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September 27, 2004

More linguistic markers
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM * 80 comments

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.
Comments on More linguistic markers:
#1 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 02:56 PM:

Hey, let's talk about "unique artistic vision" here. If you were to receive a novel that didn't fit the "norms" of what a novel should be, how open would you be to it's format? For instance, I've written a children's book that's much longer than normal children's books. It definitely doesn't fit the norm of what a children's book length should be. How open would a publishing company be to something like this on first glance? Would they take the time to read it? Or should I scrap for the 60,000 word length that the "norm" dictates?

Just wondering how lenient publishers actually are in relation to this type of thing.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 03:36 PM:

There are no immutable norms. It depends on the book. At the same time, the weirder something is, the harder it may be to publish. If by "children's book" you mean something for upper YA, there are precedents for longer books. If you mean it's meant for little kids, it's going to be hard for your book to be good enough to warrant its length.

I knew an author who put a great deal of work into a work of fiction that was 40K-45K long. It was almost genre, but the suggestive menaces and possibilities never became real, and all the interesting social explanations were left out. It was technically mainstream, but it was about people working in low-end genre publishing, and it didn't make fun of them, so it wasn't really suitable for one of those thin elegant yuppie-lit novels that flourished for about a year and a quarter, and anyway the author wasn't positioned to sell into that market. It could almost have been supernatural romance, if there were a romance in it, which there might easily have been; there was a big hole just the right size and shape to add one. Its greatest appeal was to people with a solid background in literary politics and an equally solid background in genre publishing, but everyone who qualified had already read it in manuscript.

The author insisted that it was perfect, just the way it was.

That was years ago. To the best of my knowledge, it still hasn't been published. It's sitting in a drawer somewhere, losing its topicality, aging along with its many technical details; still an impossible length, still belonging to no identifiable genre.

There's making good art, and then there's being part of the ongoing conversation. Life's happier if you can manage both.

#3 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 04:17 PM:

While we're on the subject of good art and alternative methods of publishing:

Teresa, I can't help but notice as I read this post the sidebar ad with the beer - for Jon's Place, described in the ad as "a first novel, published as a blog."

I'm not about to be critical - I'm a huge fan of digital storytelling and am 100% hooked on Warren Ellis' Scream Talking and Rebecca Sean Borgstrom's Hitherby Dragons - but isn't that somewhat similar to vanity publishing? You wouldn't expect it to make money (the Steven King example you cited should be proof enough of that), and if the author's ok with that, then bully for him/her, but you still let them purchase ad space.

I don't want to say it's hypocritical of you to do this, because I don't think that it is (where you're concerned - if it were someone else, I might think they were taking advantage), but there's a disconnect in the situation that I just can't wrap my head around...

#4 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 04:19 PM:

Re: longer children's books:

Not even necessarily _upper_ YA. My dd and I--she is 8--have read Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord, which is rated for readers 9 and up (therefore, not upper YA, but regular YA/middle grade). It's nearly 400 pages, which is slow-going in read-aloud increments of 30-45 minutes, but was great fun and gave my daughter her first desire for international travel (she wants to go to Venice).

However, in terms of coventional "children's" book publishing, for the 8 and under set, yes, longer is likely to be difficult, unless the work can be sliced into well-contained sections and sold as a series.

Or such is my understanding, from eavesdropping in YA editorial and watching my kid and her friends pick out books.

FWIW, which probably isn't much.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 04:31 PM:

Jason, we have a very tolerant advertising policy, and a long history of self-publishing. Foreground, too -- what else is a weblog?

It's a nice ad. The author's welcome to try to sell his book here. And if any of our readers click through on his link, I hope they enjoy what they find.

#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:06 PM:

If you really think there's a "disconnect" if Teresa accepts an ad for someone's self-published book, you're kind of comprehensively missing her point.

Teresa's not arguing against self-publication, nor has she ever done so. Making Light is an act of self-publication. The dozens of weblogs she links to are too.

The point isn't that self-publication is wrong. The point isn't even that nobody ever makes any money at it. (Obviously, sometimes they do. Heck, these days, some people are even making a living self-publishing blogs.)

The point is that there are a bunch of businesses out there selling people on the idea that they can help them "self-publish," while grossly misrepresenting the costs and pitfalls involved and preying on the ignorance of the desperate.

#7 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:19 PM:

"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."

