Okay, I'll expand on each of those points in a moment, but first I guess I should explain why I'm thinking about this today. Earlier in the week, Harlequin announced their new vanity publishing venture. Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and Mystery Writers of America (probably the three largest and most influential writing organizations in the US) took a stand against Harlequin, and basically told them that if Harlequin was going to pee in the sand box, they weren't invited to play anymore.
Why would they do this? Because these organizations have their authors' best interests in mind, and vanity publishing isn't good for anyone but the publisher's pockets.
First, let me say that vanity publishing and self-publishing are two different things. Self-publishing occurs when an author decides to hire a press like LuLu.com to bind their book. They pay for this service and the supplies, and then they own X copies of their books which they sell at a price they determine. Vanity publishing is when the author pays (usually an exorbitant) fee to have their book published, and for that fee they then collect only a percentage of the sales--the publisher keeps the other percent.
Sound a little shady? It is.
The fact that Harlequin Horizons is set up as a vanity press, that it is being advertised on the Harlequin website, and that information about the press will be included in Harlequin rejection letters, is extremely shady. The fact that all of this is being done by one of the Mega NY Publishers is just down right terrifying. Personally, I'm glad the writing organizations are making a stand.
I'm going to steer off the topic of Harlequin in particular, but if you are interested in learning more, all the organizations I linked earlier have press releases, and author Jackie Kessler wrote some amazing blogs about it which you can find here and here.
Now, returning to the points I made earlier:
This means that if someone is asking you for money to publish or represent your work, you should take your words and run. Fast.
Publishers pay writers to write. That is the way it works. They need books to sell, writers produce those books, and publishers pay for the right to print them. When you sell a book, you should receive an 'advance' (advance against royalties) which is basically money the publisher gives the writer up front because they anticipate the book will sell well enough to (more than) earn out that advance. I'm not going to go into the nitty-gritty of money in this post (though if you're interested LViehl has an interesting post about the money breakdown for her recent NYT bestselling novel) I simply want to stress the point that you, the writer, should not be paying to be published. (Yes, shady vanity presses aside, self-publishing is a legitimate option for some people, and you do pay for that. There are a few very specific reasons a person might choose to self-publish, but for a novelist who wants a career in writing, it isn't really an option.)
So what about agents? They are the author's inside man with the publishers, and they aren't charity workers. They basically work for authors (strange relationship where they screen the person they work "for") but agents only make money when authors do. 15% is pretty much industry standard for agents. Fifteen percent of Zero isn't much, so your manuscript has to sell before your agent starts making money (which, I imagine, is why agents are so selective of who they take on as clients. They have to really love an authors work because they are working for free until that first MS sells.)
Red flags when dealing with prospective agents include reading fees, client dues, postage fees, and editing fees.
This is where Harlequin is looking exceptionally shady. They are telling authors they aren't good enough for H to pay them to be published, but hey look, if you really want your book in print, you can pay H to print it. Also, some less than reputable agents refer green and gullible writers to in house editing services (which the author must pay for). This goes back to my first point. Watch out for scams.
This is important on many different levels.
For starters, you want to make sure the agent or publisher you a querying is legitimate. A good idea is to check them out on sites like Preditors and Editors , Writer Beware, and the Absolute Write Forums.
But maybe you already know the agent/publisher is legit. You still have some research you need to do. You need to go to their website (or look them up in Publisher's Marketplace) and find out what they are looking for and what their submission guidelines are. Then you have to follow those guidelines. If the agent says they are looking for Women's Lit, Romance, and Mystery, don't send them your Science Fiction Space Opera--that's not what they are looking for. (And especially if they specifically say that are not looking for something, do not send them that type of novel anyway with a note that says 'I know you don't usually represent XYZ, but . . . ) If you are submitting to a publisher who says they accept a query letter and the first five pages, don't send thirty pages(and do send the first pages, not your favorite). It sounds like common sense, but you wouldn't believe the number of panels I've attended where agents and editors begged the audience to follow the guidelines. It will save you from unneeded frustration and a guaranteed rejection letter.
Okay, I'm going to end with that unless someone has questions (Anyone? Anyone?) because, wow, that ended up being really long. I wish I were being that verbose in my fiction today. LOL.
Here is my current word count:
31406 / 50000 words. 63% done!
How is everyone else doing? We have a full week and a weekend left, but that week is interrupted by a holiday. Will Thanksgiving give you extra time for words, or will you be juggling your wordcount and cooking/hosting/family/ect?
P.S. For those who haven't seen it yet, here is a video of me fire hooping last night.