Why Writer Beware Doesn’t Make Agent or Publisher Recommendations

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Since Writer Beware was founded in 1998, we've run a free email advice service to help writers who are looking for info on an agent's or publisher's reputation, or have questions about publishing in general (you can reach us at beware [at] sfwa.org).

Two of the most frequent questions we receive: Can you recommend a good agent/publisher? and You publish "Thumbs Down" lists--can't you also publish "Thumbs Up" lists?

For obvious reasons, Writer Beware avoids recommending fee-based services (this is why, if you ask us to suggest a reputable freelance editor, we will say no). But we don't feel comfortable providing other recommendations, either. There are several reasons why.

- A bad agent or publisher is bad for every writer, but a good agent or publisher is only good for some writers. Just as every writer has their own subject, genre, style, and tone, every agent, publisher, and editor has their own focus, specialty, and strength. For the best results, there needs to be a match.

It's just common sense that if you're a fantasy author, you won't submit to someone who doesn't agent or publish books in your genre. But other issues also need careful consideration. How active a role do you want your agent to take in steering your career? In editing your manuscript before submission? Is your goal one of the big publishers, or would a smaller publisher be preferable? Is a print edition important, or would you be satisfied with digital-first? It's a complex web of factors, and they all need to be taken into account when choosing agents or publishers to approach.

It really is best, therefore, for you to do the choosing, since you know your work and your goals best. That's why, rather than providing recommendations or Thumbs Up lists, Writer Beware prefers to offer information and suggest research techniques to help you make up your mind (and, just as important, to avoid the deadbeats),.

- "Good" is subjective. How do you define a good agency? A premier New York City firm that represents famous names and deals mainly with the Big 5? A boutique agency with a small client list and sales to solid independent publishers? If your idea of good doesn't tally with mine, any recommendations I give you might not be helpful. That subjectivity is another reason why you should do the choosing.

- Change happens. Agencies and publishers get sold, come under new management, switch specialties, or just, sometimes, fall into decline. The change isn't always public knowledge, or doesn't become apparent until well after the fact. Recommendations and Thumbs Up lists--even where based on best knowledge--have the potential to unintentionally mislead people, and Writer Beware doesn't want to risk that. (By contrast, bad agents and publishers don't change: once bad, always bad. Which is why we feel comfortable pointing our thumbs down).

- We don't have the resources. Writer Beware's mission is to provide warnings and collect documentation to help writers avoid questionable agents, publishers, and others. We don't have the staff to also function as an agent- or publisher-matching service--something that, to be done right, would require careful, time-consuming research (we are all volunteers). Also, while there's only one other organization we know of that provides warnings about schemes and scams (Preditors and Editors), there are many, many resources to help writers find and identify reputable agents and publishers.

- Writer Beware strives to be impartial; we don't endorse people, companies, or services. This is another reason not to provide recommendations or Thumbs Up lists, which could be taken as such.

I hope this clarifies things. As always, comments are welcome!

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