I've met quite a few. They're generally new authors writing their first novel, who have never had a rejection letter, know little/nothing about publishing, and have just found out that Big Publishing Houses often choose the covers and change the titles of novels. These authors claim they will reject a publishing offer under these circumstances and find a different BPH, because their own title is just too perfect, too precious, to be changed, as it reflects the author's vision and artistry. The concept of "rejection letter" has never entered their consciousness.

One (who had been writing long enough that she should have known better) confided to me that she didn't expect her novel to become a bestseller because she wouldn't "prostitute her art" and make the changes an editor would surely require in order to make the novel appeal to a mainstream audience. Instead, her novel would be appreciated by a select audience and would in time become a "cult classic".

Most of these authors get clued up somewhere along the way, but some never get over themselves, and many, too many, get sucked into scams like PublishAmerica before they realise what's happening.

#8 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:23 PM:

Thanks for the kind words, Teresa. Just a couple of additions (Teresa's numbers):

(7) On "hopes and dreams": If you haven't seen the documentary Hoop Dreams, do it. Then realize that (statistically) those kids have it easy.

(9) If anything, Teresa is being much too generous/nice here. Let's start with factual inaccuracies (e.g., John Grisham's first novel was not self-published; those copies he sold out of his trunk were copies he purchased from his publisher at author's discount), then procede to "this wasn't a book—it was a prize to go along with a boucoup-bucks-a-day executive seminar" (Tom Peters). Or you could just go read my screed at Scrivener's Error… and realize that I was being nice for the family audience.

And, last, to state Patrick's point in a slightly different way: There is no problem with self-publishing—the problem is with the business model for self-publishing. Just as some Amway products were worthwhile, so are some self-published books. However, relying upon either for profit is at best unrealistic.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:28 PM:

Fran, perhaps I have the wrong attitude about this, but the good news I'm hearing is that I'll never have to deal with these people.

#10 ::: Cassie Claire ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:30 PM:

re: longer children's books

I was horrified when I found out the norm for a YA book is under 60,000 words. It seemed so terribly short.

I wonder if the ever-lengthening Harry Potter books aren't opening the market to longer middle and upper YA books, though. After all, The Thief Lord clocks in at 400 pages, The Amulet of Samarkand at 464, and both Inkheart and Eragon at a whopping 544. I could go on, but will shut up instead.

#11 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:37 PM:

Teresa, Tor will probably send them a form rejection, as will DAW; then they'll either decide to learn the writing craft, or decide to go the vanity/self-pub route. Either way, it's your poor slush readers who will be subjected to their unique artistic visions. :-)

#12 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:43 PM:

FranW, I know one, too. Among other things, she told me she'd refuse anything less than a 500K advance. She drew and painted her own cover. Then, before sending off her manuscript even once, decided to do the self publishing route with a distribution in her local gaming shop. Because it would make more money than traditional publishing. I talked her out of it (and iUniverse, PublishAmerica, etc). Wish I could send her here, but I don't think she'd read any of this. Too...I don't know if I can explain it. Desperate to believe in the fantasy of publishing. Anyone have a suggestion about dealing w/ that sort of thing? Facts don't seem to be working.

#13 ::: Contrary Mary ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:54 PM:

I've worked for various small businesses, and one of the things I've learned to be conscious of is how many decent (mortgage and college-tuition paying) salaries will the company support. Lots of times, if there are two partners running the place there is no room to grow within the company, because there is no "extra" money to pay for salaries. A single owner company will often have two or three decent jobs along with the drones.

What does this say about self-publishing and scams? Namely that there are not two salaries (of any size) in a small book. And because the publisher is smart enough to realize this, they make sure to get all the money.

The only people I know who have successfully (broadly defined) done self-publishing (and even more ghastly cousin, independent film-making) are people who previously were successful business-people and then wrote a novel or a script. They knew that selling it was just as much work as writing it. And they generally view the money as an investment, or compare it to someone else's sportscar.

#14 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 06:01 PM:

Elizabeth, I wish I had some answers. Or even one answer. For some (like the "cult classic" writer) I think they know enough to realise that rejection is a possibility, and they avoid it by using alternative publishing methods. Others seem to have no idea what their competition is. Yet others get so demoralised by a series of rejection letters that they settle for crap publishing, even though their work is very good indeed.

Maybe show your acquaintance one of those annual Market Listing tomes? The BPHs state how many submissions they receive per year (thousands) and how many they buy (not many) and what percent are from new authors (practically none) -- seeing the numbers can be quite sobering.

