Writer Beware! There are sharks out there,
and they like writers who don't know as much about
the business side of writing as they should.
There are so many people out there looking for writers. Most of those doing the looking
aren't doing so to pay those writers, but to take advantage of them. It's a good case of
buyer beware -- before you sign anything, know what you are getting in to and just who
you are getting into it with. Below are a few tips to help you make a better decision before
it's too late.
Don't Call Us, We'll Call You! *** Let's face it, how many publishers and agents have time
to join e-mail lists, search for author's websites, or anything else, just to find writers to send
request or info to? Probably none that you would want to deal with. As almost a given,
good publishers and agents won't track you down, unless you've had a book on one of the
bestseller charts. It's a pretty safe bet that you can delete that message from Best Book
House, or toss that flier out from Sure First-Sale Agency. If in doubt, simply do your
homework and find out everything you can about that agent or publisher before you decide
to reply or not.
Don't Sign Without Reading! *** We've heard this plenty, and it stands true with your
career -- we are talking about a career here, a writing career. Don't even think about
signing your name to a piece of paper unless you understand every word and condition on
When it comes to a publisher, know what the standard advance is, what royalty rate is
common. With print publishers, 8% or less is pretty common as I write this. Some small
publishers and e-publishers often boast about how print pubs offer such small royalty rates
while they offer 30% or higher in comparison. You need to know that an 8% royalty rate
from a big print pub might be seven thousand dollars, while even a 50% royalty rate from a
small press or e-pub might be a hundred dollars tops. The time to decide if you want to
sign a contract or not, is before you put pen to paper, not later when a check comes in.
So, do your homework well where you won't be surprised or let down later. There are a
few places on line where you can check out what a number of publishers pay. I have a
couple on my Articles page. Take the time to look, or ask around. This goes for any other
wording in the contract that you don't completely understand. Better safe than sorry. Which
ever publisher you go with, you should make that choice with your eyes wide open and you
should be satisfied with the terms.
When it comes to dealing with an agent, ask around. Look over that contract and see
what percent of payment she takes. 15 to 20 % is the norm as I write this, 15% being most
common. Does she charge a reading fee to even look over your work? If so, move on. If
you get something back suggesting to you that you should have her edit your work, an
editor she knows edit the work, or so on -- all for a fee of course -- before she looks at it
again, tell her goodbye.
Check around and see which publishers she has sold to in the last year. Hey, if it's some
little pub, or print on demand, or e-pub, you can probably do that yourself just as well as
she can. Is she a member of AAR? If all seems well, and you make it to the point where a
contract is offered, like I said for the publishers, make sure you understand every word,
and every time limit or condition mentioned.
What Do You Want? Remember, It's Your Career *** Maybe before you even start
looking around, you need to sit down and think long and hard about what you want out of
your career. Do you only write for fun and don't care about payment? Do you hope to be
able to make a decent amount each year from your writing? Do you want to be able to give
up your day job and live comfortably
off of your writing? Don't ask others about this. This is all about you and your hopes. When
you know the answers to these questions, then you'll know what path is right for you, and
what kind of deals are good ones for you, and which ones you should pass on.
Of course you'll also have to consider the market, your writing skills, and so much more.
Maybe going with a small publisher or newer agent to get your foot in the door and your
work noticed is what's right for you, if the contact with them doesn't bind you long term?
Maybe waiting a couple of years longer while you try to improve or reach a top agent or
publisher is more what you want? Or maybe just having your book out there where people
can read it and you can say you wrote it, is your goal? Make sure you make the right
choice for you.
More Danger Zones! Contests and Book Doctors *** Writing contests are a great way
to get feedback on your work, to earn a few kudos to add to your query letters, and to get
chapters in front of that dream editor or agent when you pick the right contest, but they can
also just be another way to part you from your money.
Plenty of contests are run for one of two reasons, or both together. One reason some are
run is to simply get the entry fee. You hand over your money, and that's that. Maybe they
randomly pick a winner or hand out some little prize, or publish the work on their site or
something. None of which helps you. The second reason is to actually hook in writers.
Publishers and agents not on the up and up often run contests just to reach writers. After
or during the contest then send each writer a letter or message about how great their work
is and how they think it should be published. Of course you can bet it's going to come
around to them wanting money before long.
RWA chapters run a number of contests and you can count on them being on the up and
up, but if the contest is run by anyone else, check it out good before you send in that entry
fee. With RWA contests, do some homework too. Like check out who the final judges are.
If it's an editor from a pub house that you're not interested in, or an agent you don't want to
deal with, then you might want to think about entering another contest.
Book doctors cover the net by the millions. Some work with bad agents to get work
recommended to them. The truth is, if you want to be a writer, you need to know grammar
and spelling. You should know all about pace and how to write dialogue that reads like we
talk. You need to know what head hoping is and what a skilled change of view point it. You
should be able to build plot and characters and hold a reader's interest...in other words you
need to know how to write if you want to be a writer.
If you want the opinions of others on your work, there are contests, friends who are writers,
on line critique groups, one on one critique partners, and face to face critique groups. All
can be found for free.
One closing thought. This is something a good friend told me. She said, remember,
always, money flows to the writer, not away from her.
Charlotte Dillon ~ www.charlottedillon.com
Copyrighted 2003 by Charlotte Dillon
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