To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do

From Jane Friedman:

Every year, countless people attempting to write their first book will reach out to me directly and ask if I’ll read their work and tell them what to do next.

The request is perfectly natural, especially for those who know me in some way. I’ve spent 20+ years in the writing and publishing community, and my name gets around as an expert. Yes, I can often read something and know exactly what a writer should do.

But here’s the real superpower: I often know what writers should do without reading a single word of their work.

Here is what I say, assuming it’s someone’s first book.

Maybe your loved ones have told you to write this book, or you’ve long wanted to give voice to a story or an experience—or share your expertise. Possibly you’ve been holding onto a story idea for years and now you finally have time to realize it on the page.

But as you get started, uncertainty creeps in. It’s hard to keep moving forward, alone, as innumerable questions arise. Questions like:

  • Is this any good? Am I any good?
  • How do I know if this is worth my time?
  • Should I continue based on what I have?
  • Am I wasting my time? Does anyone care about this except for me?

You might be seeking a verdict on your effort or validation of the idea, or even permission to continue. Maybe you don’t know much or anything about writing and publishing and feel it’s better to secure guidance before making any further investment of time and energy. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you want help. Hopefully encouragement.

Here’s the tough part.

You’ve just taken the first step in a long journey. Right now, you’re likely at a delicate stage, where I could either crush your dreams or provide that encouragement.

To write, to create something, then open it up to the judgment of others, requires courage. I hope you continue, but at the same time, I have to be straight and honest that most people’s dreams of what will happen with their book do not come to fruition because they give up early in the process. At some point, the criticism (both constructive and not-constructive), along with rejection, arrives. And what so often determines success is what you do in response. Will you shut down and stop, or will you grapple with the challenge and grow?

If I were to tell you today that your project is a waste of time, would you abandon it? If so, perhaps it’s best that you did. To keep writing in the face of rejection is required of every professional and published writer I know. I can offer encouragement and tell you it’s a wholly worthwhile endeavor—and that will be true—but to achieve results that spell success (especially on a commercial level) requires more than my blessing or validation or permission. It requires an inner drive that pushes you forward no matter what feedback you receive. In the end, I believe it requires enjoyment of the writing process in and of itself—to see that as the reward.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Find Your Topic, Not Your Voice

From Jane Friedman:

In setting out to become a writer, you must strive, above all, to discover your unique voice. At least, that’s become the conventional wisdom, taught in MFA programs as well as in more casual settings, from writers group meetings at Starbucks to free classes taught in the stuffy backroom of your local library. Yet there is so much wrong with this advice that, if you spend even one full minute giving it serious thought, your eyes will roll heaven-ward all on their own like Where even to begin?

Still, we must begin somewhere, so here goes.

How can you know what your tone will be when you don’t yet know what your topic is?

Where exactly do we think voice comes from if not from subject?

Which is the right cart and which is the right horse?

Sure, your unique sensibility may account for a large part of your hot takes, but would you write about muffins and genocide the same way, or Fords and fjords? And are we really so sure that voice trumps all other aspects of a piece of writing?

Finally, who is responsible for advancing this damnable, now-inescapable sick logic, and what is their address, because I’m thinking I might like to T.P. their house?

Maybe that seems a tad aggressive. But you have to consider the real damage this advice has wrought. All over the world, people’s drawers bulge with unpublishable novels, essays collections and memoirs in which there’s plenty of voice, yet no story, no real through-line, no sense of one’s audience beyond the assumption that they’re there. That’s the problem. This overemphasis on voice puts the focus on the writer and what they want to say and how they want to say it, ignoring more pertinent questions. Namely, considering how there’s Mare of Easttown to binge on HBO, why should anyone spend hours poring over your writing instead?

It also ignores the credentialism involved with the few novels and works of nonfiction that get acquired, more or less, because of voice alone. Publishers are a lot less apt to value your unique voice if that voice doesn’t come with degrees from Harvard or Iowa, or if you’re not reading this article while lounging on the terrace at Yaddo. It’s just a fact. There are exceptions, of course. The overall picture is, however, about as clear as any close-up of Kate Winslet, though not as pretty.

