Getting good feedback, part VIb: not all mysterious strangers are romantic

Or, this raccoon-visitoris not the same thing as this valentino

I meant to get back to our series on how to find useful feedback on your manuscripts — or, more precisely, to my mid-series digression on protecting your work whilst sharing it — over the weekend, or at any rate yesterday. (Happy post-Presidents’ Day, everyone.) However, my Significant Other harbors some absurd prejudice in favor of our spending Valentine’s Day weekend together. Where do kids these days pick up such zany ideas?

I’m mention this not for the sake of romantic one-upsmanship, but as an explanation to those of you new commenters who may have been trying to chime in over this particular weekend. For those of you new to the blog: in order to prevent the truly epic amount of spam I receive from wasting everyone’s time in the comments, my blogging program requires that I personally approve posts by all first-time commenters. As a result, freshman comments sometimes take a few days to post.

It’s the nature of the beast, I’m afraid.

Over the weekend (which I must admit was probably significantly more romantic than it would have been had I kept sitting down to blog; my SO was quite patient while I held an editing client’s hand through a no-fault-of-her-own literary crisis), I was thinking of you, however. To be specific, I was thinking that it had been quite some time since I asked one of the most basic questions that must be faced by writers in the computer age:

When was the last time you backed up your hard disk — or, more importantly for our purposes, your writing files?

Like, say, the ones containing the novel you’ve been writing for the past two years, or the contest entry you’re planning to pop into the mail next week? If you didn’t make a back-up either today or yesterday, may I cajole you into doing it soon?

How soon, you ask? Well, not to be alarmist, but would now-ish work for you?

I’m quite serious about this; go ahead. (If you’re new to backing up your work, the BACK-UP COPIES category at right may prove helpful.) I’ll still be here when you get back, languishing on my chaise longue.

What’s with the urgency, you ask? I could answer in philosophical terms — he things of this world are, after all, ephemeral, and computer files even more so — but frankly, my reason for nagging you about it periodically couldn’t be more practical. I’ve seen far too many writers lose weeks, months, and even years of good work due to various stripes of computer failure. As a freelance editor, I can’t even begin to tally up the number of times clients have called me in tears, begging me to search my files for a hard copy of an earlier draft of their books, because the only soft copy fell victim to a virus or hard drive meltdown.

Ask anyone who works in a computer repair facility: with even the most reliable system, it’s not a matter of if it will break down; it’s a matter of when. In picking the day of demise, computers are notoriously disrespectful of a writer’s imminent deadlines, requests from agents, or even the joy that accompanies finally polishing off a complete draft. In fact, if the moans I’ve heard over the years are a representative samples of those let down by their computers, the heavy use a computer often sees just prior to the end of a major writing project seems to be conducive to bringing on system misbehavior.

Which leads me to ask again: if your hard drive died right now, would you have a copy of your current writing project? What about of that query letter you spent two months composing, or that synopsis that took you a year to perfect? Would you even have an up-to-date record of whom you queried when?

Ah, that made you turn pale, didn’t it?

Please, even if you save nothing else on your computer, make frequent backups of your writing. It only takes a few minutes, but some day, you may be deeply grateful that you did.

Back to the topic at hand — which, as it happens, will also make me sound like your mother and might make you turn pale with dread. Last time, I broached the always-hot subject of protecting one’s writing from poachers, including — and this is why we’re talking about this in the midst of a series on finding good feedback-givers — unscrupulous folks with whom you might choose to share your unpublished manuscript.

Once again, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so if you were looking for actual legal guidance on a specific copyright-related matter, you’d be well advised to get advice from one who specializes in giving legal advice to such legal advice-seekers.

Everyone got that? Good.

We can, however, go over some general principles here. To see how well I made my points last time, here’s a little quiz:

Rudolf Valentino (hey, it was just Valentine’s day, after all) has written a tender novel with the following plot: boy meets girl; boy loses girl over a silly misunderstanding that could easily have been cleared up within five pages had either party deigned to ask the other a basic question or two (along the lines of Is that lady holding your hand your sister or your wife?); boy learns important life lesson that enables him to become a better man; boy and girl are reunited.

Having composed such an original story, our Rudolf, being a sensible boy, seeks out other writers to give him feedback on it, or at any rate to help him figure out why the first 74 agents he queried did not find this plotline unique enough to pique their interest. He joins a writers’ group; he posts excerpts of his first chapter on an online critique site; he sidles other romance-writers in the hallways and charms them into reading his book and giving him their honest responses. (Our Rudolf can be pretty persuasive, you know. If you don’t believe me, see SON OF THE SHEIK.) Soon, several dozen copies of his manuscript are circulating throughout his extensive acquaintance, both in hard copy and electronically. He receives feedback from some; other copies disappear into the ether.

At what point in this process should Rudolf begin worrying about protecting his writing — and at what point running, not walking, toward an attorney conversant with copyright law with an eye to enforcing his trampled-upon rights?

(a) When he notices that a book with a similar plot line has just been published?

(b) When he notices that a hefty proportion of the romantic comedy films made within the last hundred years have a similar plot line?

(c) When a fellow member of his writing group lands an agent for a book with a similar plot line?

(d) When he picks up a book with somebody else’s name on the cover and discovers more than 50 consecutive words have apparently been lifted verbatim from a Valentino designer original?

(e) Before he gave it to anyone at all?

Let’s take the point where he should be consulting a lawyer first. If you said (d), clap yourself heartily upon the back. (I know it’s tough to do while simultaneously reading this and making a back-up of your writing files, but then, you’re a very talented person.) The last time I checked, anything beyond 50 consecutive words — or less, if it’s not properly attributed — is not fair use. After that, we’re into plagiarism territory.

If you said (c), you’re in pretty good company: at that point, most writers would tell Rudolf that he should be keeping a sharp eye upon that other writer. It would be prudent, perhaps, to take a long, hard look at the other writer’s book — which, as they’re in the same critique group, shouldn’t be all that hard to pull off.

But should plot similarity alone send him sprinting toward Lawyers for the Arts? No. Plot lifting is not the same thing as writing theft.

Why? Everyone who read my last post, chant it with me now, if you can spare time from making that backup: because you can’t copyright an idea for a book; you can only copyright the presentation of it.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few small steps that Rudolf might take to protect himself. Unfortunately, most of those steps would need to be taken prior to the point of discovering that some enterprising soul had made off with his writing.

Hint: the answer to the first question in the quiz, the one asking when a prudent Rudolf should begin thinking about protecting his manuscript, is (e). Especially — and this doesn’t happen as much in the age of computers as it did in the age of typewriters, but the warning still bears repeating — if Rudolf was circulating his only copy.

(That couldn’t happen to you, of course. You have a back-up of your writing files tucked away somewhere safe now, right?)

As I mentioned last time, the single best thing you can do to protect yourself is to deal with reputable agents, editors, and publishing houses. The problem is, you can’t always tell. The Internet, while considerably easing the process of finding agents and small publishers hungry for new work, also renders it hard to tell who is on the up-and-up. I hope I’m not shocking anyone when I point out that a charlatan’s website can look just like Honest Abe’s — and that’s more of a problem with the publishing industry than in many others.

Why? Well, new agencies and small publishing houses pop up every day, often for the best reasons imaginable — when older publishing houses break up or are bought out, for instance, editors often make the switch to agency, and successful agents and editors both sometimes set up shop for themselves. But since you don’t need a specialized degree to become an agent or start a publishing house, there are also plenty of folks out there who just hang up shingles.

Or, more commonly, websites.

Which is one reason that, as those of you who survived my 2007 Book Marketing 101 series (conveniently collected for those of you who missed it on the category list at right) will recall, I am a BIG advocate of gathering information about ANY prospective agency or publishing house from more than one source. Especially if the source in question is the agency’s website — and if the agency in question is not listed in one of the standard agency guides.

“Wha–?” I hear some of you cry.

Listing in those guides is not, after all, automatic, and like everything else in publishing, the information in those guides is not gathered mere seconds before the book goes to presses. The result: agencies can go in or out of business so swiftly that there isn’t time for the changes to get listed in the standard guides.

That’s problematic for aspiring writers, frequently, because start-ups are often the ones most accepting of previously unpublished writers’ work. But because it is in your interests to know precisely who is going to be on the receiving end of your submission — PARTICULARLY if you are planning to query or submit via e-mail — you honestly do need to do some homework on these people.

Happily, as I mentioned last time, there are now quite a few sources online for double-checking the credibility of professionals to whom you are considering sending your manuscript. Reputable agents don’t like disreputable ones any more than writers do, so a good place to begin verifying an agent or agency’s credibility is their professional organization in the country where the agency is ostensibly located. For the English-speaking world:

In the United States, contact the Association of Authors’ Representatives.

In the United Kingdom, contact the Association of Authors’ Agents.

In Australia, contact the Australian Literary Agents Association.

I couldn’t find a specific association for Canada (if anyone knows of one, please let me know, and I’ll be delighted to update this), but the Association of Canadian Publishers’ website does include information about literary agencies north of the border.

Not all agents are members of these organizations, but if there have been complaints from writers in the past, these groups should be able to tell you. It’s also worth checking on Preditors and Editors or the Absolute Write Water Cooler, excellent places to check who is doing what to folks like us these days. Writer Beware, a website sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, provides a wealth of resources for those who want to learn about scams aimed at writers.

In case it might influence the decision-making process of those of you quietly rolling your eyes at the prospect of investing even more of your scant writing time in researching folks whose ostensible purpose in life is to help writers, I should add: all but the last site I listed are also pretty good places to learn about agents’ specialties, on the off chance that you might be looking for someone to query now that the Great New Year’s Resolution Plague of 2009 has receded into memory.

Again, I just mention. And have you done that backup yet?

As with any business transaction on the Internet (or indeed, with anyone you’ve never heard of before), it also pays to take things slowly — and with a massive grain of salt. An agency or publishing house should be able to tell potential authors what specific books it has handled, for instance. (In the U.S., book sales are a matter of public record, so there is no conceivable reason to preserve secrecy.)

Also, even if an agency is brand-new, you should be able to find out where its agents have worked before — in fact, a reputable new agency is generally only too happy to provide that information, to demonstrate its own excellent connections.

Also, reputable agencies make their money by selling their clients’ books, not by charging them fees. If any agent ever asks you for a reading fee, an editing fee, or insists that you need to pay a particular editing company for an evaluation of your work, instantly contact the relevant country’s agents’ association. (For some hair-raising examples of what can happen to writers who don’t double-check, please see the FEE-CHARGING AGENTS category at right.)

Actually, anyone asking a writer for cash up front in exchange for considering representation or publication is more than a bit suspect — not only according to me, but according to the AAR. Unless a publisher bills itself up front as a subsidy press (which asks the authors of the books it accepts to bear some of the costs of publication) or you are planning to self-publish, there’s no reason for money to be discussed at all until they’ve asked to buy your work, right?

And even then, the money should be flowing toward the author, not away from her.

With publishing houses, too, be suspicious if you’re told that you MUST use a particular outside editing service or pay for some other kind of professional evaluation. As those of you who have been submitting for a while already know, reputable agents and editors like to make up their own minds about what to represent or publish; they’re highly unlikely to refer that choice out of house. And any reputable freelance editor will be quite up front about the fact that while professional editing can help make a manuscript more publishable, it’s not a guarantee of publication.

Generally speaking — to sound like your mother for yet another long moment — if an agency or publisher sounds like too good a deal to be true, chances are that it is. There are, alas, plenty of unscrupulous folks out there ready to take unsuspecting writers’ money, and while many agencies and publishers do in fact maintain websites, this is still a paper-based industry, for the most part.

In other words, it is not, by and large, devoted to the proposition that an aspiring author should be able to Google literary agent and come up with the ideal fit right off the bat.

Do I hear some more doubtful muttering out there? “But Anne,” I hear many voices cry, “I certainly do not want to be bilked by a faux agency or publishing house. However, I notice that you’ve been talking about such disreputable sorts conning me out of ready cash, not potentially walking off with my submission. Weren’t we discussing about protecting our writing, not our pocketbooks?”

Well caught, disembodied voices — and that’s part of my point. The fact is, if an unscrupulous agent or editor were seriously interested in defrauding aspiring writers, stealing manuscripts would not be the most efficient way to go about it. Historically, direct extraction of cash from the writer’s pocket has been the preferred method.

But that doesn’t mean that a savvy writer shouldn’t take reasonable steps to protect both her pocketbook AND her manuscript. Even during a period where the legitimate literary agencies are being so cautiously selective, an aspiring writer should never front money for professional services without knowing precisely what s/he is getting in return. Take the time to do your homework.

Oh, and make backups regularly as well. Imagine Rudolf’s embarrassment if he had to admit to his wide circle of blandished acquaintance that he was the only one of them who didn’t possess a copy of his manuscript.

Next time, I shall delve into manuscript protection itself, I promise — and, shortly after that, return to our larger topic, tracking down sources of good manuscript feedback. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

Seeing submissions from the other side of the desk, part XXI: but wait, there’s more!

ron-popeil

Are you surprised to see another post on first-page rejection reasons coming after I’ve already gone over the Idol list of red flags? What can I possibly still have to say on the subject, after nearly three weeks of harping upon it?

Plenty, as it turns out. As excellent and extensive as the agent-generated list was in its day, as full of classic submission problems as any such list could possibly be, the agents in question generated it a couple of years ago. As I’ve been shouting from the rooftops practically since I began writing this blog, the standards for what agents are seeking in a manuscript change all the time, along with the literary market itself.

Contrary to popular belief amongst aspiring writers, good writing, a solid premise, and catchy character names are not necessarily enough to catch an agent’s eye today. Yes, a novel or memoir submission typically needs all of those elements to be successful, but now as ever, it needs something else: to be a book that the agent can picture selling in within not an ideal market, but the one in which s/he is currently attempting to sell books.

Yes, I do realize what I just said: a manuscript could conceivably be perfectly marvelous and still not be what an agent would consider marketable in the literary market right now.

Why right now in particular? Well, agents have always made their living by selling their clients’ work to publishers — since reputable agents don’t charge fees over and above their contracted percentage of a book sale, they make money only when they hawk their clients’ books successfully — but even a cursory glance at PUBLISHERS WEEKLY or PUBLISHERS MARKETPLACE will tell you that these are exceptional times for the publishing industry.

How exceptional, you ask? Well, I don’t mean to alarm you, but PUBLISHERS WEEKLY laid off its editor-in-chief earlier this week. (You will be greatly missed, Sara Nelson.)

What does this mean for aspiring writers? Probably, that agents will be a bit warier about picking up new clients until the publishing houses decide what their new strategies will be. That, and that vampire books like the TWILIGHT series will continue to get snapped up at a prodigious rate until the next surprise bestseller comes along.

So the best thing you could possibly do right now is rush right out and buy 50 books similar to yours — and convince 100,000 of your friends to do the same. Like it or not, that’s now new marketing trends are made.

Since my readership is made up almost exclusively of writers, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that none of you like it.

I don’t pretend to be able to predict the next big thing — other than the novel I’m about to finish writing, of course — but there are a few trends in what gets rejected and accepted that I’ve noticed cropping with increasing frequency over the last year or so. Since once a pet peeve is established, it tends to hang around for a while on Millicent the agency screener’s red flag list, it’s probably a good idea to avoid them for the foreseeable future.

I know — kind of ironic, given how opaque the future of publishing is right now. Let’s plow ahead anyway. Some stuff that hasn’t been playing well lately:

1. Unprofessionally formatted manuscripts.

I know that I harp on this one quite a bit — as evidence and for the benefit of readers new enough to this blog not to have lived through my extensive discussions of what publishing professionals expect manuscripts to look like, please see the HOW TO FORMAT A MANUSCRIPT and STANDARD FORMAT ILLUSTRATED categories on the category list at right — but it honestly is true that if a submission does not look professional, Millicent is more likely to reject it, regardless of the quality of the writing. Since the volume of queries and submissions has been skyrocketing as the economy has worsened (writing a book is a LOT of people’s Plan B, apparently), she can afford to be even pickier than usual.

Take the time to make it look right.

2. “I’ve seen that before.”

This is a practically inevitable side effect of the aforementioned volume of queries and submissions rising, but standard storylines, stock characters, and literary clichés in general seem to be getting judged more harshly of late, probably because Millicent has been seeing the same things over and over again.

Does this mean that this is a great time for writers who embrace radical originality. Not exactly, because…

3. Fiction that challenges the status quo very strongly.

This is one of the truisms of the publishing industry for the last century — during uncertain economic times, comforting and escapist plot lines tend to sell better. Unfortunate, but true. It has to do with what’s known as the Peanut Butter and Jelly Index: when Americans are feeling insecure about the future, sales of inexpensive comfort foods tend to rise — as do books that make readers all warm and fuzzy.

In light of the recent revelations about certain peanut butter manufacturers, it might be more accurate to call this the Oreo or Top Ramen index right now, but you catch my drift.

Historically, agents and editors have followed these trends, shying away from more challenging plot lines, unusual worldviews, and even experimental use of prose. Since I’m personally a big fan of challenging plot lines, unusual worldviews, and experimental use of prose, I’m not all too happy about this, but it might be worth holding off on submitting any of the above for a few months, until the industry has had time to get used to new economic realities.

I know; it’s annoying.

4. Vocabulary or tone inappropriate to book category.

I’ve been hearing a LOT of complaints in that bar that’s never more than a 100 yards from any literary conference in North America about submissions from writers who don’t seem aware of either the target audience or the conventions of the categories in which they have written books. From coast to coast, Millicents and their bosses have been railing about YA with too-adult word choices, literary fiction with a fourth-grade vocabulary, and cynical romances.

I suspect that the increased pervasiveness of this one is actually an expression of the publishing industry’s smoldering resentment that book sales have dropped; if the writers of these books were actually buying the new releases in their genres, the logic goes, they would be more conversant with what’s selling right now. Having met scads of writers who say, “What do you mean, what do I read? I don’t have time; I’m too busy writing,” I have to say, I have some sympathy with this one.

Remember, from the industry’s point of view, a writer’s being up on the current releases for her type of book is considered a minimum standard of professionalism, not an optional extra. At least take the time to go to a well-stocked bookstore and thumb through the recent releases, to make sure that your submission doesn’t fly too far out of the acceptable range.

5. Narrative voices that read as though the author has swallowed a dictionary.

This is a perennial complaint that’s been getting more play recently, probably because of the convenience of the Thesaurus function in Word, but for Millicent, a submission crammed with what used to be called three-dollar words does not necessarily read as more literate than one that relies upon simpler ones. Yes, I know that English is a beautiful language crammed to the gills with fabulous words, but use that thesaurus sparingly: from a professional reader’s point of view, the line between erudite and pretentious can sometimes be pretty thin.

Few readers, they argue, will actually stop reading in order to go and look up a word in a novel written in their native tongue. They speak from personal experience: it’s something Millicent would literally never do while scanning the first few pages of a submission.

Here again, your best guideline is the current market for your type of book: generally speaking, a writer will always be safe sticking to the vocabulary level of recent releases in his book category. If you want to sneak in more obscure words here and there, make sure that their meaning is evident from context.

Trust me on this one.

