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  • Writer's pictureTina Radcliffe

Writer Beware

Transparency is everywhere in the publishing industry these days. Right?

In the last ten years entire industries have evolved to assist writers. These industries include freelance editors, publishers, formatters, publicists, blog schedulers, conferences, workshops, speakers, web designers, SEO experts, social media experts and sites, stock photo sites, personal assistants, software, hardware ...and the list goes on and on.

Wouldn't it be totally helpful if writers had a rating system for these services?

Sort of a Yelp site that was only for writers...

Or a maybe a nutritional label that all author service providers had to post on their website?

Alas, we are not there yet. However, I have compiled some helpful tips on key areas for you to review as you manage the maze of your career and perform your own...

1. Snake Oil and Other Products

Everybody wants a get rich scheme. Everyone wants to be a writer. And for everyone who wants to get rich/publish instantly, there is a person willing to sell you a product to make your dream come true overnight.

Writer do your homework.

Sadly, many writers don't know the difference between self- publishing, a vanity/subsidy press, a small press, an independent press, a book packager, a publishing service, and a traditional publisher. (Is there a difference between an indie press and a POD press?)

These same writers are in such a rush to publish they fail to understand who they are working with, and fail to look at the rights they just signed away.

Everything you ever wanted to know or not know about vanity/subsidy presses is here in this SFWA post. More writing organizations should be publishing information to help educate their members on publishing bewares!

Make informed choices is the bottom line.

Other snake oil:

Writing software that costs a fortune and promises to write your book for you.

Writing conferences and writing organizations that do nothing to advance your writing career.

Social media gurus who will market your books across multiple platforms for a fee. Check out this Writer Beware article: Beware Social Media Snake Oil.

Publications that offer you the reward of being published with no pay, merely copies of the publication. They tout this as getting you into print and that this will look good on your resume.

Beware of contests and awards that require you to purchase the anthologies that your book, poem or novella appears in.

Tchotchkes that that have little or no ROI (Return on Investment), but are the latest trend.

Unless of course, you make so much money that you're simply looking for a tax write off.

Beware free. I am personally not a proponent of free. We could talk free until the proverbial cows come home, but this is my opinion. I don't write or work for free. Please make very informed decisions about your choices when it comes to free. While I do give away books and tithe my time and expertise, the bottom line is still this:

Writing is a business. The point of a business is to MAKE money.

2. The Professional Expert.

Cheryl St. John addresses the professional experts (though not by this moniker) in her Writer's Digest Book, Writing With Emotion, Tension, and Conflict: Techniques for Crafting an Expressive and Compelling Novel.

"There are a lot of books and articles on writing. Always look at the source. Study the instructor's work. Don't write by anyone else's rules without knowing that the concept behind a rule works and is proven."

I am astounded by the number of writers who pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for books, classes, workshops, memberships and evaluations by people who have no credentials. I'm not saying they have to be a writer, but they should be qualified in their field as evidenced by their body of work and they should only be teaching on that which they are qualified to teach.

Wouldn't a nutrition label be warranted here? 100 % Baloney? 80 % Malarkey?

Anyone can put up a shingle and call themselves an expert on writing, marketing, SEO, social media, publicity, or horse manure. What are their credentials to do the job? Read their bio and then stop throwing money at non-experts.

Don't take my word for it. Try Forbes magazine: Are You Dealing With A Real Expert Or A Fake? 7 Ways To Tell. From that article: "Real experts focus on their field, not themselves." -Lev Kaye

Writer Beware!

Beware empty rhetoric claiming expertise.

Titles mean nothing.

3. The Rules

There are lots of rules out there:

“Show, don’t tell.”

“Write what you know.”

“Kill the internal editor.”


After critiquing hundred of manuscripts and judging the same number of contests it's my personal opinion that the one type of writer that is most worrisome is the vanilla writer. The writer who is technically perfect and receives top scores in every category except one. Voice.

They have edited or ruled the voice out of their writing.

Beware: Lest you become the vanilla writer.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch discusses this in detail in Serious Writer Voice. If you haven't read it, do.

Beware the rules: study them, learn them, and then go out and break a few.