I rant like this from firsthand experience, from the wish I could time-travel back about 15 years and tell myself all this. My own writing breakthrough, the one that got me a book deal after a dozen years of trying, came from focusing on topic ahead of voice. Your writing struggles and goals may well be different. You are probably miles ahead of me, much less dense and much quicker to learn. But considering the prevalence of the conventional wisdom, let’s turn it on its head a minute.

What if you were to put the primary focus on your topic?

It might just help you land a book deal, climb some lofty bestseller list, scale those Everest-like Amazon ranks—and what’s more, the process is simple, no matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

  1. Pick a topic that fascinates you, or learn about a topic until it fascinates you.
  2. Lead with research. Google your subject to see what’s out there. Begin to gain a sense of whether an audience already exists.
  3. Bring that topic to the world.

This strategy can lead to more interesting writing, and interesting is what you need to be, considering you and I and everyone else we know are all working inside a full-fledged, entertain-or-GTFO attention economy. Few of us occupy such exalted positions that we can take audience for granted. This is all the more true if your goal is to eventually sell a book—again, fiction or nonfiction—because first you must prove to agents and acquisition editors that there’s a crowd of people eager to pay for it.

Your topic could, for example, take any of the following forms:

  • Things that interested you as a child
  • Ideas you can’t get out of your head
  • Places that have become your personal obsessions
  • Or some such B.S.: weird jobs, strange headlines, cultural trends, etc.

And your audience may pop up in such places as:

  • Facebook fan groups dedicated to your subject
  • Publications and other outlets (from podcasts to YouTube channels) dedicated to your subject
  • Reddit boards about your topic
  • Other writers who’ve covered this same subject, plus their audiences.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG hasn’t decided if he needs to establish a quota for the number of articles he posts that include a discussion about the difficulty of getting a traditional publishing contract or not. He’s happy to receive suggestions on this topic in the comments.

As he was thinking about this quite common trope, the thought occurred to him that the consistent appearance of such stories might be evidence of some sort of common cognitive error or mental disorder that seems to plague more than a few would-be authors who wish to be traditionally published. He’s not certain if an MFA is a contributory factor to contracting this condition or merely a symptom of it.

PG needs some help in understanding what’s going on here.

Note that PG is not disparaging mental health professionals or the great benefits they can provide to those who are genuinely mentally ill or otherwise emotionally impaired. Nor is he ridiculing those, author or non-author, who have genuine mental, emotional and/or cognitive problems.

He’s simply providing the many intelligent laypersons who visit TPV and who may have observed the anguish and anger exhibited by many authors who are frustrated with the arbitrary and unfair treatment traditional publishing and it’s enablers visit on them, particularly when those authors have other avenues for getting their books in front of readers.

Per Positive Psychology, here is a list of common cognitive errors AKA cognitive distortions:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of gray. In other words, you see things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you believe you are either perfect or a total failure.

2. Overgeneralization

This sneaky distortion takes one instance or example and generalizes it to an overall pattern. For example, a student may receive a C on one test and conclude that she is stupid and a failure. Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself and your environment based on only one or two experiences.

3. Mental Filter

Similar to overgeneralization, the mental filter distortion focuses on a single negative piece of information and excludes all the positive ones. An example of this distortion is one partner in a romantic relationship dwelling on a single negative comment made by the other partner and viewing the relationship as hopelessly lost, while ignoring the years of positive comments and experiences.

The mental filter can foster a decidedly pessimistic view of everything around you by focusing only on the negative.

4. Disqualifying the Positive

On the flip side, the “Disqualifying the Positive” distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them.

For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that they are a competent employee and attribute the positive review to political correctness, or to their boss simply not wanting to talk about their employee’s performance problems.

This is an especially malignant distortion since it can facilitate the continuation of negative thought patterns even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading

This “Jumping to Conclusions” distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking. Of course, it is possible to have an idea of what other people are thinking, but this distortion refers to the negative interpretations that we jump to.

Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you is an example of this distortion.

6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling

A sister distortion to mind reading, fortune telling refers to the tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence and holding them as gospel truth.

One example of fortune-telling is a young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.

7. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization

Also known as the “Binocular Trick” for its stealthy skewing of your perspective, this distortion involves exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things.

An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.

8. Emotional Reasoning

This may be one of the most surprising distortions to many readers, and it is also one of the most important to identify and address. The logic behind this distortion is not surprising to most people; rather, it is the realization that virtually all of us have bought into this distortion at one time or another.

Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Just because we feel something doesn’t mean it is true; for example, we may become jealous and think our partner has feelings for someone else, but that doesn’t make it true. Of course, we know it isn’t reasonable to take our feelings as fact, but it is a common distortion nonetheless.

9. Should Statements

Another particularly damaging distortion is the tendency to make “should” statements. Should statements are statements that you make to yourself about what you “should” do, what you “ought” to do, or what you “must” do. They can also be applied to others, imposing a set of expectations that will likely not be met.

When we hang on too tightly to our “should” statements about ourselves, the result is often guilt that we cannot live up to them. When we cling to our “should” statements about others, we are generally disappointed by their failure to meet our expectations, leading to anger and resentment.

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

These tendencies are basically extreme forms of overgeneralization, in which we assign judgments of value to ourselves or to others based on one instance or experience.

For example, a student who labels herself as “an utter fool” for failing an assignment is engaging in this distortion, as is the waiter who labels a customer “a grumpy old miser” if he fails to thank the waiter for bringing his food. Mislabeling refers to the application of highly emotional, loaded, and inaccurate or unreasonable language when labeling.

11. Personalization

As the name implies, this distortion involves taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without any logical reason to believe you are to blame.

This distortion covers a wide range of situations, from assuming you are the reason a friend did not enjoy the girls’ night out, to the more severe examples of believing that you are the cause for every instance of moodiness or irritation in those around you.

In addition to these basic cognitive distortions, Beck and Burns have mentioned a few others (Beck, 1976; Burns, 1980):

12. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: (1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or (2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, giving us responsibility for the feelings of those around us. Both beliefs are damaging, and both are equally inaccurate.

No one is in complete control of what happens to them, and no one has absolutely no control over their situation. Even in extreme situations where an individual seemingly has no choice in what they do or where they go, they still have a certain amount of control over how they approach their situation mentally.

13. Fallacy of Fairness

While we would all probably prefer to operate in a world that is fair, the assumption of an inherently fair world is not based in reality and can foster negative feelings when we are faced with proof of life’s unfairness.

A person who judges every experience by its perceived fairness has fallen for this fallacy, and will likely feel anger, resentment, and hopelessness when they inevitably encounter a situation that is not fair.

14. Fallacy of Change

Another ‘fallacy’ distortion involves expecting others to change if we pressure or encourage them enough. This distortion is usually accompanied by a belief that our happiness and success rests on other people, leading us to believe that forcing those around us to change is the only way to get what we want.

A man who thinks “If I just encourage my wife to stop doing the things that irritate me, I can be a better husband and a happier person” is exhibiting the fallacy of change.

15. Always Being Right

Perfectionists and those struggling with Imposter Syndrome will recognize this distortion – it is the belief that we must always be right. For those struggling with this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right.

For example, the internet commenters who spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should “agree to disagree” are engaging in the “Always Being Right” distortion. To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This distortion is a popular one, and it’s easy to see myriad examples of this fallacy playing out on big and small screens across the world. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward.

It is obvious why this type of thinking is a distortion – how many examples can you think of, just within the realm of your personal acquaintances, where hard work and sacrifice did not pay off?

Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.

Per WebMD, here is a list of the most common categories of mental disorders:

Anxiety disorders: People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if the person’s response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Mood disorders: These disorders, also called affective disorders, involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.

Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations — the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices — and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Eating disorders:Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.

Impulse control and addiction disorders: People with impulse control disorders are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drugs are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their addiction that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.

Personality disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and/or cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. In addition, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes their hands.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.

How to Find Compelling Comps for Your Book

From Jane Friedman:

When you start querying agents about your book, very quickly you’ll discover their guidelines ask for “comps.” Comps stands for “comparable titles”: books that might be considered comparable to your own.

For many writers, coming up with comps is a daunting enterprise, but the important thing to remember is their key purpose: to show where your book would be shelved in a store or who your most likely readers are. Everyone from agents to publishing sales people to booksellers will have an easier time understanding what your book is like or who it’s for if a comparison can be made. “If you liked X, then you’ll like Y.” It also shows that you know something about the current marketplace and how your book fits in it.

On my quest to write the perfect query letter, I got stuck on what comps to use. I channeled my frustration into research. Here is what I learned from the experts.