5. Humor that Millicent doesn’t find funny.

Perhaps it’s due to the major presidential candidates’ having employed speechwriters this time around who wrote better jokes for them, but in the last couple of years, more aspiring writers seem to be trying to incorporate humor into their work. Since genuinely funny writing is a rare and wonderful thing, I can only applaud this trend.

Just make sure that it’s actually funny before you submit it on the page — not just to you and your kith and kin, but to someone who has never met you and is from a completely different background. And no, having one character laugh at a joke another character has just made will not cause Millicent to find it humorous.

And remember, nothing dates a manuscript faster than borrowing a joke from the zeitgeist. Particularly if the joke in question is lifted from a sitcom.

If you choose to open with humor, run it by a few good, unbiased first readers before submitting it. Since even those of us who write comedy professionally are heavily reliant on reader reaction to determine what is and is not legitimately funny, I’m going to spend some time next week talking about how to scare up some genuinely useful feedback.

6. Unlikable protagonists.

This is another golden oldie that’s been cropping up with increasing frequency of late: it’s long been an industry truism that if the reader doesn’t find the protagonist likable, she’s not going to want to follow him through an entire book. And I don’t just mean finding him kind of tolerable; Millicent’s going to want to find the guy actively engaging.

Why might this perennial objection be flying out of Millicent’s mouth more often recently, you ask? Did you read that one above about the Peanut Butter and Jelly Index?

I can think of a few more long-standing writing red flags that didn’t make it onto the Idol list — over-use of the passive voice, for instance, or dialogue that doesn’t either flesh out character or advance the plot — but I shall save those for the craft discussion of another day. (Which is, I suppose, another way of saying that I’ve had a long day and I’m pretty exhausted.)

For now, suffice it to say that Millicent honestly does expect to see your best writing on page 1 of your submission — and that since she is going to assume that the writing on page 1 IS your best writing, it’s worth taking exceptional pains over it. As agents have been known to tell one another when they’re in their cups (in that bar that’s never more than 100 yards from any writers’ conference, natch), if the writing on page 1 isn’t remarkable, it doesn’t matter if the writing on page 15 is brilliant, because it’s not as though agents or editors open books at random to check out the writing.

Begin at the beginning, as a reader would, when you revise. Your time investment will bear the greatest returns there.

I’m going to sign off for today and go to sleep, but rest assured, I have a treat in store for you tomorrow, as a reward for having worked hard throughout this lengthy and often downright depressing series. Until tomorrow, then, keep up the good work!

Great gifts for writers with great gifts, part VII: a few last words about what professional feedback will actually entail, or, what if a manuscript isn’t practically perfect in every way?

For the last couple of posts, I have been talking about yet another present the legendary Furtive Non-Denominational Gift-Giver might want to consider for the aspiring writers on his list: a few hours’ worth (or a few hundred pages’ worth) of professional editing. As I demonstrated last time, not all freelance editors will be equally good fits for every project, so you will probably want to do a bit of comparison shopping, rather than simply looking for the most feedback for the least money. Because the levels of professional editing are quite different, both in content and in price, it will also behoove you to make sure in advance PRECISELY what services you are buying.

Before you give your FNDGG a subtle hint that your manuscript might appreciate a bit of a post-holiday tune-up, however, and definitely before either of you invest what can be quite a bit of money in the editing process, I would definitely advise pausing to give some thought to not only what services you want to buy, but why you want to buy them.

Or, to put it another way, as a writer, what precisely do you you want to get out of the experience? Other than to be picked up by an agent and/or sell the book to a publisher immediately after taking the freelancer’s advice, of course.

Actually, you should be wary if a freelancer promises that — or anything that implies such a promise. Reputable editors are very, very careful in describing how a manuscript might benefit from their assistance. Since freelance editors stand outside the agency and publishing house, none of us can legitimately make promises that any specific advice we give will unquestionably result in landing an agent or eventual publication.

And if you encounter anyone who tells you otherwise, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit. As on the Internet, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Let the buyer beware.

While I’m waving the warning flag, you should also be wary if an agency demands that writers shell out for professional editing reports as a condition of considering the manuscript, or charges for in-house editing, or if an agent responds to a submission by telling a writer not only that the manuscripts needs professional editing, but only from a specific editing company. All of these can be signs that the agency makes its money not by selling its clients’ books, but through payments from aspiring writers, not a good sign. (For more on how to tell a fee-charging agency from a non-fee-charging one, please see the FEE-CHARGING AGENCIES category on the list at right.)

Back to the business at hand: what, you’re probably wondering at this point, can a freelance editor legitimately offer you?

Well, among other things, perhaps answers about why a submission boasting a really good premise and good writing has been getting rejected. Remember, most manuscripts are rejected within the first page or two, for reasons that might not be apparent to the lay reader. A professional reader well versed in the writing norms of a particular book category or genre can often give substantial insight into how to tweak a manuscript to avoid pitfalls.

Call me zany, but I suspect that there are many, many aspiring writers out there who would like to be told if a fixable problem is triggering all of those form-letter rejections that don’t specify what went wrong.

(Are you listening, Furtive NDGG? You’ve already checked that list twice; leave it alone and pay attention.)

To bolster the egos I felt sagging during the last few paragraphs: not having some magical internal sensor that tells one just what the problem is most emphatically not a reflection upon one’s writing talent. Spotting a manuscript’s weaknesses is usually a matter of experience, pure and simple.

Here, a professional reader has a jump on the average writer. Agents and editors don’t read like everyone else, and neither do good freelance editors. Our eyes are trained to jump on problems like…well, insert any predator-prey analogy you like here.

The point is, we’re fast, and our aim is deadly.

Since manuscripts are now expected to be completely publication-ready by the time they reach an agent’s desk — although they are frequently revised afterward — getting professional feedback can be exceptionally helpful in whipping your work into publishable shape. Contrary to widespread belief amongst the aspiring, there is more to being publishable than merely being a good story well-written.

Which is why, as I mentioned yesterday, you’re going to want to find an editor with experience working with books in your category, if you are going to invest in editing more complex than proofreading. An editor familiar with the tropes, structures, and market trends in your book’s category is going to be able to help you better than one who does not.

You want to be able to trust the feedback you get, don’t you?

While I’m on the subject of trust, and since today is apparently my day of dire-sounding warnings, I should put the Furtive NDGGs out there on the qui vive: like editors at publishing houses, agents, and other professional readers, good freelance editors have to be quite explicit about what is wrong with a manuscript in order to do their jobs well. Writers new to having their work edited are often astounded, and even hurt, by just HOW straightforward professional feedback can be.

Think about that very, very carefully before you give this particular present.

Really, any writer contemplating hiring a professional editor should give some thought to just how much honesty s/he actually wants. Like an agent or editor at a publishing house, a good freelance editor is not going to pull any punches — amongst those who work with manuscripts for a living, it’s considered downright silly to beat around the bush. The manner of conveying the information may be kind, but if any of them believe that a particular writing issue is going to harm your book’s market prospects, they are going to tell you so point-blank.

That is, after all, what they are being paid to do.

That may seem self-evident, but in practice, seeing one’s own manuscript carved up by a pro can be pretty nerve-wracking. Obviously, if a writer is going to be given necessary critique, it’s quite a bit less traumatic to hear it from an editor whose job it is to help improve it than from an agent who is rejecting the book, but if one is not prepared to be told that a book has problems, it’s bound to be upsetting no matter who says it.

This response is, of course, completely understandable. Serious manuscript feedback generally isn’t fun even when it’s free and/or eagerly solicited. While the brain may understand that critique is a good idea, the emotions often hold the opposite opinion. Even authors with years of experience in accepting professional feedback have been known to become a trifle upset when told to alter their manuscripts.

Going into the editing process aware that the point of it is to ferret out manuscript problems, and as such is bound to be upsetting, then, tends to make it easier on the writer. Conversely, someone who approaches the process primarily seeking ego reassurance from someone in the biz that his work is fine as it stands is almost invariably going to be disappointed — and probably rather angry as well.

Did I sense some guffawing out there? “Oh, come on, Anne,” some self-confident sorts scoff. “We’re talking about writers who are willing to pay a professional editor to give them feedback. Isn’t it safe to assume that anyone likely to do that actually wants honest, well-informed critique? You make it sound as though there are aspiring writers who go to all of the trouble and expense of hiring a freelancer purely because they want to be told that their manuscripts are, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.”

I hate to be the one to break it to you, oh guffawing scoffers, but isn’t that precisely what pretty much every writer currently wandering the earth’s crust wants to hear about his or her own work, subconsciously, at least? After all, most of us write in the hope and expectation that someone will pay US to read our work, not that we will need to pay someone to read it.

The result: pretty much every freelance editor who has been at it a while will have at least one story about the writer who showed up swearing that he wanted no-holds-barred, professional-level feedback — and then freaked out the instant he got it, because he hadn’t expected to be told to change his manuscript.

Oh, you may laugh, but actually, taking the fruits of the editorial process personally — whether the feedback comes from a freelance editor, an agent or publishing house, the essential pattern’s tends to be same — is a notoriously common writerly response to a first brush with professional feedback. Before anyone rushes to judge those who react this way, the hurt usually stems not from rampant egomania or even (as folks in the industry not infrequently diagnose it) from a frantic possessiveness over one’s precious arrangement of words.

No, in my experience, it usually stems from something far more easily fixed: a confluence of unrealistic expectations about how authors are typically treated and not understanding that the industry views criticism as an impersonal means of improving the marketability of a manuscript.

I am reminded of M.F.K. Fisher’s story about being solicited to write a preface for a charity cookbook — you know, one of those collections of recipes that were so popular as fundraisers in the 1970s, in which well-to-do local matron share the secrets behind their potluck-famous pineapple upside-down cakes and tuna surprise. The cookbook’s editors, both volunteers, came to visit Fisher, a neighbor of theirs, in the hope that having a big-name food writer attached to their compilation of local recipes would make the book sell better. It was, they told her, for a good cause, so she donated her expertise.

Well (the story goes), Fisher very kindly took the draft book from them and had a good, professional look through it. Without missing a beat, she instantly began barking out everything that was wrong with the book: poor editing, meandering writing, abundant redundancies.

All of the things, in short, that professional writers and editors automatically flag in a manuscript.

When she paused for breath, she noticed that the amateur editors were not gratefully taking notes. Instead, they were dissolved in tears. From their non-professional standpoint, Fisher had been hugely, gratuitously, deliberately mean, whereas from a professional point of view, she had been paying them the huge (and possibly undeserved) compliment of taking their project seriously.

Yes, yes, I know: by this logic, the person eaten by a lion should be flattered by the lion’s impression that he tastes good. But as I have mentioned before, I don’t make the rules; I just tell you about ‘em.

The fact is, from a professional perspective, whitewashing an editorial opinion about a manuscript is a waste of everyone’s time. In a freelance editor’s feedback, it would border on unethical.

For those of you who think that this mindset sounds like a pretty fine reason to steer clear of anyone who might be tempted or empowered to pay this particular stripe of compliment, let me hasten to add: the ability to take criticism well is a highly valuable professional skill for writers; in the long run, you will be much, much happier if develop it as part of your tool kit.

Your dream agent, I assure you, will just assume that you have already have it up your sleeve. This is precisely why your dream agent should not be the first human being to set eyes on your work.

If you do not have experience rolling with harsh-but-true feedback, it is well worth your while to join a very critical writing group, or take a writing class from a real dragon, or (why didn’t I think of this before?) show some of your work to a freelance editor, before you send your work to an agent.

Trust me, it is much, much easier to accept suggestions on how to revise your work gracefully when your critiquer is NOT the person who is going to decide whether to take you on as a client or acquire your book. The stakes are lower, so it’s less stressful by far.

Getting used to the feedback experience alone is a pretty good reason to run at least part of your manuscript — say, the first 50 pages — across a freelance editor’s desk; that way, you can learn just how touchy you are at base, and work on developing the vital-for-authors skill of responding constructively, rather than with anger. Since, again, the stakes are lower, even if the critique makes you see red for a month, you can afford to take the time to blow your stack privately without running afoul of an agent- or editor-induced deadline.

Hey, that’s how published authors usually handle it.

Which brings me to my final piece of advice on the subject: if you are brand-new to textual feedback, or if the potential cost of having all 542 pages of your baby edited makes your head spin, there’s no earthly reason that you need to jump into professional-level feedback with both feet right off the bat. (I’m sure I could have mixed a few more metaphors there, but you catch my drift, I’m sure.)

Consider starting with the first chapter, or the first few chapters, and working up from there. Or even just your query letter, synopsis, or any other material an agent may have asked you to submit.

This may sound as though I’m advising you to feed yourself to a school of piranha one toe at a time, but hear me out. One of the toughest lessons that every successful writer has to learn is that, regardless of how much we may wish it otherwise, agents don’t pick up books simply because someone wrote them. Nor do publishing houses offer contracts to books primarily because their authors really, really feel strongly about them.

These are the first steps to becoming a professional author, but they are not the only ones. The pros learn not only to write, but to rewrite — and yes, to take some pretty stark criticism in stride in the process. Not because having one’s words dissected is fun on a personal level, but because that is what the business side of this business expects from the creative side.

Seeing your book in print is worth learning to live with that, isn’t it? The alternative, pretending that a manuscript that keeps getting rejected is already practically perfect in every way, may be appealing in the short run, but in the long run can prove a formidable stumbling-block on the already quite bumpy road to publication.

Next time, I shall try to wrap up my series on gifts for writers. After that, perhaps, I shall indulge in some discussion about gifts writers can give to themselves. Speaking of which, lest the less well-heeled out there have been gnawing on their nails throughout the last few posts, wishing that professional feedback were within their reach right now, don’t despair: I shall soon be talking about ways in which writers can scare up some genuinely useful feedback gratis. It requires investing more time and effort than simply paying a good freelance editor, of course, but it is definitely doable.

Whichever route you choose, stay warm, everybody, and keep up the good work!

Protecting your pages, part III: the straight and narrow path

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At last! A topic where I can justify using this fabulous photo! It was taken by the amazingly talented Marjon Floris, who also took the photo on my bio page.

More good news to report about a longtime blog reader: remember erstwhile guest blogger Thomas DeWolf, whose book, Inheriting the Trade, came out last week? Well, he must be a pretty riveting speaker, because an author reading and Q&A he did in Bristol, Rhode Island will be aired on Book TV (a.k.a. C-Span 2) this coming Saturday, January 19, at 1 PM Eastern time, and again on Sunday morning, January 20, at 1 AM Eastern.

Imagine that, eh? Let me tell you, seeing one of our own community, someone who not so long ago was pitching and querying, on Book TV…well, it nearly brings a tear to my eye. So congratulations again, Tom — and keep that good news rolling in, everybody!

For the past couple of days, I’ve been talking about reasonable precautions a writer can take to protect her work upon sending it out, rather than simply trusting that no one to whom she has e-mailed it will forward it to someone unscrupulous. Or, for that matter, that no ambitious Millicent will pounce upon it, carry it off, and present it to agent and editor alike as the product of her own fevered brain.

We writers tend not to talk about this much amongst ourselves, but if you think about it for a moment, we spend our lives sending our most intimate productions to total strangers: agents, editors, contest judges, not to mention Millicent the agency screener and post office employees from here to Madison Square Garden. We all know that querying and submitting our work requires great personal courage — take a moment to pat yourself on the back for that, please — but it also requires quite a bit of trust.

As I suggested yesterday, giving trust too easily — say, to a fly-by-night agency that earns its bread and butter by charging reading fees of writers, rather than by selling their books — can sometimes prove costly for those new to the biz. Last time, I sang the praises of doing some basic background checking before sending any stranger — be it soi-disant agent, possibly credible publisher, contest organizer, or even that nice fellow you met last week on a perfectly respectable forum — your manuscript.

Please tell me, after all that, that I don’t need to add: even if the recipient is your twin sibling who rescued you from a burning building at risk to his own life, never send your ONLY copy of anything you have written.

Yes, yes, I know that sounds self-evident, but believe it or not, that used to be the FIRST piece of advice the pros gave to new writers back in the days of typewriters. That, and to keep a pad of paper and a writing implement with you at all hours of the day or night, just in case inspiration strikes.

Why night as well, you ask? Because as experienced writers know, no matter how certain you are that you will remember that great idea that woke you up at 3:42 AM, if you don’t write it down, chances are very high that it will disappear into the ether like the mythical final stanzas of KUBLA KHAN.

You can also protect yourself by avoiding sending ANY of your original material by e-mail, at least to people you don’t know awfully well. Ideally, literally every piece of your writing that you ever send to anyone in the publishing industry with whom you do not already share an established relationship of trust should be sent via tracked regular mail.

If you can afford it, go ahead and spring for the return receipt postal option, so someone will actually have to sign for package. This is an especially good idea if the recipient is someone with whom you’ve never dealt before. That way, should it ever be necessary (pray that it won’t), you will be able to prove that you did indeed send it — and precisely when he received it, the rogue.

Why is being able to prove when he received it as important as if? Because, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, if a question ever arises about who wrote the book, you will be very, very happy that you can produce objective evidence of the first time your would-be plagiarist clapped covetous eyes (and grimy hands) upon your precious pages.

Actually, proving who wrote what when is substantially easier in the age of the computer than it was in either the bygone era of the typewriter or the long-lingering epoch of the bare hand. As clever reader Adam commented the other day, word processing programs do keep track of when particular files are created and modified, so chances are that you already have a historical record of when you began writing your opus, as well as your practice of updating it.

Unless, of course, your computer happened to melt down, get stolen, perish in a monsoon, or fall prey to some other mishap since you started writing. Yet another good reason to make back-ups frequently, eh?

(Oh, come on — did you honestly think I wouldn’t follow up after yesterday’s plea to save your materials early and often?)

Even with computer in perfect health and a closet full of back-up disks, however, you’re still going to want to exercise some care in how you bandy your manuscript around. From a writer’s point of view, it’s a far, far better thing NOT to be placed in the position of having to prove when you wrote a piece.

Sticking to paper submissions — and keeping impeccable records of who has them — minimizes the possibility of your work’s being waylaid.

Do I feel some waves of panic wafting in my general direction? “But Anne,” I hear some of you inveterate e-mailers protest, “what if an agent ASKS me to e-mail all or part of my manuscript? I can hardly say no, can I?”

Well, actually, you can, if you want: in my experience, nothing brings an e-mailed submission-loving agent or editor more quickly to a recognition of the joys of the printed page than a writer’s saying, “Gee, I would love to shoot that right off to you, but I think my computer has a virus. I wouldn’t want to pass it along to you. Just this time, I’m going to have to send you a paper copy, if that’s okay.”

Care to guess just how often a reputable agent or editor will say no after hearing THAT sterling little piece of argumentation? You’re the white knight here; you’re trying to protect the world from computer viruses. You’re not uncooperative — you should be up for membership in the Justice League, along with Wonder Woman and Superman.

Ah, I can hear that some of you still aren’t satisfied by promotion to superhero(ine). “But what if the agent insists?” you demand. “Or just has a really, really strong preference?”

Well, since you asked so nicely, and since truth compels me to admit that my own agent has been known to exhibit this preference from time to time, I’ll tell you. If you absolutely MUST send a submission via e-mail, again, double-check that the agency and/or publishing house toward which you are flinging it trustingly has a track record of being on the up-and-up.

