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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, June 19, 2011

E-Book as Query Part 2: 10 Tips for Spotting Bogus and Predatory Agents.

As I reported last month, the self-published e-book is fast becoming the query of choice for many New York literary agencies.

Rather than slog through mountains of slush, agents are closing their offices to queries and shopping for new clients in the Kindle bestseller lists.

Why not? That’s where they’ll find unrepresented authors with proven sales numbers, which is what more and more publishers require. Successful indie authors know how to write what sells, plus they’re savvy marketers—a win/win for agents and editors alike.

Whether it’s a win for writers remains to be seen.

Big name, prestigious agencies have taken to Kindle-trolling. Noah Lukeman (author of The First Five Pages) made deals for two formerly self-pubbed first-time authors last month, although he’s been closed to queries for some time. And über-agency Trident Media Group has signed at least five indies this year.

These agencies seem especially interested in the international bestseller lists—probably hoping to reel in the next Steig Larsson or J. K. Rowling. (And it helps that UK agents are showing little interest in Kindle sales—UK publishing apparently lives in some time-warp Dickensian reality.)

So it’s a heady time for successful indie authors.

Imagine: here’s you, first-time author, who no doubt self-pubbed after years of rejection—having a nice cuppa at home in Claxby Pluckacre, Firozabad, or even here in San Luis Obispo, CA—when the phone rings and it’s someone from NEW YORK. It’s that call: the offer of a contract and soon-to-come book deal (with maybe a tantalizing hint of a film option.) Opportunity has knocked: fame and fortune and glory to follow. Your dream has come true.

Only thing is: this person may not actually be an agent. Not the kind who sells books to real publishers.

Just the way agents see gold in them thar Kindle hills, so do the scammers.  

The words “I’m calling from New York” are dazzling, and most international writers don’t know the difference between a prestigious agency in Manhattan or some con-person calling from the 24-hour Denny’s in Rochester (New York is a big state.) And even a lot of North Americans can be temporarily blinded by the idea of a New York agent.

So beware. There’s a big chance this call will never lead to seeing that dreamed-of print book sitting in your local bookstore window.

It might be best to go back and finish your tea before making any decisions.

Here are some tips to keep yourself grounded if/when you get that call.

1) Be skeptical if your Amazon sales are not huge. Real agents are looking for superstars, but scammers are just going down the list looking for pigeons.

2) Ask what they like about the book. Agents read books before they make offers. A scammer will only quote blurb copy.

3) Ask where they plan to submit your work. If they are unable to name names and particular imprints, be wary. They may not be crooks, but they’re also not likely to be good agents. An effective agent will personally know editors that are looking for your type of book.

4) Find out how long they’ve been in the business. Nothing wrong with new agents—in fact they’re often the best—because they need clients and they’re hungry. But you want to make sure they’re well-connected. If they never interned or worked at an established agency or publishing house, they probably aren’t going to be able to sell your book.

5) NEVER agree to pay up-front fees, even if the fees are just for “copying and mailing.” This is a recycled scam from the 1990s. Bogus agencies would sign thousands of clients and charge them each $250 or more per quarter for “copying and mailing.” But they never made a sale. Some unsuspecting writers lost as much as $3,000 before they caught on.

NB: In the old days, some smaller agencies did legitimately charge “mailing fees” or “copying/processing fees,” (after they put your book out on submission) but everything’s done electronically now, so this is 100% bogus in the electronic age, at least on this side of the pond.

6) Be wary of agency websites with “testimonials” from happy clients. This isn’t done in the publishing business. Agencies do not advertise for clients. A good agency’s “testimonials” are their sales. (And if you see obvious grammatical mistakes on the website, run. Some bogus agencies seem to use bad grammar on purpose, maybe to weed out the savvier writers.) 

7) Check client lists. If there’s no client page on their website, you know you're in scammer-land. Agents don’t keep client lists “confidential.”  If they represent a literary star, they’ll scream it from the rooftops.

8) Check recent sales. Even if somebody in the agency can claim to have represented Stephen King or Nora Roberts, if they haven’t made a sale in the past few years, they won’t have the contacts to sell your book today. There's a fast turn-over in editorial departments.

