What’s Questionable? (or, More People Out There Don’t Like Us)

One post back, I wrote about this guy who’s scattering scurrilous messages around the Internet about me and Dave Kuzminski. At the time, I’d only found two of these, but in fact there are more–five in all. Here’s another one. And another one. And still another one.

Guess what. We still don’t care.

Since ol’ John, whoever he may be, has accused us of “knowingly” posting false information for personal reasons, I thought it might be helpful to discuss Writer Beware’s standards of documentation as well as our definition of questionable practice.

We define “questionable” as nonstandard practice not in writers’ best interest. This includes:

    • Fees of various kinds (agents who charge reading fees, evaluation fees, retainers, “marketing” or “submission” fees; publishers that require writers to pre-purchase their books or to pay for some aspect of the publication process)
    • Conflicts of interest (agents or publishers that recommend their own paid editing services, agents who send writers to publishing operations they own, independent editors who pay kickbacks for referrals)
    • Abusive or nonstandard contract terms (an agent who claims a financial interest in a client’s future work, whether or not the agent actually sells it, or a publisher that charges all kinds of expenses against royalties)
    • Unprofessional practices (agents who “blitz” submit or use their clients’ own query letters, publishers that make writers responsible for getting their own books into bookstores, independent editors who claim that manuscripts have to be “professionally” edited in order to be competitive)
    • Nonperformance (agents who’ve been in business for more than a year and still have no sales, publishers that don’t fulfill their contractual obligations)
    • Dubious qualifications (an agent, publisher, or independent editor who sets up in business without a relevant professional background–such people are often well-intentioned but simply have no idea how to do the job)

Most of the reports we receive involve one or more of the issues outlined above. We ask writers to substantiate their reports with documentation wherever possible (letters, e-mails, contracts, websites, brochures, publicity information, etc.) and we don’t start a file on an agent, publisher, or independent editor unless we’ve received at least two substantially identical reports, or a single report with documentation. Most of our files contain at least a dozen separate reports. Many contain a lot more. Our largest file (which gets bigger every week) has upward of 300 reports.

Occasionally we hear from people who have general gripes about the submission process, or are upset by something that’s fairly routine–long turnaround times, for instance, or failure to return manuscripts. These things aren’t enough to put someone on our watchlist–while they’re regrettable, they happen a lot, and writers have to be prepared to deal with them. We also sometimes hear from writers who are angry that an agent didn’t manage to sell their book, or didn’t call them often enough with updates, or sent a dismissive rejection letter. We don’t often regard issues like these as documentable complaints, because they’re general problems that anyone can encounter in the ordinary run of things (and often involve unrealistic expectations on the writer’s part). Occasionally, with multiple similar reports, they do add up to a pattern, and if so we feel a warning is in order. But that’s rare.

So we’re very careful to distinguish between genuine bad practice and writers’ sour grapes, and to back up our warnings with as much documentation as possible. We want to provide balanced information that writers can depend on–and to do this, we must be as responsible in our data collection and our dissemination of information as we expect agents, publishers, and independent editors to be in their business dealings.

Or to put it another way: we have a lot more to lose by lying than some pseudonymous rumor-monger on the Internet does.


  1. Better yet, why doesn’t Absolute Write do as they so often have urged PublishAmerica to do, open up their books and let everyone see how much is coming in and exactly where it’s going.

  2. I don’t visit any of these sites very often, but I will say that I would never be a fan of Absolute Write for two reasons. The first is that the site owner, Jenna Glatzer, lists her accomplishments in a effort to sell her books to freelancers hoping to learn the trade. Glatzer’s accomplishments include investments she claims she was able to make from her own earnings as a freelance writer.
    In that list, she is property she owns in NY. Are we to believe her live-in partner, Mr. W. does not have a job or that his income does not contribute to this investment?

    My second issue is that Glatzer whole heartedly supports schemes designed to manipulate the Amazon rankings of her book – something John Kremer was widely criticized for a few months ago. Not only does she think it’s ethical to make it appear as if her books are selling better than they are, but she actually promoted, (and may still promote) a program that teaches people how to do this themselves, for which she received a fee. Deborah Cannon writes about it here:

    Maybe P & E or Writer Beware should look at these issues before pointing the finger at those outside the circle.

  3. Erm, I hate to be the fly in the ointment here (but I hate even more to have my faith in Victoria Strauss shaken)…

    but I’ve never picked up the impression that A Gent’s Outlook has contempt for writers. In fact, I’m pretty sure he rather likes good writers. He just seems to hate/have contempt for /bad/ writers.

    I always imagined it was like a learned reaction, like working in tech support: I don’t hate people, just /stupid/ people.

  4. matt d. – that’s because you’re logical. A lot of these scamsters are not merely predatory; they’re a few pages short of a galley proof. It goes like this:

    1) I am in the right.
    2) Therefore, anyone who criticizes me must be wrong.
    3) They must be either ignorant of why I am right, or they know that I am right and they are lying.
    4) If they are lying, it is because of some nefarious motive.

    …and on and on….

  5. Sigh. I wrote the above too fast and didn’t proof.Sorry about the spelling errors. After all these years you’d think I’d learn…. : )

    Anyway, thank you to Victoria, Ann, and Dave for being there for us!

  6. Just to say–Victoria, Ann, and Dave helped me tremondously when I was first starting out in my writing career. I wrote to Victoria about a questionable book publisher in FL. This publisher was even listed in the Writer’s Market guide. When they asked to see the full ms., they also asked for money (and sent a gorgeous folder with cover proofs). I believe it was Victoria who got there listing removed from Writer’s Market.