Then, before you send it, e-mail a copy to yourself, just for your records. Or print up a copy, seal it in an envelope, sign across the seal (to make it obvious if it gets opened), and mail it to yourself. Once it arrives back on your doorstep, don’t open it; just hide it away in case you need it on some dark future day.

That way, you can prove, if necessary, that as of a particular date, you were the writer in the position to send the material.

If you choose to e-mail, too, it’s also not a bad idea to send blind copies to a couple of friends whom you trust not to forward it along. Ask them to save it until you send them an all-clear signal or until your name appears prominently on the New York Times Bestseller List, whichever comes first.

As long-term readers of this blog already know, I frown upon sending original material via e-mail, anyway, for a variety of practical reasons that have nothing to do with the possibility of a manuscript’s going astray. For a full banquet of my many tirades on the subject, I refer you to the E-MAILED SUBMISSIONS category at right. For our purposes today, however, I’m just going to treat you to a brief recap of the highlights, by way of review.

First, many, many NYC agencies and publishing houses are working on computers with outdated operating systems and not the most up-to-date versions of Word — and virtually all of them are working on PCs. So the chances that they will be able to open your attachment at all, especially if you are a Mac user, are somewhere in the 50-50 range.

Second, it’s significantly harder to read on a computer screen than on a printed page — and, unfortunately for acceptance rates, it’s also far quicker to delete a file than to stuff a manuscript into the nearest SASE. I leave you to speculate the probable effects of these undeniable facts upon speed with which the average e-mailed submission is rejected.

Third — and if you’ve been following this series, you should be murmuring this in your sleep by now — you can never really be sure where an e-mailed document will end up. It can be forwarded at the recipient’s discretion, and at the discretion of anyone to whom he forwards it, indefinitely.

Technically, this could lead to copyright problems, since part of the argument you would need to make if someone else claims to have written your book is that you made a reasonable effort to maintain control over how and where it could be read. Forwarding it as an attachment to anyone who asks does not, alas, convey the impression that you as the author are particularly insistent upon protecting your rights to the work.

The longer it’s been floating around, the harder it would be to try to rein it in again. Think about it: if your piece has been floating around the computers of Outer Mongolia for the last six months, how are you going to prove that you held control over who did and did not read your work? (Although, again, I’m not a lawyer, so if you find yourself in this position, hie ye hence and find an attorney who specializes in this branch of the law.)

This is an instance were a bit of foresight can really save your bacon — and the primary reason that, very sensibly, the screenwriters’ guild simply advises its members to register every draft of their screenplays with the guild before the ink dries from the printer.

Most other writers, however, do not enjoy the luxury of this kind of institutional protection, so we need to help ourselves. If you are a U.S.-based writer, you might want to consider just going ahead and registering the copyright for your work before you begin sharing it.

Stop groaning. It’s a lot less onerous — and significantly less expensive — than most aspiring writers tend to assume. Go ahead, take a wild guess about how much time it will actually take away from your writing to gain this protection and how spendy it is.

Well, the last time I did it, it took only the time required to print up a copy of my manuscript and fill out a one-page form. And the expense was unbelievable: a $45 registration fee and the expense of having my corner copy shop spiral-bind the thing.

That’s it. Honest. (And yes, nonfiction writers, you CAN register a book proposal. Jointly, even, if you have a collaborator.)

Okay, pop quiz, to make sure that you’ve been paying attention throughout this series: why, given its relative inexpensiveness, might a writer protective of his work not necessarily want to rush right out and register the copyright for it?

If your murmured response contained any reference whasoever to subsequent drafts, give yourself a great big lollipop. Since — chant it with me now — you can’t copyright a premise, storyline, or argument, but only the presentation of it, to be absolutely certain, you would actually need to register afresh after each new revision.

For a nit-picker like me, that could get darned costly.

This, in case you were wondering, is why writers used to resort to a protective practice of former days, what used to be called the poor man’s copyright. It is dirt-cheap and while it is not legally a substitute for actual copyright registration, it does have a pretty good track record for standing up as proof that the original author wrote a particular set of phrases prior to a particular date.

Here’s how to do a poor man’s copyright — and stop me when it starts to sound familiar. Print up a full copy of your manuscript; if it is too long to fit comfortably in a standard Manila folder, break it up into chapters and mail them in chunks. Place it (or the chapter) into a Manila folder. Seal the folder, then sign across the seal, the way professors do with letters of recommendation. This will make it quite apparent if the seal is broken. Then, take clear adhesive tape and place it over your signature and the seal. Address the envelope to yourself, then mail it.

When it arrives, DO NOT OPEN IT; store it in a safe place. Should you ever need to prove that you had written a work before someone else did, the postmark and the unbroken seal (let the judge be the one to open it) will help back up your contention that you had indeed written those pages long before that freeloader began passing them off as his own.

Repeat for every significantly revised draft, because — here we go again — it is the PRESENTATION of the concept that you can claim as your own, not the story itself. There’s no need to go crazy and mail yourself a new version every time you change a comma, but if you are pursuing this method of self-protection, a complete revision definitely deserves a new mailing.

Let me repeat, lest any over-literal person out there derive the incorrect impression that just because both phrases contain the word copyright, they must mean the same thing: poor man’s copyright does NOT provide the same legal protection as registering the copyright for a work. Poor man’s copyright is EVIDENCE that may be used to support a copyright claim, not a protection that will necessarily free you from worry forever and ever, amen.

However, as the right belongs to the author as soon as the work is written, not as soon as the copyright is registered, both practices are strengthening an already-existing claim to own the manuscript in question. And since it’s a whole lot cheaper to mail revised chapters to yourself (at least if you happen to have a spare closet big enough to hold all of those unopened envelopes), many writers have historically preferred it.

What you do NOT need to do – and what many novice writers give themselves away by doing — is place in the header or footer of every page, © 2008 Author’s Name. Yes, copyright can be established by proving intent to publish, but intent to publish is also established by submitting work to an agent or editor. Contrary to what you may have heard, the copyright bug will not protect you, should push come to shove.

It will, however, give rise to substantial mirth amongst its first readers at most agencies and publishing houses. “Look,” they will say, pointing, “here’s another rookie.”

This unseemly mirth tends to cover an undercurrent of hostility: writers who so pointedly indicate distrust of the people to whom they send their work, the logic goes, are in fact conveying a subtle insult. You are not to be trusted, such marks say, loud and clear, affronting those who would never steal so much as a modifier from an author and not scaring those who would steal entire books outright. Best to leave it out.

The beauty of the poor man’s copyright, of course, is that it can be done entirely without the knowledge of your recipients. Ditto with the blind e-mail copies. There’s no need to advertise that you are protecting yourself.

But for heaven’s sake, especially if you are dealing with someone that you do not know well enough to trust, take these few quiet steps to help yourself sleep better at night. Chances are, you will never need their help, but remember that old-fashioned sampler: better safe than sorry.

And call me zany, but I would prefer to see you get credit for your writing than the friend of the friend of the friend to whom you happened to forward it. Keep up the good work!

Protecting your pages, part II: dude, where is my manuscript?

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Before I launch into today’s post, allow me to snap back into that periodic nagging mode that assails me every time I hear from a good writer experiencing a computer meltdown: when was the last time you backed up your hard disk — or, more importantly for our purposes, your writing files?

If it wasn’t either today or yesterday, may I cajole you into doing it soon — say, now-ish? If I ask really nicely? Because, really, picturing the anguish of one author of a possibly fried book in a day is all I can manage in my current weakened state.

Not that I’d try to guilt you into it or anything. But while you’re thinking about it, why not do it this very instant? I’ll still be here when you get back, languishing on my chaise longue.

(If you’re new to backing up your work, the BACK-UP COPIES category at right may prove helpful. I just mention.)

Back to the topic at hand. Yesterday, I broached the always-hot subject of protecting one’s writing from poachers. Once again, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so if you are looking for actual legal guidance on a specific copyright-related matter, you’d be well advised to get advice from one who specializes in giving legal advice to such legal advice-seekers.

Everyone got that?

We can, however, go over some general principles here. To see how well I made my points yesterday, here’s a little quiz:

Llewellyn has written a tender novel with the following plot: boy meets girl; boy loses girl over a silly misunderstanding that could easily have been cleared up within five pages had either party deigned to ask the other a basic question or two (along the lines of Is that your sister or your wife?); boy learns important life lesson that enables him to become a better man; boy and girl are reunited.

At what point should Llewellyn be begin running, not walking, toward an attorney conversant with copyright law with an eye to enforcing his trampled-upon rights?

(a) When he notices that a book with a similar plot line has just been published?

(b) When he notices that a hefty proportion of the romantic comedy films made within the last hundred years have a similar plot line?

(c) When a fellow member of his writing group lands an agent for a book with a similar plot line?

(d) When he picks up a book with somebody else’s name on the cover and discovers more than 50 consecutive words have apparently been lifted verbatim from a Llewellyn designer original?

If you said (d), clap yourself heartily upon the back. (I know it’s tough to do while simultaneously reading this and making a back-up of your writing files, but then, you’re a very talented person.) Anything beyond 50 consecutive words — or less, if it’s not properly attributed — is not fair use. Then, we’re into plagiarism territory.

If you said (c), you’re in pretty good company: at that point, most writers would tell Llewellyn that he should be keeping a sharp eye upon that other writer. It would be prudent, perhaps, to take a long, hard look at the other writer’s book — which, as they’re in the same critique group, shouldn’t be all that hard to pull off.

But sprinting toward Lawyers for the Arts? No. Plot lifting is not the same thing as writing theft.

Why? Everyone who read yesterday’s post, chant it with me now, if you can spare time from making that backup: because you can’t copyright an idea for a book; you can only copyright the presentation of it.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few small steps that Llewellyn might take to protect himself.

As I mentioned yesterday, the single best thing you can do to protect yourself is to deal with reputable agents, editors, and publishing houses. The problem is, you can’t always tell. The Internet, while considerably easing the process of finding agents and small publishers hungry for new work, also renders it hard to tell who is on the up-and-up.

I hope I’m not shocking anyone when I point out that a charlatan’s website can look just like Honest Abe’s — and that’s more of a problem with the publishing industry than in many others.

Why? Well, new agencies and small publishing houses pop up every day, often for very good reasons — when older publishing houses break up or are bought out, for instance, editors often make the switch to agency, and successful agents and editors both sometimes set up shop for themselves.

But since you don’t need a specialized degree to become an agent or start a publishing house, there are also plenty of folks out there who just hang up shingles. Or, more commonly, websites.

Which is one reason that, as those of you who survived last summer’s Book Marketing 101 series will recall, I am a BIG advocate of gathering information about ANY prospective agency or publishing house from more than one source.

Especially if the source in question is the agency’s website — and if the agency in question is not listed in one of the standard agency guides.

“Wha–?” I hear some of you cry.

Listing in those guides is not, after all, automatic, and like everything else in publishing, the information in those guides is not gathered mere seconds before the book goes to presses. The result: agencies can go in or out of business so swiftly that there isn’t time for the changes to get listed in the standard guides.

That’s problematic for aspiring writers, frequently, because start-ups are often the ones most accepting of previously unpublished writers’ work. But because it is in your interests to know precisely who is going to be on the receiving end of your submission — PARTICULARLY if you are planning to submit via e-mail — you honestly do need to do some homework on these people.

Happily, as I mentioned yesterday, there are now quite a few sources online for double-checking the credibility of professionals to whom you are considering sending your manuscript. Reputable agents don’t like disreputable ones any more than writers do, so a good place to begin verifying an agent or agency’s credibility is their professional organization in the country where the agency is ostensibly located. For the English-speaking world:

In the United States, contact the Association of Authors’ Representatives

In the United Kingdom, contact the Association of Authors’ Agents.

In Australia, contact the Australian Literary Agents Association.

I couldn’t find a specific association for Canada (if anyone knows of one, please let me know, and I’ll update this), but the Association of Canadian Publishers does include information about literary agencies north of the border.

Not all agents are members of these organizations, but if there have been complaints from writers in the past, these groups should be able to tell you. It’s also worth checking on Preditors and Editors or the Absolute Write Water Cooler, excellent places to check who is doing what to folks like us these days.

These are also pretty good places to learn about agents’ specialties, on the off chance that you might be looking for someone to query after the Great New Year’s Resolution Plague of 2008 recedes in a week or two.

Again, I just mention. And have you done that backup yet?

As with any business transaction on the Internet (or indeed, with anyone you’ve never heard of before), it also pays to take things slowly — and with a massive grain of salt. An agency or publishing house should be able to tell potential authors what specific books it has handled, for instance. (In the U.S., book sales are a matter of public record, so there is no conceivable reason to preserve secrecy.)

Also, even if an agency is brand-new, you should be able to find out where its agents have worked before — in fact, a reputable new agency is generally only too happy to provide that information, to demonstrate its own good connections.

Also, reputable agencies make their money by selling their clients’ books, not by charging them fees. If any agent ever asks you for a reading fee, an editing fee, or insists that you need to pay a particular editing company for an evaluation of your work, instantly contact the relevant country’s agents’ association. (For examples of what can happen to writers who don’t double-check, please see the FEE-CHARGING AGENTS category at right.)

Actually, anyone asking a writer for cash up front in exchange for considering representation or publication is more than a bit suspect. Unless a publisher bills itself up front as a subsidy press (which asks the authors of the books it accepts to bear some of the costs of publication) or you are planning to self-publish, there’s no reason for money to be discussed at all until they’ve asked to buy your work, right?

And even then, the money should be flowing toward the author, not away from her.

With publishing houses, too, be suspicious if you’re told that you MUST use a particular outside editing service or pay for some other kind of professional evaluation. As those of you who have been submitting for a while already know, reputable agents and editors like to make up their own minds about what to represent or publish; they’re highly unlikely to refer that choice out of house.

Generally speaking — to sound like your mother for a moment — if an agency or publisher sounds like too good a deal to be true, chances are that it is. There are, alas, plenty of unscrupulous folks out there ready to take unsuspecting writers’ money, and while many agencies and publishers do in fact maintain websites, this is still a paper-based industry, for the most part.

In other words, it is not, by and large, devoted to the proposition that an aspiring author should be able to Google literary agent and come up with the ideal fit right off the bat.

Do I hear some more doubtful muttering out there? “But Anne,” I hear many voices cry, “I certainly do not want to be bilked by a faux agency or publishing house. However, you’re not talking about such disreputable sorts potentially walking off with my submission. Weren’t we talking about protecting our writing, not our pocketbooks?”

Well caught, disembodied voices — and that’s part of my point. The fact is, if an unscrupulous agent or editor were seriously interested in defrauding aspiring writers, stealing manuscripts would not be the most efficient way to go about it. Historically, direct extraction of cash from the writer’s pocket has been the preferred method.

But that doesn’t mean that a smart writer shouldn’t take reasonable steps to protect both her pocketbook AND her manuscript.

Next time, I shall delve into manuscript protection itself, I promise. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

A couple of announcements

Yes, I already posted today, but I wanted to add a quick interlude to revisit a couple of issues I have brought up in recent weeks, for your dining and dancing pleasure. Or, at any rate, for your edification, I hope.

First, I promised to find out the details on the Seattle-area event for the book of poetry I reviewed last week, GOD ON THE HILL: TEMPLE POEMS FROM TIRUPATI. (If you missed the review, please check it out under the Anne’s Book Picks category, at right.) This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time Annamayya’s poetry has been available in English in this country – and this event is an extremely rare opportunity to hear some of the greatest Indian temple poetry sung by a genuine Carnatic musical star.

For free, yet. Here’s the skinny:

Introducing GOD ON THE HILL
Talks and readings by translators Velcheru Narayana Rao and David Sherman, with songs performed by All-India Radio artist Mokapati Lalitha Devi
Tuesday, October 17th, 2006
7:30 – 8:30 pm
Elliott Bay Book Company, 101 South Main Street, Seattle

Seriously, I think it’s going to be a fascinating event, and I wouldn’t miss it. Details of the program are available on the Open Field Media website, and, as always, information on a seemingly never-ending series on great book events is available on Elliott Bay Book’s site.

Second, for those of you who followed my earlier series on agencies that charge writers upfront fees (see Fee-Charging Agencies, right), I have some additional information. A reader who wrote in to say that she had direct personal experience with the New York Literary Agency has been kind enough to provide the bulk of her correspondence with them. I am posting it – backdated to October 2, so it will be most easily accessible to those who pull up the entire Fee-Charging Agencies category – so you may judge for yourselves whether this type of experience would be right for you.

Please, if you are even considering such an agency, take a look at it.

In the interests of fair play, I shall not comment on the contents beyond that, except to include here a quote from one of the relevant missives: “BBB, AAR, and other organizations of that type mainly exist for nervous writers, and frankly, we have too many applicants as it is, so we choose not to spend time and money on those organizations.”

That’s the Better Business Bureau and the Association of Authors Representatives, by the way, the first two entities with whom any writer should check if an agency seems even slightly dubious. Yes, they DO mainly exist for nervous consumers – as does Preditors and Editors — and for a very, very good reason: writers do occasionally get scammed. It really does behoove you to do your homework.

Many, many thanks to this author for being brave enough to share this – and let’s hope it helps other writers down the line!

Keep up the good work!

Fee-charging agencies, Part IV: non-charging agencies that charge fees

For the past few days, I have been examining agencies from the other side of the looking glass: not in terms of the well-advertised ways that an agency can help a writer make money, but instead how some agencies (and “agencies”) make money off writers by not selling their work. Today, I am going to discuss ways that ostensibly NON-fee-charging agencies charge their clients money, over and above the standard 15% of eventual book sales.

Some of you who went running to the standard agency guides after my last couple of posts were a bit startled, weren’t you? “But Anne,” I heard some of you out there murmuring, “I’m interested in an agency that the guides say charges for certain things — postage, for instance, or photocopying. Does this mean that I should avoid them?”

No — but this is an excellent question, one you should definitely discuss with any agent who offers to represent you. Hang on a moment, though, while I bring the folks who haven’t taken a gander at a guide lately up to speed.

The standard guides — the book ones, that is; the online guides tend not to — ask agencies point-blank whether they charge their clients any additional service fees or ask for upfront payments. (In the extremely reliable Writer’s Digest guide, the answers to this question are found under the TERMS part of each listing.) Pay attention: they are asking for YOUR benefit.

Most of the time, when non-fee-charging agents charge their clients, it is for office expenses: photocopying, postage, courier fees, and occasionally even long-distance calls, although this last practice has declined as long-distance calls have become cheaper. The AAR allows this, for much the same reason that the IRS allows writers to take query postage, letterhead, and printer cartridges as business deductions — these are all legitimate costs associated with selling a particular book.

Typically, these costs are deducted from your first advance check, but some agencies ask for office expense money up front; if you’re asked for hundreds of dollars, start asking very pointed questions about what they intend to do with it. However, the vast majority of agencies that charge these fees genuinely do try to keep the costs as low as possible. They just want you to pay for them.

Don’t be shy about asking — if your agency charges for such services, the costs should be spelled out in your representation contract, and you should discuss the details with your potential agent BEFORE you sign. Sometimes, the terms are negotiable, believe it or not. If the per-page photocopying charges seem excessive, for instance, it’s often worth your while to ask if you can make your own copies of your book and mail them to the agency; it’s usually cheaper per page.

