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.


Anonymous said...

“Your book will be available to bookstores.”

I worked in a bookstore for several years. There were many books we were not even able to special order for customers.

“We’ll send a press release to the New York Times.”
Yes, but will they print it?"


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marian said...

Anonymous spam be gone!

Tasha, that's interesting. What kinds of books were you not able to order? Would it have made any difference if the customers paid up front?

Anonymous said...

Hi Marian,

There wasn't any particular type of book we weren't able to order. Only specific books. We'd look up a title and it would tell us it was not available for ordering. It could be for several reasons. The most common was that it was out of print or, for whatever reason, our shippers didn't carry it. There was no way we could get it into our store.

So, unfortunately, it had nothing to do with whether someone was willing to pay up front.

Jane Smith said...

Marian, my friend Sally Zigmond used to work in book retailing, and wrote a blog post for me about this: Waterstones in the UK have special codes on their computer system which mean, "what ever you do don't order a book from this publisher!" Which makes it impossible for some publishers' books to get on the shelves regardless of the quality of individual titles.

Anonymous said...

PA obviously doesn't even read their own testimonial page.
On page 283 there is one that thanks PA and they have not even SUBMITTED their manuscript.
Another is obviously a joke- it thanks satan!
If they can't read the testimonials, who can expect them to read manuscripts submitted to them?

I was going to post this on AW, but would rather not.

Marian said...

Thanks for commenting, Anonymous - the part about thanking Satan was interesting to know.

No, I doubt PA reads those testimonials, but on the other hand, I don't think anyone reads all of them. PA has, what, over 200 pages of testimonials on its site. Prospective authors aren't likely to sift through all of them, especially if most comments are glowing and positive. They'll close the window and sign the contract instead.

So PA is safe shoveling whatever it likes on to those pages.