Monday, April 1, 2013

Wordcraft -- Spot the scams, no fooling!

Two weeks ago I wrote about one of my favorite free websites for writers, QueryTracker (“Tracking the right agent for your work,” March 18, 2013). It offers a wealth of information about potential agents. But before you actually hit “send” on that query letter, there’s at least one more site you should check -- Preditors & Editors. Conveniently, QueryTracker provides a link. Or look at it directly,

The first think you’ll notice about the site, aside from its quirky spelling, is a notice that it’s being sued and asking for donations for legal fees. As best I can determine, this is part of an ongoing battle with PublishAmerica, a company notably peeved by the site’s “strongly not recommended” assessment. Agents, attorneys, and publishers don’t always like it, but we as writers need to know upfront before wasting our time -- and sometimes our money -- on scam artists.

P&E lists its criteria for dis-recommending agents and companies. The first sin on its list is charging fees up front. Has an agent used an author’s material without permission? Been found guilty of fraud or other crimes relevant to writers and publishing? P&E tells all. (It also notes that threats of physical violence automatically result in a “not recommended” listing. I don’t want to know where that came from.)

Want to know whether an agent you’re looking at belongs to a professional organization that can impose standards of conduct? Or whether the agent used to belong to such an organization but was booted out? Preditors & Editors will tell.

Of course, there’s stuff besides dirty business we want to know. Such as the all-important one -- has this agent actually sold her authors’ works to legitimate, paying publishers?

Among other good to know stuff -- suggested etiquette for contacting agents, and sample query letters. Just don’t copy the samples verbatim. Your intended agent no doubt has seen them often enough. You don’t want to tempt her to do any of that physical violence stuff.

Preditors & Editors itself lists other potentially helpful sites. I’d love to hear some of your best -- or worst -- examples of sites for writers!


For Dallas-area readers -- the city’s Big Read program aims to start a month-long conversation about Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Starting today, April 1, from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. for commuters at DART’s Union Station. So I’m getting up extra early to publish this and catch the train. See you there! For more Big Read events, see

Update -- I halfway expected Dallas Big Read's promised surprise for commuters to be an April Fool hoax.  It wasn't!  Friends of the Dallas Public Library handed out 1,000 free copies of Fahrenheit 451 this morning.  Last one was gone by about 5 minutes till 8.  This Thursday, the Perot Museum hosts a discussion of technology's influence.  Next Tuesday, April 9, Half Price Books, 5803 E. Northwest Highway in Dallas, hosts a discussion of the role of science fiction.

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