For tips on how to go into the particulars of a proffered contract without offending anyone, see tomorrow’s blog. For now, let’s keep moving through expenses and tackle the upfront or reading fee.

The upfront fee is precisely what it says on the box: the agency either charges writers a fee for screening their submissions, as I discussed yesterday, or charges an advance against the advance, as it were. Again, the AAR frowns upon this, so if you are asked for such a fee by a member agent, feel free to report them.

Sometimes, though, the question of upfront fees is not so straightforward. There are agents who are technically non-fee-charging agents (i.e., they do not charge for an initial read) who nevertheless ask potential (and sometimes even current) clients to pay them for editing services. These agents will find a query they like, respond enthusiastically, ask to see the manuscript, THEN ask for a critique fee in order to get the manuscript ready for publication. Sometimes, they even sign the client BEFORE asking for the critique fee, so it comes as something of a surprise.

Usually, these fees are not very much — $50-$100 seems to be the norm — but essentially, such an agency is asking the author to pay their in-house editor’s salary. And yes, Virginia, some of the agencies that do this are indeed members of the AAR and thus are listed as non-fee-charging in the standard guides.

How can they pull this off? Because less than 2% of these agencies’ income, ostensibly, comes from providing such services. (Or they are lying about it in the guides. If neither the AAR or a standard guide receives a complaint that an agency is charging clients fees, the chances they are going to be caught in the lie are slim to none.)

Thus, a request for a critique fee from ANY agent should prompt you to ask some questions IMMEDIATELY, such as how much of the agency’s income is generated by critique fees rather than by commissions (it should be under 2%), whether the fee will be refunded after your first book is sold (this varies), and whether any and all fees are spelled out explicitly in the agency contract (they should be). If the answers seem at all odd, or if the agent hedges, PLEASE report it immediately to the AAR (if the agency in question is a member), Preditors and Editors (so other writers may be warned), and me (ditto).

As with a reading fee paid to a fee-charging agent, bear in mind that ANY upfront fee does not necessarily guarantee that the agent will sign you. In fact, with an officially non-fee-charging agency, paying an upfront or editing fee COULDN’T be a precondition for representation; it would be false advertising.

Again, all a critique fee EVER guarantees is that you will get feedback on your manuscript. This can vary from an array of simple summary statements (“The murder is believable, but the manuscript begins to drag when the posse of nuns arrives”) to very specific, concrete revision suggestions (“Switch chapters four and five, and lose all of the semicolons.”)

Don’t let the power differential blind you to the sensibility of doing a little comparison shopping before you agree to see if you can get the service they are offering cheaper elsewhere. If the agent suggests that your work needs hardcore editing before it is sent out, check out what local freelance editors would charge before you agree to pay their in-house editor.

Also, be aware that the quality (and quantity) of commentary varies WILDLY amongst agents who charge critique fees — just as it does amongst agents who don’t charge for feedback. As I believe I’ve mentioned roughly 200 times in the last four months, over and above certain technical matters, an agent’s response to a manuscript is largely subjective. I’ve known agents to give five single-spaced pages of specific guidelines on revising a manuscript, and ones who scrawled two lines on the back of the title page, handed the MS back to the author, and called it good.

Familiarity with the current publishing market is also quite variable; as anyone who has ever attended a large writers’ conference can tell you, MOST agents speak about the market in general as though they were intimately conversant with every aspect of it. This is just not how the industry works: agents specialize.

So while it is obviously in your best interest to make sure that the agent representing you has strong connections in your chosen genre, it is doubly important that the agent who is charging you for feedback has firm basis for telling you what aspects of your book will and will not fly in the current marketplace. Emphasis on CURRENT, because this is an industry whose tastes change on practically a monthly basis..

Before you lay down a single nickel or invest significant amounts of time in following the advice you receive in return for a critique fee, do your research, to make sure that the critiquing agent does indeed have a good grasp of your market. Checking the Publishers Marketplace database to see if she has sold anything like it within the last two years would be a good place to start, as would asking for a client list. Ask if you can talk to another client, preferably a published one, who has used the in-house editing service with success. Ask what about your book WILL sell; ask for comparisons to other books on the market.

And no, to a credible agent, these should NOT be offensive questions. If an agent who has already made a representation offer (or with whom you have already signed) is serious about feeling that your book needs in-house editing before he submits it to publishers, he should be able to give you concrete reasons why, not just platitudes about how tough it is to sell a book these days. Because, as many of us know from long, hard experience, manuscripts that aren’t already technically close to perfect very seldom receive representation offers: it’s not as though you would need to pay your agency to have someone switch the book into standard format, after all, or to make it coherent.

A good place to start the questions might be, “If you charged for this service, why didn’t you say so in your listing in Guide X?” Because if the agency is charging clients for services and not telling the standard guides about it, that should raise all kinds of red flags for you.

You need to be able to trust these people: if everything works out as it should, they will be handling the bulk of your income for years to come.

One final caveat about agents who charge this kind of fee: some of them do make good sales, but bear in mind that any agent who spends a significant proportion of his time critiquing the work of potential clients must necessarily spend a lower percentage of his time selling the work of his existing clients.

This is true of non-fee-charging agents as well, of course. So when you are searching for agents, give it some thought: do you really want to be represented by someone who spends half his time reworking his clients’ books. Or traveling around the country, teaching classes for writers? Or who spends a quarter of every workday maintaining a fabulous blog?

The answer may well be yes — these sorts of activities do undoubtedly add to an agent’s prestige. But there are necessary time trade-offs that will have an effect on you.

And at the risk of repeating myself, despite the glamour of having an agent go through your work with a fine-toothed comb (ostensibly) and the burgeoning market of increasingly spendy products and services available to the up-and-coming writer, it is possible to navigate these waters on the cheap. A good writers’ group can provide you excellent feedback for free; libraries tend to stock the newest writing books rather quickly, and it costs you only time and effort to research agents.

If you are willing to pay for services, do so for the right reasons, and not in the hope of jumping ahead in the agency queue. It may well be worth it to you to pay a freelance editor, rather than investing a year in a writing group to get feedback on your book, or to take a reputable weekend seminar on how to polish your novel, rather than reading all of the books available on the subject.

It’s up to you. Just do your homework, double-check the credentials of everyone who wants to charge you money, and try to avoid buying the proverbial pig in a poke. And, naturally, keep up the good work!

Fee-charging agencies, Part III: the reputable ones

I’ve been talking for the last couple of days about the loathsome species of self-described agencies that bilk writers out of their hard-earned dosh by requiring “Independent Evaluations” and similar expensive services as a condition of representation, as well as practitioners of another kind of lower-level predation on aspiring writers, selling lists of those who query them to editing services and magazines or tucking brochures for such services into rejection packets. Generally speaking, you cannot run far enough from agencies that operate in this manner.

Are you wondering why I keep harping on that advice? The reason is alarmingly simple: in this industry, writers are discouraged from asking too many questions. We’re just supposed to be able to find our way around the biz.

By instinct, perhaps. Or some highly specialized sense of smell. Maybe agents and editors think we writers have some additional internal organ that extrudes bile whenever our work is near a poor agent and spurts perfume near a good one. Or a unique brain synapse formation that gives us an electric shock every time we even consider placing a book proposal in a non-black folder or going for broke and using a typeface other than Times, Times New Roman, or Courier.

In any case, they certainly do seem to think we know a whole lot about the industry without being told.

The question of who is and is not a reputable agent is almost never discussed at writers’ conferences or in writers’ publications, so pretty much the only way you are going to find out about this sort of trap is from other writers. In the business, knowing about such pitfalls is assumed, in much the way that conference cognoscenti assume that every writer present already knows that a submission NOT in standard format will be rejected practically every time or that advances are typically not paid in one big lump sum, but in installments.

It’s yet another instance of knowledge equaling power in the industry, and I, for one, don’t consider it fair. One of the reasons that I started this blog was to give isolated writers — and aren’t all writers isolated, to a certain extent, by the nature of the process? — a place to learn the facts behind the assumptions. (For example: if any of the statements about proposal folders, typefaces, standard format, and advances in the previous paragraphs were mysteries to you, please check out the relevant categories at the right of these page.)

Since it is not an issue you are likely to see discussed elsewhere, then, let me be the first to confuse the issue by telling you: there are a few fee-charging agencies that are perfectly reputable. Which is to say, they are agencies who sell actual books to actual publishers, but who derive some significant portion of their income from other services they offer to writers.

Portion is the operative term here. To be considered non-fee-charging, an agency must generate more than 98% of its fees from its 15% share of their authors’ royalties. The AAR will not admit (or retain) agencies that rely more heavily upon other sources of income than that — on the grounds, I believe, that agencies that charge for a first read are essentially requiring writers to buy what most agencies offer for free. For this reason, fee-charging agencies are seldom listed anymore in the standard guides.

I have to say, I’m with the AAR on this one: I don’t think that a writer should ever have to pay an agency for a first read. Finding new writers is an integral part of how agents make their living; if they pick up the writers they have charged to submit material, they are being paid twice for the same work. It tips the already-stacked balance of power still farther in their favor – causing writers already reduced to begging for their attention to paying for it as well.

What’s next, rolling over? Fetching the latest copy of Publisher’s Weekly? Bringing them dead rodents as gestures of affection?

If a writer has been querying well-established agencies for a long time without garnering any positive responses, it might well be worth her while to run her query and chapters past more seasoned eyes, but those eyes can easily be found in a writer’s group that is free to join, or in a freelance editor who charges a flat rate per page or per hour. (See “How do I find an editor?” link at right.) With both, the writer never has to worry that there are hidden costs down the line.

However, if you do decide that you are willing to pay a fee-charging agent for a first read — and can accept the fact that his charging at all indicates that he either doesn’t sell enough of his clients’ books NOT to charge or doesn’t like writers much — make sure that you know in advance with which kind you are dealing, to avoid disappointment and unexpected bills.

How does one go about this, now that fee-charging agencies are no longer listed in the standard guides? Well, the most straightforward kind of fee-charging agent will tell authors up front on its website and in its literature that there is a cost associated with sending them a manuscript. Called a reading fee, the cost can run anywhere from $25 to $500.

To put this in perspective, a written manuscript critique without line editing, which is what the reputable fee-charging agencies provide, will usually run about $150 – $250. (If you are looking for line correction or substantive editing as well, the costs will be higher, of course: this is just for a basic read-and-advise.) But at least with an editor, you can negotiate up front precisely the type of feedback you want.

With an agent who charges to consider manuscripts, you have no such leeway. A higher price tag on a reading fee, alas, is seldom a guarantee of either eventual representation or more substantial feedback. Or, indeed, of any feedback at all: what the writer is buying here is simply the agent’s promise to have someone in the office read the manuscript to consider whether to sign the author, not advice on how to make the book more marketable.

Which is, I reiterate, a service that non-fee-charging agents provide for free, when they are interested enough in a manuscript to request it. Admittedly, though, fee-charging agents tend to be open to a broader array of manuscripts than their non-fee-charging brethren and sistern. Why not? They’re making a profit, and they will only pick up what interests them, anyway.

With few exceptions, the reading fee is nonrefundable, so do make sure that you understand clearly what you are being offered in exchange for your money. Look for a written critique, with no further commitment on your part — basically, what you would get from a freelance editor. Do some comparison shopping.

And don’t forget to use the same judgment you would use for any other agent. Ask what books the fee-charging agency has sold in recent years before you put dime one into the process. If your work is similar to someone the fee-charging agent already represents, it might be worth your while to submit a manuscript. If not, try non-fee-charging agents who represent work like yours first.

Had I mentioned that I would HIGHLY recommend that you stick with the non-fee-charging ones altogether, and go to a writing group or a good freelance editor for feedback? Either of the latter is FAR more likely to give you concrete advice (everything from “Did you know that your slug line isn’t in professional format?” to “Why does the protagonist’s sister’s name change from Gladys to Gertrude halfway through?” to “It pains me to say this, mon ami, but that scene with the hippopotamus on the carousel simply doesn’t work.”) rather than the generalities associated with manuscript reviews (“Your pacing needs to be tighter” or “Your protagonist should be more sympathetic.”)

Did I just hear a chorus of gasps out there?

That’s right: a fee-charging agent’s feedback on a rejected manuscript is not necessarily going to be any more substantial than that in any other rejection letter. If you honestly long to have a professional tell you, “I just didn’t fall in love with this book,” I assure you, there are PLENTY of agents out there who will diss you for free.

Which is precisely why the querying and submission processes are so incredibly frustrating, right? When we submit a manuscript over which we’ve slaved, we writers (unreasonable beings that we are, the industry thinks, with all of those strange internal organs and oddly-arranged brain chemistry) want to receive in return, if not an acceptance, than at least a brief explanation for why the agent is not picking up the book. That way, the submission process could be progressive: with professional feedback on what is and isn’t working, our manuscripts could be better each time we submit them.

Ah, we can dream, can’t we?

What we want, in other words, is for rejecting agents to give our work an honest manuscript critique: a once-over without suggesting line edits (although that would be nice), but giving us written feedback on how to make the book more marketable. What agents ACTUALLY give submissions, unfortunately, is manuscript reviews: a quick read purely intended to judge whether the book is marketable and if it is something they would like to represent. And that differential in expectations leads, in my experience, to a whole lot of heartache, second-guessing, and a horrible, creeping feeling of futility on our side of the Rubicon.

Obviously, no sane person would set up a talent-finding process this way, but if we want to get published, we do need to work with the status quo. So while I can utterly understand longing enough to receive professional feedback on why your work is not being picked up by agents to be willing to pay for it, I think that if you’re going to pay an agent to read your work, you ought at least to be guaranteed a manuscript critique, not merely a manuscript review.

Ask a whole lot of questions before you plunk down your cash. Including: am I really going to get anything out of this that a writing group or freelance editor could not give me? Because, hype aside, you would be paying a fee-charging agent who does not sign you for precisely the same services.

The moral of the day: you should be every bit as careful in dealing with a fee-charging agency as you would be in dealing with a freelance editor. Both are providing you services that should help you get your work published; as in any other service industry, there are good ones, and there are bad ones, and they tend to look as similar as good and bad orthodontists do. Do a little background checking — and make sure that you know precisely what you will be getting out of the exchange.

And, as always, keep up the good work!

Fee-charging agencies, Part II

Yesterday, I raised the red flag about the kind of “agency” that exists primarily not to sell its clients’ books to publishers, but to profit on writers’ frustration with the difficulty of landing an agent. There are many self-described agencies out there that apparently operate as fronts for high-priced editing services, tell writers that their work has promise, but that promise can only be fulfilled by enlisting the services of a specific outrageously expensive editing firm – which, of course, pays a kickback to the agency.

Sometimes, these kinds of agencies can be tough to spot, because it’s actually not unheard-of for perfectly credible agents to tell authors, “Gee, this could really use some professional editing,” and recommend a couple of good freelancers. I’ve gotten clients this way, in fact.

However, there’s a big difference between an agent’s giving a general piece of advice after reading a manuscript and agencies that either sell their query lists to editing companies (yes, it happens) or who include an editor’s brochure as part of their rejection packet in exchange for a commission.
This is a more subtle way to profit from querying writers, but to my mind, it’s just as ethically questionable as a specific referral + kickback. It’s using the power of rejection to make a sales pitch. Often, such agencies will have asked the writer to send an entire manuscript before suggesting the book doctor, which can make the referral seem very credible. The implication is, of course, that if the author hires that specific editor, the agent will offer representation at a later date, but these agencies seldom put that in writing.

No matter how complimentary a referring agent is about your work, such a referral is still a rejection, and you should regard it as such. Don’t assume that anything that’s typed on letterhead featuring the word “agency” is necessarily good advice on how to succeed as a writer.

Why should you be a tad incredulous? Well, when such a recommendation is made by an agent who allegedly knows the market, about a manuscript that he has ostensibly read carefully, it sounds like well-informed advice, but think about it: how do you know that the agent DID read the manuscript carefully — indeed at all, before recommending that you seek out a particular editor? Perhaps the agent automatically refers EVERY manuscript he rejects to that editing agency. Perhaps he gets a nice, juicy referral fee for each writer he refers.

Other soi-disant agencies take the scam even farther, demanding that writers obtain a so-called objective evaluation (with a price tag that can run upwards of $100) of their manuscripts before even considering them for representation – and the fees just keep mounting after that. Typically, these “agencies” rush at writers with too-eager offers of representation, then after a contract is signed, billing the writer for every so-called necessary service the agency provides.

Rule of thumb: legitimate agencies don’t ask for your credit card information.

To add insult to injury, these pseudo-agencies typically do not send out their clients’ work at all. However, they have been known to sign a writer to a long-term contract that grants the agency 15% of any future sales of the book in question — without having done any actual agenting work on its behalf.

Obviously, such agencies should be avoided like the plague that they are, but unfortunately, they specifically prey upon writers unfamiliar with how the industry works — ones who do not know, for instance, that the Association of Authors’ Representatives will not admit agencies that charge such fees, and are always happy to tell a curious author whether they’ve had complaints about a particular agency. Or ones who do not know that the standard agency guides (Writer’s Digest’s yearly GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and Jeff Herman’s GUIDE TO BOOK PUBLISHERS, EDITORS, & LITERARY AGENTS, also updated yearly), don’t list this sort of agency at all. Or ones who do not know that Preditors and Editors routinely lists all of the agents and agencies in the country, along with indications of whether they are reputable or not. Or ones who are unaware that in a legitimate agency, novels are virtually NEVER accepted for representation until the agent has read the entire book. (The fake agencies are notorious for asking to see a few chapters, then offering representation right way.)

These unscrupulous agencies, in short, prey upon the ignorance and hope of nice people new to the biz, and there is no pit of hell deep enough for those who prey on the innocent.

The moral: do your homework. Any reputable agency worth its salt should be willing to show you its client list before you sign, for instance, and it’s perfectly legitimate to ask if they ever charge their clients for services. Ask the offering agent point-blank if s/he is a member of the AAR, and request a schedule of any fees he charges.

It’s also a good idea to limit your search to recognized agencies. Check the agency guides. If you are absolutely committed to finding an agent online, be wary of an agency that seems only to have a website, without being listed in any agency guides. If you feel absolutely compelled to answer an ad (not a good idea, as established agencies simply don’t advertise), triple-check with independent sources before you sign ANYTHING.

There are some things for which reputable agencies do charge, however; I shall go into some of these tomorrow. In the meantime, remember that this is an extremely competitive business, the odds of which are not all that different per capita than getting admitted to an Ivy League school. Wouldn’t you be suspicious if someone on the street offered you admission to Harvard, if you paid him a fee, even if he is wearing a crimson sweatshirt?

Think about it: should you really be any less suspicious of an agency that offers to sell you your dreams on a similar basis?

Keep up the good work, my friends!

Fee-charging agencies, Part Ia: what actually occurs

A reader who wrote in to say that she had direct personal experience with the fee-charging agency mentioned in the last post, the New York Literary Agency, has been kind enough to provide the bulk of her correspondence with them people to Author! Author! I am posting it here, in the hope that when writers do background checks in the future, this correspondence will pop up in a web search.

It is rather lengthy, but please, if you are considering working with this agency, I would urge you to read it all, so you may judge for yourself. It makes for some pretty fascinating reading.