#15 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 06:03 PM:

Pstrick, thank you for your response (Teresa and C.E. too, of course). My post (and original line of thinking) was certainly coming at things from the wrong angle, for which I apologize. I realized, after I'd posted my comment and left my house, more or less exactly what you just said, only I was thinking not about Kos but about the various web-comics out there that earn their creators a steady, full-time income.

Eh. Chalk it up to hunger or temporary stupidity. mea culpa.

#16 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 06:07 PM:

Speaking of Amway, I just noticed that the acronym for this thread is MLM. Serendipelicious!

#17 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 08:28 PM:

There are some good new TV shows for kids of ages similar to those in the YA market. "Jack & Bobbie" is marginally SF, cutting back and forth as it does from contemporary to recollections of a future in which one of the boys (they don't say which) has been President. The other, Executive Producers including Mel Gibson, is "The Clubhouse." The YA protagonist becomes batboy for the mythical New York Emipres, a pro baseball team. I'm paraphrasing here, but he's told "until you've been booed by the fans, you're not yet in the game." Then he's busted in the superstar's Ferrari delivering (unknowingly) steroids. he has the ethical dilemma: take the fall for the star, or tell the truth? He ends up being booed by the fans. "You've arrived," he's told.

There's a parallel here to Rejection Letters, or Anne Rice critics, or something. And I have some good friends in Amway. Can't overgeneralize. Or, as Dubya says, misunderestimate.

Is there, Teresa, a valid list of self-published best-sellers, including "What Color is Your Parachute" and (was it Howard Fast?) those by blacklisted authors?

#18 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 08:44 PM:

Among other things, she told me she'd refuse anything less than a 500K advance.

I need a new keyboard. This one has somehow been sprayed with selzer.

I must have lucked out as a kid. Growing up I learned (among other things) that (a) "Dune was rejected 14 times, so send the dmn manuscript back out;" (b) when someone says "read this chapter, kid" as they pick you up from school they generally mean it; and (c) if you actually get a royalty check, you get to have a nice dinner out, provided you don't go crazy on the drinks or order lobster.

#19 ::: Nonny ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 09:28 PM:

While there are certainly many scam markets that take advantage of new writers, I've never been able to feel much sympathy for them. I hear a lot of people say that it's easy to be scammed, but really ... it's only easy if you believe the first thing you hear. Information on scammers is not that difficult to find, especially with the Internet. A google search on PublishAmerica comes up with one of Teresa's blog articles as the second result, for example.

There are many, many writer's sites out there providing information about scammers. Preditors and Editors, The Rumor Mill, and Writer Beware at SFWA are only a few.

I don't have much sympathy for stupidity, and many of these scams are so blatant and so well-known amongst the writing community that it's easy to find information on them.

I know I probably sound harsh, but a half hour is all it would take to find the needed information to educate you about a scammer. More likely than not, less. Scammers are con artists and anytime anyone turns on the charm, you ought be suspicious. (This holds true for matters outside publishing, as well.)

Yes, we were all new to writing and submission once. But I know that the first thing I did when I decided to actually start submitting was research the subject. That way I knew what to do, what not to do, and what to avoid. What's truly sad is that I knew more about submitting at the time than actually writing. LOL.

If everyone took the time to properly educate themselves, scammers would be shit out of luck.

Nonny

#20 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 10:10 PM:

As stated before, this past weekend we got an example of bad self-publishing, namely "Circle's". and "Inside Circle's". They both stand as prime examples of why unless you totally know what you are doing AND have a good grasp of typesetting and grammar, you should Not Ever Self-Publish. period. They're horrible. They're going to be the fodder for a bunch of bad convention panels making fun of them. Yikes. Just Yikes.

#21 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 10:11 PM:

I think we need one or two more of these markers to describe the employees at such places. Case in point, there's a post from a purported former PA employee in the PA topic at Speculations Rumormill at URL http://www.speculations.com/rumormill/?z=102187.

#22 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 10:11 PM:

And there's apparently a third novel coming soon.... ARRGH!

#23 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 10:15 PM:

Maybe show your acquaintance one of those annual Market Listing tomes? The BPHs state how many submissions they receive per year (thousands) and how many they buy (not many) and what percent are from new authors (practically none) -- seeing the numbers can be quite sobering.

An early entry in PW's "My Say" column (an unsolicited guest editorial) was from someone who described himself as a "business consultant," and who identified The Problem With Publishing as its attitude toward unsolicited mss. He went on about the prejudice inherent in calling it "slush," et cetera, and finally trotted out his Official Consultant's Proposal: everybody should jointly fund an office that would pay folks to read all the stuff, and then, through some method not described, decide who got the plums. He then noted that if "even 10%" of what was received went on to publication, the exercise would obviously be profitable.