Per Jane Friedman

  • If you can’t find any, you are probably looking for too similar of a comp. Look at aspects of a work that relate to yours: style/voice, themes, plot, or character quality/journey.
  • Focus your search on the last few years. You can go back up to ten years if absolutely necessary but if you do, pair the older comp with something more contemporary.
  • Try to find a comp that will show where you’re positioned in today’s literary landscape. If you were on a panel with other authors at a book festival, who would be seated next to you?

. . . .

Per Janet Reid (aka Query Shark)

  • Comps are a shorthand for where the book belongs on the shelf and/or what kind of reader will like the book.
  • What books, published in the last two years, appealed to readers who will like your book? “[TITLE] will appeal to readers of _______”
  • What books, published in the last two years, are similar in plot or tone to yours? “[TITLE] evokes the story of ______”
  • Describe what aspect of the book is comparable to yours: the tone, the multiple points of view, the style, et cetera.
  • Once there’s a movie, assume the book is not a good comp. Also assume this if the author has 20+ bestsellers. Ask: Is it a success or a phenomenon? If it’s a success, comp it!

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman.

The Emotional Cost of the Book Deal

From Publishers Weekly:

For years, at writers conferences, I kept hearing the same well-meaning pieces of advice: keep writing, keep submitting, your book(s) will eventually find a home.

Though it’s meant to encourage writers to push through rejection, the advice doubles as a toxic literary theory of bootstrapping (bookstrapping?), which suggests that hard work and persistence will yield the reward of a book deal. That isn’t necessarily true. Through my 11 years of submitting multiple books, I wish one person had taken me aside and said, “Look, it’s a brutal business that oftentimes has nothing to do with talent. If it doesn’t work out for you, know you are not alone.” It might have saved me from years of self-blame for what I deemed my own shortcomings as a writer.

“The right agent is out there for you” was another common refrain. What isn’t as commonly known is how many agents some authors go through before they find one who is the right fit. Over 11 years, I signed with two agents from two top agencies. The first worked her tail off to sell one of my books but didn’t succeed. We parted ways, amicably, when she wasn’t interested in representing my third book. The second agent represented two of my friends. We hit it off. A few months after signing me, he disappeared. I fired him two years later, though he didn’t know it for a while because he rarely ever opened my emails.

I had been querying agents for more than three years for one of my seven books—my novel, The Parted Earth—when I received yet another racist rejection from a Big Agent at a Big Agency. “This book isn’t as strong as other books coming out of India,” I was told—as if “India” is some kind of genre and there is a quota for books set there. I had also received a string of rejections from agents explaining that they couldn’t “connect with the voice”—a painful reminder that so much about getting published depends on an agent’s familiarity with the protagonist’s experiences, not necessarily the quality of the writing or the significance of the story.

These rejections were the last straw. Aside from replying to the occasional random request from an agent to see my work—a few months after publishing an essay in the Atlantic detailing a decade’s worth of rejections—I quit looking for an agent. But then, the following summer, my nearly nonexistent publishing journey had an unexpected twist. A book contract appeared in my mailbox, in response to a proposal (unagented) that I submitted a year earlier to the University of Georgia Press for an essay collection. Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change would eventually make its way out into the world. My confidence returned full force, which led me to submit The Parted Earth (unagented) during Hub City Press’s open-reading period. Seven months later, I had my second book contract. Both books will be out this spring.

But let me be transparent. My advances from both books total less than what some writers earn from writing a single article. Subtract my out-of-pocket expenses for authenticity editing, line editing, page proofing, and hiring an independent publicist, and I’m considerably in the hole (though the sale of the audiobook for The Parted Earth has helped me dig part of the way out). My ability to go into this kind of debt is a privilege—one that most writers can’t afford. I only hope that both books sell well enough that my nonprofit presses can continue to publish minority authors like me, because if I’d had to rely on the Big Five houses, these books would never have seen the light of day.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Are You a Mom Writer Thinking of Quitting? Read This First.

From Jane Friedman:

The first agency to ask for my manuscript sent the request as I was dropping off my oldest son, Jack, at a week-long science camp. He was sobbing, inconsolable, but as the buses pulled away, his dad and I smiled and waved like we were at a Christmas Parade. As my husband navigated the parking lot, I checked my email and saw that Massie McQuilkin wanted to read my book.

