So what does that say about Authonomy?

Thoughts? Opinions? I’d love to hear it cause this is making me curious. Personally I’m staying away from any of these websites for now. (Not that I have a Christian manuscript to submit to the first two, but you know what I mean.) What does everyone else think?

-Rae-

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