The panel at this year’s FenCon science fiction/fantasy convention was one I’d marked as a must-see -- a group of authors who had collectively written hundreds of novels in a variety of genres gathering to discuss what they’d learned about the perils of publishing.
P.N. Elrod, Teresa Patterson, A. Lee Martinez, Sarah Hoyt, Rachel Caine, and Cathy Clamp (of the writing team Cat Adams) didn’t hold back, taking aim first at publishers who promise traditional books -- those on paper. The number one target -- vanity presses. By whatever name, these are publishers who charge authors to publish their own books, or attempt to get money from authors by any means.
Hoyt, whose most recent novels include Darkship Thieves and No Will But His, quoted the truism, “money flows to the author.”
Added Elrod, author of The Vampire Files series, “The only place an author signs a check is on the back, to endorse it.” She continued, “Here’s how I find the bad publishers: Google the name of the business + ‘scam,’ ‘+ complaint,’ etc.”
“There are so many misconceptions that scam artists take advantage of,” said Martinez, whose first novel, Gil’s All Fright Diner, won the American Library Association’s Alex Award for YA novels. “If it sounds too good to be true, step back.”
“The fabulous phrase,” said Caine, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, “is ‘we’ll give your book the chance it deserves.’ Another fabulous phrase is ‘full control.’ ‘Full control’ means all the things you don’t know how to do (about publishing a book), they’re not going to do for you.”
Clamp added another phrase for writers to beware of -- publishers who promise to make their books “available to stores.” “‘Available to stores’ is not the same as available in stores.” Her only use for presses that publish for pay is “for getting your grandmother’s cookbook out and getting books for a fundraiser.”
Martinez urged writers who want to see their books in a brick and mortar store was to go into such stores and look for the names of their potential publishers on the spines of the books. “If you don’t see (your publisher’s name) on the books, it may not be a vanity press, but it’s not a good idea.”
But what about e-book publishers? Obviously, you won’t see them in stores. But just because a book is not on paper, members agreed, is no reason for sloppiness in the end product.
“Talk to the authors whose books they published,” said Patterson, a writer and artist, “and find out if they’ve made any money off their books.”
And “if you see sloppiness on a (publisher’s) website, pass on it,” Elrod said.
How to avoid scams? Panelists recommended researching through sites such as Preditors and Editors and Agent Tracker, which can also search for agents by the clients they represent.
See www.pred-ed.com/ and www.querytracker.net/.
“If you see a phrase like ‘not recommended,’” Elrod said -- “or ‘writer beware,’” from Clamp, you’ll know how fast to run.