This is a segment of a larger piece, the working title of which has been “Ambient Misinformation about Publishing and Writing, and the Cultivation of the Reader Mind: A Rant I Didn’t Get to Deliver at Noreascon.” It has occurred to me that I could write about this one for a very long time without exhausting the subject.
Certain words and phrases are like little genetic markers for scammers. Here’s a non-exhaustive list, non-exhaustively explained:
1. “Giving new writers a chance.” Also: “Helping new writers.”
While agents and publishers frequently do just this thing, they don’t talk about it in those terms. For them, it’s always a specific new book, a specific new author. Making judgements about which book and which writer they’re going to work with is the heart of their job. When you hear someone talking in an indiscriminately general fashion about giving a chance to new writers, there’s something wrong.
Same goes for “helping new writers.” There might be legitimate projects aimed at helping new writers as a class, but the business they’re in isn’t agenting or publishing.
2. “Traditional publishing.”
This term came in with PublishAmerica. It’s their little way of suggesting that they’re a conventional publishing house, which they aren’t. Publishing houses refer to what they do as “publishing.”
3. “Professionally edited manuscript.” Also, “No publisher will look twice at a manuscript that hasn’t been professionally edited.” Also, any of the numerous variations thereon.
The part about publishers automatically rejecting manuscripts that haven’t been professionally edited is a flat-out lie. Anyone who tells you that is either a scammer, a complete ignoramus, or a naif who’s been keeping bad company.
Publishing houses care about the text. They don’t care whether you paid someone else to go over it.
This lie has been spread by scam agents who bunco-steer their clients into the hands of unscrupulous (and often unskilled) “book doctors,” most of whom do a perfunctory surface-level edit, charge the client dearly for it, and pay a kickback to the agent. The client and manuscript are then sent back to the agent, ready for the next round of fleecing.
There are some genuine freelance professional editors out there. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I don’t know any who take referrals from agents.
4. The terrible odds that you’ll get published.
Hearing about this from someone who supposedly works in publishing should make you wary. People who really work in publishing know that the chances of any single manuscript’s being published, expressed as the proportion it represents of the total slush pile, is a completely meaningless figure. The majority of the manuscripts in the slush pile have zero chance of getting published. The rest have a greater-than-zero chance. The good ones have a very good chance indeed.
This and other dubious “facts” about the unlikelihood of your being published are spread by vanity/subsidy/misc. scammy operations. They want you to despair of your own chances of getting published, and go with them instead.
The other source of this dubious wisdom is writers who’ve repeatedly had their submissions rejected. While they are speaking from experience, you have to remember that their experience consists of submitting stories and books that nobody wants to buy. Your own manuscript might not share that fate. The only way you can find out is by submitting it and seeing what happens.
5. Hopes and dreams.
One seldom hears real agents, editors, or publishers talk about the author’s hopes and dreams. What they talk about are the author’s books.
Scammers are forever going on about hopes and dreams because (a.) all aspiring writers have them; (b.) the writer will take it to mean the scammer truly understands them (as opposed to understanding that this is a common characteristic of aspiring writers); and (c.) it spares the scammers having to say anything specific about manuscript submissions they haven’t actually read.