9) Pay attention to where their clients have been published. If they’re all at the same handful of presses—none of which you’ve ever heard of—this is very likely a vanity publishing outfit. This is a common publishing scam these days: the agent “sells” your book to one of several “imprints” of a publishing company—which he owns—charging an agent’s cut of 15%. Then (his) press will charge you to print the book, or require you to buy a certain number of copies at inflated prices.

10) Check them out with respected writers’ watchdog groups:

    

However, as I said above, not all agents who contact a successful indie author will be bogus. They may very well be big-time, big-name industry superstars.

So you can put down the tea and pop open the champagne, right?

Uh, maybe not.

Some Kindle-trolling agents are asking that indie e-publishers take their books off Amazon as soon as they sign--that’s ALL of your books, not just the one the agent wants to rep.

This means you have to give up your income and remove your briskly-selling, successful books from the marketplace while the agent shops your new manuscript around.

And that may take years.

If you’ve ever talked to an author whose work is on submission, you’ll know this can be a soul-crushingly long, slow, and miserable process, with no guarantees. I’ve been through it with three different agents. And not one of them made a sale.

Meanwhile, you’ve lost all your sales momentum and brand recognition. If you finally do get a contract with a Big 6 publisher, your marketing plan will have to start over at square one when your book comes out—two to four years from now. (Yes, the publishing industry still moves at a horse-and-buggy pace.) Plus you’ll have a much more expensive product to sell.

And chances are there will be no bookstore window to put it in. Bookstores are dying off  faster than any of us expected.

The marketing thing is no big deal for the agent or publisher: writers are expected to do all our own marketing these days—or so they keep telling us.

But it’s going to be a big deal for you.

So even if an agent is for real, I strongly suggest you resist any requests to remove all your inventory from the marketplace. Maybe some agents can make a hiatus in your career worthwhile, but be aware they’re asking you to take a huge gamble.

Most of us are stuck in the old paradigm of “I need an agent to be a REAL writer.” (I’ve got to admit I still send off the occasional query myself after I’ve polished up a new ms--ever the deluded optimist.)  But this is a whole new publishing universe, and agents are still trying to figure out how they fit into it.

But if you’re an indie author with good sales, you fit in just fine, and you might want to stay right where you are. As exciting as it feels to be wooed by the people who once spurned you, don’t welcome all comers with hugs and kisses.

When former Big Six editor Ruth Harris guest blogged here a couple of weeks ago, she advised all authors to have a lawyer look at any agency contract before signing. I was surprised at her lack of trust, but since then, I've discovered that many of today’s agency contracts have become downright predatory. They can leave you destitute and enslaved, while the agent owns your book and even your characters--for lifetimes to come. Scary stuff.

I’ll be blogging more on the subject of some of the dangerous new agent practices over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

Do any of you know Kindle writers who have been approached by agents? How would you react if it happened to you? Do you have any scam-agent horror stories?

Announcement: My friend and mentor Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward and so many other fantastic, award-winning books, is offering one of her limited intensive workshops on the weekend of June 25th at her home in Cambria CA. It will concentrate on dialogue. This is a fantastic chance to work one-on-one with a great American author (which looks great in your query letter!) Contact her at ryanhyde (at) cryanhyde (dot) com.

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33 Comments:

Blogger Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

You know, it's frightening to me to see so many new authors coming onto the scene with so little information and experience. I'm afraid that there will always be a slew of them for the scammers to grasp onto. I'd be pretty wary to accept any contract offer from an agent based on the measly sales of my self-published book. It's a great book, but it's not selling well compared to other self-published books, and it's because of a lot of different factors. Some of these things are completely subjective to what others deem as successful. I feel successful in a lot of ways, even if the numbers don't. Compared to other self-published authors, my sales are phenomenal. It all just depends.

That said, it's sad to think of agents closing the querying channels and only looking at the bestsellers list. That's not the place where only good fiction lives, sadly. It's the place to find authors who know how to sell their work because they are good marketers as well as writers (maybe).

Publishing is changing so rapidly it gives me a headache. It gives my publisher a headache, too, I've noticed. They are constantly changing their strategies, and I'm glad they're staying on top of things so far and are willing to adapt and change. It will be interesting to see how much books do with them compared to my self-published title, at least. Most of it makes no sense to me, which is why I appreciate your wonderful posts. You make sense of a lot of things. So thank you. :)

June 19, 2011 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Lani Wendt Young said...

