Fear is a good thing. A healthy dose of paranoia is even better. There are sharks out there, and you--first time novelist--happen to be exactly what they like best for breakfast.
Why are there so many scams and fly-by-night outfits designed to dupe the aspiring author? Well, for one thing, it's easy. The would-be-published author knows a few things for certain. One, it is very very difficult to get published. This is so true, that I suggest if you find the process happening in a snap, that you consult with one of the Writer Beware sites in the last post. Two, the aspiring author really really wants to be published. They dream of holding that glossy, perfect bound volume with the horrid art and their name at the bottom in their hot little hands. Put together, one and two are a recipe for disaster. All I can say is be careful, and make sure you pack a life preserver.
As if the sharks aren't bad enough, let's talk about those charts. Assuming you had the forethought to bring a map, or at least peek at one, I'm guessing you're still confused. Have you checked repeatedly to make sure it's not upside down? Gah. The minute you left shore you were assaulted by terms and concepts that blur together in an effort to thwart you. Editors, Agents, Copy Editors, Editorial Services, Vanity Publishers, Self-Publish, E-Publish. How anyone manages to navigate through to safety is beyond me.
Still, navigate we must. The far shore beckons. I can see the bad cover art now... it calls to me.
With that in mind, here are some of the freak beasties you will encounter as I understand them. Keep in mind that I'm as lost as you are and remember to check your map. Happy flailing--er sailing.
The Editorial Referral Service-- this lil bugger is the chameleon of the shark world. To ordinary eyes he looks exactly like a legitimate publishing house...almost. When you submit your opus to him, he is complimentary, enthusiastic, replies very promptly. Run Away! Remember how this is supposed to be hard? Our ERS never ever (almost) rejects any manuscript. You see, he isn't in the publishing business really, most likely has never sold anything in print. His business, (and he's making it work, folks) is to refer you to a "professional editing service" for a reasonable fee (cough cough) your "almost publishable" manuscript can be edited. Don't miss the implied, THEN we will consider publishing it. HE makes his living in kick-backs from the referral.
I met this fellow once, and I almost fell for him. What a nice surprise after a long string of rejections to get such a lovely response. BUT, the red flags were too obvious, and I'm naturally suspicious. Legitimate publishing houses don't actively recruit manuscripts, they are swamped with submissions. The ERS mentioned all the professional authors he represented, but none by name. . . hmmm. Don't give him any money, please.
The Vanity Publisher-- sigh. Okay, there isn't really anything illegal about this one, or really unethical even. The VP is a business that sells the opportunity to be published to the author. (that's only my interpretation) Stress the "sells to the author." That's right, you pay for the right to be published. You pay for everything. You pay. They don't make their money selling books, you are their customer. Now, if all you want is that pretty bound book...and you don't care if anyone else ever buys it. Well, you see where I'm going. BUT, here's the problem with the VP. They tend to pitch themselves as a book seller/publisher. They also tend to make claims that are false. Very false. One I know of is reported to promise to market your book, then when you sign up (and PAY them) they ask for a list of 100 of your friends and family. They market your book by spamming the crap out of your contacts. Pity sales. Kill me now.
Print-on-Demand-- Here is the better (much better) alternative to the VP. If you want that copy... and you don't care about ever publishing with a legitimate market (see below) then by all means pay for one of these services. Many of them are not only doing well, but developing a reputation for respectability and quality. A lot of e-publishers use the POD to make print copies of their books available. KUDOS Phew, we're entering safer waters. Now for the disclaimer...
First Rights--No, it's not a medieval nightmare, I'm talking about the First print or electronic rights (copyright) to your opus. These are the rights that any market, magazine, e-zine or e-publisher are going to want to buy. Selling Second or Reprint rights is not an easy task. Don't believe me? Check out submission pages and see what they say. Now, if you decide to go with a vanity(eek) print on demand, or self publishing service, your book is published. (or electronically published. Guess what? you can't sell First rights to it any longer. Think about it. This process is hard enough as it is without adding more obstacles. Think about it some more.
The horror continues. If you post your work online, to a blog, or web page or anywhere public (that doesn't require a password to view it) you just e-published it. Bye-bye First Electronic Rights. So sad. Panicking? Someone really needs to make the legal information on copyright more widely available. Until they do, dive in, research, look into it. In the meantime we can panic together.
As for agents, editors, copy editors, publishers etc. Sadly, I have yet to know them. I have a hunch, however, that the sailing gets really wild past those far cliffs. That's it, I'm calling the Coast Guard.