I’m a big fan of following blogs and hanging around writers’ forums like Absolute Write. They provide delightful information, and it makes it easy to meet like-minded people in the same boat as you. Here’s yet another reason:
It’ll make you paranoid.
That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. Sometimes, that kind of paranoia is what we need to take proper care of our careers. Without horror stories about things like…
… bad publisher contracts
… fly-by-night publishers
… scam agents
… well-meaning but inept agents
… writer-agent conflicts
… terrible editing suggestions
… heteronormativity and racism by professionals
… disappearing royalty checks
… writer-reviewer blow-ups
… promotional failures
… rookie mistakes
… books that never sell
… or get stuck in development hell
… overburdened authors
… and a hundred other things, we won’t know what to guard ourselves against. It’s easy to be so grateful to get an agent or publisher that you might not ask questions about the contracts you’re offered or double-check with knowledgable CPs if the situation you’re in is entirely kosher.
I did plenty of research on agents before I started querying–or so I thought. But much of that research involved blogs, not discussion forums, and not talking to friends. I knew bad agents existed, because the good agents warned me about them, right? I knew better than to pay reading fees.
What I didn’t know was that those good agents weren’t always so good. A couple of years ago, I read someone’s post about terrible experiences with an agent. I don’t remember the details, but it was enough to make me wince and vow to do my best to avoid that kind of situation. At least I wouldn’t have to worry too much, right? I planned to only query agents I’d seen people rave about on their blogs, or whose blogs or Twitter account I followed, or–
Then I reached the end of the post, where the person said something along the lines of, “And this is an agent praised by tons of blogs around the Internet. People call her their dream agent all the time. She’s very popular online.”
My first reaction was, “WHO? OH MY GOD, WHO?” and my second was to run to a friend and declare I was never going to query anyone, ever again, EVER, because publishing was scary.
Obviously, I changed my mind. The post did make me far more cautious, though, and much less likely to declare anyone my dream agent before I’d spoken to their clients and found out the nitty-gritty. Just ‘they offer great advice’ and ‘they’re really funny on Twitter’ isn’t good enough.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t query agents you don’t know every last detail about; that’d make querying nigh-impossible. But we need to stay alert to protect ourselves, and not hand-wave away red flags just because an agent has a big-name client or two.
Similarly, horror stories about experiences with Big Six publishers make it really clear just what a good agent can do for you.
I’ve been in a couple of bad situations in my years in publishing. Thanks to reading other people’s experiences, I managed to recognize the warning signs and escape before the situation could damage my career. The same goes for a number of my friends. Publishing is a fantastic business, but sometimes, it’s a scary one as well.
So talk to friends. Read forums. Inform yourself. Know what to watch for.
Then go look at cat pictures after reading overly serious blog posts like this one.
Lemme get you started with a picture of my sister’s cats on a bike. KITTIES.