A very useful and insightful article - thank you. I always appreciate what your blog has to offer.

June 19, 2011 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Anne, I was published by Random House but was never an editor there. Just want to set the record straight.

Absolutely, no writer should sign an agent's contract--or a publisher's contract for that matter--without an IP lawyer. Publishing is big business--and these days a scary business--& IMO even writers with quality agents should have legal advice from an IP lawyer, too.

Writers should bookmark The Passive Voice (by a lawyer) http://bit.ly/jvj1fH and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog (can't find the link right now). Both are invaluable & very knowledgable about contractual and business matters.

June 19, 2011 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Just found KKR's link: http://bit.ly/jRvEvW

June 19, 2011 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Michelle--thanks. I'm learning a lot from you, too. I think small presses may be the best path to take in these crazy times. I'm certainly watching your progress with Rhemalda. They seem like a savvy and nimble publisher who are keeping up much better than the Big 6.

Small publishers may become like cable TV channels--the place where creative stuff can happen--while the Big Six are like the broadcast networks, doling out more and more Dancing With the Biggest Loser and amateur contests for the uneducated masses

Lani--Thanks a lot!

Ruth--Sorry! I've just fixed that. I've been reading Kris Rusch with fascination (and a bit of horror.)I'll be posting about some of her warnings in the next few weeks.

June 19, 2011 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

I think with all the hooplah that's been going down in publishing these last few years, having an agent with Big 6 backing isn't the gold ring it used to be. I've definitely decided to self-publish and see where that takes me. If an agent comes trawling I will laugh in their face. Why would I give up my hard earned money and networking to, like you say, languish in no man's land for two or three years for nothing. Who knows if I would even recoup the lost earnings while I wait.

I've been reading Passive Guy and Katherine Rusch for awhile now and from what they're telling me, SOME agents are playing fast and loose with author's works to try and make more money for themselves. It's not a nice world out there.

Thanks for another great post. Looking forward to the next few weeks.

June 19, 2011 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Cathryn said...

Okay you are all scaring me! But I still hold to my dream of being published someday. I'm just begining to realize that I my dream might be a bit behind the times. Then again I am 30 plus and don't own any sort of mp3 player or electronic book device (or whatever catagory you want to lump the Kindle, iPad, etc. into).

But all that said. I'm glad I'm starting to read all this. So thank you for posting it. I can only hope i can rememebr it (or at least remember where to find it).

:} Cathryn Leigh

June 19, 2011 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger KarenG said...

Hmmm what a strange strange upside world we are entering where the word "agent" becomes suspect and the word "self-published" becomes a status symbol. Wonderfully informative post, Anne.

June 19, 2011 at 4:12 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

Glad to see the new comment style.

Great post for us to read. There is no end to scams, and dream-suckers out there ... be they for book sales or widgets from Nigeria ...

I still have a "feel" for what the right thing is for me and that is what most of us need to get comfortable with. What is the right direction for us to take our work.

The indie publishers who are legit and have good track records still take submissions without agents. There are several ways to get around the slush pile for those who have the determination.

All of your warnings pertain not just to these new scammers, but to agents and indies who are not credible.

Good to be back in your comment section :)

June 19, 2011 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Spook The Scribbler said...

Eeek! As a young female who's not even legally old enough to drive, this sounds like a very scary business! I've contemplated self-publishing, but I must say I'm attracted by the thought of being published in book form too, despite the doom of the book stores.

Still, thanks for the offer about getting a lawyer and watching out for predatory agents - I will not let the scammers bite me now!

Just a question - how would you recommend getting started in the industry, if at all? In the best of all possible ways, how could I start out as a young author with no publishing experience?

June 20, 2011 at 12:41 AM  
Blogger Judy Croome said...

Anne this is an excellent post - I do tend to be too trusting (Husband says gullible!) so it's always good for me to be made aware of scammers who prey on people's hopes and dreams. Well set out thoughtful post. Thanks
Judy, South Africa

June 20, 2011 at 12:43 AM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

If established publishers are trolling e-books, is "Hollywood" also trolling? And if they are, wouldn't they just option that one book for a possible movie rather than the whole body of work? And if you sold the rights to that one book for a movie, couldn't you leave it on the e-list (since movies can take years to get off the ground, if they don't die a-borning)?