Holy shit!!! Roxane Gay’s agency? F— yeah!

But I didn’t linger in the glow of that first page request for long, because my heart was on that bus, and he was struggling.

Massie McQuilkin eventually passed.

The next agent to request my full manuscript emailed in June, while I was standing in line with my five- and nine-year-old for the Minion Mayhem ride at Universal Studios and—hot damn!—the agent was adopted, too (my memoir is about how the adoption of my son served as the catalyst for my search for my own birth mom). It felt like this agent might be The One. But I didn’t linger in the possibilities of the manuscript request, because we were in the brain-blasting loudness of Minion Mayhem, I didn’t want my kids to see me with my face in my phone, and plus, they needed to be sun-screened.

Mom writers are wired to succeed at writing (and querying) because we can multitask like no other. We can switch gears in an instant. A to-do list, you say? Done. Speaking of lists, there are plenty of “Ten Rules to Follow When Querying” articles out there, but let me tell you the rule you’ve gotta break if you want to find an agent:

DO NOT send your query letter in batches of five and then wait for those five agents to respond before sending any more.

I read this advice in multiple querying articles and it is B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Most agents will never respond to your query. My final querying stats were: 84 agents queried, 58did not respond, 20 nos, 5 full manuscript requests, 1 yes.

Everyone said how awful querying was—so much rejection. But I didn’t see it that way. There was a lot of rejection, and it didn’t feel great but, as far as rejection goes, an “I’ll pass” received while in your pajamas, holding a mug of coffee, cushioned by the impersonal delivery mode of email? It wasn’t that bad. And the good news is, there are more than a thousand literary agents in the U.S. When you get a no, query the next agent on your list—query the next ten!

By July, I’d been querying for four months, had sent out 59 queries, and had some heady agent interest, but no offers. And then, on our family’s traditional end-of-summer camping trip, our son ended up in the emergency room, convulsing, experiencing a psychotic episode. It was the most terrifying forty-eight hours of my life. We had no idea what was wrong—it looked like schizophrenia to us and to the social worker, too. The fantastic psychiatrists at Rady hospital in San Diego informed me and my husband that extreme anxiety can manifest itself physically and diagnosed our son with anxiety and panic disorder. We were thrilled, ecstatic, that it was something we could manage—that the heart and mind of the eleven-year-old boy we fiercely loved were still his own.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

A literary agent

A literary agent is nothing but a cheap salesman (or woman); while a writer is a cheap salesman (or woman) who also has to actually write the books.

John Hodgman

Foundry Lawsuit

From Locus:

Literary agency Foundry Literary + Media dissolved in September 2020, and some authors had trouble getting paid, with reports of checks bouncing as early as last No­vember The Authors Guild got involved, and some authors were subsequently paid by wire transfer, but others were not. The agency’s found­ers, Yfat Reiss Gendell and Peter McGuigan, split up to form their own separate agencies last year, YRG Partners and Ultra Literary.

Gendell initially blamed the problems with payments on the transition. The real cause of the situation remained unclear until January 18, 2021, when founder McGuigan filed suit against Gendell in New York Supreme Court, alleging breach of contract, fraud, and negligent misrepre­sentation. McGuigan says that Gendell criminally embezzled over $800,000 from Foundry accounts, made $45,000 in illegal charges to company credit cards, and even cut off McGuigan’s health insur­ance. McGuigan froze the company’s accounts when he began to suspect financial malfeasance, and says that’s the reason some client checks bounced. He also says he “dipped into his per­sonal bank accounts to pay some of the authors he represents, but several remain unpaid because of Reiss Gendell’s obstinance, and complete disregard for the authors that she represents.”

McGuigan seeks repayment, over a million dollars in punitive damages, and that “an injunc­tion or temporary receiver be placed over the operating and client funds account and that any and all money owed to any respective authors and clients of Foundry be immediately paid under the direction and oversight of the court or a temporary receiver.”

Link to the rest at Locus

PG notes that accusations and claims of wrongful behavior are being exchanged between the agency’s two principals.

PG suggests that one of the takeaways for traditionally-published authors is to always, always, always insist on split checks in your publishing agreements.