I am presenting this without comment. Naturally, I have removed the name of the author and her book, and eliminated as many of the names of persons as possible. All typos were in the original documents.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Cheri,” VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Saturday, January 21, 2006 3:47 PM
Subject: NY Literary Agency: Thank you for your query.

Thank you for your query to the New York Literary Agency. Based on your query form information we would like to see more.

1) Would you please send us an electronic copy of your work for further evaluation? Please email your manuscript to (e-mail address)

2) Would you please answer these 2 questions in the body of the SAME email? (Just copy and paste the questions).

A. How long have you been writing, and what are your goals as a writer?

B. Do you consider your writing ‘ready-to-go’, or do you think it needs some polishing.

You may send either 3-5 chapters or the entire manuscript, whichever you are more comfortable sending. Your manuscript is completely safe within our company. We take care to properly manage all access and if we don’t end up working together, we delete all files.

Please DO NOT include any questions with your manuscript submission. If you have a question, please send it to question@newyorkliteraryagency.com where the proper people may address your question. Most of the questions you may have are answered on the website and at the bottom of this email. Pleasesee the FAQs below.

Our preference for receiving your manuscript is via email.
===========================================
If the file size is greater than 5 megabytes you can mail it to us on CD,
but please only send it once, either by email or snail mail (we prefer
email). Our mailing address is: The New York Literary Agency, 275 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, New York 10016. If you decide to mail your manuscript please be sure to INCLUDE your email address (very clearly) so we may reply and process your manuscript. Mailed manuscripts may take up to 30 days to reply/process. Emailed manuscripts are processed much more quickly. (If your filesize is over 5 megs we also just recently found a free service that will move large files. Take a look at www.yousendit.com. We’ve used it successfully in the past. Just use my email address as the “send to” address.)

We believe we are very different than other agencies.
===========================================
We believe that we are unique in that we are willing to develop an author and their talent. We like the metaphor of a business incubator as a description of how we will take time to bring an author’s work to the proper quality level, even if it takes months to do so. We take pride in the fact that we answer every email personally within 2-3 days.

Also, you may understand how a Literary Agency works, but many authors don’t, so please excuse me while I take a minute and let you know how the process works. As your Literary Agent, our mission is to assist you in finding a publisher and to coach you along the way in various options available to you. We don’t edit, we don’t illustrate, our mission is to sell for you. As for compensation, get paid on success only, meaning we only get paid if you get paid. Typically we will receive 10% of what you receive.

We do not charge fees, so our compensation is based on success only. Along the way, we may suggest that you continuously improve the quality of your work and or how it is presented. Once your work is deemed ‘presentable’, then we’ll start shopping it to publishers. We never promise a sale, but we can tell you that we have a model that works.

We look forward to receiving your materials.

Best regards,
“Cheri” – V.P. Acquisitions

PLEASE CHECK YOUR SPAM BLOCKERS. We do not click on whitelist links

p.s. You might as well get used to these long emails. Part of our filtering process is to see if you actually read them . Why the long emails? I spend my time doing two basic tasks, 1) managing submissions and evaluations, and 2) answering questions. If I can answer your question BEFORE you ask it, then the entire process will proceed much more efficiently. As a corollary to that, if you want long-winded, personalized emails where we dicuss politics, the weather, and how your day went, you will probably not enjoy our process. If you are as busy as we are, and you pride yourself on operating efficiently (it is a business after all), then you will enjoy how efficiently we focus on the point, and that is, whether we can work together based on your writing and attitude.

Typical Frequently Asked Questions
=============================
Q) Do you return manuscripts?
A) Sorry for the inconvenience however, WE DO NOT RETURN MANUSCRIPTS or MATERIALS due to the volume of submissions we receive. Please do not send us anything that you can’t replace easily.

Q) Would you prefer me to email or mail my manuscript?
A) WE MUCH PREFER EMAILED MANUSCRIPTS.

Q) How should I attach my manuscript?
A) PLEASE DO NOT PASTE YOUR MANUSCRIPT INTO THE BODY OF THE EMAIL. Please send it to us as an attachment, otherwise it hangs up the mail system. If you can’t create an attachment, please get a friend to help you do so. I think we have every software program known to man (except Mac). However everything works easier if you have a pdf, .rtf, or .doc filetype. We also support Word Perfect and MS Works.

Q) Is my manuscript safe with you?
A) Your materials are safe within our company. If you are uncomfortable sending your entire manuscript, please only send 3-5 chapters. If we do not end up working together we will destroy and delete any copies of your work that we have. Furthermore the idea of people stealing someone’s work is a bit of ‘urban legend’. It really doesn’t happen.

Q) How long does this review take?
A) About 7-10 days. We’re faster than most other agencies.

Q) Why is there no phone number? I want to talk to someone…
A) Quite frankly, we are deluged with submissions. It is our policy to provide a contact number later in the process, assuming we would like to proceed with you. If you would like to talk with someone for the reassurance of hearing a voice, just email me and I’ll connect you to the proper party.

Q) Where are you located?
A) We maintain executive suites on Madison Aveneue in New York, NY where we meet with buyers. Other than that, we travel extensively and we have the good fortune to live in Florida, North Carolina, and California depending on the time of year. Sometimes we think that we live in airports. In today’s connected world, our physical location is meaningless.

Q) Why aren’t you in the Yellow Pages? I can’t find you listed?
A) Yellow Pages are ‘old technology’, and they cost money. We use toll free phone numbers and cell phones. Those simply aren’t in directories. We haven’t been in Yellow pages for 10 years. Buyers certainly don’t go to the Yellow Pages to find authors , just nervous authors.

Q) Are you a member of AAR, BBB, Alphabet Soup…?
A) We have chosen to belong to industry associations where the buyers are, such as the Publishers Marketing Association (PMA) through our parent company, The Literary Agency Group. We spend our money going to the big book tradeshows in the US, England, and Germany. BBB, AAR, and other organizations of that type mainly exist for nervous writers, and frankly, we have too many applicants as it is, so we choose not to spend time and money on those organizations. I hope that helps you understand why we belong to associations that help us sell your work, not organizations that help us recruit more writers. We prefer that you judge us on the professionalism of our communications and not whether we belong to an organization. In other words, we ask that you judge us based on our interactions together, and that you can make up your own mind based on our professionalism and courtesy not whether we belong to some organization.

Q) Tell me more about your company.
A) We are bigger than a small agency and smaller than a large agency. We have about 15 people total and as of 2nd quarter, 2005 we have over 60 active conversations ongoing with buyers and 3 option agreements in negotiations in our screenplay division. We just sold our 4th book deal (to a publisher in England) and we are confident of more success later this year. (A 5th deal is being signed as we speak). We market to the larger and medium sized publishers and producers. We have had 5 successes now in the last 2 years (fyi: most agencies only have 1 or 2 deals every couple of years, if that.). We’ve been around the block enough to have people that love us, and people that hate us. We will never ask you for money, so that’s one way to judge for yourself. Our commitment to you is that we believe that we should get paid only if we sell your work. Your commitment to us is that you will do what it takes to make sure your manuscript is the best it can be and that it meets or exceeds industry quality standards.

Q) You’re not a vanity publisher or a self-publisher are you?
A) No we’re NOT A VANITY OR SELF-publisher in any way, shape or form. We DO NOT sell to vanity or self-publishers. Our mission is to sell your work to TRADITIONAL publishers who will pay you (and us). And, that’s how we get paid. If we sell your work to a publisher, then and only then do we get paid (usually 10% which is the industry standard for Literary Agencies).

Q) What are you looking for during your evaluation?
A) We mainly look for COMMERCIAL VIABILITY in the work coupled with good solid writing skills. “Is it something that will sell?” is of paramount importance to us. (We ARE NOT scrutinizing every word, spelling, and grammar usage. There’s plenty of time later for that.) We believe that great writers are made, not born at least 99% of the time. But if a work doesn’t have commercial potential, then we want to let you know as quickly as possible. Being willing to grow talent, we believe in the old adage, “luck is when opportunity meets preparation and hard work”.

Q) How can you evaluate work so quickly?
A) Our mission in the Acquisitions Department is clear. We answer 3
questions:

1. Will the subject matter sell? Is it commercially viable?
2. Is the writing good enough, or would it be good enough with some degree of assistance?
3. Did you as the evaluator like the work and would you believe in it if you were selling it?

If we get the “3 yes” designation then you pass. The next item we look for in our filtering process is your willingness to listen or whether you are a prima donna who wants it ‘their way’. We will very quickly wash out a great writer with a bad attitude. Life’s too short for drama or problems.

Q) What if you find errors or problems with my manuscript? Should I spend time revising now, or later?
A) We receive very few ‘ready-to-go’ manuscripts. We believe we are unique in that we are willing to work with our authors along the way. Most manuscripts that we receive need some level of polishing before we can submit them to buyers. Some need very little polishing. Some need a lot. Over the years, we’ve learned that it is worth our time and effort to do what it takes to develop new talent. We’ve learned that incubating new talent makes good business sense.

Q) My manuscript isn’t finished….
A) As long as there is enough finished to determine your skills as a writer we are willing to look at your work. As mentioned previously, we take a long term view and we are willing to develop talent.

Q) Who are some of the authors you represent? Why aren’t they on your website?
A) We are proud to represent a very diverse group of authors. Our roster of authors includes authors with the following occupations:

* Doctors
* Lawyers
* Entrepreneurs
* Journalists
* Professors and teachers from universities, high-schools, and elementary schools
* Coaches
* Accountants and bankers
* Advertising Executives
* Stay at home moms… students, etc.

Here are just a few bios:

1. The author was born in Baltimore, Maryland and is a Professor at a major university. She is an author and editor of 16 books and 12 proceedings and monographs. She has written 50 chapters and 100 papers, and given more than 150 presentations nationwide. She has graduate degrees in Music, Science, and Education. She and her husband are now living in the British Virgin Islands, where her time is spent sailing and writing. She has published scientific articles and written more than a hundred concert reviews as a freelance music critic.

2. The author is a Fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh, and of Canada, and a Member of the American Societies of Hematology,Clinical Oncology, Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the International Society for Cellular Therapy. For the year 2004-5 he was a scientific advisor to the Cancer Vaccine Consortium. He was a past recipient of the Elmore Research Scholarship of the University of Cambridge.

3. The author has also won numerous awards honoring him as one of the top sportscasters in the country. He has been richly honored as a professional speaker as well, thrilling audiences with his career highlights and inspiring messages. He has a rich history of being on the air in radio and TV for a quarter of a century, working in major markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Cincinnati and now Dallas. Before settling in Dallas, he lived in London doing on-air work for both the BBC and ESPN.

4. This author started singing professionally with the singing group The Montells in her early teens. They later signed with Golden Crest Records & then went to Atlantic Recording Studio were they recorded, Under The Broad Walk with The Drifters & Gee Baby. In 1997 she was elected into The International Poetry Hall Of Fame with her Award winning Poem. She appeared at The Crossroads Theater in 1998.

5. The author is a retired veterinarian living in Bethlehem, South Africa. He was in rural private practice in various towns before settling down in Bethlehem where he practiced for 35 years. For ten years or more he had a monthly column in Veterinary News. He also was the script-writer for the SuperSport TV series The ABC of Golf.

We DO NOT give out names or contact information except to qualified buyers.(If you’ll think about it, if you were one of our authors, you’d feel the same way. There are a lot of wierdos on the Internet. Sometimes we think that there is a higher incidence of psychosis among writers than any other occupation.)

Q) Is this an automated email? Is there a real person out there?
A) Yes, and yes, and yes… We personally review each query form that we receive for sentence structure, basic spelling and grammar, and whether the story idea/synopsis sounds interesting. This tells us which manuscripts we would like to receive.

Then, yes, we do use a form to provide these FAQs. Can you imagine typing this time and time again? We pride ourselves on using technology to be as efficient as possible. This allows us to work with authors from anywhere in the world. By automating certain elements of our communications we can spend more thoughtful time on your questions that are specific to you andyour situation.

—————————————————————————

Thank you again for your time in reading to the end of this email. I hope that you have a better feeling for our company and our acquisitions process.

I look forward to receiving your materials. And please pardon one more request.

IF YOU EMAIL YOUR MATERIALS TO US WE WILL ALWAYS NOTIFY YOU WITHIN 2-3 DAYS OF RECEIPT. Please refrain from asking “did you get it?” for at least 3 business days. If you haven’t been notified of receipt within 3 days, then by all means resend it (don’t ask, just resend it to the email address above. If it won’t go through, just ‘reply’ to this email and attach it.)

IF YOU SNAIL MAIL (POST) YOUR MATERIALS TO US, PLEASE ALLOW UP TO 2 WEEKS FOR NOTIFICATION OF RECEIPT. Why? It has to be forwarded to a special evaluator that handles ‘paper’. And remember, we cannot return materials, so no need for a SASE.

Whew! Thanks again and we look forward to hearing from you and looking at your work.

Best regards,
(Name omitted) – VP of Acquisitions
We Grow Talent

—– Original Message —–
From: “Cheri,” VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Sunday, January 29, 2006 9:24 PM
Subject: NY Literary Agency: Thank you for your submission.

Thank you for sending us your work for evaluation. It has been received successfully and it is now being sent to our evaluation team.

We have NOT reviewed it at this time. The review process takes about 1-2 weeks.

Also, we ask that you please see the list of Frequently Asked Questions at the bottom of this email. Our goal is to answer every question you may have BEFORE you ask it. We try to be as efficient as possible so that we can review your work more quickly. (We know you will appreciate this too!)

Please do NOT send us any additional work during the review period. We wish to complete our review of this work and then, if appropriate, we can discuss your other works.

We expect it to take about a week to get back to you with our evaluation. If you haven’t heard from us in 2 weeks, please get back in touch with us because perhaps an email has been missed.

We take pride in the fact that we reply more quickly than most agencies.

Thank you for sending your materials electronically, that’s one of the reasons we can work so quickly to reach a decision. We believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how quickly we can reach a decision. (However some authors hold this against us, can you believe it?)

Best regards,
“Cheri” – VP Acquisitions

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
============================
In an effort to save time, here are answers to a few questions that we typically receive at this stage. I think we are doing something right, here’s a comment I just received and I think it nicely states my goal of efficiency.

********************************************************
I do like the way you have organized your acquisitions process. It is efficient yet personal, answers almost every question that could be asked, and reflects your agency’s experience with the business. Your prompt responses are impressive, although I have learned to be very patient with certain publishers. I always try very hard to meet deadlines, because I know how much it is appreciated by those in the business. I think I would be very comfortable working with you.
********************************************************

(REPEATED FAQ FROM LAST E-MAIL)

Here is a quote from one of our clients that we assisted with improving
their work.

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“I just wanted to thank you for your critique of my manuscipt. Not only was it completed in a timely manner but you also provided me with some very useful advice in regards to how I can improve my writing. You were very professional and honest, which is a privilege to experience. My sincerest gratitude for your help and guidance.”
********************************************************

I didn’t send my entire manuscript, don’t you need the entire manuscript to make a decision?
—————————————————————————-
By combining your synopsis and query form with the writing you sent us, we can determine if the synopsis is adequate and interesting, and whether your writing style and skills are capable of being brought to professional industry standards. In other words, what we have is enough for us to determine if we want to work with you. (The ugly truth is that we can usually determine if we like your writing and writing style within the all-important first chapter.) After that, the rest of it is about your attitude. We like to work with pleasant people.

We like to work with pleasant people in a professional manner.
—————————————————————————-
We are absolutely committed to a professional relationship and professional communications. As you may have noticed, we have included that as one of our top 4 signature items. We sincerely ask that you hold the same professional attitude in our communications as well. If we make a mistake, or if you don’t like the way we do things, you DO NOT have permission to flame me. People describe me as ‘laid back – with attitude’. Any snippiness on your part and I have the full support of my managment to fire you on the spot, and I will, and it’s irrevocable. I’m sorry for the hard line, but we’ve been around the block enough to try and get rid of the bad apples as early in the process as we can. We very much look forward to a great relationship, over the long term, together. Thank you for understanding, we hope you feel the same way. Life’s just to short for mean people or drama.

What’s next?
————————-
If we believe your work has commercial viability, we will let you know with a “positive review” and inform you about how we bring your work to the marketplace. Because we are vertically integrated in the publishing world, we have the ability to do more with an author than most other agencies can do.

How long does this evaluation for commercial viability take?
—————————————————————————-
We know waiting is the hardest part and we’ve been in your shoes. We will do everything we can to get back to you as quickly as you can. By now you probably understand a few dynamics of this industry. First, most agencies and buyers are absolutely swamped, and second, this is the slowest moving industry in the world it seems. So, if you haven’t heard from us in 2 weeks, please drop us an email about your status. Our best guess though is that you will hear from us in about 5-10 days. We maintain enough readers and evaluators to keep that level of service.

I Have Other Work, May I send it?
—————————————————————–
Please allow us to decide if we wish to represent this work. Later we can discuss your other manuscripts.

I just made a revision, should I send it?
——————————————————————-
No, please don’t send a revision, illustrations, etc. We have enough to determine commercial viability. Writers are constantly revising their work. If we represent you, we will spend time making sure that everything is just right before we send it out. We have plenty of time.

I Have A Few Questions For You and Your Company
—————————————————————————-
We are happy to answer your questions, however, we would appreciate it if you wait until after our review and notification. At that time we will provide you with quite a bit more information, or we will pass. By waiting until the review period is over to ask further questions we will each save time. However, if you have a burning question, or just want to see if I’m really out here, then email me directly and I’ll get back to you within 2-3 days (excluding vacations, weekends, etc.)

Is my manuscript safe?
—————————————-
Your manuscript is completely safe within our company. We take care to properly manage all access and if we don’t end up working together, we delete all files.

Is this an automated email?
———————————————-
What do you think? Do you think I want to type this every time I receive a manuscript? Really though, let me give you just a bit of indication of how much work this is… first I have to receive the manuscript, open it, make sure the file transfer worked, forward it to a reader, mark it into the database, and then notify you of receipt. Then I have to get it back,see if I agree with the review, mark it in the database, and then let you know our results. All this occurs during a 5-10 day period and at the same time, I’m answering questions and dealing with problem, anomolies, sick days, vacations… (I think you get the point! Anything I can do to save time saves each of us time and money.)

And I do apologize for the form letters, it’s just that well.. I try to be as efficient as possible and I appreciate your understanding that my role with you is pretty cut and dried, i.e. yes/no/maybe. Later, if you work with our company, you will spend MUCH MORE personal time with the Agent assigned to you. In other words, the time for personal time is later, if we enter into relationship together.

Thanks again for your time and your consideration of our Agency,
(Name omitted) – VP Acquisitions

p.s. As we mentioned we pledge courteous, timely, and professional communications… here’s an unsolicited letter from one of our clients that really is what my job is all about.

********************************************************
I have not yet opened the contract email that you sent but I just wanted to reply here and thank you for being so kind to me. I have put my heart and soul into this work and have been written off by a number of agents. With the vast majority of them it seems as if they don’t even look at the work, they simply discard it. You make me feel like you really do care about my writing and about the success of my book. In a world of people who tend to be callous and unfeeling you really do make me feel as if you care about me and my work. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Thank you so much.
********************************************************

—- Original Message —–
From: “Cheri,” VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Subject: NY Literary Agency: Positive Review

Thank you for everything that we have received from you thus far. Our review team believes that your work has commercial potential and we would like to proceed further with you. We believe we would like to represent you.

