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  Issue #60

Free Writers' Newsletter

   Feb 22, 2008  


Self publishing: the brutal truth
By Dave Duggins
Editor, Spacesuits and Sixguns Magazine

I'm afraid I'm a bit of a downer today. There's a point here, though. Light at the end of the tunnel. Don't worry.

Anyway, I seriously doubt this is going to surprise anyone here:

It's more difficult to publish successfully now than it ever has been before.

Half of you are saying, ďNo kidding, genius.Ē The other half are saying, ďAre you serious? It's easy to get published. I go sign up for a free Blogger account and start writing. As soon as I click ďpost entry,Ē presto! I'm published.Ē

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It might help to define the term ďpublish successfully.Ē By my own purely subjective criteria, publishing successfully means essentially two things: 1) You are being read widely; and 2) You are making a living at it. Adding that further definition, which camp are you in?

True, there are more and more ways to monetise your blog. Book deals have been made based on blogs. But really, what's the percentage? 2 per cent? I think that's generous. If true, 98 out of 100 blogs you read are completely unremarkable. How many agents and editors are spending their days sifting through the blogosphere, looking for that one great voice? Frankly, I think the slush pile odds are better.

There are other self-publishing opportunities. Lulu and iUniverse are going strong, as are many dozens of smaller companies. Some of the stigma is beginning to drop away from publishing in this form – some of it, and very slowly. The stigma will remain as long as these companies publish whoever pays them. Point blank fact: many of their books are awful.

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The publishing industry still has a major advantage over all of our little do-it-yourself opportunities. They have quality control. Say what you want about the publishing industry (I do). Lament their ridiculous turn-of-the-century business practices (I do). Roll your eyes at their head-in-the-sand attitudes about new technology (I do).

Watch them die, slowly and painfully, subsumed by a culture that views books as a low tenth priority when it comes to entertainment.

The industry's a dinosaur. Ironically, the industry is also made up of a ton of creative, smart people who know how to do their jobs really, really well. I've met a lot of them, and they always impress me.

Part of their job is objective judgment. Yes, this book is marketable. No, that book is not marketable. Yes, this writer has talent. No, that guy couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag. I'm considering self-publishing myself. I can't find a small press publisher with time to even look at my novel manuscript. ďSorry, closed to submissions. We are concentrating on our current clients at this time.Ē

Some writers think of self-publishing as a breath of relief. No more submission hoops to jump through, no editor/agent gauntlet to run, no unwanted editorial input. It's all you, man.

This is true. You can get a MySpace page for free and post your stories there. You can post your work on your blog. There are a lot of ways to do it, cheaply or even free.

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Here is the brutal truth: if no one reads it – if it doesn't generate enough interest to go viral and reach three million users in a week – you are left to face the harsh reality that it just isn't good enough. The public has voted, and the vote is: your writing is average. And there's no one to blame but yourself.

Viral marketing is simply word of mouth. Ironically, it's always been the publishing industry's most effective form. Somebody reads something, and they love it so much they're inspired to send it to their friends. That word of mouth spreads fast. Each person who sees it passes it on to five others (a very conservative estimate), those five pass it on to five more...

It's math. Don't ask me to give you the numbers. I'm a word guy. But you can see how it works.

So if your blog is up and you've at least let your family know it's there, why don't thousands of people flock to read your undying wisdom, click on
your Google ads, pay you to advertise their targeted, related products and leave you with a self-sustaining money machine that earns while you sleep?

Answer: because your writing isn't good enough.

It's harder to publish successfully now because it's harder to stand out. There are more writers out there, more venues, more ways to be published.
More voices, average and extraordinary.

Are there more people reading? Doubt it. More people watching reality TV. Not reading.

That means you have to be better. You have to work that much harder on your craft, hone your edge, find your voice, speak from your soul. Nothing less will work.

Self-publishing just cuts all the uncertainty and doublespeak out of the process. If an agent rejects your query letter, you probably won't know why. If you self-publish and your project languishes unread, you'll know that much sooner: you're just not that good yet.

Are you ready for that truth?

The good news is that it's entirely up to you whether or not you become a good enough writer to make it. I knew no-one when I published my first short story. I was barely even aware of what markets were available. I wrote the story, somebody thought it was good enough to publish, and I went from there.

