Wednesday, 25 July 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: agents recommending paid-for services

Dear Crabbit 
Below I have pasted the rejection I received from literary agent [redacted] yesterday having read my full manuscript. I am not in the slightest bit bothered by the rejection in itself.
What bothers me a great deal is the link she sent me to a service that will edit, provide a cover and convert the whole thing into a Kindle e-book for just under £1000! Surely I could hire a proof-reader and do it myself for far less (or am I being naive?) I have studied their website in depth and it does not inspire confidence. I have no idea who they are or anything that gives me confidence in their abilities. It strikes me as amateurish and maybe even exploitative.

So what do you think? Is this value for money? And what do you think of this growing trend where agents seem to be "monetizing (horrid word) the slush-pile"?

Thank you. Your thoughts based on your experience of e-publishing would be appreciated.

The letter which this writer showed me advised her to self publish on Kindle and recommended a company "who are experienced in providing a fast and first-rate means of self publishing effectively enabling your novel to reach a significant number of readers."

"enabling your novel to reach a significant number of readers" sounds as though it's pretty much been taken from an advertising flyer, doesn't it? I suspect the company sent a promotional flyer to the agency, asking them to recommend them, and the agent has done so. This is not breaking any laws, of course. I'm not aware that it contravenes any guidelines but it strikes me as an unusual thing for an agent to do. It strikes me that one should only recommend a company for anything when one has very, very good reason to know that the company does a good job, and not just because the company says so. The writer talks about "monetizing the slush-pile" - but there's no sign that this is what's happening, unless the agent is receiving a commission and there's no suggestion of that.

I want to pick up on the other aspect, though: whether it's better to use a package or to handle each part of the process separately. It is my personal view that a self-publishing author is better served by keeping proper control and separately outsourcing each aspect that he or she cannot or does not wish to handle. I am against the idea of packages as I don't think they usually serve the writer best. I just think that if you're going to self-publish (as I have done) you are better off properly self-publishing, keeping full control and doing as much as possible yourself.

I would always want to commission an editor and proof-reader I trusted (which might be different for each book); a cover designer I trusted; a formatter I trusted (if I couldn't do it myself or didn't want to). I'd definitely insist on writing the product description on Amazon etc myself; and no way is it necessary to get someone else to upload for you - it takes no longer to do it yourself than it would to email the docs to the company. The company in question doesn't offer the marketing - and quite right, too, as this is best done by the writer, perhaps with some paid-for back-up publicity or the assistance of clued-up friends.

[Edited: I previously listed the costs I incur when I've self-published a book, but, following Meg's comment, I realised that because my editing costs are unusually low this was pointless, though it wasn't offered as advice and my advice has always been to get your work properly edited. My editing and proof-reading costs are very low because a) the books are short non-fiction and the final draft by me is clean and accurate and has been through beta-readers b) I have expert friends, including a fully-trained proof-reader who charges me "mates rates". I do not want to suggest that you shouldn't pay a proper rate for editing stages. However, even if you paid a substantial amount of money, I still believe that it is better to choose an editor yourself, rather than taking editing as part of a package from a company, when you haven't seen the editor's work. This is the point of my post - not how much it costs but how you choose who will help you.]

The only two hard bits are a) writing the book and b) selling it, and the company mentioned, and others I've seen, are not offering either. (Thank goodness!)

I would stress that it may well be that the recommended company does a fantastic job. I'm just saying there's nothing on the website that would lead me to think they will do a better job than an author outsourcing the necessary bits. 
I'd be perfectly happy if the agent had said, "I think this is a book that could work well as a self-published novel, but I recommend that you go into this with eyes wide open and get lots of advice on the various parts of the process from those who have done it."


Meg Rosoff said...

£0 for editing and £60 for copyediting? Can't help thinking you get what you pay for. Editing a book ms is a huge job. Copyediting might be less arduous if you're a meticulous, accurate writer. This is a bit like saying you got your kitchen built for free cause your best friend is a carpenter.

Lucky you! But bad advice.

Nicola Morgan said...

Meg - point taken. I wasn't clear enough. My strong advice is to outsource each part of the process. So, you need the editing services you trust, rather than using part of a package. In my case, yes, I was lucky - my proofreader for the book in question is a professional proof-reader, the book is short and also very clean, because the previous stages were done tightly. But I should have made clear that this was unusual.

