Thursday, February 18, 2010

Seller beware!

I received an email offering a

New Revenue Opportunity for You and Your Authors

Frankly, I'm always looking for new revenue opportunities for my authors so I read the email.

(Redacted) is an innovative ebook publishing house committed to the promotion and exposure of its authors throughout the publishing industry. We are now accepting 2010 submissions for electronic-format books (ebooks) of full-length fiction and nonfiction titles and short stories.

Working with (redacted) is an opportunity for agents, their authors, and (redacted) all to achieve success:

Despite the huckster quality of the prose, I'm interested in ways my authors can have electronic versions of their books, so I read on.

Agents can realize a new source of revenue that may not previously have been available to them.

Authors have the opportunity to be published and sell their books now—while they may or may not continue to pursue mainstream publishing.

We currently offer you three primary categories of referrals and compensation on manuscripts/authors that you refer to us and for whom we publish works.

And we're done.

From interested to completely "not going to touch this with a ten foot pole" in three paragraphs.


Because the AAR Canon of Ethics is pretty clear about accepting referral fees/kickbacks/finders fees or whatever you want to call the dosh: No. Can. Do.

Here's the text copied from the AAR website:

A member who represents a client in the grant of rights in any property owned or controlled by the client may not accept any compensation or other payment from the acquirer of such rights,

And I think that's a good idea. I like the idea my clients can trust me for objective advice. They never need to wonder if I'm recommending a deal or a publisher cause I'll get a little extra under the table.

So, where did this company go wrong? They didn't do a single modicum of research. They certainly didn't ask an agent about the text of the letter. Any agent would have caught that.

And if they'd left it off? I would have happily called them, or gone to their website or asked the next question. And the truly hilarious part of this: they'd make more money too!

There's no way to do a deal with these guys even if I didn't take money, cause it's right there in black and white that they offer it. The equivalent of "I didn't inhale" and no one believed that either.

I almost feel sorry for these guys.


Julie Butcher-Fedynich said...

They haven't talked to writers either or they'd know that we all want an AAR agent.
It's really a shame when their timing is so on the mark e-book wise.

Kosmos said...


Impressive marketing fail there on their part.

Anonymous said...

You are a fine example of what separates the cream from the milk. Trust in your agent is vital.

Lydia Sharp said...

And this would be (one of the many reasons) why so many writers respect you, Janet.

lotusgirl said...

Well put, but you seem to be giving them the benefit of the doubt. Their language made me wary right from the get go. It's good that you kept an open mind until they shut it for you. That's probably one of the many reasons why you're an agent, and I'm not.

Deep River said...

The old direct marketing copywriter in me cringed at the pedestrian quality of the copy.

Sentence #1 is poorly constructed. "Innovative" is unsupported and thus becomes hackneyed. "Committed" adds nothing because it is obvious that any business is "committed" to its service or product.

Sentence #2 is a call to action and belongs at or near the end of the solicitation.

#4-#6 are wordy and weak. The only action verb is "offer". Each of these sentences (were they bulleted?) could be reduced to fewer than 10 words; doing so would greatly increase the impact.

Although I was alerted to be skeptical from the title of the post, it is obvious to me that the writer of the solicitation does not know at least one critical element of marketing: how to write effective direct marketing solicitations. Short, direct, and affirmative are watch words for such copywriters.

The falling on the sword with an offer in violation of industry ethics is just... funny.

Christi Goddard said...

I trust the ethics and guidelines of agent practices listed in the AAR which is why it's one of my preferences when searching for an agent.

I'm as eager as the next unpublished author to have an agent represent me, but I will already know I can trust an agent completely if they are a member of the AAR.

Some are not, and are likely good agents as well, but trust is so important in a working relationship like the agent/client. Being a member of the AAR elimates one hurdle right off the bat, in my opinion.

Christi Goddard said...

PS: When do you sleep? It was way late in NY when you posted this. You're like a machine. An awesome agent machine.

Malia Sutton said...

"while they may or may not continue to pursue mainstream publishing."


Sierra Godfrey said...

You caught their referral fee problem, but this also made me go on red alert:

"Authors have the opportunity to be published and sell their books now—while they may or may not continue to pursue mainstream publishing."

That's self-publishing is it not.

Tawna Fenske said...

Yet another example of why every author should have a smart, barracuda agent in their corner.


Anonymous said...

It must be tough being an agent. I would have deleted that e-mail straight from the subject line, but I don't have to focus so much on responsibilities to othr people.

Jennifer said...

I'm with Lotusgirl. Maybe it's just that I've been reading so much about iffy small publishers and display sites and things like that offering exclusive chances for new authors, but it made me squirm from the beginning as well. I do try to be trusting, but after learning about some of the really shady things that go on with some companies taking advantage, and then the flip-side of the coin with companies who have good intentions but no actual industry knowledge whatsoever that are thereby doomed to fail, I tend to take most things with a grain of salt.

mallard said...

Dear Ms. Reid

Like you, I am dismayed by the proliferation of hucksters and charlatans on the internet, but I am heartened by your willingness to entertain new approaches to publishing. In that spirit I would like to present you with what I hope you will see as a truly innovative method for the production of literature.

You are a busy and intelligent woman, so I won’t waste your time with some kind of slick sales pitch. Instead I will offer only blunt honesty. Have you ever heard the expression that an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare? If you are like me, you have even used some version of this expression, likely as a joke, perhaps to ridicule a particularly egregious offering from the slush pile.

Recently I spoke with a professional statistician, and to my amazement I learned that there was sound science behind this colloquialism. Monkeys and typewriters could produce the complete works of Shakespeare, and what’s more it is statistically possible for one monkey working on one typewriter to himself produce the celebrated oeuvre.

Undoubtedly you see the flaw. What use are the complete works of Shakespeare? The rights have long since expired and the market is, at present, saturated. But the point of the statistical monkey model is that other works could be produced as well: new and original works.

If one were to expand the operation, starting with perhaps 1000 monkeys and 1000 typewriters, it would be possible to produce a startling array of original literary works, ready for immediate publication.

As an agent, you will want to see the full figures before committing to such an enterprise, but here are some preliminary numbers I have calculated. For English (other languages will, of course, also be possible, securing us access to international markets) the average word length is 5.1 letters, the average sentence length is 14.3 words, and the average number of punctuation marks is 1.7 per sentence. If we factor in spaces and a novel length of 90,000 words we come to approximately 560,000 characters.

One monkey will type an average of 597 characters per banana consumed over a period of 2 hours. For the price of 1000 bananas (at $0.75/lb wholesale) we can easily produce 4 saleable novel length manuscripts in one eight hour day.

You might be inclined to believe that gorillas with their proven sign language abilities would be better suited to the task of writing, but logistically they are a poor fit for this business model. Their fingers are too large for standard typewriters, their consumption of bananas is more than seven times that of an average monkey. However, a few gorillas might be profitably utilized in editorial roles.

If we organize the corporation as a wildlife preserve we will be able to avoid taxes and by exploiting loopholes in current animal labor laws we would not legally responsible for paying author royalties. With the marketing potential of monkey-books likely to generate high consumer interest, I am sure you can recognize the financial potential of this enterprise.

Please act quickly to be a part of this exciting opportunity. If you have further questions, or would like to discuss partnership terms, you can email me at



Janet Reid said...

One keyboard, ruined!

Jennifer said...

LOL!@ Mallard! That was awesome!

Donna Coe-Velleman said...

I don't know about you, but that seems kind of ballsy to me.

Donna Coe-Velleman said...

I don't know about you, but that seems kind of ballsy to me.