Split checks means that every royalty payment the publisher makes on an author’s books is divided between the author and the agent (typically 15% to the agent and 85% to the author) and the publisher sends the author’s check directly to her/him and the agent’s check directly to the agency.

That way, the agency never handles money that belongs to the author.

In PG’s experience and understandings from various conversations with traditionally-published authors and other sources, agencies provide a variety of reasons why it’s a better idea for the publisher to pay the author’s share of the money directly to the agency.

Without going into such reasons, PG will say that they are not good reasons. Agents may claim that it’s important that they receive the entire check so they can properly review the royalty statement from the publisher.

PG notes that, when there is a split checks agreement, the publishing agreements the agent procures provide that the author receives 85% of the royalties and the agent receives 15% of the royalties and that each royalty check is accompanied by a copy of the royalty statement. That way, the author and the agent receive copies of the royalty statement.

PG is reliably informed that all major publishers have at least one copy machine on their premises and, generally speaking, more than one of the publisher’s employees knows how to operate the copy machine. Hence, providing two copies of the royalty statement, one for the author and one for the agent, is not generally regarded as an onerous task even by the whiniest of publishers.

One additional point involves the typical relationship between an author and a particular agent in a literary agency. Despite all sorts of agency PR, an author is typically attracted to an agency by a particular agent who is working there. Jane Agent is the reason why the author is working with the agency, not whatever claims the agency makes about itself.

If the CEO of the agency is sexually harassing the interns or spending all day in conversations with various drug dealers and Jane Agent decides to move to a better work environment, Jane’s authors should be able to follow her to a new agency and instruct their publishers to designate the new agency as the agency of record for the author, thus transferring royalty reports, payments, etc., to the new agency.

Most traditionally-published authors rely on their agents to provide them with high-quality and unbiased business advice and counsel.

Just like attorneys and accountants and doctors can be fired and replaced at will, literary agents and agencies should also be subject to firing. The author should be free to stop paying the fired parties any money not be required to entrust the former agency with any money or be tied down by continuing contractual entanglements in the future.

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

From The New York Times:

Earlier this month, the book industry website Publishers Marketplace announced that Little, Brown would be publishing “Re-Entry,” a novel by James Hannaham about a transgender woman paroled from a men’s prison. The book would be edited by Ben George.

Two days later, Mr. Hannaham got an email from Mr. George, asking him to send the latest draft of his manuscript. The email came to an address on Mr. Hannaham’s website that he rarely uses, so he opened up his usual account, attached the document, typed in Mr. George’s email address and a little note, and hit send.

“Then Ben called me,” Mr. Hannaham said, “to say, ‘That wasn’t me.’”

Mr. Hannaham was just one of countless targets in a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts. It isn’t clear who the thief or thieves are, or even how they might profit from the scheme. High-profile authors like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan have been targeted, along with celebrities like Ethan Hawke. But short story collections and works by little-known debut writers have been attacked as well, even though they would have no obvious value on the black market.

In fact, the manuscripts do not appear to wind up on the black market at all, or anywhere on the dark web, and no ransoms have been demanded. When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?

“The real mystery is the endgame,” said Daniel Halpern, the founder of Ecco, who has been the recipient of these emails and has also been impersonated in them. “It seems like no one knows anything beyond the fact of it, and that, I guess you could say, is alarming.”

Whoever the thief is, he or she knows how publishing works, and has mapped out the connections between authors and the constellation of agents, publishers and editors who would have access to their material. This person understands the path a manuscript takes from submission to publication, and is at ease with insider lingo like “ms” instead of manuscript.

Emails are tailored so they appear to be sent by a particular agent writing to one of her authors, or an editor contacting a scout, with tiny changes made to the domain names — like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, an “rn” in place of an “m” — that are masked, and so only visible when the target hits reply.

“They know who our clients are, they know how we interact with our clients, where sub-agents fit in and where primary agents fit in,” said Catherine Eccles, owner of a literary scouting agency in London.

“They’re very, very good.”

. . . .

Often, these phishing emails make use of public information, like book deals announced online, including on social media. Ms. Sweeney’s second book, however, hadn’t yet been announced anywhere, but the phisher knew about it in detail, down to Ms. Sweeney’s deadline and the names of the novel’s main characters.