June 20, 2011 at 5:54 AM  
Blogger Carol Kilgore said...

Wonderful and informative post. I've only queried agents in the past, but I've made a list of small presses over the weekend and am going to query them this week. If that fails, I'm going to self publish. Everything in publishing is in flux. It's an exciting time for writers.

June 20, 2011 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anne--Those two bloggers are doing a great job of warning us about the predators out there, but it's also important to remember there are lots of good, supportive, ethical agents, too, and they're struggling to do the right thing by their clients and new writers in this crazy new world.

On the other hand, the decision to self-publish can be empowering and lucrative. Another self-pubber, John Locke, just hit the million-sales mark this week.

Cathryn--being self-published IS being published, so actually, more doors are open now than ever. But don't rush to publication while you're still in the learning process or you'll sabotage yourself.

Karen G--These are topsy-turvy times in the publishing biz. But everything is still very much in flux.

Fois--I'm so glad the new commenting format has allowed you to comment as yourself! Let's hope Blogger continues to let this one work. One of the many ways this new world confuses us is that "indie" used to mean small press, but now means self-published. We need a new rule book!

June 20, 2011 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Spook--Loved your piece on Mark Williams blog. But I do NOT think young writers should rush to publish. You wouldn't want to play Wimbledon right after winning your first tennis match. Learning to be a professional writer is the same as learning any other skill--there's a long learning curve.

If you read some of the recently unearthed early pieces of the great writers, you'll see how much better they got. The world might never have had Little Women or Jane Eyre if the authors had been pigeonholed by the things they wrote in their teens. Plus, the publishing world is changing so rapidly, nothing I tell you will be true a year from now except this: Write. Lots. Read. Even more.

If you do have a novel finished, you might like to read my post "I've written a novel. Now what?" http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2010/09/ive-written-booknow-what.html Treat your talent with respect and think in terms of a career, not quick money, and you'll do well.

Judy--We tend to assume other people are like us. If you're ethical, you'll be "gullible". Not always a bad thing.

Churadogs--I haven't heard of Hollywood trolling the Kindle lists, but it's bound to happen. Then CALL A LAWYER. There be sharks.

Carol--You're right. It's an exciting time. Lots of choices.

June 20, 2011 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Simon Kewin said...

Thanks for the advice - invaluable.

"UK publishing apparently lives in some time-warp Dickensian reality" - yes, it does seem like that a lot of the time. Although it's chaging slowly. Mind you, I still find UK agents who don't even have a web site! No, really.

June 20, 2011 at 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Glen Strathy said...

Excellent point about not taking your inventory offline during the submission process.

June 20, 2011 at 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Tonya Kappes said...

Hi, Anne! I'm so glad to see this post. I've been published by a small publisher and we parted ways. There is nothing a publisher can do that I can do for myself. I have two Indie published novels, and have seen great success with both of them in the month and half they've been out. They continue to hit Amazon's category best sellers lists and I'm doing great.
I held onto the dream of having the big six published book, but like everything in life, publishing is changing and so is the role of the agent. I whole-heartedly believe that agents don't really know what their role is in today's industry. As for me, I know what I want for my career and I've made it happen. It's been great so far.

June 20, 2011 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Deirdra Eden-Coppel said...

You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give to fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. I want to award you with the Best of Romance Blog Award for all the hard work you do!

I invite you to follow me since we have a lot in common, but no pressure. I’m not giving you the award just so you will follow me. You really do deserve it!
Take care:-)

Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
~Deirdra

June 20, 2011 at 11:30 AM  
Blogger Cathryn said...

Anne,

Thanks for the advice. I put myself into Spook the Scibbler's boat, as both of us, though differnet in age, are sometimes, scry similar *grin*. SO I'm talking about the advice you gave to me and her.

But I have a question. you said "Treat your talent with respect and think in terms of a career, not quick money, and you'll do well." Does it matter if it's your first career or second? I'm hoping that when I do retire (early, I hope) from my day job, my writing hobby can become a second carrer. Does that make sense at all?

