Thursday, December 2, 2010

Goober Writers Anonymous--Donna Hole

Goober Writers Anonymous is a group for writers to vent about past or present writerly mistakes for therapeutic reasons, to educate others, or just for a laugh.  If you would like to join the group and sign up to submit a guest post, please leave me your email address in the comments below.

Perks of joining:  You get to put the nifty little badge on your blog (yes, this does indeed make you cool), sharing with others and being a part of a group is always fun, and I will put a link to your blog on my blog below under Members of GWA.

There is only one more Thursday filled for GWA!  I am desperate, DESPERATE for more members!  Free cookies to anyone who joins today!

Today's Goober Blogger is Donna Hole!  Head on over to say hi to her and become a follower! (but don't forget to come back ;)  )  

Now enjoy her post!

The first time I queried CHASING THE DREAM I submitted to Harlequin Everlasting directly (yes, they accept unagented material) because my novel sounded like something I could fit into the basic scenario they were looking for. I was rejected.

Rightly so, for two reasons. First because it was submitted way too soon in the writing process (looking back, it was barely out of draft condition) and second because I really hadn’t done the research necessary for proper querying.

Although Harlequin had the standard "its not right for us" reasoning, the letter also included some specifics on what made it inappropriate for the series. Few writers get such enlightening feedback from either agents or publishers. And after reading it all through (it was so apt and clear I didn’t even cry over my first ever rejection) I asked myself some very basic questions about where I really wanted my story to go. And I realized CHASING THE DREAM was never going to be right for their publication. Because the story I wanted to tell wasn’t what this particular House published.

Eventually, I filled out an online questionnaire and before 24 hours had passed I’d found a reputable (sounding) agent. A subsidiary publisher that assured me they were not a self publishing agency, and that they took great pains in scrutinizing the authors they accepted into their program. After reading my roughly 250 word excerpt, I was just the sort of talented author their company specialized in working with.

The solicitation included assurances that they did not get paid unless my novel sold to a publishing house, they collected only the standard 15% fee, that they were willing to work with authors no matter the stage of completion of the novel, and that they were focused on getting my novel shopped and published in as little time as possible. I was also assured that a whole team of professionals would be available upon request to assist with any writing needs and questions I may have.

And although The Agency had an impressive published client list, they were unable to divulge the names because the Authors preferred to remain anonymous. Client confidentiality was this agency’s number one priority - aside from getting the Author published.

I submitted a short synopsis and samples (first 3 or 5 pages) of my novel and they were delighted with my writing skills. (Several years ago I entered a course on children’s writing with the same basic scenario. I was the best they’d ever seen. This flaw entered my mind, but I didn’t want to think I could be sucked in again.) Skeptical but desperate to believe in my talent, I read all the propaganda and signed a one year contract.
Within three months I was questioning the Agency’s commitment. Yes, they were shopping the novel out right away, but 4 of the first 10 proposed Agents/publishers they sent me for submission approval (I had to pay standard mailing fees) had been on my list of Agents I had already queried - and been rejected. They had already sent out the approved query letter; so to make up for their error, the next 10 submissions went out without a mailing charge.

I think Matthew Rush would have been proud of the angry letter I sent back regarding this obvious oversight.
Status reports on the submitted queries wasn’t encouraging. Lots of “no response” and rejections. Obviously, they informed me, the synopsis (the one I wrote myself and they consistently sent) wasn’t engaging the Agent/publishers attention, and perhaps I needed to have a reputable author/editor offer feedback. At a discount rate. I bit; I paid. Wasn’t happy with the feedback. But it also wasn’t totally off either, from the research more extensive research into querying/submissions I’d begun on my own.

So I asked, consistently over the next couple months, what my specific “agent” thought of the novel. Whether “she” (My communications were with a specific feminine name) kept recommending persons for me to pay a discount fee to read and offer feedback on my writing. I’m dense, really really I am; but I eventually got the message: None of the “agents” at the agency had ever read the novel.

And from the first day, they made this clear. I just . . Didn’t want to accept this knowledge.

Over the course of our relationship, my questions got more specific; and they eventually admitted that they did not ever read an author’s manuscript, but trusted the writer to know at what stage of development their novel was at, and if the author thought their work still needed some polishing, the agency would put them in contact with writing mentors. For a fee.

I invested over $500 into my publishing prospects before I allowed my exclusive contract to lapse.
Over a year after my contract expired, I was still getting updates that my novel was progressing well through the “shopping” process, and any day they expected an offer on my project. I was, after all, the most marketable author they’d ever encountered.

