Michy's Take on MANUSCRIPT Marketing Services

I wanted to take a moment today to talk about something. We had discussion on the forum earlier today with a gentleman who has been interested in finding a manuscript marketing service. This isn’t the same, mind you, as a book marketing service. There are many wonderful and legitimate book marketing and promotion services out there for writers who have already had a book published or who have self published. What I’m talking about is a service that helps you market your manuscript prior to publication.

Literary Agents?

You’re probably thinking, “You mean a literary agent?” Nope, agents are legit (as long as you find a good one; there are some bad ones out there). I’m talking about a company that promises to market your manuscript TO agents and publishers alike, trying to help you get representation or publication. These services claim to be similar in scope to what a literary agencies does, except they also query and submit to literary agents too.

Manuscript Marketing Scam Premise:

The premise is this: you don’t have the time or inclination to write query letters, proposals, etc, because you’re a writer. All you want to do is write. You’re sick of the rejections and form letters and how time consuming submitting is. So, instead of doing all this legwork yourself, you will hire these agencies to do it for you, so you can just kick back and focus on what you do best: writing.

Unfortunately, all you’ll likely EVER do is write if you use one of these services. Well, write and pay them for doing nothing. Or if they do something, you’re paying them for damaging your reputation and career.

Why We Query:

The process of querying is tedious, I know. But the reason you do this, or rather, the reason they ask you to do this, is so they can see how easy it is to work with you – do you follow instructions? Did you read the submission guidelines? Where you respectful of their time and energy? Can you write a coherent sentence and tell what your novel is about and represent it in a professional way?

The submission and query process helps them figure this out.

It’s not perfect. A lot of good stories get missed. Every agent I’ve read anything from and many editors too all admit and agree that the system isn’t perfect and good novels are not purchased while others that aren’t so good might get purchased. It happens, and the publishing field isn’t the only one where this happens.

But the process IS important and it’s tons better in one respect than it used to be.

Don’t Sell Your Writing Soul

Then along comes manuscript submission services, ready to take advantage of the eager writer, the writer so desperate to be published, they are willing to sell their souls or their manuscripts to anyone just for one, little, favorable response!

So that’s what they do… they give you a favorable response. They tell you that submitting to them is free, and it usually is, but then you get charged for things. A real agent doesn’t charge you until after they sell your manuscript. That’s what makes the process work: they don’t get paid unless you get paid, so there is high motivation on both your parts, you to write the best manuscript possible and put your best foot forward and them to present and represent your writing in the best possible way to the people who will pay the most for it. The more money they get you, the more money they get. Mutually beneficial.

But with a manuscript submissions and marketing service, you pay them for everything they do, upfront, whether they sell your manuscript or not. Some will tell you that you don’t have to pay anything until a publisher wants more, though. So what do they do? They tell you a publisher wants me, charge you, and then they might or might not send your manuscript to that publisher.

Experience with These Services

I’m fortunate to not have had any personal experience with these services, but I have helped a couple of author friends of mine out of contracts they had signed, that weren’t legal mind you, with agencies/services/businesses that charged for submitting manuscripts. One of the agencies was charging the author a monthly ‘maintenance’ fee to keep the account open with them, and then charging $75 bucks for every initiation they did on the author’s behalf.

Later, when the author began to question things, I happened to personally know one of the editors who this agency said they sent her manuscript to, and when I asked the editor if she’d rejected the manuscript, hoping to get some tips for my author friend on how to improve, the editor told me they never received it! The author had the receipt – I saw it – CLEARLY detailing the transaction and showing the 75 bucks paid too.

But if it helps convince you, don’t take my word for it.

Preditors & Editors Warns Writers

Preditors & Editors is the one-stop place where you can read what many have said about various writing-related companies, agencies, agents, publishers, etc. They keep a listing, usually fairly accurate and up to date, with information about whether or not you can trust an agency. Now, just because an agency is listed here, doesn’t mean they are endorsed by P&E and just because there’s nothing documented against them doesn’t mean they are safe, but this is a good starting point for determining if things are legit.

You can find P&E here: http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors

Calling One Out

In response to the forum discussion that started this blog post, I wanted to point out two very well-known, infamous really, manuscript marketing scams. The first one is Strategic Book Marketing – this one is a scam, that is really well known, and documented. You can read more about it on P&E here: http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/penulist.htm

Then there’s the other one, and I just had to laugh at this one:

Children’s Literary Agency. They promise to help you with your book, like a literary agent would, but the owner has an interesting record – criminal record, that is! But even that wasn’t what interested me. What really got my attention was something from the P&E copy of communication they have with this [agency]. In one of their very lengthy emails (which they say are lengthy so they can weed out those who don’t really read their emails), she says, this about why their client’s names are not on the website:

(If you'll think about it, if you were one of our authors, you'd feel the
same way.  There are a lot of wierdos on the Internet. Sometimes we think
that there is a higher incidence of psychosis among writers than any other
occupation.)

(shaking head) Can you imagine? Their clients are writers, and this is what they think of writers. Isn’t that amazing? Even if it’s what you really think of writers, is that what you, a literary agent (so she says) would put in one of the very first form letters of communication you send to a client, who is a writer?

I was laughing my butt off at this one. If you want to read the entire lengthy posted communication, you can find it here.

Do Due Diligence

Look, I’m not trying to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do – but I don’t want to see writers taken advantage of, selling their hearts and souls to agencies that in the end won’t sell their books. The CL agency only has four total confirmed sales, and I didn’t even look at what they were. What I’m proposing is that you make up your own mind, but do so only after reading more, learning more and understanding the industry. I would never work with an agency that says anything negative about writers like this, even if it’s true!

Where to Look?

Besides doing all the necessary internet searches including the names of the agencies in “quotes” in the search terms, you should also check with governing or listing agencies that are recognized. For example, the Association of Author Representatives maintains a membership-based list in which agents and representatives have to meet certain specific criterion and standard to be included. If it’s discovered they break these rules, they are booted.

Why You Should Do Your Own Legwork

You may not realize it now, but doing your own legwork, such as the query, proposal, synopsis and such is an important part of being a writer. It gives you invaluable information, you learn so much in the process, and you get a chance to trudge through the mud, climb the mountain and stand on the top. Victory will be so much sweeter when you do this. Also, keep in mind, after you really do well with your first book, it’s easier to get the second one published  – so do your best to get the first book published by going through the channels the right way.

Finale

The point of all this is that basically, the only shortcut I’ve ever found that’s legit in writing is ‘knowing’ someone or knowing someone who knows someone. Even then, there’s still a process you have to follow.

I once talked to a literary agent who told me that only about 10% of all manuscripts received are even close to publish ready. Many, many good manuscripts get lost in the slush piles, and there’s not much that can be done about that. The problem isn’t so much with the slush pile, but more with people who think they can write and who can’t. Or people who think they can write well and who can’t. People need to take the time to hone their craft, learn the skill part of writing instead of relying solely on the passion part of it. Then, get known and know someone. Follow agents, follow publishers, read what agents and editors are saying. Learn. Listen. Read. Then write and edit and rewrite and write some more.

Take what you can use and use it; take what you can’t and toss it. Not everyone will agree with everything, but the one thing I know for certain, beyond any doubt, is that if you can write a decent story, you WILL sell it, eventually.

There simply aren’t any shortcuts. Perseverance is the key.

Remember as I said in my article here, Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by every major publisher in New York. Now look at it.

Happy writing.

Love and stuff,
Michy