  7. Re: the A Gent’s Outlook blog–I veer between being certain that this yoyo can’t possibly be a real agent, and fearing that he is and that people are encountering him in a professional capacity. Imagine keeping all that venom concealed beneath a business face (because you couldn’t possibly get anywhere in the biz if you habitually exhibited the kind of attitude he affects in his blog)–and imagine being represented by someone who has such contempt for writers and writing.

    That’s what really makes me think he’s not a real agent–he seems to hate books.

  8. in some cases, possibly, a lack of sympathy–some people view bad/scam agents and publishers as a kind of Darwinian mechanism to weed out the gullible and unworthy.

    Whoa man! And I thought I was cynical. I guess it takes a special kind of heartless *ahem* to think that anyone deserves to be conned out of not only one’s cash but one’s dreams as well.

  9. I think that mostly, where legit people have a problem with what we do, it’s based on a lack of knowledge of the extent of literary scams (or in some cases, possibly, a lack of sympathy–some people view bad/scam agents and publishers as a kind of Darwinian mechanism to weed out the gullible and unworthy).

    Agents and editors are much more aware of literary scams than they were in the late 1990’s, when Ann and I started Writer Beware; but in general, legitimate publishing people are overwhelmingly ignorant of the problem. Why? Because it’s not something they need to know about in order to do their jobs. Literary scams exist in a completely separate sphere that distortedly mirrors, but doesn’t touch, the real world of publishing. The only point of connection is writers. And there are way more than enough of those to go around.

    There are people who think we’re mild crackpots with an annoying fixation on a minor issue, and those who think we’re hysterical muckrakers making much ado about very little. And there are those who think we are on an ideological crusade, and are out to “get” people who don’t conform to our narrow definition of legitimate practice. These are usually people who are on the defensive because they’re engaged in some kind of borderline activity, or, occasionally, people who haven’t researched us and what we do and have made unflattering assumptions as a result.

    Fortunately, for anyone who’s dismissive of or hostile toward Writer Beware, P&E, etc.–and really, there are very few– many more are supportive. Ann and I are really pleased and grateful for the support the Writer Beware website and this blog have gotten from agents and editors.

  10. Yes, I just thought the same thing – why would legitimate industry folk be against what you’re doing? Unless they are pushing the limits towards the scam market themselves?

  11. Why on earth do legitimate industry people object to you warning writers away from scam operations?

  12. I don’t think “John-boy” is very creative. he used the same post all three times…LOL!

    You just need to ignore people like that. We all know that this site and Dave’s site are the places to go when we want the short and skinny on anything in the publishing world.

    You go Victoria! And Dave…I like the “Butterfly” thing…LOL!

  13. I think “John” is trying to float the theory that Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, and Absolute Write are nefarious self-promotion schemes to enable the proprietors to sell huge quantities of their own books (that’s after we’ve gotten done blackmailing publishers and agents, of course).

    Would that it were so. “Platform” is a word much bandied about in publishing circles these days; if you’re a nonfiction author, you’ll have a tough time selling a proposal if you don’t have a “platform” to back it up. But platforms are only useful where they dovetail into the subject of your book. Writer Beware would be a fab platform for Ann and me if we produced books on literary scams or publishing or how to write; but we don’t. We write fantasy fiction. Most people who contact us have no interest whatever in fantasy; in fact, I suspect that many people who contact us aren’t even aware that we’re writers, especially since many of them get our address from sources other than the Writer Beware website or this blog, where our book covers are displayed.

    If running Writer Beware has helped my fiction career, I’m not aware of it. Rather the opposite, since there are legitimate industry people out there who are quite hostile to what we do.

  14. Unbelievable, in more ways than one. On the bright side, John’s drawing attention to your site and Dave’s, and anyone with a modicum of intelligence – say, above that of a pile of gravel – can separate the good guys from the bad. You two and Dave and Jenna are very necessary, as many of your readers can, and have, testified.

    Independent, yes, all three of you; I’ve seen you disagree politely on the AW board. Documented, I believe you are; you’ve shown such documentation as is reasonable to support your statements without sacrificing confidentiality. Besides, I suspect Jaws would snap at your toes if you stepped too far out of line. (To the new ones, Jaws is a lawyer and one of the good guys; “Jaws” is his nom de plume on the Absolute Write board.)

    I am curious about what John thinks you gain from your hard work; he isn’t clear. Publicity through exposing scams and being harassed by verbal snipers? I think even he could come up with a better idea. Is it possible, John, they sincerely want to help writers, advertise good agents and expose scammers?

    Please, all of you, keep up the good work. We need you. Now I have to go check the soles of my shoes; reading his ranting makes me think I walked in something nasty.

  15. Speaking for Preditors & Editors, it also has criteria for determining its opinions and recommendations. Those are posted on specific pages on all P&E sites. There are several links within the site to the rating criteria. Like Writer Beware, P&E’s recommendations and ratings have to be documented and certain issues are simply not sufficient unless there’s a definable pattern significant enough to justify a warning.

    Of course, these current smear tactics only prove that Writer Beware and P&E are causing an impact on scam operations. And while we often reach the same conclusions on specific cases, neither of us tells the other how to rate any business. In other words, we’re both independent.

  16. I still don’t get it. Bringing more attention to oneself would be the last thing they should do.

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MAY 9, 2006

Helping Hand Literary Services: Another Scammer Bites the Big One

MAY 14, 2006

Sticking With It