Certain online discussion venues that cater to aspiring writers have been having a major fluster over the last week or two. I could be mistaken, but I believe this one started when PublishAmerica noticed it was rated as “not recommended” on the Preditors & Editors website, and went on the warpath. It had been a fairly quiet, unobtrusive little “not recommended”; but as of this past weekend the dustup over it had been upgraded to “tropical fluster”, and was developing a rotating motion and an eye. In the process it had spread into four or five online venues. In all but one of them, participants took the opportunity to air their views and grievances in re PublishAmerica. The other was PublishAmerica’s own message board, where remarks like that get deleted even faster than a “you people suck” message does here.
I don’t have a dog in that fight. I did take a short break yesterday to comment, after the fact, on some issues that were raised in alt.writing.scams, but that was all. Could be I’m getting prudent in my old age.
Of course, when you go anywhere near a fluster, you’re going to get e-mail about it; and in due course various things have appeared in my mailbox. Some of them are far from prudent. The letter below takes some explaining.
Many of the online/e-publishing/POD (Print On Demand) startups haven’t known any better than to ask for absurdly long, comprehensive grants of rights unaccompanied by reversion clauses. A reversion clause says that if the publishers have stopped selling the book, or have stopped making it generally available to the general public, they have to give it back to the author.
A lot of these newfangled publishing startups have croaked. Others are just scraping along. And what publishing law says about bankruptcy is that books held in inventory can’t be given back to their authors before the publisher’s secured creditors are paid off. In some of these cases, that’s going to happen around the same time that pigs sprout wings.The following piece of grossly irresponsible advice, received yesterday, appears to be a proposed answer to question of what to do when your novel is stuck in the neverending contract from hell:
Take your book. Change the title. Change the author’s name. Do a light rewrite on the first and last chapters, the first and last paragraphs of all the other chapters, and the frontmatter and backmatter.The only thing I’ll say is that the author is someone I published once, but not many of you would recognize the name.
You’d be surprised how often the central plot mcguffin can be swapped for a different mcguffin without making you have to do a major rewrite. If that’s true of your book, swap it out.
Now go through the book again and change all the proper names, plus all the place names that can be changed without doing violence to the continuity. Change any made-up language you used. If there’s poetry, consider deleting it. You probably should have done that the first time around anyway. If you used chapter titles, change those too.
Dedicate it to someone else. For instance, dedicate it to your parents, but give them different names. Or dedicate the book to everyone who helped you with it at some university or workshop you never attended. Draw a new map. If any of the frontmatter could just as well be backmatter, move it there. Same goes for backmatter that could just as well be frontmatter. Finally, change the copyright notice. You’re allowed to do that. It’s a substantially different work.
What you now have is a manuscript that can only be identified as the book published by the Bad Old Publisher if the person doing the identifying has read both versions. This is unlikely. (Let’s face it: If anyone had read that edition, you wouldn’t be looking for a new publisher.) It’s even more unlikely that the person who spots it will be your former publisher, or someone who still likes your former publisher.
One faint possibility is that it’ll be the person who was employed to do the text formatting and spellchecking the first time around. Don’t worry. Nobody uses in-house staff for work like that unless they have money to burn, so the text wrangler was either a freelancer who doesn’t much care, or an ex-employee who doesn’t care at all.The other possibility is that it’ll be spotted by your vengeful former spouse or employee. God gives us enemies to make sure there’ll always be someone around who’s interested in how we’re doing. The current emotional status of your exes is something you’ll have to calculate for yourself. If your ex-spouse comprehensively loathes you, consider using this as your new dedication:
This one’s yours, honey; Always was, always will be.
If you find this message, call me.
You know my number.
They’ll be slower to confront you if they think it’ll be taken as a gesture of reconciliation.
If someone does rat you out, insist that the revised version is a separate book that took you even longer to write than the first one did. Start prosing on about the many significant differences between the two titles. You’ll sound just like one of those authors who really does write the same book every time. Keep it up until your accuser dies of boredom or goes away, whichever comes first.
Don’t ever talk about having pulled this stunt. Not even if it makes a good story. Not even if you claim it happened to your cousin. Not even in an interview years and years from now when you’ve become rich and famous. Not at all. It’s bad enough for me to suggest that this is possible. Saying that you’ve done it is wildly indiscreet, and could be used against you in a court of law. Remember: the only easy way to prove you’ve done this is to have you say so yourself.
Will this actually work? Seriously, it might. If there’s one thing you can assume about vanity presses that publish dozens or even hundreds of titles, it’s that management isn’t reading the books. Besides, a lot of books have similar-sounding plots. If you’re trying to smuggle your book out under their radar, it’s probably enough that you don’t provide them with any easily googled search strings, and that you alter the text they’re most likely to look at while flipping through a printed copy.
Remember, only one reviewer ever noticed that Richard Bachman wrote just like Stephen King; and when he said so, nobody paid much attention.So here’s the end. I can’t say I’m recommending that you do this. I’m just saying it’ll probably work. But whatever happens, you didn’t hear it from me.
Do I, personally, have an opinion about this stuff? Not on your life.