Thursday, June 02, 2005

My Warning Bells Sounded

The package looked pretty innocent when it arrived. A USPS priority mail package addressed to me because of my Fiction Editor position. I opened it and my internal warning bells sounded.

First, it was a bound manuscript. Again it wasn’t too unusual. Some times a fiction author will produce a Print On Demand version or self-publish their novel and be interested in a traditional publisher acquiring the book for a broader distribution.

Then I noticed the cover letter came from a literary agent (someone I didn’t recognize). Again it’s not too unusual because anyone can hang out an agent shingle. Many people are getting into the agent business. Some editors are becoming agents, etc.

With this agent’s cover letter, the warning bells sounded. I think it was the phrase about a “compilation of prayer and insightful prose” to “to guide readers along a path to spiritual enlightenment.” Then the next sentence claimed the book “appeals to readers of any faith.”

OK, I thought. Let’s check it out.

Loud warning bells sounded. Large typeface (helps you produce a larger book than would normally happen). Every page was a one page chapter of a thought or prayer and the bound book was published from an outfit that I’ve seen numerous authors complaining about their results on some online groups. I’d never seen an actual book from this outfit—until now.

Over the last few years, I’ve opened thousands of these submissions—but I’ve never seen a package like this one. I looked a bit closer about the author. Her first book and she’s working on a second book (admirable).

Then I thought I’d check for some more information about the agent. (Writers should listen up here—I’m going to teach you how to fish—for information). First, I went to Everyone Who’s Anyone In Trade Publishing.  This page has a search engine and I entered the first and last name, then searched. Nothing was found. Then I just entered the last name and searched. Again nothing. Then I entered the first name and searched. Nothing.

Next I turned to the Association of Author’s Representatives home page. They have a search engine feature for their database. Again I looked for this agent’s name. Nothing. It’s again not too unusual—because not every agent is a member of the AAR. Most of the Christian literary agents that I work with on a regular basis are not members.

Finally I tried a Google search on the person’s name. I found nothing. Now not everyone in publishing is on the Internet. I searched on my own name “Terry Whalin” and in 0.25 seconds, Google found 3,700 results with the first few entries accurate and you could learn my background. It sounded more warning bells.

I sent this “literary agent” my standard form rejection letter, then logged some details into my fiction manuscript log. The experience bothered me for the author who is obviously putting some effort and energy into getting her project into the marketplace.

Each of us as writers want someone to want our material. It’s admirable as we pursue our dreams of publication (and sales) that someone comes along who wants to be our literary agent. It’s our responsibility as the author to check out the agent—and make wise decisions.

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