Alarming Trends

by Janny Wurts

Is anyone disturbed by the accelerated hype now appearing as ads targeted for unpublished, new authors, and featured in glitz, at the top of a number of prominent book discussion forums?

Should writers of fiction be bothered about this, given the rapid shifts and changes sweeping the publishing industry, and the trend for young people to mine the internet for information?

Yes, getting picked up by a major house is competitive, and yes, there is a building groundswell, internet driven, toward would-be authors leaping straight into self‑publishing and more, hyping this route as the only or best thing, with passionate, apparently informed expertise. I could show you the boxful of business cards such authors have handed me at public venues, or the disks of e books, made at home. This is publishing, geared for the future, right?

Why am I disturbed?

Because all online sources, even the overwhelming bulk of the information that’s become so prolific is not alike. There is a difference between such traps, and the genuine article.

Too many of these links are direct advertising, not to help newcomers actually reach a valid reading public, but are, in fact, hype geared toward stealing your cherished dreams and your shirts, and poised to take advantage of a wide reaching arena of total ignorance. Some of these sites are after your pocketbooks, folks, and you will never, ever make the springboard to where you want to go, from there. In fact, the opposite.

More sadly, not just predatory businesses are riding the information wave – many honest, well-meaning people who are enthusiastically touting self-publishing their novels on forums as the means to your ends actually haven’t an honest clue. Or they’ve burned themselves out submitting substandard material (or never even tried, just listened to doomers and gloomers) until they believe the traditional career path is hopeless. I have seen blogs and forum discussions where the clueless expound on the facts of the industry for the even more clueless, with no sound counter-argument or professional experience in evidence behind such soapbox trumpeting.

An article was written in the SFWA Bulletin, recently, where several old hand pros on a panel reported being hotly contradicted by a chorus of self‑published clueless authors – who were, in effect, preaching that the way to be noticed by, or break in to, a legitimate major house was to sell books behind a vendor’s table at conventions and book fairs, and to keep doing this behind a stack of self-printed titles, until such zealous efforts invited approached by a real editor who would offer a contract from a big publisher. Louder still, is the groundswell of insistence that e publishing on your own is the quick ticket, and who needs an editor anyway?

Wrong steer! Yes, I have heard the myths and the stories “out there” – but in fact, the real route to a paying contract is not selling your own books off your car tailgate at malls, or setting up shop with a paypal account!

Fiction publishing is a legitimate business, and there is a professional way and manner in which to apply for serious success.

Now, before the knee jerks, I am not condemning all comers to self-publishing – recently, certain non-fiction works are earning their marks, here, and there are many cases where writers who have been professionally established before, and through a published career course, have gained sound knowledge of production, editing, and professional graphics – these folks have a developed readership, presumably, toward which to target their efforts.

I am not saying all self published new books by unknown names are without merit. I haven’t read all of them to generalize in that way. There are genuine small presses and independent publishing houses, too. I am not referring to these!

My concern is targeted toward the enormous ignorance about how the industry actually works, and the whacked out “advice” being proliferated on the internet, that is seeing too many enthusiastic young talents sold short. If you have dreams of writing fiction, by all means pursue them with your whole heart, but please take the time to get educated and know the ropes, first!

Don’t take the blind plunge into the morass of myth, and waste your money, or fall headlong, uninformed, into the pit of self e publishing and exhaust your hopes before ever taking up the challenge to make the bar and achieve a professional career. The tag line, that implies, in effect, “connect your book to mega tons of eager readers” is not necessarily what it’s cracked up to appear.

Presses who take your money and make a profit producing your manuscript into a bound book, then do nothing, are very much alive and advertizing, and you bet, collecting your eager-beaver bucks to publish your work. If you pay for this service, that is a vanity publisher, and not the same thing as a publisher who contracts your publication rights, pays an advance, prints and markets your book, and actually does do the work of distributing and marketing.

While “publishers” who hook you to pay upfront for your book may be years in the business, and make every effort to pose as their counterparts, they’ll have plenty of fine print protecting them from your ignorance when you are dumped with your substandard press run, and don’t know what to do beyond give it away to your relatives. Other venues in fact are real wolves. Many are styled as “agents” and “POD” (print on demand) houses that are in cold fact, actual scammers. Others are fleecers, just as misleading and hurtful. You pay them to produce your book, or find a publisher for you, and you get nothing substantial at all in return.