It’s OK if you’re laughing in your coffee - or wine by now. I laugh at my own naivet√©.
But you know, we all start somewhere; and like the current video games, the writing world doesn’t exactly come with a user manual. You have to discover the triumphs, rules, and pitfalls on your own. And even when you’ve read all the guidelines from reputable Agents/Editors/Publishers, how do you really know what is right for you as an Author?

Yes, I feel I got duped by this Agency. But . . I also learned some things about the publishing world, because 1) I wanted to know what was going on, so I did a lot of research on my own; and 2) I’d never heard of things like hot sheets, character profiles, plot premise, writing goals, etc.

I took a 6 week online writers course that charged $250 (I think, don’t really remember) and the most frequent response I got from the Instructor on my writing submissions was “very evocative”.  
Evocative? I had to look it up to know if it was compliment. Still not sure given the context.

I guess my Goober lesson is: If something feels “off” to you, no matter how desperate you are to believe in your marketability, its best to take a step back and read all those FREE advise posts of Agents/Editors/Publishers who are more than happy to brag about their client successes. After all, isn’t that the ultimate goal; to brag about which agency was savvy enough to pick you up as a client?

Oh, great post, Donna!  I'd never even heard of something like this.  I'd heard of the scam publishers (obviously), but scam agents?  Well, it's wonderful to get this warning.  I'm sure all of us will benefit from this story.

Thanks for sharing!

Discussion:  Has anything like this happened to any of you?  How did you handle it?

By the way, yes I did change my template again.  I change my templates like I change shoes.  But I think I'll be keeping this one for a while!  I finally found one that blends sci-fi (the stars and moon) with fantasy.  So yay!  I hope you guys like it!


  1. I've heard of agencies like this, and I'm so sorry Donna had to go through that! It took me a long time to join sites like Absolute Write, and even longer to get involved, but it's amazing what resources are available (for FREE), if you just put your feelers out for critique groups, contests, etc.

    Good for you, Donna, for asking those specific questions and getting them to 'fess up! Thanks so much for sharing this :)

  2. wow, thanks so much for sharing your story!

  3. i've never heard of this kinda scheme! what a buncha bleepholes! (sorry still have paranormalcy in my system)
    thanks so much for the warning donna! :)

  4. Absolutely, we have to listen to our gut always. I've learned through experience that we have to trust our instincts.

    Great post, Donna.


  5. That's horrible of that company! Taking advantage of a writer's ego, and charging you. Shame on them. It makes me angry....
    Ah, live and learn, eh?

    A lot of writers do pay for things they could get for FREE, which is also a shame. Why pay hundreds of $$$ for a writing course? The only exception might be a local writer's conference, where you can do other things there, like make critique partner connections, along with your learning of the craft and rubbing of the agent/editor shoulders. I guess a writer's course sorta depends on the course, too.

    And Emily--I LOVE your new blog design. Way cute and appropriate! :o)

  6. I'm sorry that happened to her! It's awful that anyone would do something like that; it's completely rotten.

    I love the new template!

  7. I guess it's just as well that it's taken me so long to finish my stories. By the time I'm ready to submit anything, I'll have learned enough to avoid a whole slew of goober mistakes. (And probably discover new ones.)

  8. Have you ever spaced a week? Like - wow where was I while this was going on? I’m sure I was standing right there.

    I’m so sorry I didn’t come by to check on my submission. Thank you everyone for your comments, and for reading the post. And THANK YOU EMILY for hosting me.

    As Carol says, live and learn.

    Jess; I was weary of anything “free” for a long time. Like you, however, I learned how to navigate around the blogosphere, and to pay attention to agents and others’ advice about legitimate Agents and Agencies. I’m glad you joined our community.

    CQ: thanks for stopping by.

    Cas: LOL; looks like I need to pick up a copy of paranormalcy.

    Thanks Jai.

    You’re right Carol; so much learning out there is free, and when you do pay for it, you usually know exactly what you are buying and how you’ll benefit from it.

    GE; completely rotten is right. But I learned a valuable lesson early on, so all was not lost.

    Jaleh: I’m glad you’re around now to learn all the tricks and tips. I found this awesome community long after I’d learned some things the hard way. I’m sure there’s still lots of mistakes waiting for me to make them J

    Have good week everyone; be safe in your query experience, but also be sure to put your work, and yourself, out there.



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