The writing is always, always always first. If you want publishing, after that, it will come. In whatever form you most prefer. You control that, too – by either putting your work in the hands of professionals you trust and respect, or by doing it yourself.

If you submit the novel and it's good, it'll get picked up. If you self-publish and it's good, readers will buy it.

And then it might get picked up by a major publisher. If that's what you want.

It's pretty simple: people who read know good writing. My wife isn't a writer, but she knows good writing when she reads it – whether she's reading
a blog, a website, a story or a novel, she knows.

Did I say the writing comes first? I said that, didn't I? Just making sure.

About the author
Dave Duggins has been writing and publishing genre short fiction for twenty years. Recently retired from a career in the Air Force, he's now a full-time creativity coach, offering helpful tips, inspiration and instruction to writers through

He also edits Spacesuits and Sixguns, an online magazine of contemporary pulp fiction. The current issue is live at

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Literary agency open again to queries

After previously closing to new material in 2005, Literary agency "The Zack Company, Inc." is now open again to new queries. However, writers considering approaching this agency are advised to proceed with caution in relation to a number of points:

1. Despite our offer to correct any errors of fact in our listing for this agency, the agent has taken offence at being included in's database of literary agents. He has therefore adopted a policy of rejecting any submission from an author who found the agency's contact details through this site, regardless of its quality. Authors are therefore advised not to disclose where they found the agency's contact details.

In general when approaching agents, there is no value in stating where you found their contact details, unless you have been referred to them by an existing client or someone else within the industry. If this is not the case then this is redundant information which will not help (but may harm) your query, so should be left out.

2. As well as operating as a literary agency, this business also provides editorial services. advises caution when approaching any agency that receives funds directly from writers, rather than purely by selling their work to publishers. Offering editorial services is a tactic used by many known scams to extort money from writers. The way this works is that a con artist poses as a literary agent accepting new authors. When they receive queries they tell the author that their work needs editing, and either offer to provide this service or refer the writer to an editorial service which is really part of the same company, or which will split the proceeds with the scam agency. Sometimes representation is offered on the condition that this editing is carried out with that particular company at the author's expense. The offer of representation will be fulfilled, but the scam agency will not actually do anything to try to sell the work – they are only interested in charging the author for editing.

It must be stressed that there is no indication that the Zack Company Inc. engages in this kind of activity (and indeed the agent's desire to be removed from our database suggests it does not), but you should exercise extreme caution if at any point when approaching this agency you are directed to their editorial services.

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3. This agency is no longer a member of the AAR. The AAR requires strict codes of conduct from its members, and being a member of the AAR helps you to be sure that an agency is legitimate and not a scam. There are also lots of perfectly legitimate agencies that choose not to be a part of the AAR for a variety of reasons, but our understanding of the AAR's Canon of Ethics leads us to believe that this agency would not be permitted to be a member even if it wanted to be, as a result of it offering editorial services which appear to be precluded by the AAR Canon of Ethics:

"The AAR believes that the practice of literary agents charging clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works (including outlines, proposals, and partial or complete manuscripts) is subject to serious abuse that reflects adversely on our profession. For that reason, members may not charge clients or potential clients for reading and evaluating literary works".

4. The agent has published on his website private correspondence from, which we believe to be a breach of copyright (it is well established in case law that even short letters that take less than 30 minutes to write are subject to copyright; see for instance He has been notified that this action is believed to be a breach of copyright, but has ignored requests to remove the material from his site.

While the actual publication of this correspondence is relatively unimportant, it is always worrying when a person acting in a professional capacity demonstrates a willingness to act in what at least appears to be an unlawful fashion. It is particularly worrying, however, when a literary agent – to whom authors entrust their copyrighted material – seems to demonstrate a willingness to defy copyright law and publish material without the permission of its author. Before approaching this or any other agency, we advise taking reasonable steps to protect your copyright.

Having said all this, it should still be remembered that two of the sources we consult independently confirm sales to royalty-paying publishers for this agency. There is an indication on one of the sources that this agency was previously listed as "not recommended", but this is not currently the case and may have been related to the fact that the agency offers editorial services (though this usually results in an advisory warning, rather than a label of "not recommended"). It is also worth remembering that most scams would be keen to be listed on in the hope of luring in more writers, while this agent is keen not to be.

If you have or have previously had any contact with this agency, please let us know about it by visiting the listing and clicking the "Leave Feedback" button.