:} Cathryn Leigh

June 20, 2011 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Simon, actually there are a bunch of US agencies that still don't have websites, either. They're often the ones who rep a handful of established authors and don't care to deal with the great unpublished out here. Maybe it's the same in the UK.

Glen--I do think that would be a deal-breaker with me.

Tonya--Congrats on your indie success. I think we're lucky to have that option these days. But a small press is a good fit for a lot of writers who don't have a lot of tech or design savvy, or just prefer to work with a team.

Deirdre--Thanks! Your awards are gorgeous. All your illustrations are. It's a very impressive website.

Cathryn--1st, 2nd, 3rd, or whatever career it is--don't rush into it before you learn to be the best you can be. There can be heartbreak (and bad reviews) ahead. As far as making a living as a writer--even some superstars need day jobs these days, alas. Always have something to pay the bills.

June 20, 2011 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Misha said...

Interesting post! I will definitely keep it in mind.

Can't wait to read more about agent practices.

:-)

June 21, 2011 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger K.M. Weiland said...

Good post. The opportunities for indie authors are broader than ever before, but that also opens up the door for them to be taken advantage of in more ways than ever. Authors need to be savvy about the industry and its risk, wary of suspicious sounding offers, and informed enough to make wise decisions at every step of their journey to publication. If you have doubts about something, that's probably a good sign you're better off avoiding it.

June 21, 2011 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Misha--I don't want to scare anybody off agents. Signing with a good agent is still the #1 best way to a successful writing career. But we need to be aware that not all agents are created equal.

K.M.--Wise advice. When there were rigid rules, it was easier to navigate the publishing industry. Now things are in flux, there are more dangers.

June 21, 2011 at 11:12 AM  
OpenID ninabadzin.com said...

Such great advice! I'm nowhere near ready but I love knowing where I can turn when I am. It seems like THE most important thing no matter the route is a stellar book! (love your comment about UK publishing by the way)

June 21, 2011 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, I didn't realize all this was going on. It makes sense that because the publishing industry is changing so much the big names have to change to keep up as well. I think that's great but I'll keep in mind your wonderful advice. Thank you!

June 21, 2011 at 3:10 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nina--I admire the way you're approaching your career: winning prizes for short fiction and polishing your craft before jumping into the publishing machine.

Clarissa--These are crazy, topsy-turvy times. Good for writers as long as we keep paying attention.

June 22, 2011 at 10:26 AM  
Blogger Leslie Rose said...

This post is gold! There are so many tentacles of e-publishing and self-publishing cropping up, it's important to keep track of the good and the bad. Great head-clearing points to consider. Thanks.

June 23, 2011 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks Leslie! I agree. It's hard to keep up. And the "facts" seem to change, depending on who's talking.

June 24, 2011 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger Lisa Gail Green said...

Wow. That was an eye-opening post. I'll definitely tweet. Scary stuff because the industry in such flux right now. I can say that my agency reps (according to the contract) specific books, so I would think that would prevent them from forcing already pubbed stuff off shelves. Always ask questions first is a good lesson.

June 26, 2011 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Ryan Hunter - Writer said...

I've been hearing a lot about ebooks lately, even helping others format and list theirs... was great to read this post. Thanks!

June 26, 2011 at 4:00 PM  
Blogger LK Watts said...

This is a very informative post and I smiled to myself when you mentioned Noah Lukeman - I have The First Five Pages, it was one of the first books on writing I bought.
I am an indie author, and that path wasn't chosen because I've faced years of rejection from traditional agents/publishers. After doing about eighteen months of research, I concluded that going indie was probably the best way to be. It just seems to have so many pros to it. I think in this day and age, getting published traditionally is a almost impossible task.
http://lkwattsconfessions.blogspot.com

June 29, 2011 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger SBJones said...

I don't have the intention of ever going traditional. If I am successful enough to attract attention from a real agent, they better have something huge to offer me that I can't do on my own if they expect me to hand over the keys to my money making machine.

Now this advice does make me stop and consider how it might be if it were for a movie deal. That is an end goal I have and I'm sure this advice fits.

July 12, 2011 at 12:51 PM  

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