Proceed With Caution

By Sherry who may be melting but it is July!

It took me a long time to get published – a long time. During that time I met all kinds of people and fortunately for me they were lovely. Unfortunately, not everyone has such a great experience. I was anxious to get my first book (still unpublished) into the hands of agents and editors. But I’d also heard there were predators and was cautious. So today I’m going to share a few stories as examples of what can go horribly wrong. Followed by a quick bit of advice.

This is a stack of some of the many rejection letters I received back in the day when we still used snail mail for queries. And yes, that tiny piece of paper is a rejection letter as is the index card. They came in all shapes and sizes. I can’t find my favorite one which was a torn in half, mimeographed piece of paper with a footprint on it.

When I was at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference two weeks ago I had time to chat with Darla, Kensington’s Director of Sales. Our conversation turned to publishing (big surprise). Darla told me a story that needs to be shared and is the reason I wrote this post.

A few years ago Darla was working the Kensington booth at ALA. A woman came by and tried to give Darla her manuscript. Darla explained to her that she shouldn’t do that and that anyone who was willing to take her manuscript under such circumstances probably wasn’t a good person. Darla suggested the woman look for an agent before she did anything else.

Fast forward a year and Darla is back at ALA. The same woman swings by and now has a tale of woe. The year before she’d handed someone her manuscript and never heard from them again. Then one day she stumbles across a copy of a book that sounds almost identical to hers – someone stole her story. Of course the woman was upset, but that isn’t the end of this story. She tried to give Darla her new manuscript! Darla, again said, “Don’t do that. That’s not how the business works.”  Darla tried to convince her to protect her work, but she wasn’t sure the woman heard what she was saying.

A few years ago at a writers conference I met a woman who’d fallen prey to an unsavory publisher. She’d paid them $15,000 to publish her book. When she got the book it was full of errors and missing pages. They did nothing to help her when she protested. She was so surprised when a few of us explained how the publishing world should work, that we hadn’t paid the publisher, they had paid us.

Barb Goffman and I did an event together. After the event a woman talked to us about her publisher. She’d paid them $10,000 and she got her books, but they weren’t selling well. The publisher kept contacting her and telling her if you send us another $1000 we can place you on this list or in that review. She’d kept sending them money but her sales weren’t increasing. Barb told her not to send them another dime because they were scamming her.

It’s hard to be patient when you want to get your book published and the odds mean it isn’t easy.  It was easy to get scammed when I first started querying,  but is even easier now.

So what’s an author to do?

  1. Do your homework and learn about the business side of publishing. Arm yourself with knowledge before you send out your manuscript.
  2. Join an organization where the members understand what the business side of the publishing industry is like. If you write crime fiction join Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, or Crime Writers of Color. It will give you an opportunity to meet people who understand what you are going through, people who can help you through the process. If you write something other than crime fiction search out organizations for the type of fiction your write.
  3. Study the publisher. Talk to other authors who have worked with that publisher to find out what their experience was like. Order and read books by the publisher to check the quality of the books.

Take care of your precious words you worked so hard to write and don’t give up.

Here is a side view of my rejection letters.

Readers: Are you patient or impatient?






34 Thoughts

  1. Writing is a far more complicated business than it appears. Starting out, we don’t know what we don’t know, so it’s sadly easy to fall into holes like the gullible, innocent women you describe. It’s so good to have groups like Sisters in Crime and the public talks you give, opportunities for fledglings to mix with experienced writers and learn. You were the first novelist I ever met, years ago at Beatley Library in Alexandria, when I had just started writing my book. I barely knew what to ask.

  2. I had a similar experience with a woman who approached me as I walked into a venue where I was about to do a talk. She was full of questions about how I’d gotten published and proceeded to tell me about how she’d handed over her entire life savings (literally) to not one but TWO different scam publishers who’d promised her she’d make a million dollars on her memoir about her husband’s illness. She asked me how much I’d paid to get my books published. I’ll never forget the look of shock when I told her I hadn’t paid a cent. They’d paid ME. By the time I explained how the business of publishing works, she’d paled and looked ill. It never occurred to her to research once the first “publisher” to whom she’d submitted had enthusiastically accepted her manuscript.

