We have some useful additions to the list of linguistic markers that are characteristic of publishing scams:
6. Actively looking for new authors.
This is a mating signal used by subsidy publishers. Actual meaning: Actively looking for new suckers. It goes without saying that real agents and publishers are looking for new authors, so they don’t say it. The reverse holds true: people who do say it aren’t real agents and publishers. Credit for this one goes to Charlie Petit.
7. We respect your unique artistic vision.Mris added this hopes-and-dreams variation, saying
I have never once met a serious writer who told me about his/her unique artistic vision. Maybe they’re out there, but I’ve never heard it. But I’ve heard lots of non-writers, including some who sounded scammy, talking about respecting a writer’s “unique artistic vision.” Blerg.I’ve seen it used by vanity/subsidy operations. I took it to mean “We never reject anything;” or, alternately, “Don’t expect us to do any editing, bucko.”
8. We aren’t a vanity press—we do POD publishing.
This is another one of Charlie Petit’s contributions. POD is a printing technology, not a publishing model. There are perfectly respectable publishing companies that use POD technology—Wildside Press being the obvious example—and quite a few vanity and subsidy publishers who use it as well. A company that tells you that since they’re POD, they can’t be a vanity publisher, is deliberately muddying the water. I recommend CP’s comments on the subject.
9. Here are some famous authors who have self-published their work…
Never get your advice about self-publishing from a source that feeds you a long list of famous authors who were supposedly self-published. Medium-length lists are bad too. They’re all variants of the same original list, and are a marker for bad advice about self-publishing.
Where did this original list come from? This is predictable: it was compiled by a guy who markets a book about what a swell thing it is to self-publish your work.I have a prime example of it here, from The Self-Publishing Hall of Fame:
You could stock a superb college library or an incredible bookstore just from the books written by the some of the authors who have chosen to self-publish: Margaret Atwood, L. Frank Baum, William Blake, Ken Blanchard, Robert Bly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lord Byron, Willa Cather, Pat Conroy, Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, W.E.B. DuBois, Alexander Dumas, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Thomas Hardy, E. Lynn Harris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Robinson Jeffers, Spencer Johnson, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L’Amour, D.H. Lawrence, Rod McKuen, Marlo Morgan, John Muir, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Tom Peters, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander Pope, Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Irma Rombauer, Carl Sandburg, Robert Service, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, William Strunk, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoi, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf.Such nonsense. I could bore you silly going over that list in bibliographic detail, as well as the longer, annotated list you can find further down on the same page. Here’s the summary version, to give you some idea of the quality of the information:
i. It’s just plain unreliable. For instance, Ernest Hemingway didn’t pay to have his first book published. Three Stories & Ten Poems was published by Contact Editions—not a terribly commercial outfit, but it was a legitimate small press.
ii. The list goes to absurd lengths to include all possible cases of technical self-publication. William Blake, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo Galilei, Thomas Paine, Alexander Pope, and Mary Randolph don’t belong in the same category as someone whose much-rejected first novel has been published by iUniverse.* The second, longer list is further padded by the inclusion of asst’d conventional publishers: Peter Pauper Press, Little Blue Books, Zagat Survey, Prima, Hoover’s Inc., Princeton Review, O’Reilly & Associates, Gale Research, Lonely Planet, Top Shelf, Image Comics, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac (1792); also Kelly Link and Gavin Grant’s Small Beer Press, and Gavin and Kelly’s magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.
(I’m trying to withstand the lure of the particular. It’s hard.)
iii. It lists a slew of conventionally published bestsellers which happen to have had a self-published first edition. Those are hardly triumphs of self-publication. It also lists a great many famous authors who at one point or another had a book privately printed. That’s misleading. If you’ve heard of Louis L’Amour, it’s not for his 1939 poetry collection, Smoke from This Altar. If you’ve heard of John Grisham, it’s not because you bought one of the copies of his first novel that he sold out of the trunk of his car.
iv. I think it’s funny that the thing lists Mark Twain and Stephen King. Bad move. Those two are genuinely instructive cases. Mark Twain was already the most popular writer in America when he got tired of dealing with his publishers and decided to go into the business for himself. He published his own works, and he published the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, which turned out to be one of the first great American bestsellers, and he managed to go broke anyway. Stephen King was already a stupendously successful author when he decided to experimentally publish The Plant online. He found that though people would read it, getting them to pay for it was something else again. He discontinued the experiment and went on being a stupendously successful, conventionally published author.
You’re getting the picture? This is the literary equivalent of those “make money fast” come-ons that list all the surname-deprived people who’ve made pots of money through their scheme. Self-publishing, the royal road to riches and fame!
The author list isn’t so much an indication of a specific scam as it is a warning that you’re in the land of overhyped and underinformed self-publishing advice. Think of it as a road sign on the information highway that says CLUELESSNESS IN PROGRESS HERE.
Addenda: Scrivener’s Error turns out to have demolished the same list of authors. Have a look.19 November 2004: Jenna Glatzer of the Absolute Write message board has identified another characteristic trope:
[A]ll the “think outside the box” and “elitism” and “outsiders” stuff … is it just me, or have the regulars noticed that every fringe and scam company uses this wording when defending themselves?She then addresses a clueless publishing wanna-be:
What you are doing is NOT new and nowhere near as revolutionary as you think. It’s been tried before many times, and the reason it still seems revolutionary is that it’s never worked.Spot on.