Basically, we feel that your concept and writing thus far has potential and that if polished and presented properly, we can sell it. To take the next step, please let us take a minute to tell you a little bit about how we think and the way we do business.

Best regards,
“Cheri” VP Acquisitions

p.s. We apologize in advance for the length of this email. This is at the behest of our lawyers. They like it when we say it the same way every time. If this email appears truncated at the bottom, please let me know.

INCUBATING TALENT: We Are Willing To Develop New, Fresh Talent.
===========================================
We did see a few improvements are needed, but don’t worry, we receive very few ‘ready-to-go’ manuscripts. Most manuscripts that we receive need some level of polishing before we can submit them to buyers. Some need very little polishing. Some need a lot. Over the years, we’ve learned that it is worth our time and effort to do what it takes to develop new talent. We’ve learned that incubating new talent makes good business sense.

We’d hate to lose a good writer by not accepting someone who is willing to improve. There are very few literary agencies that will take the time to develop talent. Most barely return emails. We’ve answered every email you’ve sent us, and we’ve kept our promises regarding turnaround times. We hope that you will acknowledge that our level of communication and professionalism already far exceeds that of other literary agencies. We pledge this same level of professionalism and courtesy in all subsequent communications should we work together.

HOW CAN WE TRUST EACH OTHER?
===========================================
You don’t know us, and we don’t know you. We like your work, and hopefully so far, you appreciate that we have treated you professionally and efficiently. Yes, we use forms, but that’s so that we have more time to answer your questions about specific problems or nuances. We are looking for authors that are reasonable in their expectations and in their own evaluation of their work. We don’t want prima donnas.

If we were in your shoes, we believe you should be looking for a professional relationship with professional people who will ultimately benefit your writing career, whether your work is sold or not. We never promise a sale. However we do promise that we will work with you on a professional basis and do what we can to promote you and your work to our buyers.

What do we mean by “Polish Your Work”?
===========================================
As you would imagine, we are very, very concerned about what we present to our buyers. At a minimum they expect the mechanics of punctuation, grammar, spelling, and format to meet or exceed industry standards.

I think you would agree that your work can use some level of polishing. However, we don’t think you should take just our word for it, we would like to have an independent review of your work that shows you where the improvements can be made.

From a trust factor, it’s like an investor trusting a certified public
accountant … if there is an independent review on the table, we can each relax and trust each other, and spend our time strategizing marketing, not arguing over whether the work is ready to present or not.

What we have learned over the years is that nothing is more invaluable than having a unbiased, critical review of an author’s work as a roadmap for bringing the work to market. In writing circles this is called a critique. We want you to have a critique of your work. You might already have one, or you may need to get one. Here’s what one author had to say about his critique.

Dear “Cheri”: The critique was more favorable than I had anticipated. I’m a long time editor, of academic works, and I know from experience that good authors appreciate good critiques. As for my own writing – again academic — I have always taken criticism well. I don’t always go along with everything the critic says, but I try the best I can to incorporate anything I feel is worthwhile. And that’s what I did today. Within minutes I was at my desk and my laptop, trying to find out what I could do to satisfy this critic. I also wanted to judge how much work would be required, how long a re-write would take, and so on. If you have that option, you can pass along my thanks to the critic. And you can say that I will try to turn it into a popular book, not an academic treatise. As an academic, I’ll never be able to put that aside completely, but I’ll do my best. And I suspect I can do
it within a month or two. You service is phenomenal.

HAVING A CRITIQUE PROTECTS YOU from unscrupulous agents. Having a critique protects US from egocentric writers who think their work is just fine like it is. If the critique says, “green light – good to go” then we can start marketing immediately. If the critique says, “some improvements can be made in grammar, punctuation, etc”, then we can pause with you while those changes are made.

WHAT DOES A CRITIQUE LOOK LIKE?
=======================================
Here are some links for sample critiques from one of our vendors that we respect. (We realize that not all of these apply to you, but we want you to see how versatile and powerful this critique format is.) Also, please realize that a critique is a fast overview. It is NOT a line edit.
(Links omitted)
YOU MAY ALREADY HAVE A 3RD PARTY CRITIQUE A good number of our applicants do. (As a serious writer, you should get one every year or two).
======================================================================
As we mentioned, if you already have a 3rd party critique, please let us know. It must match the level of detail that you see in the examples above. If you have an associate that you believe can do your critique, then be sure to send us their credentials first for approval.

Please don’t try to critique your own work. (Yes, we’ve seen that happen and we can tell immediately.) Also, many people ask if they can get a friend to do the critique, or a teacher, or an associate. The answer can be yes, but the problem is that if they don’t do editing for a living, then it’s like asking anyone to do something for free, it takes longer, and it may not be done correctly.

The critique should be inexpensive, usually around $60-$90 depending on the company you choose. It will tell each of us if the work is ready for marketing right away, or if more polishing is required. As we mentioned if you have a critique already, great, if not, we can provide a referral for a critique service.

As we’ve mentioned before, we need a common platform of trust from which to begin the representation process together. Many authors wonder if the critique just leads to more and more editing. The answer is NO! Editors are very integrous people, if they say a work meets or exceeds industry standards, then we can all trust their opinion. Once an editor says ‘good to go’, then everyone can move to the next step.

In summary, the critique protects you from unscrupulous agents that will try to tell you that you need endless rounds of editing. Once you have a critique you are in a much stronger position in your writing career.

PLEASE NOTE: WE ARE NOT ASKING FOR MONEY.We want you to have a critique by a qualified industry professional.
===========================================
MANY AUTHORS MISUNDERSTAND THIS SIMPLE REQUEST. We don’t want you to pay us, we want you to have a critique to start our relationship so that we can start from the same page. (If I told you the number of writers that accuse us of using this to take their money, you would be flabbergasted.)

Many authors ask, “why we don’t do the critique as part of our Agency?”.
===========================================
In the old days, perhaps that occurred. However in today’s competitive world we must focus almost entirely on our core competency, which is selling your work. Our company relies on editors to work with you to bring your work to industry standards. We are not editors, we are sales professionals.We contract out all editing work. (As you might imagine, it turns out that editors are usually lousy salespeople, and we love the editors we work with dearly). This point is worth spending extra time on, we aren’t editors, we are sales professionals, and those are two VERY different skill sets.

———- One more positive response from an author about the critique ———————————-

Dear “Cheri”: Thank you so much for your quick responses and professionalism. It was so refreshing to hear an unbiased critique of my work for the first time. I have hungered for it since I’ve been writing. Someone actually read the whole script and took the time and care to provide a professional critique and show me the areas that need improvement. I am so determined to make my work a success, and it helps me to know what my strengths are and where I need improvement. Thank you, and please pass on a big thank you to my editor.
————————————————————————

IN CONCLUSION:
===========================================
Please review the critique sample links above. Think about how powerful an ‘excellent’ critique would be to the selling process and how it will give us the confidence we need to put our reputation on the line for you.

Think about how it protects you, protects us, and how it provides a meeting point so that we can trust each other and move forward on the same page

Thank you again for your time and consideration. We look forward to working with you and developing your writing career together.

Sincerely,
“Cheri” VP Acquisitions

P.s. Instructions for the next step are at the bottom of the email after the FAQs below

Typical FAQs that we see at this stage:
=================================

Q) I have a critique, what do I do?
A) First look at the critque and compare it to the examples above. Many critiques are long on plot and character development. The critique that we prefer includes that PLUS a strong focus on the mechanics.. i.e. punctuation, grammar, format, and spelling. If your critique does not address those mechanical elements we will ask you to get a new one. However if your critique is reasonably close to our examples, then simply let us know that you have one, and we’ll send you the contract, and then you put your critique in with the contract when you send it in.

Q) I need a referral.
A) We will provide you with a referral to someone we trust and who discounts their prices to our clients. You can certainly use any qualified person to do the critique if you know one, but they MUST have been in the industry.

Q) How long should a critique take?
A) It should take about two weeks. It should cost no more than $60-$90. It should be thorough. Many “old style” critiques are long on plot and short on mechanics. The critique that we desire will not only include commentary on the plot, it will also critically review grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the mechanics of writing. We know, we know.. it’s all of our least favorite aspect of writing, but to succeed as a writer, your mechanics must meet or exceed industry standards.

Q) Do I have to pay for it or does the publisher provide for the final polishing and editing?
A) Both…. As your agent, we need it to be ‘great’ before we will pitch it, and then, if the publisher wants to make changes, then they will pay for the changes they desire.

Q) What if the critique says my writing is horrible? Will you still represent me?
A) The critique will never say that your writing is horrible. The critique will point out your strengths and weaknesses. It will come from a coaching point of view, not from a judgmental point of view. As we’ve mentioned earlier, our Agency is different in that we are willing to develop talent. We will not fire you because of a poor critique.

Q) My teacher/friend/pastor/writer/PhD/English Teacher…… can do the critique right?
A) Yes, maybe… we’ve seen very poor work from PhD’s, teachers, and most writers. If they haven’t had a stint as a true editor, then usually they aren’t going to do a good job.

Q) My work is my work, It’s special and i’m not changing anything…
A) That’s fine, but we do insist that spelling, grammar, and punctuation meet or exceed industry standards. We have a saying, “if you put 10 editors in a room you will come out with 15 opinions”. Ultimately, the final decision is yours. If you don’t agree with them, we are on your side, especially about subjective items. On the mechanics and formatting issues we side with the editors.

Q) What do the buyers/publishers think of this model that you use?
A) Frankly, our buyers know that when we pitch a work, that we’ve put the writer through the proverbial wringer! Our buyers know that our writers can understand a contract, comply with reasonable requests, and that we’ve weeded out the ‘something for nothing’ writers that are basically lazy about their craft. This hyper-competitive industry will only reward the best, and that’s our commitment to our buyers, and to you.

Q) How do I know that this won’t turn into endless rounds of editing that I have to pay for?
A) At some time and some place, we have to trust each other. We believe that this is where it has to start. Your risk is $60-$80. Our risk is that our internal cost of our time with you at our hourly rate is easily greater than that amount. (And you never pay us for that time, we don’t charge any fees as we’ve mentioned earlier). So, we’ll spend the time to work with you if you’ll do your part to make sure your work is the best it can be. Unless the critique points out the need for substantial rework, there shouldn’t be any more fees. That’s why we require an independent 3rd party for the critique. This protects YOU from an unscrupulous agent, and it protects US from egocentric writers.

Q) I’m still nervous, what does your contract say?
A) First you keep the copyright to your work, and second, you can fire us in 90 days. Our contract includes the following two clauses designed to protect you. There are no payments to us in the contract unless we sell your work.

Here is the exact language in the contract:
—————————————————————–
1)The copyright and ownership is specifically retained by the AUTHOR for this work and all works submitted to, and accepted by, the Agent. The Writer does not grant to Agent or any other party any right, title or interest of any kind in any copyright, ownership and/or any other intellectual property right contained in or as a part of any work of the Writer submitted to the Agent. The Agent agrees to make no claim to any such right, title or interest, however denominated.

2) The Writer/Producer may terminate this Agreement after 90 consecutive days of no sale by Agent.

——————————————————————

So, if you don’t like us, or we don’t perform, you can fire us in 90 days, and we clearly state that you keep your copyright so there is no chance of us claiming your work. We don’t know how much more ‘safe’ we can make it. (If you think we are going to steal your work, then you are too paranoid to work with us anyway and we’re happy if you decline). Other than that, the contract is for one year duration, and we ask for a reasonable 10% if we sell your work.

===========================================
IN CONCLUSION.. THE NEXT STEP IS SIMPLE …
Please “Reply” to this email with one of the following three statements:
===========================================

1) I understand how a critique protects each of us and will improve my writing (or validate that I’m as good as I think I am). Please send your contract and a referral for a critique service. I will get the critique underway as soon as I hear from you. We have to start trusting each other somewhere and I am committed to my writing as a business.

or,

2) I have a critique already. Please send me your contract and I will include my critique with the contract when I send it in.

or

3) “Thanks but no thanks, I’ve never heard of such a thing”.. or some variant of that…

===========================================

In conclusion, no matter what your reply, I truly and sincerely wish you the best in your writing career and I want you to know that I have enjoyed our interaction immensely thus far. Continue to follow your dreams, and it is my deepest hope that you succeed with your writing career.

I remain, yours truly,
“Cheri” VP Acquisitions

THE AUTHOR POSTED THE FOLLOWING REPLIES ON WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 01, 2006:

Q. How long have you been writing, and what are your goals as a writer?

A. About eight years, off and on. Now I write full time, and am working on my fourth book. To become published and give people their money’s worth when they buy my work.

Q. Do you consider your writing ‘ready-to-go’, or do you think it needs some polishing.

A. I feel my work is ready to go, I think if I edit it one more time it will
fall apart. But, I know there is always room for improvement.

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: “Cheri” VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
Sent: Thursday, February 02, 2006
Subject: Re: NY Literary Agency: Positive Review

Dear Ms. (Name removed), I have a question for you. I read the critique response to “Book Title”, am I wrong in assuming that only the synopsis of the manuscript was critiqued? If so how could anything be gleaned from simply reading the synopsis?

I feel a critique could be very helpful!
thanks, Author

***
—– Original Message —–
From: “Cheri” VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Saturday, February 04, 2006
Subject: RE: NY Literary Agency: Positive Review

Your background, your writing skills and the subject matter were very easy to say yes to.. why waste any other time?

Our mission in the Acquisitions Department is clear and very “cut and dried”. We answer 3 questions:

1. Will the subject matter sell? Is it commercially viable?
2. Is the writing good enough, or would it be good enough with some degree of assistance?
3. Did you as the evaluator like the work and would you believe in it if you were selling it?

If we get a “3 Yes” designation then you pass (at my level).

The next item we look for in our filtering process is your willingness to listen/make changes/, what your goals are, and what your overall demeanor is. We will very quickly wash out a great writer with a bad attitude.

After that, we leave it up to the experts to really dig in and get detailed.

Best regards,
“Cheri” VP Acquisitions

Please excuse any delay as I have been traveling with limited access to emails.

Our Pledge To You:
==================
* We respect what you have accomplished thus far as a writer.
* We believe that great authors are made, not born. We are willing to develop talent.
* We pledge straight talk in a confusing and old-school industry.
* We can’t promise a sale. We can promise a professional relationship.

p.s. Missed Emails, Spam, Whitelists, and other reasons for lapses in communications. We are very, very diligent about returning every email that we receive within a couple of days. The same is true for our vendors and suppliers. IF YOU DO NOT RECEIVE A COMMUNICATION AND YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE, PLEASE, CHECK WITH US AND WE WILL SEE WHAT HAPPENED. Please don’t jump to negative conclusions. The Internet is not 100% foolproof and we are very sensitive to our clients’ expectations and our promises about timely communications.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Cheri” VP Acquisitions
To: Author
Sent: Saturday, February 04, 2006
Subject: NY Literary: Contract & Critique Referral

Congratulations and my warmest wishes for our mutual success! And again, we thank you for your understanding and your acceptance of our business philosophy. We look forward to working with you and because you have indicated such a strong commitment to your work you can rest assured that we will be excited and committed to doing what we can to work just as hard for you!

PLEASE READ THIS INFORMATION CAREFULLY AS IT WILL SAVE YOU TIME AND REDUCE YOUR STRESS (and mine!):

1. Attached is our Contract for Agency Representation.
===========================================
It is simple and straightfoward and we’ve used it for years. It is also
non-negotiable. I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have, but 99% of the time we will not make a change to it if requested. If you want to have a lawyer look at it, by all means do so, but we’ve spent great time and energy with our lawyers making it simple enough for a business person to understand.

You don’t have to be nervous because you can back out very easily. We very clearly state that your ‘out’ from the contract is that you can fire us in 90 days if we don’t perform or you don’t like our services for any reason. This rarely happens, but it’s there for you if you want it.

Your work is completely safe and remains your work. You keep your copyright and this contract is only for the work you submit, not all your works. (You can discuss other works later with your agent).

We are not trying to tie your hands in any way, and as you will see from the contract, we only get paid if you get paid. There are no other payments to us.

We ask that you regular mail us two signed copies of the contract. The address is within the document. International authors can either fax the contract or mail it. Please allow up to 30 days to receive the counter-signed contract back in the mail. The contracts are sent to our NY office and depending on the travel schedule of our President, it may take that long to get them signed and back to you.

We ask that you get the critique started in parallel with sending in the contract. Send in your contract at the same time you are getting your critique. Don’t wait for the critique to send in your contract.

2. Referral for the Critique/Evaluation
===========================================
As we mentioned in the prior email, if you have a critique or evaluation similar in format to those we sent you earlier please send it to us along with your contract. (Don’t email it separately, we have a hard time matching it up. Simply print it and put it with your contract). If you want us to tell you if what you have is acceptable then email it to me as quickly as you can.

If you do not have a critique, please email the following address and tell them that we referred you (address omitted) All you have to say is ““Cheri” referred me”.

They will send you a very clear set of instructions on how to proceed with the critique, send your manuscript, payment, etc.

Writers Literary offers a discounted price to referrals that we send the ($89). We send them so much business that they will prioritize your work and this will speed up the entire process. We can also lean on them if we need to make them work more quickly!

When they complete your critique they will send it to you and to us at the same time. Remember, we are unique in that we are willing to help you develop your talent, so there is no need to worry about what the critique will say.

What’s Next?
=================
During the next 30 days we should receive your contract and your critique. Once we receive your contract and your critique is finished and in our hands, you will be put in touch with your Agent. At that time the Agent will review the critique with you and the two of you will develop a strategy to market your work as quickly as makes sense given the information that we see in the critique.

The Agent will then become your primary contact and will answer questions, guide you, and hopefully, before too long, come to you with the good news of a sale! (Note: we never, never promise a sale, that’s a checkbox for you within the contract by the way).

I am happy to answer any questions that you have and I have enjoyed our interaction. My sincere best wishes for your writing career.

Best regards,
“Cheri” VP Acquisitions

If you can’t open the pdf attachment, try clicking on this link (link omitted)

A Few Frequently Asked Questions (I can’t resist, you know me by now)
===========================================
Please send the contract in parallel with getting the critique. That way
we’ll have you in the system when the critique is finished. Don’t wait to send in the contract until your critique is completed. Send the contract in immediately and please allow 2-3 weeks for notification that we received it.

If you need an extension, simply email me and we automatically grant one, so don’t stress if for some reason you haven’t heard from me. Non-US authors are automatically granted an extension.

If you have a critique already please be sure it matches the thoroughness of the critique example we sent you. If it doesn’t we will reject it. If it does, we will move forward quickly. If you want me to look at it just email it to me.

What’s Next? Once the critique process is complete you will be connected to the Agent that will be working with you. You will discuss ‘next steps’ based on the results of the critique. As we mentioned in a previous email,we are willing to develop talent so there is no need to worry unduly about the results of the critique.

We look forward to working with you. Once we receive your contract and enter it into our system you will receive an email confirmation.

In the meanwhile don’t forget to contact adminNY@writersliterary.com to get your critique started. They will tell you exactly how to proceed. Send in your contract in parallel with having your critique done.

