Tuesday, April 5, 2016


This morning, I received a submission from an ambitious young author. He self-published his novel last year, and now he wants to find a wider audience through a traditional publisher. Good for him. Indeed, I know how he feels. Or in the words of Maya Angelou:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Unfortunately, his approach will probably do him more harm than good. For,
he didn’t just ignore our submission instructions entirely; and
he didn’t just NOT give the information I need, in order to give him a fair hearing; and
he didn’t send sample chapters (which, at least, agents do sometimes request).
Instead, he sent a PDF copy of his published e-book. And at the top of page 1, it gave a stern warning that forbade me to read it:

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This Book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to the original owner and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

I almost felt guilty for opening the file. (Surely the publishing police were watching?) One thing for sure, I didn’t read any further. Not because I truly feared reprisals, but because of the author’s lack of professionalism.

Could I look past his noncompliance, to evaluate his book on its merits? Sure I could, and I do all the time. But then I noticed his genre: "Christian YA SciFi/Fantasy novella." Really? Maybe this mashup genre exists somewhere in the world, but generally SpecFic novels run 80,000 words and up, while a novella (half that size or less) almost always has to be an adult romance. Also, each of those five categories has rules of its own. I just checked my list of 850 acquisitions editors, and I can’t find a single one that handles them all.

But enough ranting about this author. I have a couple of dirty secrets to confess:

First, I don’t read e-books, so this clause took me by surprise. Turns out, it’s quite common; shame on me for not knowing.

Second, for at least the past 40 years, I’ve been buying used books (with no additional royalty to the author). I share books with my friends. I lend to them, and they lend to me. In some cases (gasp!), we even give away books for free and for keeps. In this way, two or more people can read the same copy of the same book, even though only one paid for the privilege. From what I hear, this has been going on for hundreds of years, all over the world, with no legal restrictions.

But I’m forbidden to do this with an e-book?

Yes, I certainly understand the concerns for piracy, for unauthorized copying. As agent and an author, my livelihood could be ruined. But as a reader? I ain’t down wit dat.



  1. The difference is when you share a traditional book, you don't have it anymore. When you share an ebook, you still have it and the new person has it. What you're really doing is taking the book to 'copy shop' and making illegal copies then passing them out free. Hardly the same thing.

  2. Not necessarily, Devlin. That warning forbids me to even let you read my copy on my kindle.