The content can help illuminate what to look out for, where to be guarded, and how to recognize a legitimate venue. Below, I offer a few simple guidelines.

Tip #1: The money flows TO the author FROM the publisher or agent. If you are paying for a service like being published, paying for readings and evaluations – I suggest that might ring an alarm, because that is not flowing payment to the author! These venues are to be differentiated from a genuine professional editing service – where a real copy editor or editor offers their expertise to the public for a freelancer’s fee – do learn how to recognize the difference, and if you are buying a legitimate service, know when it is of value and why, or if it is simply unnecessary.

Tip #2: Learn your craft. It’s up to you to create saleable work. If you do, the publisher pays you, and their own production staff will handle both edit and copy edit and print the book at no charge to you. The legitimate publisher will distribute the copies to the major chain shops, and handle all of the selling. If you learn your style, grammar, and fiction technique properly, you should not need an editor in order to submit and sell your manuscript to a name professional house. If you can’t write a story, if you don’t know what story is, (the book, Story, by McKee could assist you) if you don’t know the craft distinction between narrative voice and dialogue – then you need to get a solid book on fiction writing. (I favor Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer) If you like hands on learning, consider one of the very long established reputable workshops for fiction – like Odyssey or Clarion – attend and learn to apply the sound nuts and bolts of the trade to your efforts. Workshops worth attending for popular fiction are well known, and have years of reputation for teaching new writers who actually go on to sell their manuscripts.

Can’t afford a fiction workshop? How serious are you – you’d go to college to get a degree for any another professional job. Can’t manage to buy two or three books on style and craft? Then try what I did, when I was just starting, use an inter-libary loan service to get the titles you need for learning.

You’re underage? Stuck on the wait, while you save money for the above? Then mine your favorite authors’ websites for posted, free information. You might be surprised how many will offer tips, helpful links, or maintain blogs or web pages filled chock full of great free advice. I have created a tips page based on what I found valuable from my experience. It has some sound basics. Do you know how your manuscript should be professionally formatted for submission? Are you familiar with proof reader’s marks? Do you know how to write a cover letter, or submit a query to an editor? Do you know how to sidestep, or breeze past, a writer’s block?

Do you understand etiquette? I’ve been amazed how many blaze beginners breeze in with an e mail to ask about breaking in, or worse, dump an attachment of their entire manuscript into my in box – first presuming I am a teacher, or coach (I’m not, though I do sometimes volunteer writer’s workshops, one on one, to raise funds for charity auctions.} More bumptuously irritating, many of these enthusiastic hopefuls blatantly have not ever bothered to check the tips page I’ve provided for aspirants – which properly would have answered many of their questions in the first place.

Flinging unsolicited e mail at a working author is not the same thing as approaching one politely at public events where attendees are invited to interact with professionals – sometimes opportunities may be welcomed at informal signings, or at conventions which feature panels that are oriented toward helping aspirants – where hopefuls are encouraged to hear advice from established old hands. Questions are acceptable, too, where working editors in the field sometimes appear to speak. Many such venues will schedule panel discussions geared for new writers. Use this chance to hear the facts from the horse’s mouth.

Live in the middle of nowhere and can’t wait to feed your dream? Look at author’s blogs, or seek out discussion threads on those book forums where authors are vetted for professional credentials. Then read the threads where professionals tend to gather to share business information with each other. Search and read the archived posts on the blog, Miss Snark – which professes to be written by a pro agent – entertaining, bitterly brutal, but very much on the mark about the realities and falsities of cracking a difficult field. Disabuse yourself of the idiot illusions, that Greatness Waits Without Effort, and instead, motivate yourself to learn how to tell a dynamite story. Strive for excellence – and encounter what that means in terms of discipline. Then sort the welter of information to discern the most direct course to realize your dream. The rewards and many, and well worth the long haul.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in a recent article in their Bulletin, asked how their professional membership could reach out to new writers and help them find legitimate sources for information. This is my bit.

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