Please note:
============
If for some reason you don’t get your contract back in a timely fashion (say 30 days) please email contractadmin@theliteraryagencygroup.com and they will find out what went awry.

I have enjoyed interacting with you but my role with you is now finished. I am in charge of new author acquistions only. If you need help with something let me know though, and I’ll endeavor to assist you.

Best regards,
“Cheri” VP Acquisitions

> —–Original Message—–
> From: Author
To: Writers Literary, Editorial service to which NYLA referred her
> Sent: Saturday, February 04, 2006 8:07 PM
> Subject: critique info.
>
> Dear Sirs,
> “Cheri” referred me to you for a critique of my book.
> thank you,

—– Original Message —–
>From: (Name omitted) Writers Literary
>To: Author
>Sent: Sunday, February 05, 2006 8:48 AM
>Subject: RE: critique info.
>
>Re: Discounted Critique for The New York Literary Agency
>
>Thank you for requesting a critique from Writers Literary. Congratulations on your acceptance by a leading Literary Agency. You’ve achieved quite a milestone and we are honored to assist you with your writing career.
>
>An Invoice is below at the bottom of the email that reflects the discount that you receive because of your Literary Agency affiliation.
>
>Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the Critique Process. If you don’t see the answer to your question here, please feel free to email me.
>
>
>Cordially,
>”Lulu”- VP Administration
>Writers Literary
>============= FAQ
>Q) How Do I Send You My Manuscript?
>A) Please wait until we receive your payment. Then your Project Manager will ask for a fresh copy of your manuscript via email. We have a very difficult time with hard-copy. However if you need to mail your work, please let us know.
>
>Q) What are the qualifications of your editors/critics?
>A) We have had great feedback from our clients regarding our editors. Following are credentials for some of the editors that work for us. You can see that your work will be in skilled hands! Click on this link to see some of their credentials. http://www.writersliterary.com/editing.html
>
>Q) How long does it take?
>A) About 10 business days (2-3 weeks) to deliver the critique to you after payment is received.
>
>Q) What does the critique look like? Will I get a copy?
>A) You will be sent a copy of the critique when it is completed. Typically, for expediency, we will also send one to your Literary Agency as well.
>
>Q) I have revisions, should I send them to you if they haven’t started the critique yet?
>A) No please don’t send revisions while we are in process. It is doubtful that you will have changed enough to substantially change the critique, so please don’t send in revisions if we have already begun the process.
>
>Q) How does the process work? Do I send you my manuscript or will you get it from the Agency?
>A) First, we will receive your payment and we will then introduce you to our Project Manager who will be in charge of your critique. The project manager will need a fresh copy of your manuscript. She will give you instructions at that time, so please hold your manuscript until you hear from her after your payment is received.
>
>Q) I sent in my payment and I haven’t heard anything….
>A) Sometimes, with all the spam flying around, email can slip through the cracks (on both sides). Please if after 4-5 business days, if you haven’t heard from us that your payment was received, don’t hesitate to recontact me. PLEASE CONTACT (email address) FOR ALL
>PAYMENT RELATED QUESTIONS.
>
>If you have any other questions about payments or process please let me know. Other than that, please wait to hear from your Project Manager after payment is received.
>
>Thank you again, we look forward to working with you and wish you the best in your writing career.
>
>Best regards,
(Name omitted) – Critique Payment Administration
>
>p.s. Just to ease your mind a little bit more about the process, here’s
>some praise we recently received.
>
>”Thank you so much for your quick responses and professionalism. I received the critique back from Paula, and it was so refreshing to hear an unbiased critique of my work for the first time. I have hungered for it since I’ve been writing. Someone actually read the manuscript and took the time and care to provide a professional critique and show me the areas that need improvement. I am so determined to make my work a success, and it helps me to know what my strengths are and where I need improvement. Thank You, and please pass on a big thank you to Paula.”
>
>”I am writing to you via my wife’s email because there was something wrong with mine and I apologize for the inconvenience. As for the critique on my manuscript: Wow!! Thank you so very much for your honesty and for your straightforward analysis. After reading the MS so many times, I guess I never saw the grammatical errors that seem so blatant now. I will follow your suggestions and try to analyze my writing with a close eye on grammar. I cannot thank you enough for your help. I wish you could help me with the entire work but I know that if I do not try to improve on my own, I will never learn and I will always be dependent. I don’t know what the New York Literary Agency will do now and I am mortified at the prospects. I will keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.”
>
>”I would like to thank you for this critique, it is refreshing to get an honest professional opinion of my work, it make me realise just how much I don’t know about the written word and its presentation.It’s been a long time since I left school with considerable number of years passing before I became interested in writing stories.I would like you to thank the critique for me and let it be know that I look at this as a new beginning and rebirth of my education.”
>
>Payment Information Form
>=======================
>
>PLEASE ALLOW AT LEAST 4 BUSINESS DAYS FROM THE TIME YOU SUBMIT AN ELECTRONIC OR FAX PAYMENT TO RECEIVE A CONFIRMATION. For mailed payments please wait a little longer.
>
>IF YOU DO NOT RECEIVE A PAYMENT CONFIRMATION EMAIL IN THE STATED TIME FRAME PLEASE EMAIL: and we will determine what happened. (Usually we get back to you more quickly than that, but sometimes we do take a vacation or sick day).
>
>INVOICE: Critique
>==========================================
>
>Schedule of Administrative Fees:
>1 New Author Critique
>Total Due = $89

(PAYMENT INSTRUCTIONS)
Please do not send your manuscript to this address. This is
>an accounting email only. Once we receive your payment you will receive full instructions on where to send your work.
>
>I hereby authorize Writer’s Literary & Publishing Services, or their credit card processor, to charge my credit card a one time fee of $89 USD only.
>
>Signature_______________________________________________
>
>Card Number: _____________________________________________ Exp. Date:
>
>Name on Card:
>_______________________________________________________
>
>Exact Billing Address of Cardholder: __________________________________
>
>City, State Zip, Country:
>__________________________________________________
>
>CVV2 Security Code: (3 digits on back of card, or 4 digits on front for
>Amex) __________
>
>Email for us to notify you when the card is processed:
>_________________________
>
>We strongly prefer an electronic copy of your materials sent via e-mail, however, if you are unable to e-mail your materials, please mail them to: (address in Florida)

—– Original Message —–
From: Author
To: New York Literary Agency
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2006 12:04 PM
Subject: Book critique

I have sent your $89.00 as requested on Feb. 7,2006, for a book critique, you should have received it by now. Please respond.

From: Writers Literary
To: Author
Sent: Monday, February 13, 2006 12:52 PM
Subject: RE: Book critique
My apologies, I’ll try to figure out what’s wrong. To speed up the research, would you please send any payment details that you have such as the date you sent the payment, how it was sent, whether it has been withdrawn from your check, etc, to (e-mail address omitted) I will immediately research this for you.
Thank you.
Regards,
Payment Processing

— Original Message —–
From: Author
To: VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
Subject: Book critique
Dear “Cheri”,

I contacted the critique service as you requested, (email address omitted) sent off the $89.00 fee through our credit union on Monday, they received the money on Tuesday, (I called the credit union to make sure) but for some reason the critique service has not received it, or at least they have not let me know they have received it after I sent them an e-mail asking if everything was in order. Diane at the service said she would do some research to see what was going on with the sent $89.00 fee. Please see what you can do on your
end, “Cheri”.

thank you

AFTER PAYMENT WAS CONFIRMED, THE AUTHOR RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING, WHICH SHE ANSWERED AND RETURNED, ALONG WITH AN E-MAILED COPY OF HER MANUSCRIPT, ON Wednesday, February 15, 2006 AT 5:34 PM:

Thank you for the opportunity to assist you by providing you with a critique of your work. As a fellow writer, I wish you the best in your writing career and I hope you find the information below helpful and useful. We have found that this format is the easiest way to present our findings to you. Please fill out the top portion of the form and return, along with your manuscript to:

This information is to be provided by the author:

The Current Title of the Work:

The Current Synopsis of the Work:

The Current Length of the Work (# of words):

Market/Demographic Focus:

Describe The Main Character (if applicable)

Describe any Supporting Characters (if any)

—– Original Message —–
From: Critique Administration
To: Author
Sent: Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Subject: RE: critique response

Dear Author,

Thank you for your information, which has been forwarded to one of our editors. I will be back in touch as soon as I am in receipt of your critique. The process takes approximately two weeks from the date we receive your completed information, (give or take a few days depending upon holidays and time constraints).

If you have not heard from me, please contact me. Sometimes, emails go “missing” so your communication would be helpful in catching something of this nature. Many thanks!

Continued best regards,

“Lulu,” Director of Critique Fulfillment
Writers Literary & Publishing Services

—– Original Message —–
From: “Vi” Writers Literary
To: Author
Sent: Wednesday, February 15, 2006 8:08 AM
Subject: Writers Literary – Critique Administration

Dear (Author),

Your critique Wire Transfer payment has been received. Thank you!

Please fill out the top portion of the attached critique form and forward it, via email, along with your manuscript (even if you have already done so previously). I apologize in advance for any duplication of effort on your part; however, in order for my department to be expeditious in getting your critique done quickly, it is most helpful to have the manuscript in the same email as the critique form. Thank you for your assistance!

Once we receive the completed critique form and manuscript, both will be forwarded to one of our editors who will develop your critique. The process takes approximately two weeks. Once the critique is received back from the editor, you will be sent a copy and one will also be forwarded to your referring agency who will then contact you to review it with you.

Important!! Please email the critique form and manuscript to: (e-mail address omitted)

We will then get started.

Best regards,

“Vi”
Critique Fulfillment Department
Writers Literary

—– Original Message —–
From: “Cheri” VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2006 3:49 AM
Subject: NY “Cheri” Out Of Office

I will be out of the country with no access to emails or voice mail until Sunday. Please excuse any delay in my communications during this time. I expect to be caught up by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Thanks,
“Cheri”

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: “Cheri” VP Acquisitions
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2006 1:55 PM
Subject: Re: NY “Cheri” Out Of Office

“Cheri”,

Don’t send out the dogs! It was a false alarm! My credit union sent the money in the wrong name. And they are the best in town! Anyway, the book has been sent to the critique service. Hope you had a great trip!

Thanks,

—– Original Message —–
From: “Cheri” VP Acquisitions
To: Author
Sent: Tuesday, February 21, 2006 9:00 AM
Subject: RE: NY “Cheri” Out Of Office

Whew! Please note:

In the future, send all administrative communications to (email address)

I have enjoyed interacting with you but my role with you is now finished. I am in charge of new author acquistions only.

“Angie” and her administrative team will take good care of you. Ask “Angie” about any questions related to receiving your contract or the process of the critique and then meeting the agent once all the paperwork and preparation is in place.

I wish you the absolute best success and I have enjoyed our e-meeting together.

Best regards,
(Name omitted) – VP Acquisitions

Our Pledge To You:
==================
* We respect what you have accomplished thus far as a writer.
* We believe that great authors are made, not born. We are willing to develop talent.
* We pledge straight talk in a confusing and old-school industry.
* We can’t promise a sale. We can promise a professional relationship.

p.s. Missed Emails, Spam, Whitelists, and other reasons for lapses in communications. We are very, very diligent about returning every email that we receive within a couple of days. The same is true for our vendors and suppliers. IF YOU DO NOT RECEIVE A COMMUNICATION AND YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE, PLEASE, CHECK WITH US AND WE WILL SEE WHAT HAPPENED. Please don’t jump to negative conclusions. The Internet is not 100% foolproof and we are very sensitive to our clients’ expectations and our promises about timely communications.

—– Original Message —–
From: New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Sunday, February 26, 2006 6:16 AM
Subject: Literary Agency – Contract Administration

Dear (Author),

You should have received your executed contract in the mail by now, and if not, you should within the next few days. If you do not receive it within a week, please let us know.

Once again, we congratulate you on your commitment to your writing career and we compliment you on what you have achieved thus far.

Sincerely,

The Contract Administration Department

Note: Please do not reply to this email. ContractAdmin is a singular use email only. “Cheri” and the Acquisition Team have enjoyed working with you thus far. Since their role is very focused on acquisition of new talent, if you have questions or follow-up comments please contact “Angie” at (e-mail),as she is in charge of administration and preparing you for working with the Agent. “Angie” be your administrative contact for the duration of your time with us.

Important: If you have not made arrangements for obtaining a critique, please contact: (Writers Literary e-mail) immediately.

What’s Next?
=============

Once the critique is in the hands of your Agent, they will review yourcritique with you and, based upon what is contained within the critique, discuss what is necessary before beginning the sales and marketing of your work.

p.s. Missed Emails, Spam, Whitelists, and other reasons for lapses in communications. We are very, very diligent about returning every email that we receive within a couple of days. The same is true for our vendors and suppliers. IF YOU DO NOT RECEIVE A COMMUNICATION AND YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE, PLEASE, CHECK WITH US AND WE WILL SEE WHAT HAPPENED. Please don’t jump to conclusion. The Internet is not 100% foolproof and we are very sensitive to our clients’ expectations.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Lulu” Administration, Writers Literary
To: Author
Sent: Tuesday, February 28, 2006 2:41 PM
Subject: Writers Literary – Critique Administration – Reminder

Re: Critique Information Reminder

We are performing our monthly audits and verifying the status of your critique. Thank you for taking a moment to verify our accuracy.

Our records show that we are awaiting receipt of the critique form and/or manuscript/script in order to complete your critique.

If this is in error (and yes, it happens) please email me with any details you have. We sincerely apologize if we have missed an email containing your information or if we have acknowledged receipt of your information already, yet you are receiving this message. Given that we have several
people who process the information that comes through to Writers Literary, sometimes there are errors on our part and our database may simply not be reflecting the correct data.

Should you need the critique form to be sent to you again, please let us know. All information and inquiries should be sent to: (e-mail address)

Continued best wishes for your writing career.

“Lulu” – Director of Critique Fulfillment
Writers Literary & Publishing Services

—– Original Message —–
From: “Vi” Critique Administration, Writers Literary
To: Author
Sent: Friday, March 03, 2006 5:43 PM
Subject: Writers Literary – Critique Administration

Dear (Author),

Your critique has been completed (see below) and for expediency it has also been forwarded to your Literary Agent. Your agent will review the critique and get back to you within a few days to discuss the results with you. If you have NOT heard from the agent within five days, please contact them.

Thank you again for your commitment to your writing career. At Writers Literary we stand ready to assist you in all phases of bringing your work to the top quality possible and if you decide that future improvements are necessary, we hope you will allow us to assist you.

If you have any comments about your critique (good or bad) please let me know. We are always trying to improve our processes and customer service.

=============================================================
Many authors can make their own changes suggested by the critique. However, some authors try to make their own changes, when they really don’t have the skills necessary to do so. Therefore the Literary Agency that you work with has asked us to provide the following information to them as well (see below):

NOTE: THIS IS INTENTIONALLY BLANK. THE COMPLETED FORM HAS BEEN SENT TO YOUR AGENT WHO WILL BE CONTACTING YOU TO REVIEW YOUR CRITIQUE.

Editor’s Notes:

In my opinion as the person that has reviewed this work, the changes or
Improvements suggested by this review can be made by the author.

______ (Yes, Probably, Maybe, No) This is a 4 point forcing scale.

The amount of work needed to bring this to industry quality standards is:

____ not much
____ some
____ a lot

Remember, the purpose of the critique is to get an unbiased plan of action to bring your work up to professional standards. Your agent will work with you and this information to do so.

“Vi”– Writers Literary Services
Critique Administration

—– Original Message —–
From: “Hal,” Senior Editor, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Saturday, March 04, 2006 2:53 PM
Subject: Critique Analysis

Hello, this is “Hal,” Senior Agent at the New York Literary Agency. Please allow me to introduce myself (e-mail address). And my administrator, (Name omitted, e-mail address) Together We will be working with you to first prepare you for marketing, and then to Begin the process of selling your work.

If you have administrative, clerical, filing, or other items to discuss, Please take them up with (assistant). If you have questions about the marketing And agenting, please take them up with me.

Please DO NOT cc everyone as that creates make-work as emails are forwarded And duplicated.

If you haven’t heard from someone, please let me know as I am your senior Contact. Sometimes, with all the spam flying around, email can slip through the cracks (on both sides).

Now that those details are over, let’s get started.

I received your Critique and have reviewed it. (You should have already received It from Writers Literary but if not, it is attached here again. Please always check your Spam filters to see if it may have ended up there.)

It is our recommendation, and we’re sure that you would agree, that the Indicated improvements are implemented before we submit your manuscript to Potential buyers. It is absolutely critical that we submit only top quality Works to our buyers.

The reality is that buyers are inundated with so many manuscripts they can Pick and choose those that are as close to perfect as possible. This saves Them money and effort and allows them to get a better idea of what the Finished product will look like so that their decision process moves more Quickly.

At this time we have to make a decision based on the results of the Critique. Our basic question is this, “based on the critique results, can the author Make their own changes, or should they be required to work with a Third-party editor to make the improvements called for in the critique?”

1) Our first choice is for you to use an editor to assist you.
2) ——————————————————————–
3) In many cases the author is so close to the work, that they can no longer be
4) Objective about making changes. It also helps to have someone to ask
5) Questions of, etc. (Note: you can get started with an editor for around $150ish).

2) You may decide to make the changes yourself.

We realize that in many cases the author feels that they can make their own Changes, or they need to save money, or they just want to do the changes Themselves.

If this is your decision, please realize that we may perform an internal Critique on the changes you have made, and if we find that more work is Needed, then we will request that you work with an editor. However, we may Find that your changes are acceptable, and we may move forward.

There is no right or wrong answer to the above question, just what’s best For you, me, and the work.

Conclusion

I hope this explains the options available to you at this time. Just to Repeat, if you make your own changes, then we may require more work, or we May not. Obviously we’ll have to review what the changes look like. If you Use a third party editor, then we know that the work was done correctly and We can move forward. (As an example of why we like to suggest a third party Editor, think of an accounting auditor. This is an independent third party That certifies that certain standards are met).

Please let me know which way you would like to proceed given the results of The critique.

If you have any other questions or would like to proceed in a different Manner please let me know. This is a slow-moving industry and we can afford To take our time to bring your work to the highest possible level before we Pitch it… you know the old saying, “you never get a second chance to make A first impression”.

I look forward to your reply.

Best regards,

“Hal,” Senior Agent

Attachment: Critique form
(PLEASE NOTE: FOR POSTING ON THIS WEBSITE, I HAVE REMOVED IDENTIFIABLE REFERENCES TO THE BOOK, TO PROTECT THE AUTHOR. THE AUTHOR HAD E-MAILED THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT, BUT APPARENTLY, THE CRITIQUE BELOW REFERS ONLY TO THE QUESTIONS PREVIOUSLY ANSWERED BY THE AUTHOR AND THE FIRST PAGE OF TEXT.)

Critique Section – This information will be provided by the Critic:

The Current Title – How catchy is it? How well does it convey the information in the manuscript?
I don’t find this a very catchy title.

The Current Synopsis – How catchy is it? Does it intrigue?

This synopsis sounds interesting, but there is no need to give a chapter by chapter summary.

The Current Length of the Work – Is it appropriate for the target market?

Yes.

