Monday, November 24, 2008
Five kinds of weasel words
Scam agencies or publishers often make claims that sound good but which allow them to either skirt the truth or wriggle out of any obligations to writers. Watch for the weasel words in their phrasing.
1. “Your book will be available to bookstores.”
Available to them, or available in them?
Readers who haven’t already heard of the book won’t go up to the special order desk to ask for it. Even those who know of the book’s existence may not be willing to place an order without having read at least part of it… meaning the book should be available in stores.
“Available through bookstores” is another way for publishers without distribution to cover themselves.
2. “We market the book at our discretion.”
What exactly does “at our discretion” mean?
I haven’t seen any publisher which claimed this actually define what their discretion would entail. Usually because when they say this, they mean, “We market your book when we feel like it” or “We market your book to you extensively; to other buyers, not so much”.
3. “We have worked with dozens of major publishers”.
You might see this claim made by a scam literary agency – either this or “Here are the publishers who have worked with our clients”. This will be followed by a list of prestigious names like Random House and St. Martin’s.
Unfortunately, “worked with” can mean anything. If I send a manuscript to Tor and get a rejection, I can say I have worked with Tor, and that will sound very impressive until I define exactly what our working relationship was.
The funny part is that I found this on the Barbara Bauer agency website, which lists PublishAmerica along with several major commercial publishers. This is shooting yourself in the clown shoe; an agency which works with PA in any capacity is one you want to avoid like the plague.
Maybe that’s why Random House is mentioned twice in the list; gotta make up for PA.
4. “We’ll send a press release to the New York Times.”
Yes, but will they print it?
Press releases aren’t much good unless they’re sent out well in advance of the book’s release date and accompanied by a review copy. Major newspapers are also inundated with press releases, meaning they’re highly unlikely to feature any book that’s been self-published or vanity-published.
5. “The staff of Oprah receives our newsletter.”
Maybe, but do they read it?
Send Oprah a copy of your manuscript or book, and you too will be able to say that the staff of Oprah has received a copy of your manuscript or book. And since they are probably conscientious people, it will have gone into the recycle bin rather than the regular trash.