  3. Great advice! And Sherry, I can’t believe you still have those rejection letters. Mine are long gone!

    1. Oh, there are more somewhere in the house. I’m not sure why I kept them — I think to prove to myself I was doing something!

  4. I consider myself on the impatient side. However, hubby is the most patient person I know. After over 36 years, I think he’s rubbing off on me or age is playing a factor because I’m much more patient now than I was years ago.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  5. Great story, Sherry. I had a similar experience as Annette. I was somewhere, I forget where, and a woman asked me how much I’d paid to have my books published. “Nothing,” I said. She blinked and ask how much I’d sold. I had to admit I wasn’t a bestseller by any stretch of the imagination, but this was only the first book. “It takes time,” I said.”Very few authors have a JK Rowling level of success with their first book.”

    She looked a little disappointed when she walked away. I don’t think she’d spent anything yet, but I continue to hope she listened and didn’t spend it after we’d talked.

    But I’ll be honest – my patience level waxes and wanes. Just like the moon. 🙂

  6. Just last week I threw out all my old rejection letters (yes, all the ones on paper). The stack was more than an inch thick, and included a couple of polite rejections from my current agent. As you said,Sherry: do your homework, follow instructions, be polite, and keep trying!

    1. Be polite is an excellent addition to the list. You never know when that person you meet will turn out to someone who can help you.

  7. I learned so much of what to watch out for from the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter. Finding your tribe is all important! Great post, Sherry.

  8. Wonderful advice, Sherry. Thanks for sharing. Back in my law firm days, one of the attorneys picked up a client that was one of those scammy, fake publishing houses. when I found out about it, I read him the riot act and told him he was basically representing a company that stole money from people. Then I followed up with specific accounts of authors’ woes dealing with the company in question. I don’t think he appreciated me bashing his new client, but he never asked me to work with that client, either. At least I gave the attorney a quick education on the publishing business.

  9. When I first started freelance writing (years before I would even attempt a book), I made two files: One was marked “Rejections,” the other “Exceptions.” My subconscious knew what I was venting into….

  10. They mailed you rejections! I’m feeling so dissed. I ended up keeping an Excel spreadsheet: a total of 98 queries to agents. Before I won the Malice grant, by and large, there were no responses at all. After the grant, I received rejections. Turns out my query letter was really bad and the book wasn’t long enough to be querying in the first place. But door closes, window opens.

    1. Query letters! Another excellent point — a good one makes all the difference. After I rewrote mine with the help of a query doc I started getting lots of requests for fulls or partials. And you, like so many of us, are a testament to listening, learning, and not giving up.

  11. Excellent advice. It’s so sad how many people are willing to prey on people’s dreams of getting published.

  12. I don’t have the patience to write a novel much less try to get it published.

    But I’ve also heard stories like you are sharing before, and they are tragic. They make me sad and angry at the same time.

  13. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been writing since I was little and have recently started thinking about the possibility of my latest work being worthy of others reading it. I’m lucky to have picked up some of what to look for and heard the horror stories, but many who, like me, are just starting out, may not know. It’s terrible that some people would take money from someone trying to fulfill a dream.

  14. “She’d paid them $15,000 to publish her book.”
    When a Destin author did a panel discussion of publishing, she invited me to sit in on it. But all the questions from the audience were about subsidy/vanity press publishing so I had nothing to say. Apparently nobody was aware you could actually do it a different way, where publishers pay you.
    Then again, these were mostly retirees who wanted to put their book out there, not people who were looking at turning pro. So if they’re willing to pay the money and can find a press that will do a decent job, I guess there’s no harm in it.

    1. As long as people know up front what they are getting in to it’s fine. It’s the people who are taken advantage of that upset me.

  15. Great advice, Sherry. I was lucky to find a writing community before I seriously thought of publishing, so I had a lot of guidance.

  16. I’m definitely impatient. I’ve had multiple people tell me they’re amazed at how patient I am. So either they’re super impatient or I’m just really good at hiding how impatient I am.

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