“Hi Cynthia,” the email began. “I loved the partial and I can’t wait to know what happens next to Flora, Julian and Margot. You told me you would have a draft around this time. Can you share it?”

It was signed, “Henry.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Disssecting a Scam: The Literary Scout Impersonator

From Writer Beware:

I’ve written several posts about a fairly new phenomenon in the world of writing scams: scammers that falsely use the names of reputable publishing professionals, including literary agents and publishers, to lure writers into paying large amounts of money for worthless, substandard, and/or never-delivered services.

This time, I’m breaking down a very similar scam that, capitalizing on the pandemic-fueled popularity of Netflix and other streaming services (as well as the eternal writerly dream of having one’s book translated into film), is appropriating the name of Clare Richardson, Senior Scout for film and TV at the New York office of Maria B. Campbell Associates, to hoodwink writers in an unusually complicated–and expensive–scheme.

. . . .

Warning signs abound. First, it’s Maria B. Campbell Associates, not Maria Campbell Associates (a small error, but it’s unlikely a real literary scout would get the name of their own agency wrong). Second, the scammer uses a gmail address (mariacampbellassociates@gmail.com), which not only is implausible for an agency with its own web domain, but doesn’t match the email address on the agency website (info@mbcbook.com). Third, not only are such out-of-the-blue approaches rare, a real literary scout won’t offer to act as your social media broker, or to hook you up with book video providers. That’s not what scouts do.

However, an eager writer–especially an inexperienced one, their head spinning with visions of Netflix fame and fortune–could be pardoned for missing these hints of bogosity. The scammer is counting on it.

. . . .

Like a reputable literary agent, a reputable literary scout won’t ask for upfront money, or make buying some sort of service a condition of working with them. Also, “Clare’s” description of the representation process is 100% not how it works–a real literary scout sends out writers’ books or manuscripts, not video trailers and screenplays written by random, un-named “professional content writers”. And anytime someone who offers to represent you tells you that you don’t need a contract, run like hell. 

. . . .

At this point, Mia takes over–by phone this time, since phone calls are a better persuader than emails. No bookseller, she claims, will place an order unless the author has insurance and is “registered” with Ingram. If you want to sell books, you really don’t have a choice. It’ll cost you nearly $6,000, but don’t faint: Tamara’s amazing book order will not only cover the expense, but make sure there’s a profit! (The scammer is hoping the writer isn’t aware of how bookstores actually buy and sell books.) Of course, Mia will handle all the arrangements, so you don’t need to worry about where to send your money. Just wire it to Chapters Media.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

Scammers Impersonating Reputable Literary Agents

From Writer Beware:

I’ve written about this new “beware” twice already (you can see those posts here and here), but it appears to be a growing problem, so I want to put out a more focused warning.

Scammers–the same Philippines-based Author Solutions copycats that I’ve featured numerous times in this blog (also see the long, long list in the sidebar)–are impersonating reputable literary agents and agencies in order to bamboozle writers into buying worthless “services.” Here are the misused names I’ve documented so far; the scam companies they work for are in parentheses:

– Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Literary Agency (TechBooks Media)

– Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency (Writers Desks)

– Danielle Burby of the Nelson Literary Agency (Writers Desks)

– Nelson Literary Agency (some guy calling himself Jason Smith, Book Scout, with a fake Nelson Agency email address)

. . . .

These approaches are followed by opportunities to spend large amounts of cash. For the Jennifer Jackson scammer, it’s a “review” of your book plus “book insurance and returnability” for a total of $1,400. For the Victoria Marini scammer, the video trailer she’s shilling for “promotional” purposes costs $3,000 (an amazing discount!) For the Danielle Burby scammer, it’s “Submissions to Traditional Publishing Companies” by “Book Scouts” for the wallet-squeezing sum of $5,000. 

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG usually doesn’t include live links in the OP’s he excerpts, but made an exception due to the potential danger of these types of operations to overly-credulous authors and other creatives.

PG has received other reports of scam publishers or author service companies, perhaps because some of the crooks have realized that a lot of people are being forced to stay at home and some have decided to write a book.

As a general proposition, PG suggests that your fraud phaser should be permanently set to stun (at a minimum) during these times.

If you want help with your writing, in the US, sign up for a writing class at your local community college (not one that’s just popped up). It shouldn’t cost you much.