Reality Check on Aisle Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Writer Beware gets a ton of email. Reports of schemes, scams, and fee-charging, of course, but also questions about agents’ and publishers’ reputations, questions about the researching/querying/submitting/publishing process, requests for advice, requests for recommendations.

Requests to deny reality.

Say what? Well, a request to deny reality is when a writer sees something on this blog or on the Writer Beware website, doesn’t wish to believe it, and wants to be told that in his or her case, it’s just not true.

As in, “Your website says that agents shouldn’t charge upfront fees, but this agent who wants me to pay $500 is so nice, are they maybe legit anyway?”

Or, “Agent X is on your Thumbs Down list, but they want to represent me and their website looks professional, are they really so bad?”

Or, “I found your Alert that says Publisher Y is being sued, but they have books on Amazon, so couldn’t it all be a mistake?”

Or, “According to your blog there are lots of complaints about Publisher Z, but they’ve offered me a contract and they love my book, so maybe they’ll do a good job for me?”

Um. Maybe not.

What this is all about, usually, is a head-on collision between reality and every writer’s craving for validation and acceptance. Especially where the writer has been submitting for a long time without success, the faux validation provided by disreputable agents and publishers is as powerful as it is illusory. It can trump both good sense and actual facts, and it is very hard to relinquish. You don’t want it to be true–so there must, there just must be the possibility that it isn’t true, that just this once, and just for you, the rule doesn’t apply. That the person you contact for advice–because in fact your gut is telling you something, even if your heart doesn’t want to heed it–will eat their words and their warnings and give you their blessing.

I get it. I’ve been there; I think we all have. But facts are facts, and they don’t change just because you wish they would. Sometimes my correspondents get angry when I can’t tell them what they want to hear, and write back to challenge my expertise, or to demand that I give them the names of everyone who has complained (and to declare me non-credible when I refuse). Sometimes they thank me for saving them from a bad mistake. Most often, I never hear from them again, and can only wonder which impulse won out: the gut instinct that prompted them to contact me, or the hope and desire that made them want to believe the promises of a scammer.

Here’s how to avoid putting yourself in that position.

Know the business before you start submitting. Publishing is a confusing and complicated field, but it is possible to acquire enough basic knowledge to protect you from the most obvious schemes and scams. Knowledge is your greatest ally and your best defense. For some suggestions on acquiring it, see my blog post, Learning the Ropes.

Be careful of your information sources. Google is not necessarily your friend. There’s a lot of good information on the Internet, but even more bad, and unless you have a decent knowledge base, it’s hard to filter the information you find. For a more detailed discussion of these dangers, see my blog posts, The Perils of Searching For Publishers on the Internet and Using Caution on the Internet.

Research before you query. You can save yourself a huge amount of angst–and temptation–if you check reputations before you submit–not after you’ve sent the query letter, or, worse, after you’ve gotten an offer. For the consequences of not doing so, see my blog post, Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas.