Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Publishers, Agents & Plagiarism

There has been ANOTHER plagiarism scandal, but not the one you're thinking of. We'll get to that, but first:

“I object to publishers: the one service they have done me is to teach me to do without them. They combine commercial rascality with artistic touchiness and pettiness, without being either good business men or fine judges of literature. All that is necessary in the production of a book is an author and a bookseller, without any intermediate parasite.”*

Ah publishers. Writers follow the rituals of conquest, ever hopeful that they’ll woo and win the right one, and form a binding relationship that will enable them to give birth to their baby, their book. But you probably have about even odds winning the lottery as you do finding a good publisher.

At least, that’s how it feels some days. What’s brought this on, you ask? A rejection letter.

Yes, a rejection letter from a publisher just arrived, and this one’s a keeper. I stopped reading when the man killed the girl. We’re not interested in publishing this sort of story.

Good to know they read the first two pages.

WHY THE HELL would you even take murder mysteries when you don’t want to publish a story that has someone getting killed in it? (No, the ‘murder’ isn’t graphic.) I corresponded with the publisher directly before I submitted. They’d had a full synopsis and sample, which included the murder, btw. I was given an invitation to submit the entire manuscript.

I’m not the only one who’s seen this before. “Not what we’re looking for” being the standard meaningless rejection.

Ever consider helping people figure out what it is you are looking for? Maybe save everyone some time, and postage, cluttering desks with manuscripts that are guaranteed no-no’s?

My theory on this is that a lot of publishers want the best of both worlds. I could put link after link up of sites that are vague at best in describing what they want to represent, but I’d likely get trouble, and we’ve all seen them anyway. They have the stuff in mind they’re usually after, but if they should catch the scent on the breeze of what people will be looking for 12-18 months down the road, they might jump at something that fits the bill, even if it isn’t their usual fare. So they don’t explicitly rule anything out.

Then I see people complaining about the endless flood of submissions that they’d never consider in a million years. But what’s a writer to do? You turn to the writer’s market books and they have general entries like, “Looking for mystery, suspense, thriller, romance. No Erotica.”

Why not be more specific? Why not say, “We only want cozies”? I mean, give a writer a clue! Just say, “We take mysteries, but not ones with dead bodies.” Right, gotcha. Note to self: Do not submit Echoes and Dust…

I can laugh about this. For one thing, I corresponded with this publisher – the one that sent the rejection letter - back in February and told them I had other offers. Ultimately, they wished me well, saying they hadn’t had a chance to review the ms at that point, and it was pulled from consideration.

Clearly, not everyone relays the messages.

This is frustrating for writers. Oh, people won’t comment, because perception of being a shit-disturber isn’t a good thing. But it isn’t that I want to cause trouble, I’d actually like to spare everyone grief. I mean, wouldn’t we actually like to be able to hone in on the right agent/publisher for our work right away? And if more agents/publishers had updated websites with a very clear submission guidelines list that states their area of representation, wouldn’t that be in everyone’s best interests?

No doubt, this guy who was so offended by the murder in E&D probably cursed a blue streak over me wasting his time submitting the book.

When really, I’m the one entitled to be angry, considering I went through the querying process and the invitation came after a sample chapter was sent with a full synopsis. The person who read that should have known this wasn’t what they were after and said so instead of wasting my money.

I think this is why it’s hard for writers not to get cynical. You can reference all the books, the websites, follow the querying process, and still be given the run-around.

When I started dealing with offers, I was still interested in getting an agent. And all this time, I’ve heard again and again from writers and Miss Snark that when a writer gets a deal offered, the agent’s ears perk up.

This hasn’t been my experience. I didn’t have that much ‘in the wind’ at the time that offers started coming in, but I didn’t find the fact that there was other interest in my work helped much. “I know I’ve had your work for four months but I haven’t read it yet.” That was about standard. It would have been one thing if they’d said, “I’ve been reading it and it’s not for me.” Okay then, fair enough. One wanted me to wait another month so they could read the manuscript. After you’ve had it for how long?

The thing was, I really wanted to find a decent agent. I’d gladly hand over a cut of what I’m getting to have guidance. It’s like paying for someone to be your friend, for starters. Seriously, it’s paying someone to handle all the rights still available to be sold, and having someone guide you through the landmines of the publishing world.

And, knowing me, likely bind my hands so I can’t say stupid things on blogs.

I think a good agent is worth their weight in gold and I’ve heard it said that finding a good agent is harder than finding true love. I got lucky once, I’m still waiting to get lucky again. Maybe I should’ve tried something really unconventional and taken out an ad...



This is where I say, “I told you so.”

In the nicest possible way, of course.

I have ranted about people posting their works-in-progress on the web for some time, and have often been told to be quiet.

But I still maintain that if people are willing to plagiarize written works by living authors, then how much more likely that people will try to steal what’s been written by someone unknown?

And it’s so easy to copy and paste…

Even if you publish something online and then take it down later, you can still find it through cached pages. You have to know what you’re doing to make sure you aren’t leaving a trace, but in the mean time, how do you know for certain that someone hasn’t come on and copied your whole story?

Now the media have picked up on the disturbing trends, and believe me, if routine things like blog posts are being pilfered, then please, exercise caution with your writing. You writers have invested your blood, sweat, tears and hard work in your manuscripts and short stories.

Sure, you might be able to prove your case in a court of law, but think of the expense incurred and the time invested while your work isn’t being published by you, because you were the victim of plagiarism.

Please. Do not risk it.

And if you missed it yesterday…
Don’t forget to check out JB Thompson’s interview with me, and see my big glasses.

A Joke, from Forrest

Talking leg

A man goes to the doctor. He says, "Doc, you gotta check my leg. Something's wrong. Just put your ear up to my thigh, you'll hear it!"

The doctor cautiously placed his ear to the man's thigh only to hear, "Gimme 20 bucks, I really need 20 bucks."

"I've never seen or heard anything like this before, how long has this been going on?" asked the doctor.

"That's nothing Doc. Put your ear to my knee."

The doctor put his ear to the man's knee and heard it say, "Man, I really need 10 dollars, just lend me 10 bucks!!"

"Sir," said the dumbfounded Doctor, "I really don't know what to tell you. I've never encountered anything like this before."

"Wait Doc, that's not it. There's more, just put your ear up to my ankle," the man urged.

The doctor did as the man said and heard the ankle plead, "Please, I just need 5 dollars. Lend me 5 bucks if you will."

"I have no idea what to tell you," the doctor said. "There's nothing about it in my books," he said.

"However, I can make a well educated guess though. Based on life experience I can tell you that your leg seems to be broke in three places."

*Quote from George Bernard Shaw.


Trace said...

Good topic. Everyone could be saved time, money and frustration if clear guidelines were up on every publisher's or agent's website.

JT Ellison said...

I'm still not comprehending why an agent wouldn't want to take your new work on and get a slice of the pie. Look at it this way, you aren't sharing your royalty checks with anyone!

Eileen said...

I love that rejection letter. My favorite is "your writing is funny- just not funny enough for us." That's my keeper. Your post makes me want to go call my agent and give her a big hug. She's divine.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I agree Trace - I mean, even if someone branches out into new terrain, they aren't likely to make radical jumps and suddenly start carrying hard-boiled thrillers when they've only ever published cozies. Maybe whodunnits, or mainstream mystery, but not to the extreme opposite edge. And when I think of JA Konrath sending out 200 queries to get an agent, it proves to me that this is a pretty common experience - that's a huge pool, not exactly narrowing the playing field. It's a game of chance, I guess, for some.

True, I'm not sharing with anyone JT. But I also feel reluctant to ask all my questions of my publisher, and so sometimes, I'm in the dark. Stuff has come up that I haven't known how to address, but have needed to do something about (sorry to be vague here, but it was complicated) and there just isn't The Complete Idiot's Guide to being a New Author available yet.

