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The Dangers of the Writing Community: Knowing Who’s Legit & Who’s Not

WARNING! Not everyone in the writing community is there to help you!

So this was a request/topic recommendation from a fellow author in my writing group (thanks Patricia!). With all the people involved in the literary community, and so many different agents, editors, publishers, and readers out there, how do you know who you can trust? How do you avoid bringing harm to your manuscript, or worse… your career. Because SURPRISE, guys, and it’s a hard one – not everyone out there has your best interests in mind. I’ll be talking about three different groups of literary people, and how to recognize and avoid the danger zone with each. There are other people out there who might be harmful, and I can’t mention them all, but the principles bleed over into every aspect of the literary world, so apply them liberally. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement that someone has noticed you and your writing, but sometimes that “someone” might do more harm than good. In the words of Patricia, because she said it so well… “People get SO excited about writing a book, then just hand it over to the first person who promises anything. Understand that an English teacher cannot edit everything, someone who writes poetry may not be the best bet to edit your sci-fi piece - and the formatting and font IS important.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, but I’ll try! The real key is to be cautious and use common sense. It will go a long way! Okay, here we go…

1. Literary Agents

Sign of danger – Asks for money to read your manuscript = RUN!

The only reason you should ever pay an agent is if they are representing you and you have sold a book. An agent gets paid when you do, so if you aren’t making any money off your book, neither should they. If you are paying an agent to simply look at your manuscript, they are not legitimate. Here’s how to avoid the danger: Research the agent extensively. Look at their client list. Who do they represent? No one you have heard of or can find on the internet? Red flag. Find interviews, comments from their clients, recent sales, etc. Most of all, don’t pay just for the privilege of their attention or time. Part of an agent’s job and part of what they love about that job is reading queries/manuscripts and falling in love with a new project/client. Any agent who charges a “reading fee” is not going to help you in the future. If something seems fishy or far too good to be true, dig a little deeper before you say yes. Is this agent legitimate? Or are they looking out for their best interests?

2. Publishers

This is especially for people self-publishing, and for authors without an agent.

Sign of danger – Offers to publish your book if you pay them X amount of money (usually a number that seems absurd). Someone in my writing group brought this up once, and said a publisher had offered to publish her book if she paid them $3000 up front. Every comment and reply said, in some form, “Run!” These types of publishers are called vanity presses, and many writers just don’t know they exist. I didn’t know when I first started out. That’s why I’m writing this post… to warn you, and protect you. Because even though I might not know you, I care about what happens to fellow writers, and I don’t want them to be scammed out of their money or cheated on a manuscript that took them lots of time, tears, and love to complete. Often, a vanity press is more common in poetry. Ever entered a poetry contest and then been offered publication in an anthology, which you could purchase for $60, or some other exorbitant amount? I always wondered why I had to pay money in order to receive a book my poetry was featured in. Well, it’s because every other person who entered the contest is featured in it also, and it’s the way they make money. Vanity press! Writers beware.

3. Critique Groups/Partners

Sign of danger – Critique partner is a poet and you’re a novelist. They never return your messages or respond in a timely manner. They aren’t even a writer/know nothing about your genre or the market. Anything else that would be more of a harm and less of a help to you and your work.

The fact that I mentioned critique partners as a possible danger may be a surprise, but this type of help-gone-wrong can actually be the most harmful long-term. Now don’t misinterpret… I am NOT saying that you should not have critique partners or be involved in a critique group. They’re wonderful. What I am saying is to pick the right one, and surround yourself with critique partners who will help your manuscript instead of harming it. Freelance editors are also a danger for this reason – people critiquing/editing your work can do wonders for it, strengthen it, polish it, and make it shine. OR, they can tear it apart, and not in a good way. You want other writers/literary people critiquing your work. Having your family, spouse, or friends read the manuscript is great to get reader feedback, but for serious edits, you want someone who relates and understands the market and the writing world. Sometimes freelance editors see their clients as hobbies instead of actual clients, and critique partners might know nothing about your genre or category. Like Patricia said above, an English teacher can’t possibly know everything (no one can!). And someone who writes romance probably isn’t a great match for a fantasy novel. Having fresh eyes on your manuscript is wonderful, but make sure those eyes are ones that will strengthen and polish your manuscript. Sometimes, we have to make changes maybe we aren’t 100% in love with, but which really are good for our manuscript. We see in hindsight how much it really did help. But other times, you might end up making changes that are not good for your book. Don’t just throw your manuscript at anyone who volunteers. Choose critique partners and editors wisely.

This was a hard post to write, because I don’t like dwelling on the negatives. I try to be a positive person! But it’s not always smooth-sailing in the literary world, and I want to share both the ups and the downs, to hopefully spare you from learning the hard way and actually having your writing suffer because you just didn’t know. And we can’t know everything! I don’t know everything. But now you know this, and it’s one less thing that can harm you along the way :)

What has been your experience throughout your writing journey? Have you experienced this first-hand, or known someone who has? Share in the comments below!

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