For more information about this agency go to If you have any questions for the agent, Andrew Zack, you can reach him at, however please make sure you consult the submission guidelines on the website carefully before making any approach.

For the details of over 750 other agencies, click here.

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Editors: what makes them the way they are
By Sreelata Menon

Are your articles being subjected to unnecessary editorial changes?

Are you beginning to think your writingís at fault?

Have you felt like committing hara kiri? Giving it all up? Packing it all in?

Donít! Hang on! Itís not what you think!

Read on and discover why editors are the way they are, what could possibly make them the way they are and feel betterÖ

A promising theory
I have a theory! Itís a theory no self-righteous editor is going to accept. But itís one I believe that all writers will lovingly embrace! And that is that most editors are a jealous lot! A lazy bunch! And how have I reached these preposterous conclusions? If you are a writer, you will undoubtedly agree; and if you are an editor, you might well want to dump me and the articles I might send you the next time into the ubiquitous bin that sits next to you.

They know no better
My conclusions are, Iíd like to plead, based on experience. Much rueful experience of having my masterpieces, such as they are, mutilated beyond repair by people who should have known better but who didnít. There is much truth in the adage that "those can (will) Ďdoí, while those who cannot, Ďdonítí". Apply it to writers and editors and what do you have? Well those who "can" will write and those who "canít" will find great happiness in chopping, changing, cutting, rewriting something they would have liked to write but could not have written in a hundred years! Get my point?

Itchy fingers
Did I really say it "like" that; could I have actually written it "that" way, you wonder for a disappointed moment. But thrilled at seeing your articles in print you couldnít care less and carry on blithely. But when it happens again and again, euphoria gives way to doubt, doubt to anger and anger to dejection. And when they do appear sometimes without any cuts, changes or rewrites you actually feel blessed! You begin to dread sending them in. You start to lose confidence, even wonder if your writing is at fault. No itís not. The very fact they are publishing it says itís not. Itís only because God has itchy fingers!

The need to play God
To be an editor is to wield great power: the power to reduce hapless-talent to a diffident mess or make an absolute no-talent into a Booker Prize winner; the power to reject is packed into their restless five-finger fists. And if this doesnít give them an air of importance, I am Salman Rushdie!

The urge to meddle
While writers take great joy in producing stuff, that perhaps, nobody understands, editors take immense pride in cutting both the writer and that stuff down to size, so that somebody can understand. Or so they believe. The pleasure, I fancy they must justifiably feel when they see what must be to them an easily expendable ocean of words, is probably what makes them tick. To trim, tidy and smarten up for their mandatory "word limit" or whatever, a readily available creative "mess" – with nary a thought to the amount of effort that must have gone into it! It must give them a euphoric rush; a glee much beyond mere words!

Writers are suckers
Writers only write. They write because they just have to. It is a compulsion from within that defies all explanation. The need to weave words into a tapestry that begs to be shared with the world. And this need to be read, to share transcribed thoughts such as they are with others makes them vulnerable. But it also makes for powerful motivation.

So these no-good word chasers keep awake half the night and more, to produce what they believe are gems and serve them up for our esteemed know-it-alls to decide whether those gems are what they would want to bite, chew and spit out on their print platters. And if they donít like the taste or the look of it, these pearls donít even get to their mouths, sorry first base! And why do you think they take great delight in running their editorial saliva all over it? BecauseÖ

They canít write
The genius of realisation tells me that not all editors are good writers. Nor are they the last words, in anything! But they pretend to be because they need to be and with much time and practice they are able to be, by rejecting ,changing and deleting their way through to make their magazines sell and writers quail or how else would they earn their fat paychecks? Many a time subtle nuances and gentle puns are completely lost due to an editorís lack of creative understanding or an inflexible mandatory word limit. And there are no bad writers, I was assured. Only bad editors!

The question arises – do we need editors at all?

Do we need them at all?
Now donít get me wrong I am all for editors. And we do need them, of course we do! How else would the media run? Who else would collect, co-ordinate, print and publish? Who else will tell you whether your 1,000 words is rubbish, rightly or wrongly? Who else has that unique ability to send your confidence soaring or nose diving? Who else will do all the dirty work you canít? Revile them, hate them, but we canít do without them. And you do need someone to point out your inadvertent mistakes before the world laughs at you. And I am not talking about spelling, grammar or mere punctuation. But I do wish, oh how I wish, they would limit it to just that or at the least acknowledge the fact even, grudgingly, that the poor goons who wrote the stuff are the best judges of what they churn out.

