Do Thy Research, Writer!

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Originally posted over at the amazing Kick-butt Kidlit blog! If you haven’t checked it out yet, you definitely should!

There’s been a lot of discussion over at Kick-butt Kidlit this month about the fabulous resources and opportunities available to writers—many of which are free as free can be. And it’s true, the writing community is wonderful about taking care of its own. Whether you need help with your query letter or a full critique of your manuscript, you can usually find someone in the writing community willing to lend a hand, or eye, erm, you get the idea.

Before you read any further, I want to emphasize that 98% of the people you’ll encounter in the writing world are nothing but supportive, amazing people who want nothing more than to see another writer succeed. The writing community is a fabulous place to be and you are in fantastic company! 

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But what about that other 2%? Those few individuals who don’t have your best interests at heart? Or maybe they do, but are clueless about how to get you where you want to be—and might even unwittingly lock you into a contract that’s anything but good for you? How do you identify those people? Better yet, how do you avoid them all together? Once again, the writing community saw a need and stepped up to fill it!

 

Before we dive in to the resources available to you, there’s one litmus test that’s tried and true for weeding out most publishing predators—if an agent or publisher asks you for money—RUN! No legitimate agent/publisher asks a writer to pay any fees up front. “Reading fees” do not exist in the real publishing world. Period. If a publisher asks you to make a financial “contribution,” they are a pay-to-publish entity, also known as a vanity publisher. There are many legitimate reasons to turn to a pay-to-publish business, but you should know up front that’s what they are and why you want to work with them.

 

The first weapon in your arsenal: Absolute Write’s Watercooler

I can’t tell you how many times I turned to this resource to research agents and small presses. The boards are extensive and somewhat difficult to navigate, but you don’t have to search the boards themselves to find what you need. Simply type an agent or publisher’s name and “absolute write” into the lovely Google search engine and the information you need will be within the first few search results. I highly suggest never querying an agent or submitting to any publisher without looking here first.

The second weapon in your arsenal: Query Tracker

Wondering what an agent’s response time is? Are they professional when dealing with writers who query them? How aggressively are they seeking new clients? An agent who makes lots of requests is likely looking to take on new clients more so than an agent who makes few requests. Keep in mind that not all agents are listed on Query Tracker, and only a small portion of publishers are, so it’s not necessarily a red flag if the agent or publisher you’re researching isn’t listed. However, the comments section is a highly valuable research tool.

Query Tracker is also great for keeping you sane while you’re querying because you can get a feel for where an agent/publisher is in their inbox, sometimes even if their policy is “no response means no.” Basic memberships are free and allow you to read the comments left by other writers, which is gold, but you’ll need a paid membership to see the detailed reports. At just $25 a year, a Query Tracker membership is seriously worth every penny and then some.

The third weapon available to you: Janet Reid, aka Query Shark

Janet Reid is a literary agent who not only calls out bad behavior when she sees it (in all aspects of the industry) but also gives fabulous feedback to querying writers. While she’s unlikely to have posts up on specific individuals, she regularly comments on questionable practices writers might encounter. You might have a bit more difficulty finding her posts (she’s been blogging for a while) but typing her name plus a few keywords from the issue you’re trying to research will probably take you to the right place.

And the main protection you have on this journey, if you haven’t figured it out already, is the writing community itself…

If you ever encounter a situation that makes you go, “Hmm…” just ask. Give a shout out on Twitter, or leave a question in the comment section here or over at Kick-butt Kidlit, or on your third-favorite writing blog (teehee!). We’ll gladly get back to you with an answer or point you to someone who can. Writers are wonderfully notorious for calling out questionable practices when we see it (see final link below for this month’s example) but sometimes things slip past us. Never pay money up front, do your research, and ask if something doesn’t feel right…we’re all in this together, you know.

And remember, even if you query or submit before doing your research (tsk tsk!), you don’t have to say yes!

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