And man, some days, I really need that!

Eileen, love that rejection letter too. Glad you have a great agent - you know, you hear all these alleged horror stories but everyone I know with an agent adores their agent.

I must know all the lucky people. Hope some of it rubs off!

Bill, the Wildcat said...

I have a friend here in Richmond who had publishers nibble at his book but insist he have an agent and then find himself unable to get an agent. How does that make sense? A book with a publisher who wants it... but no agent, and the deal dies??? He even pitched the story to Hollywood director Ridley Scott who was intrigued by the story.

By the way, he did finally get it published. The book is Operation Smokeout by Anthony "Tony" P. Jones. Sorry, couldn't resist the shameless plug for a local guy, and your blog entry reminded me of his experience.

Erik Ivan James said...

I like what Trace said.
As always, good post.

ivan said...

Cheer up Sandra.
I wrote what I thought was a pretty good profile of Gerard Jones, the 50,000-times- rejected author of Ginny Good. He finally made it by 5o,00l. Monkfish Publishers.
The Globe and Mail, after holding the story for five months (my profile on GG), was finally goaded into admitting that they would not publish the Gerard Jones story.
I thought Gerard Jones would take al this with savoir-faire, himself rejected all the time, but he kept emailing me, hey, that's too bad man, that's really too bad.
I guess with all of GG's brash, he's a bit sensitive too.
Gerard Jones is probably the least popular author with the establishment, but he did make it on one book after 50,000 online rejections. Bastard actually made it and I suppose they hate him for it. But now he's onto funny scenes against ethnic groups and all, and I suppose that is why I myself have been rejected.
Oh what the hell. Him/her to whom God giver trouble, God gives shoulders.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, thanks for sharing that story - that is incredible. But then, I hear some people saying that some agents are reluctant to come in part way because they don't know what they're dealing with. The agent that wanted me to wait didn't want me to sign the deal and then maybe they'd come on board - they wanted to me to put the deal on hold until they made up their mind first about the book and then the deal.

But we writers get frustrated waiting indefinitely - how many publishers and agents, if interested in something, want to wait months?

Very hard to know what to do sometimes in this business, and I don't mind the endorsement at all.

Hi Erik, thanks for that. And Ivan, writers are sensitive. No matter how good they get at showing a thick skin, they still feel at those negative reviews or rejection letters.

It's just unfortunate. Sometimes, people get hundreds of rejection letters and end up bestsellers, but imagine if they quit at 100? Or even 200?

I'm really glad some writers persevered, because some of the most rejected have turned into my favourites.

Brett Battles said...

Sandra, I was in a somewhat similar position as you. I query probably 75 agents, had a few bites but no takers. When Ugly Town bought Hung Out To Die, I did not have an agent. When Bantam Dell bought my contract from Ugly Town then offered me a 3 book deal, I did not have an agent. When my editor left and I moved to a new editor I did not have an agent...but I got one quick.

I'd actually started looking for an agent about a month earlier. I used connections with other writers I knew to get an intro to their agents, but none of those agents were interested in me until my next contract came up. Then I remember an agent I had met at Bouchercon. In fact I still had her business card. I emailed her and within an hour she called. I emailed her my book and a copy of my Bantam contract and withing 24 hours she called and said "Absolutely I'll represent you." And, I should add, not take any money until my next deal. I got lucky. Very lucky. It's night and day from when I was going this alone. She has helped explain things that I didn't understand...stupid things. And she's helping me with the synopsis to book two.

It's weird how it happens. I'm glad those other agents refused me, but I'm not really sure why they did. Hopefully something similar will happen for you.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Holy crap, Brett, I want to know how you managed that!

That's a wild story. Very wild!

James Lincoln Warren said...

I got my agent by asking published friends to refer me.

The book still didn't sell. My favorite line from one editor: "It's too authentic."

Sandra Ruttan said...

"It's too authentic."

LOL James! Insane.

I've never asked anyone to refer me to their agent or publisher. Mind you, after I got offered a deal, a writer was quick to tell me they expected me to get them a deal, and I had such a knee-jerk reaction I don't even like asking people I know to read the book to blurb it.

For The Trees said...

At this rate I'm gonna have to copy out a lot more jokes. I read this when I sent it to you and it's STILL funny!

Great post. I really liked the story on plagiarism. I'm copying this post and putting it up on my blog so there'll be a lot more people who can see it. But don't worry about negative feedback - I'll change all the names and make it look like mine!!!


So, Sandra: are you really short or is that guy REALLY tall? Talk about a height disparity...and you look cute. No, you are. So suffer. HA!

angie said...

I could be totally wrong (I'm very familiar and comfortable with this state of being), but it seems like any business that follows trends is going to have a hard time boiling down specifics. The market changes, occasionally individual and popular tastes change, and the references do not reflect these in a timely fashion (I'm thinking of Writer's Market, agentquery, etc.). And the impression I've gotten from what little research I've done in this area is that agents & publishers are too overwhelmed to worry overly much about updating their submission info. Which leaves those of us who DON'T want to bother those not interested in our types of work paying for the sins of those who will query every agent and/or publisher regardless of what their guidelines say.

Yeah, it's a shitty system, but it's what we've got to deal with. I have purposely ignored most of the stuff on querying because....well, because it's fuckin' depressing and I've got to finish the damn draft before I can worry about getting depressed over this query crap. Er, I'm rambling here. Sorry. And Sandra, I wouldn't get too bent out of shape just yet. When your novel comes out & has success (and it will), this will all be old trauma/drama crap for you. If anything, you'll be worried about having too many to choose from!

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Forrest!

Well Angie, thanks for the vote of confidence! You're wise to not get bogged down in it now.

I think it is hard to some degree to narrow specifics when you follow market trends, but even if noir has been the big thing in the bus for so long, and you know you don't want books with murders in them, then for heaven's sake just say no when you read a query that has them in it! I mean, it does seem simple to me...

I had that from two Canadian publishers and I just laughed. They'd both read queries and both rejections were, "we don't publish these kinds of books." Then nix the query instead of asking for a full ms! Brain on holiday that day, or do the trends change faster than my mood swings?

Oh yeah, I'll be in trouble for that...

Amra Pajalic said...

I know that plagarism is rife but I'm still completely bewildered by people plagarising other bloggers. Firstly, it's so easy to find. Second, the whole purpose of presenting a blog is to write your point of view. I guess there are some people out there who are so desperate to be read and recognised and that's all they care about. Whereas a true writer wants that but gets the most joy just from creating.

Also I wanted to comment on the getting published without an agent thing. In Australia you can still get published without an agent as most publishers accept unsolicited queries except for the one or two big publisher like Harper Collins who will only take agented submissions. Also there's only like 15 literary agents operating in Australia. Bloody funny or what.

But most Australian authors publish and take their chance. There's one woman, Rosalie Ham, who wrote a book called The Dressmaker with a really small agent. It did well by Australian standards and her second book got a gander. There was absolutely no promotion involved and her whole success was based on word of mouth. So imagine if she'd actually made an effort to promote how well it would have done.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Honestly, the thought of stealing blog posts is really just sad. I agree with you Amra - it's about presenting your point of view. Why else would you do it?

In Canada, there aren't that many agents. But, proximity to the US being what it is, it's much more difficult to break in without an agent. I actually found agents in Canada wanted to sell to the US not Canada, and that meant that they took issue with the fact that some of my work was set in Canada.

One thing's for sure - it's been a learning experience!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I saw the article about plagiarizing whole blog posts...what's the world coming too!

That joke was cute...I read it before, but I don't remember where!

Lisa Hunter said...

You say "killed the girl." Do you mean a child? That might be beyond the pale for some publishers. It's similar in movies, where audiences won't stand for anyone abusing an animal (even simulated abuse). As my husband describes the prejudice: You can kill Santa with 36 stab wounds, but you must let the reindeer fly safely away.