What is the power of the opening 3-5 sentences?

The opening is fairly good.

Dialogue (if any) – Describe and comment.

Good.

Mechanics – Grammar:

There are errors in grammar and punctuation throughout the script. I have edited the following paragraphs to show some of them. I have highlighted the words and punctuation marks I added and have put in bold the words that have to be deleted:

There are some long, convoluted sentences that have to be rewritten for correctness and clarity, eg: (OMITTED TEXT)

Throughout the script, there are too many long, involved sentences. It sounds as if the writer has tried to cram as much as possible into each sentence. It reads better when you break up some long sentences into shorter, simpler ones. The aim is to make your script easy and enjoyable for people to read. Readers don’t want to have to struggle through long, complicated sentences.

It’s better not to use unnecessary phrases that add nothing to the meaning of the sentence but just make it sound longer and wordier. Making a sentence longer and wordier does not make it sound more impressive. The convention nowadays is to write tight. Simplicity is valued over ornate writing. Clear, simple, focused writing is easier to understand and a pleasure to read. When you make your sentences long and convoluted, that makes the book harder to read and people are more likely to be put off and choose to read something that is easier to understand.

Mechanics – Spelling:

There are some typos, eg: (OMITTED TEXT)

Mechanics – Punctuation:

There are various mistakes, including missing commas. I showed some of them in the paragraphs I edited above.

Mechanics – Formatting:

The manuscript should be typed in Courier 12, double-spaced.

Is there a need for illustrations? (Children’s, non-fiction, etc.)

No.

Other / Conclusion

This is an interesting story, but the script has to be edited to correct the errors in grammar and punctuation.

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: “Hal,” Senior Editor, New York Literary Agency
Sent: Sunday, March 05, 2006 1:29 AM
Subject: Re: Critique Analysis

Dear “Hal,” thank you for getting in touch with me so quickly. The only thing is, I have a problem. I cannot afford an editor. So where do we go from here? You sound like a very smart man, and since we have a contract, what do you suggest I do?

—– Original Message —–
From: “Hal,” Senior Editor, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Sunday, March 05, 2006 7:40 PM
Subject: RE: Critique Analysis

Dear (Author),

We completely understand cash flow challenges, so no worries! Take your time. This is a slow moving business and we’re in it for the long term. We like you and your work and we are willing to wait.

At this point you can use the critique as your guide and make the changes yourself. You can submit them to me when you feel you are ready and we will take a look at it again at that time. If you do not wish to make the changes, we can take your work as is and go directly to marketing. The choice is yours.

Please let me know how you wish to proceed.

Thanks,
“Hal” – Senior Agent

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: “Hal,” Senior Agent, New York Literary Agency
Sent: Monday, March 06, 2006 1:36 PM
Subject: Re: Critique Analysis

Dear “Hal,”

All right, I will make the changes, and we will go from there. I was amazed when I went back over the book and saw that the critique analysis was correct. I found mistakes I did not know were there. Hell, I thought I was perfect!

Thanks,

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: “Hal,” Senior Agent, New York Literary Agency
Sent: Tuesday, March 07, 2006 12:31 AM
Subject: We have a problem

Dear “Hal,”

We have a problem. I received a message telling me that the New York Literary Agency is a fraud. That the agency and staff earn their money, not by selling books, but by referring writers to a critique service (their own) and by referring writers to an editorial service (their own). I believe a person accused of fraud should have a chance to explain. What say you, “Hal”?

I hope this is not true. A literary agency can make a lot more money selling a good author’s work then by defrauding them.

Thank you,

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: “Hal,” Senior Agent, New York Literary Agency
Sent: Wednesday, March 08, 2006 12:09 AM
Subject: Here is your chance.

“Hal,”

It would seem you and the rest of the staff at New York Literary Agency, have been very busy. Everywhere I look on the Internet, when I ask about the agency, I get information that the New York Literary Agency is only a scam. And that you all have been doing a scam for at least six years!

Here is what you can do. Send me an email stating that you no longer represent me, and send back my contract. If you do this, then I will be satisfied. If you do not do this then I will contact the police in Boca Raton, Fla. The Better Business Bureau in Boca Raton, Fla. then start with the police and Better Business Bureau in New York since you have an address there as well. Not to mention the FBI, since I am sure they would like to know what this agency is up to of late. I am sure they have also heard about you as well.

The ball is in your court!! Let’s see if you are smart enough to end this!

—– Original Message —–
From: “Hal,” Senior Editor, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Thursday, March 09, 2006 4:44 PM
Subject: RE: Critique Analysis

Dear (Author),

I like authors that like to work for themselves, and who are open to assistance as well. So, yes, make your changes, and when you send it to me we’ll decide if it’s ready to go at that time.

“Hal,” – Senior Agent

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 6:46 PM
Subject: WHAT GIVES?

“Cheri”,

Are you playing games? Before I found your name all over the Internet with a bad rep, you were always so quick to respond.

Hmmm, I wonder why.

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: Administration, Writers Literary
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 6:47 PM
Subject: WHAT GIVES?

I am not hearing anything from anyone. I wonder why?

—–Original Message—–
From: Author
To: “Jo”- Administration, New York Literary Agency
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 6:50 PM
Subject: WHAT GIVES?

“Jo”,

Suddenly I am not hearing from anyone. Why do you think this is, “Jo”?

—– Original Message —–
From: “Hal,” Senior Agent, New York Literary Agency (NOTE: SIGNATURE BELOW DOES NOT MATCH ORIGIN)
To: Author
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 9:31 PM
Subject: RE: We have a problem

Dear (Author),

First, let me assure you I DO NOT get paid as you mentioned below. I do not work on commission and I get no “kick backs” what so ever. I do not know of anyone in our company that works this way either. If I did, I certainly would not have to work the hours I do. (You will notice it is 6:32pm on a Saturday evening)

As far as the negative comments that are out there about us, here is what our company says….

Please let me apologize in advance for any ‘attitude’ that this email contains. We are asked to comment on that blather all the time, and the sorry truth is that good authors have missed their chance at quality representation because our business model has angered a bunch of wannabe writers. Our successful authors don’t have time to frequent those boards, and if you can find a non-self-published author on the forums, let me know.

It’s funny how people will believe something from someone they’ve never met, vs. someone they have interacted with over time.( i.e. me.), but at least you’re asking for more info, so I commend you for that.

We used to spend time and energy trying to get them to present both sides of the same story on the forums, but frankly it was a waste of time and we have too many applicants anyway.

If you have any specific questions, I’ll answer them, but this ‘comment on what I found” is a waste of time and energy, which I frankly don’t have any more of. (excuse the bad grammar).

Make up your own mind based on our own interaction. I’m very, very sure that I’ve treated you professionally, and that I’ve responded to every email you’ve sent.

Otherwise, best to you in your career, I hope you can find another agent that will treat you with the respect that I have, but I doubt it.

Best regards,
“Cheri” – VP Acquisitions

Here is our ‘form’ rebuttal:
================================

First, let me thank you for ‘seeking first to understand’. I apologize in advance for the length of this email but we want you to be able to make an informed decision about how to proceed.

We are keenly aware of the negative message boards out there and frankly we are very concerned too. Please allow me to give you our analysis of the situation and a suggestion about how you might proceed.

There appear to be three categories of people on those boards.
——————————————————————-
1) The first category are the ‘industry watchdogs’. These are people that derive some level of psychological benefits from ‘exposing’ fraud, scams, etc. WE HAVE CONTACTED THESE PEOPLE NUMEROUS TIMES AND OFFERED TO ANSWER THEIR QUESTIONS ON A PUBLIC FORUM FOR THE BEST INTEREST OF THE INDUSTRY AND THE WRITERS. They have refused or ignored our requests. What does that tell you? It tells me that they aren’t interested in the truth, it tells me that they are interested in more visitors to their website. Also, they have blocked our rebuttal posts and deleted our prior posts. In short, it’s a very one-sided message board isn’t it?

2) The second category are people that have worked with us, for whom we haven’t been successful, and they are blameful, pointing fingers, etc. Basically just jumping on the bandwagon because they would rather feel ‘took’ than acknowledge that their work wasn’t good enough to sell.

3) The third category, for whom we feel the most sorry for, are authors such as yourself who stumble into this mess. Many of these authors just decide not to continue, and may lose the one real chance that they ever had to secure representation. Contacted any other agencies lately? How has the response level been? Wouldn’t you give us just a few points for responsiveness?

So, what to do?….
————————
First, we challenge you to actually go through the message board and to find anything of substance. What we see is repeat, repeat, and each time something is repeated, it gets more and more outlandish. Our favorite, was that “we steal work and sell it to China”. ugh.

Go through the boards and send me any SPECIFIC questions you have. (I’ll actually save you some time, and answer some now because we’ve heard most of them… )

Q) You charge fees.. that sucks.. no one should charge a writer anything…you should get paid only if you sell something… and various flavors of this misconception.

A) We really don’t charge fees. We ask the writer to improve their work and a critique and editing (sometimes) is part of that process. The odds are so against new writers that we’ve learned that we can only invest our time with writers that are willing to pull their own weight. Writers that aren’t willing to pull their weight we call the “something for nothing” writer, who is regurgitating old mantras about how if an agent charges anything, they are bad. Guess what,
if your last name was President Clinton, we’d waive our fees too.

Q) You’ve never sold anything… the author sold it.. blah, blah

A) We now have 4 deals. The most recent is with an UK publisher. (Note: because of the vitriolic people on these boards we don’t post our deals because the instant we post a name, the really creepy and scary people that hate us start sending this crap to the posted name. We’ve got the documents and if ever needed our lawyers can pull them out.) We assisted every author with the contract on those 4 deals. We actually have emails from the publisher complimenting us on the fair job we did for our author. Yes, in two of the deals the author found the relationship, two of them, we found the relationship. In all 4 deals we provided SIGNIFICANT value to the contract negotiation and the post-publishing supoort. The thing that is
lost in all this is that very, very few literary agents have even one deal under their belt. Also, we did a measurement in April and we had 68 open and active discussions with buyers about our authors’ work. We expect a few more deals by the end of the year. You might also be interested to note that we also find really bad contracts for our authors and we recommend that they don’t accept them. We’ve seen more contracts than anyone you know and we bring that expertise to our clients.

Q) You use Form Letters and you are impersonal…

A) True or false, we have answered every email that you have ever sent us? I know the answer is true, and you know it too. To me, that’s personal service. Yes, we use form letters for billing, acquistions, status reports, etc. Our lawyers like us to say it the same way, every time. Do you really want to hold that against us? By using every method possible to keep our admin costs down, we can spend our money selling for our authors, it’s that simple.

Q) The people who work at your company are scam artists, thieves, and have records… etc.

A) This is the grapevine at it’s worst. We aren’t, we aren’t and we don’t. Have you ever heard of mis-identity, or identity theft. We have learned that it’s impossible to curb this situation. Also, did you ever ask yourself why writers have used pen names since time began, and why agents are so hard to get to? It’s because every agent that we know has been literally stalked by some crazy writer. We’ve had them drive by our house. creepy and wierd.

Q) If all this is so untrue, why haven’t you done anything about it?

A) We’ve tried, we’re filing lawsuits against Victoria Strauss and a few
other message board owners, but for the most part, anyone can say anything, so we have just learned to live with it, and to hope that the real authors, the ones we want as clients, can see through it as what it is.

So, in conclusion, if you want to spend your time looking for any real and substantive items on the boards, please do so and let us try to answer the question as best we can.

Please let me repeat our business model. We want writers who are willing to help themselves. However, in the end, you must be the one that has to decide what you want to do. If you are unwilling to spend any money to improve your writing, then please go away. If you are willing to take a small chance with us, then give us a try.

Either way, we wish you the best in your writing career.

p.s. I think this person says it very well…

In closing, I’d like to mention that on several sites that I’ve perused, your agency has been given a bad reputation for problems that I myself have not experienced. Given this, I felt that I should tell you personally that I have been very happy with the level of service your company has given me and at no time have I ever felt uncomfortable about working with you, even after having a dozen web sites try to warn me that you are “unfair”. It is my opinion that some of these sites really ought to look into the writers posting these complaints, but it is only my opinion, so I’ve kept it to myself, except of course to share it with you. In any case, I’ve felt you’ve done a wonderful job up to this point, and that you deserve some thanks for everything that you do… so, er, thank you.

Please, make up your own mind based on our interaction.

And before you lose what might be a decent chance at success, we suggest that you at least stay with the process until you see our contract.

Our contract is very simple and it has the following clauses that protect you:
===========================================
1. There are no fees. If your work needs improvement, then you are responsible for that. If you think your work doesn’t need improvement, then good for you, but we rarely, rarely, see ‘ready to go’ work. Rarely, and I mean rarely. If you think WE should pay someone to improve YOIUR work, then we really are glad to get rid of you now.

2. You can fire us if we don’t perform, easily and cleanly after any 90 day period where we don’t make a sale.

3. You keep all rights, copyrights, etc.

I promise you those 3 clauses are in the contract, so, you can believe what you read, or you can give us a try and make up your own mind.

I know you are nervous, however, what’s your real risk? Ask yourself that.

Our successful authors have answered that question for themselves, and frankly, they don’t have the time or energy to hang out posting on boards, they are following their success and their dream, and I hope you do the same.

Whatever your decision, I wish you the best.

The quotes below are unedited and as you can see, quite from the heart. (We have lots more of these.) If you are really cynical, you will probably believe we made them up, but I promise you, we can prove every one of them.

=======================

“Just a note to say, whatever the outcome of my submission, it’s refreshing to engage an agent who will a) take an email submission, b) turn it round as quick you’ve committed to do and c) actively work with a writer. Submissions are daunting enough anyway without having to wait ten weeks for an impersonalised slip of paper. Here’s to you.”

“I would like to thank you for this critique, it is refreshing to get an honest professional opinion of my work, it make me realise just how much I don’t know about the written word and its presentation.”

It’s been a long time since I left school with considerable number of years passing before I became interested in writing again. I would like you to thank the critique editor for me and let it be known that I look at this as a new beginning and rebirth of my education.

“Thank you for my critique. I couldn’t believe how fast I got it! Frankly, I don’t think it is humanly possible to top the phenomenal service I have received from you. Not only did you keep me apprised of the situation every step of the way – a critique within days of your receipt of my manuscript! I was utterly amazed to say the least! I must congratulate you and all your team for the high level of friendly, efficient service and professionalism that you give your clients. I am HUGELY impressed!”

“As for my critique, I could hardly believe that could write such a WONDERFUL one about my work. The fact that she said she loved this story made all the years and years of writing and keeping the faith worthwhileI THANK YOU, CYNTHIA, THANK YOU! Your positive words abou my work have made my whole year!!!!!!!!!”

“After having reread all the information sent to me, I must say that I am impressed by the way your agency has handled the science, or art of appreciating new sources of writing. If only all agencies displayed your model the world may be a better place. Your FAQ has answered all of my questions and i am eager to get to work.”

===========================

So, as you can see, some clients love us (and some clients hate us, but hey, that’s life in real business). We respect that our service is not for you, but we did want you to know that we have many more clients that like us, than hate us. That said, I wish you the best in your writing career. If you would like to reconsider, we are open to it. If not, we wish you the best and hope that you will find an agency with a soft spot for new authors.

—– Original Message —–

From: “Hal,” Senior Editor, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Friday, March 10, 2006 9:31 PM
Subject: RE: Here is your chance.

Dear (Author),

I just sent you an email with an explanation but unfortunately for you you were too impatient to wait for it. So, fulfilling your wishes……

I am sorry that this didn’t work out.

This email shall serve as formal termination and dissolution of our Literary Agency Contract for Representation.

“Hal,” – Senior Agent

—– Original Message —–
From: Administration, Writers Literary
To: Author
Sent: Saturday, March 11, 2006 8:10 AM
Subject: RE: WHAT GIVES?

Dear (Author),

I am sorry. This is the first email I have received from you. After checking your account, I see that your critique is complete and you should have received it around March 3. By copy of this email to the Critique Fulfillment Dept., they will forward you another copy.

Please let me know if there is anything else you need. Thank you.

Best Regards,

Writers Literary
Accounting

—– Original Message —–
From: “Cheri” VP Acquisitions, New York Literary Agency
To: Author
Sent: Saturday, March 11, 2006 10:14 AM
Subject: RE: WHAT GIVES?

Still am, but not wasting time convincing anyone.

Best regards,
“Cheri” – VP Acquisitions

Our Pledge To You:
==================
* We respect what you have accomplished thus far as a writer.
* We believe that great authors are made, not born. We are willing to develop talent.
* We pledge straight talk in a confusing and old-school industry.
* We can’t promise a sale. We can promise a professional relationship.

p.s. Missed Emails, Spam, Whitelists, and other reasons for lapses in communications. We are very, very diligent about returning every email that we receive within a couple of days. The same is true for our vendors and suppliers. IF YOU DO NOT RECEIVE A COMMUNICATION AND YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE, PLEASE, CHECK WITH US AND WE WILL SEE WHAT HAPPENED. Please don’t jump to negative conclusions. The Internet is not 100% foolproof and we are very sensitive to our clients’ expectations and our promises about timely communications.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Vi” Critique Administration, Writers Literary
To: Author
Sent: Saturday, March 11, 2006 4:52 PM
Subject: Writers Literary – Critique Administration

Dear (Author),

Attached is a copy of your completed critique that we emailed to you on 3/3. Below is a copy of the email that accompanied it. By separate email, I will send a copy of an email that your agent sent to you on 3/4.

Thanks,
“Vi” – Writers Literary Services
Critique Administration

Dear (Author),

Your critique has been completed (see below) and for expediency it has also been forwarded to your Literary Agent. Your agent will review the critique and get back to you within a few days to discuss the results with you. If you have NOT heard from the agent within five days, please contact them.

Thank you again for your commitment to your writing career. At Writers Literary we stand ready to assist you in all phases of bringing your work to the top quality possible and if you decide that future improvements are necessary, we hope you will allow us to assist you.

If you have any comments about your critique (good or bad) please let me know. We are always trying to improve our processes and customer service.
=============================================================
Many authors can make their own changes suggested by the critique. However, some authors try to make their own changes, when they really don’t have the skills necessary to do so. Therefore the Literary Agency that you work with has asked us to provide the following information to them as well (see below):

NOTE: THIS IS INTENTIONALLY BLANK. THE COMPLETED FORM HAS BEEN SENT TO YOUR AGENT WHO WILL BE CONTACTING YOU TO REVIEW YOUR CRITIQUE.

Editor’s Notes:

In my opinion as the person that has reviewed this work, the changes or
Improvements suggested by this review can be made by the author.

______ (Yes, Probably, Maybe, No) This is a 4 point forcing scale.

The amount of work needed to bring this to industry quality standards is:

____ not much
____ some
____ a lot

Remember, the purpose of the critique is to get an unbiased plan of action to bring your work up to professional standards. Your agent will work with you and this information to do so.

“Vi” – Writers Literary Services
Critique Administration

—– Original Message —–
From: “Lulu”- Administration, Writer’s Literary
To: Author
Sent: Monday, March 13, 2006 6:31 AM
Subject: RE: WHAT GIVES?

(Author),

Your email is confusing. ???

“Lulu” – Director of Critique Fulfillment
Writers Literary & Publishing Services