Ill mannered!
They are at best an unresponsive tribe who while calling the shots have forgotten the basic rules of etiquette their parents must surely have taught them. Do you suppose they grew up without parents? Thatís it then! The reason why they donít acknowledge, they donít reply, they donít even at times bother to give you credit for what youíve delivered (i.e. till youíve "arrived"). Or is it simply a case of the one who plays the pipe calling the tune?

Without writers would there be editors?

And rare is the editor who engages in meaningful dialogue with the lowly writer. In fact, shouldnít it have been the other way round? What use his editorial paws if there were no articles to play around with? Without writers would there be editors? Alas a writer is only as good as his last article, hence perhaps this impassive editorial "hard to get" act.

If they could, wouldnít they?
And so my question is this: why would the lofty editors rely on talent they always have to fix? If they could, wouldnít they surely have done it all themselves? Written it themselves? Emphasise, "If they could". Answer. Simple: They canít! At least not all of them can. And how many good writers do you know who would willingly give up writing to take up editing? So like most armchair critics, who always believe they know best, instead of leaving well alone, they set out to reject or mangle what they cannot produce on their own. So then, I ask you, what great noble emotion do you think makes them do this? I rest my case!

Feel Better? Now do carry on writing and submitting!

About the author
Sreelata Menon is a freelance writer who enjoys writing on all kinds of topicsÖ the more controversial the better! Her "letters to the editor" on current happenings appear with quite unfailing regularity in India while her articles and features make the scene in online and print publications everywhere! A Masters in History from Mumbai University, India, she has worked as an Asst editor with the Onlooker and World trade Magazines in Mumbai .She has taught history to undergrads, done a stint as an accts executive in an ad agency, before switching over to full time freelance writing. She is currently busy reinventing herself as a web content writer with quite a few projects in hand .Married to a civil servant she is presently based in Allahabad ,India and can be reached at

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Resources for writers at

Visit for the following invaluable resources for writers:

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In this issue:

Spelling conventions

fwn uses English spelling conventions. Spellings such as "realise" "colour", "theatre", "cancelled", etc. differ from other spelling conventions but are nonetheless correct. 

News: provides free prizes for contests
If you run a competition for writers, or a magazine publishing writers' work, then you can now get FREE vouchers to worth $15 / £10 / Ä15 to reward your successful submitters.

To take advantage of this opportunity, all you have to do is include a short snippet of information about on your website.

For more details, or to apply, click here

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Peter Tallack starts literary agency
Peter Tallack, literary agent and director at Conville & Walsh, is leaving the company after six years to set up his own agency, The Science Factory. The new agency will concentrate on science, but will also handle other nonfiction including history and current affairs, and occasionally novelists.

For over 750 other agents, click here

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Still Crazy publishes first issue
Still Crazy, an online literary magazine publishing poetry, short stories, and short nonfiction by and about people age 50 and over, has just posted its first issue. 

To read or download the first issue, go to You will need to subscribe in order to access it, but this is free.

Submissions for the second issue are now being accepted. Submit via email by attaching a MS Word document to submissions@

For over 850 other magazines, click here 

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Monthly competition goes global
After his UK writing competitions attracted the attention of writers from around the world, published novelist and creative writing tutor, John Dean, has expanded the competitions to have an explicitly global scope.

Details of the monthly competitions are available at The first prize is £100.

For over 150 other contests, click here

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Publisher and literary agent, Kate Jones, dies
Publisher and literary agent Kate Jones died of cancer on February 1, 2008, aged 46. She had previously survived the disease in 1996, but it later returned. She is survived by her husband and daughter.

During her career she handled the estate of Ian Fleming, worked with the likes of Sarah Dunant, Sara Paretsky, William Boyd, Rageh Omaar and Cherie Blair, and helped orchestrate Martin Bell's election to the House of Commons. 

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© 2008
While every effort is made to ensure that all information contained within this newsletter is accurate, readers are reminded that this information is provided only as a collection of potential leads that the reader should follow up with his or her own investigations. Unless otherwise stated, is not associated with and does not endorse, recommend, or guarantee any of the organisations, events, persons or promotions contained within this newsletter, and cannot be held responsible for any loss incurred as a result of actions taken in relation to information provided. Inclusion does not constitute recommendation.