My point, however, is that even if you ended up paying £1000, you need to pick an editor whose work you have good reason to belueve is good. For a novel, it would be more than for short non-fiction.

I will add a comment to the post later, to clarify. Thank you.

Derek said...

I think the key is to get the best job done for the resources you have to hand - financial and otherwise. As a writer looking to self-pub a novel, I know that I cannot afford an outsourced editor for a 120,000 word ms. So I work with what I have.

Janet O'Kane said...

This is a really interesting one, not just because of who the agent has recommended but that he/she has pointed the writer in the direction of self-pubbing at all. If I'd got that I may have felt there was a coded message in it, suggesting I stood zero chance of getting an agent. Which is a horrible way to treat anyone. In my limited experience (so far!) most agents acknowledge that the decision to take on a writer is subjective and encourage those they reject to try other agents.

Dan Holloway said...

very interesting. What would be very useful to know is how much of the time the same agent gives the same advice.

And I agree with Nicola about outsourcing each task directly - not only do you retain more control and get the right person for each job (one of my reasons for self-publishing years ago was that you could find the very best person for each job rather than relying on what was available in-house), but packages are rarely the right answer to anything - just think of those current account packages banks try to sell that give you all kind of insurances you don't need. All packages give is convenience - and if that's your priority you're not ready to sel-publish

Nicola Morgan said...

Derek - yup. I think readers of this blog know that I massively value having a great editor for my published books; also that I believe in paying for expert work. But there are other ways round it when you simply can't afford a full editing service. I think i should do another blog post on that.

Janet - yes, and I think the writer concerned was somewhat demoralised by it.

Dan - precisely! "All packages give is convenience - and if that's your priority you're not ready to sel-publish" - I agree. Although, you might be genuinely ready AND want convenience - which would not be reprehensible but also not wise.

Lisa Shambrook said...

It would be great if you did a post on the best things we can do if we can't afford a full-editing service, Nicola. I'm on a strict family income and spending on my writing just can't take centre stage. I can save and build some money to use, and would love to know the best way to spend it to get the best advice for my work. I can see how important outside proof reading and editing can be, so I want to get it right with my limited resources!

Amy said...

I need a proof-reader - but I really want someone who knows what they're doing and can tell me where I've gone wrong (I know I have, I just can't put my finger on it.) Where do you find quality, but not crazy expensive proofreaders?

Nicola Morgan said...

Amy - this wouldn't be a proof-reader's job, but an editor's. An editor does that "big" aspects such as structure, plot-holes, poor development. Copy-editor does next stage: consistency, odd phrasing, other smalle errors. Proof-reader comes at the end of the process and checks for tiny (but important!) errors.

Normally, when someone is doing this job professionally, it should not be cheap, because it's a skilled job and people should be paid properly. But there are ways of making it cheaper - I'll do a post about it later. (Lisa - no problem.)

Laura Mary said...

Janet - that would have been my reaction too. It feels like a blanket rejection not only from this agent but form all agents everywhere from the dawn of time! As if self publishing were now the only option left!
Of course it’s not that at all, I think Dan is right in wondering how many other writers have received the same email. She/he could just have easily said ‘thank you, but not for me’ maybe they thought this was more encouraging/informative?

Interesting discussion as always – knowledge is power, people! Keep the questions coming :-)

Nicola Morgan said...

Laura and Dan and others - it could have been completely well-intentioned. Hard to tell, and I didn't see the whole letter. I do believe that agents generally genuinely want to help and I have massive sympathy for how difficult it is to give constructive responses. I'd actually have no problem with a recommendation to self-publish - my only problem was with the recommendation of a packaging company. I do agree that it raises a whole load of questions. In fact, the same letter had another question, which I'm going to cover another time!

Nicola Morgan said...

Meg - I don't agree with the "you get what you pay for" thing. Sometimes it's true but sometimes the opposite is the case. I don't judge a service based on price and I rather often do things for little or nothing but still think I do a good job! I agree that price is one factor and I don't like undervaluing things (including myself) but there are circumstances when people can offer or receive excellent service for a reduced price, or even free - or bartered. I will do another post on that.