Michelle Miles: Why #writing can be dangerous

When I first started writing, I was like any fledgling author. I’d picked up a Writer’s Market and combed the pages for editors and agents who would love me. More than anything, I wanted to be published. I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book, sitting on a shelf in my local Barnes & Noble. It was (and is) my dream.

I’d made a list of all the agents I wanted to target and started sending query letters. I hadn’t the first clue how to write a query letter but I knew enough about business in general to know what NOT to do. Thank goodness. I was NOT one of those authors who emailed the agent back and tell them how stupid was they were for not signing me. I also was NOT one of the authors who badmouthed said agent in any social media outlets because I got rejected.

I did, however, eat a lot of cookies and drink a lot of wine (not at the same time) when I got those rejections.

But I digress.

I sent out this one query letter to an agent and to my surprise, the woman called me and offered to represent me. I was ecstatic! The more we talked, though, the more I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. She would rep me, she said, if I paid her $1,000 to get started. Up front. As much as I wanted this, something about the situation sounded…off. But I was going to be PUBLISHED! How could this NOT be a bad deal?

Before I said yes, I did some quick research. And as it turns out, no agent – ever – will make you pay money up front to rep you. Some will charge you postage and copying fees (but in the electronic age, even that doesn’t happen much anymore). And the going rate for commission was 15-20% of royalties.

I suddenly had this horrible thought that I was about to drop $1,000 on something that would never, ever happen. It was then I realized this woman was NOT an agent. This woman was a thief. She preyed on the writers who had no clue about how the industry worked. And I’m sure she made a lot of money that way.

Around this same time, I started getting mail from a place called Xlibris and iUniverse touting they could publish my books and get them in print. More research and I learned, very quickly, these were vanity presses. These were the folks who also took your money and your book never got into print or anything else for that matter. I started paying attention and read the horror stories. The people had been basically robbed of thousands of dollars trying to get published.

Now, the “big” publishers are trying the same thing. Simon & Schuster is the latest to join the ranks of “self-publishing” or as we know it, vanity publishing. There’s a very informative post about that here.

Let me be clear here. There is nothing wrong with authors who self-pub and get their work out there. Heck, I get do it, too. I also do all the work myself (hire cover artist, hire editor, format the book myself, etc.)

But there IS something wrong with paying thousands of dollars to a company that will not deliver your product. These people are crooks. They will take your money and you will never see your book in print. And they won’t even bat an eye while cashing your check. You should never pay anyone to publish your book. No matter how good it sounds. Because if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

By Michelle

I wish you all could be inside my head. The conversation is sparkling.