As with any area of the business world, there will always be operations that are less than legitimate. Some that are there for no other purpose than to capitalize on someone's work and dream. The publishing industry is no different, with vanity presses and the like taking advantage of writers. Of course, we are all desperate to get that elusive book deal. So when a publisher or 'agent' offers us a deal, we are thrilled. But many of us know it is best to 'writer beware' and do you research first.
Here are a few tips that we discussed, as well as a few things I have learned on my own journey that may be helpful:
1) no deal is better than a crappy deal - this has been the hardest one for me to accept, and yet, the most honest and accurate of anything I have learned. I was offered a deal about a year ago, and at first was thrilled. They wanted a full trilogy, even though they had only read the first. I was thrilled, until I read the contract. There was no advance (which isn't abnormal for a small press) the royalties were a little low (again, sometimes this is flexible) and other issues that threw up red flags. it was only then that I looked into them further, and realized this was NOT a good deal. Another Wattpad writer was the one to tell me 'no deal is better than a crappy deal' and that has stayed with me...
2) Do your research - before you even submit to an agent or publisher, be sure to do your research. There are many excellent resources for letting writers know who to trust, and who to avoid. One of which is Preditors and Editors, who will tell you right off if a publisher is not recommended. Another is Absolute Write forum, where you can ask direct questions on agents and publishers, and have real feedback from others who have done research prior. This is an invaluable resource, and I cant put enough emphasis on how important it is to do this step BEFORE you start querying, and DEFINITELY before you consider accepting any offers.
3) Choose carefully - there are just as many sites giving you insight into what agents and publishers want as there are sites what warn you who to avoid...and subbing to the right people is one of the most important steps. If you write romance, but you sub to a sci fi agent, needless to say they wont even read it. But if you look at the agent, learn their list, what they want, you have a better chance of finding someone you click with. One site which I swear by is Manuscript Wish List. Both the site, and the # on twitter allow you access to the immediate desires of countless agents...what they WANT to read NOW. But don't just go by the tweet...LOOK at the agent, and see if they are a fit for YOU. This will be a relationship...if you choose the wrong person, it may not be a good one.
4) Talk to other writers - whether in person, online, or whatever means you can find, discuss your options and experiences with other writers. Whether you are already published, or looking for your big break, starting this conversation not only exchanges information, but also bridges relationships within the industry. Follow agents on Twitter, start discussions, and post on your blog. Share insight, but also, the downfalls. We've all had them, and letting others know your experiences may help them from making mistakes in their own journey.
5) The industry is a small place...Watch what you say - This goes for anything, since with social media everything is now so easily spread around the world. But, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the industry is small, and bad mouthing certain agents, publishers and the like may not win you any favor. That is not to say you cant have an opinion, or warn other writers of bad deals. But remember the industry is small....and you are a brand. Watch your presence, which is one of the biggest things agents and publishers are looking at when they consider you. What you say, how you say it, and how you represent yourself and possibly them is just as big as your quality as a writer.
Now, this is obviously not an all inclusive list. There are lots of other resources, and lots of other tid bits to beware of, but these are the most notable in my experience. Feel free to reach out to myself, or any other writers for guidance should you need, since I know for myself asking those questions saved me from a bad deal, taught me how to query, and put me on the right path..