4. Critique Groups

I'm going to admit that this is one of my biggest bewares. Not a fan of critique groups. I've seen myself and others waste a lot of time in different groups where:

  • non-productiveness is tolerated.

  • food is more important than writing.

  • the blind lead the blind......for years.

  • writing legalism is more important than submitting to an editor or finishing a manuscript.

  • voice is consistently stomped out of writers.

Be very careful. When you publish, your editor becomes your critique partner. What is important to your traditional or small press editor is not going to be anything close to what is important to your critique group. Know what's important as far as the big picture. If you don't know what a deal breaker is..ASK someone.

Remember that if you wait for your critique partner, or even beta reader to return pages you may slow or stall your career.

I'm not talking about those people who do the final read of our story for typos and glaring inconsistencies. We all have those types of readers or writing partners.

I'm talking about being unable to trust your own writing.

5. Social Media

Contrary to what you are told regarding Facebook, Instagram Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube and every other new social media site popping up, the primary job of social media is not to sell your book.

Social media is all about engagement. Social media is for building relationships and staying on top of the trends, and nuances of an industry which changes faster than you can Like or Follow or Tweet.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy ads or post or Tweet. It means that social media should be a small part of your arsenal. You should know what your ROI is on any given site where you are spending a large amount of time. If you don't know, you are throwing money and time away.

If you are spending valuable writing time doing blog tours, setting up Rafflecopters, ad campaigns, Tweeting, E-mail blasting, Facebook parties, and monitoring pricing algorithms, you should at least have data to show that there is a direct correlation to the time spent and increased book sales or VISIBILITY.

6. Purveyors of Doom

"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily.

"If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he.

Doom and gloomers don't have a new message. It's the same old one:

"It's harder to get published. Authors don't make money. Historicals are dead. Women's Fiction is dead. [Insert genre here] is dead. Amazon is taking over the world. The ebook fiction market is saturated. There isn't enough time to write.Traditional publishing will disappear, as will print books."

Those of us who have been around the block know a few things that the doom and gloomers choose to ignore.

It's always been tough to get published traditionally, but now you have options.

Whatever the market trends, a fabulous story will sell eventually.

The market is cyclic. Hang on to what's dead, in a year it will be hot again.

Writers who consistently produce, are the writers who will be here a year from now, consistently cashing checks.

Amazon isn't the enemy.

No one has enough time to write. It doesn't matter if writing is your day job or your night job. That's life. Deal with it.

These are exciting times for publishing. Fasten your seat belts as the publishing models continue to change faster than we can learn new software. Who will succeed in this new publishing landscape? The flexible and the consistent.

Misery loves company. Beware the Eeyores and instead, make a decision to remain positive and productive.

7. Agents

First a few adages on agents:

An agent works for you. You do not work for the agent.

A bad agent is worse than no agent.

Let's throw out some agent bewares. (Bewares = Red Flags)

  • Queried agent requests an unreasonable period of exclusivity.

  • Queried agent requests that you sell a book before she will offer a contract.

  • Agent doesn't behave in a professional manner and/or requires upfront fees.

  • Your agent fails to respond to communications in a timely manner.

  • Your agent is unable or unwilling to tell you where she submitted your manuscript/s or has failed to submit your manuscript/s.

  • Your agent does not offer to have career discussions with you.

  • Your agent is a writer and his/her career comes first.

  • Your agent has not sold anything.

  • Your agent has done nothing to advance your career and there is no evidence of effort.

  • The list of authors who left this agent is longer than the list of current clients.

  • Agent has nonexistent references.

  • Agent has no contacts in the publishing industry.

  • Author has to apprise agent of industry news.

A final word:

Don't take my word for anything. It's up to you to do your own homework.

Things to remember as you proceed:

Due diligence is the process of systematically researching and verifying the accuracy of a statement.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by ("common to") nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without any need for debate. Thomas Paine

Trust your instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where to find help as you complete your due diligence, or if you have problems or questions about a service provider.

Predators and Editors (subscribe until they update the site)

RWA Qualifying Markets ( Statement against predatory publishers)

Association of Authors Representatives ( Read the newsletter on their webpage here)

I hope this is helpful. Remember that the power is in your hands.


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