This drew one letter, from someone at Knopf who was obviously trying to suppress his laughter, and didn't trouble to apprise Mr. Consultant of the facts of life. One wonders about the the quality of information he was providing his other clients, assuming there were any.

#24 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 11:15 PM:

JVP: Is there, Teresa, a valid list of self-published best-sellers?

There are two canonical (almost, in the Catholic sense, canonised) Australian examples of the romance of self-publishing. In 1931 Frank Dalby Davison self-published his novella Man Shy -- the story as I have it in my head is that the MS had been rejected by both Australian publishing houses (or was there only one in the country at the time?). He loaded his books into a handcart and tramped the streets of suburban Sydney hawking them. The book was a runaway success -- though of course once FDD had established that there was a readership, the publishing house came to the party. The book is still in print. I loved it as a 13 year old, and expect I would still: it's the tragic life of a cow in drought time, told from the cow's point of view.

The other is the Lonely Planet series, that started out being stapled together in the Wheelers' kitchen.

#25 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 12:04 AM:

Nonny:

Sometimes I feel similarly to the way you do: A little time & education could cure the problem.

But I still feel some sympathy.

Naivete is not a crime, even when the information to cure it is out there. Some just jump too soon, too eager to bother checking it out, but in addition, not everyone is computer-savvy yet. I work with people who use computers on a regular basis. One of them still can't get the hang of cut and paste, or search engines. Her spelling and grammar are very correct, and she likes learning new words and good turns of phrase. I have no doubt she could write a book (Whether good or bad is currently irrelevant). I have serious doubt that, left to her own devices, she could do the necessary research on publishing. (Thankfully, what ambitions she has do not tend that way).

Even University students, who do this stuff on a regular basis, sometimes have to be shown how to do independant research on the net and through the stacks both. This may be a sign of the sorry state of education. However, it's also a reminder that these are not necessarily uneducated people.

So, too, many people loathe asking for help if out of their depth. There are about a hundred different reasons why, and several of them are understandable.

Even arrogant refusal to seek out that information when pointed there by a helping hand is not criminal. Just aggravating.

On the other hand, swindling *is* criminal.

Yes, the victim should not walk down dark alleys waving her purse. But...

#26 ::: Nonny ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 01:29 AM:

Lenora: I never meant to insinuate that it was a crime of any sort. You used the analogy of someone walking down a dark alley swinging her purse ... how can such a person not expect to be taken advantage of?

I feel it is something deeply wrong culturally that people are not adequately educated in matters of life, and nor are they encouraged to seek such education. People trust what they are told too easily, and they get hurt because of it.

It's not people asking for help I have a problem with. I've known people who were a prime target for scammers, got scammed, and then spent the next whatever whining about it rather than learning from the incident. It's the victimized behavior that infuriates me.

I had a friend get suckered by Poetry.com a couple years back. He came in chat, all excited about the acceptance, and I had to break it to him that it was a scam. He was upset, but he learned from the incident. (And, frankly, of all the scams I've heard of, Poetry.com is one of the least harmful.)

When I say I don't have sympathy, I don't mean that I'm going to be outright harsh to people like that. I'm polite and I can fake sympathy damn well, but some of the scams out there are so blatant that I would think that it would be obvious to anyone they were a scam.

Then again, I've never been naive in that way. Rather, I have a distinct tendency to pessimism and cynicism ... :P

Nonny

#27 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:06 AM:

#8 is nearly a direct quote from an email from my aforementioned friend what works for one of these places.

It irks me that what could at least in theory be a useful model of keeping books available is being co-opted so heavily -- at least in name -- by scamming corporate nitwits that it's about as likely to really take off as I am to wake up a millionaire.

#28 ::: Jane Carnall ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:36 AM:

There's making good art, and then there's being part of the ongoing conversation. Life's happier if you can manage both.

Depends what makes you happy.

It's hard to see (well, from the short summary it's hard to see) what the writer of this novel could have done to it to make it "sellable". When what you want to write isn't sellable, then you can either write what you don't want in order to sell, or write what you want... and learn to ignore the nagging voice that says that the joy in writing isn't real, it's only real if someone reads it. Which is not so. They're two separate pleasures, and it's best to figure that out early on.

#29 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 09:17 AM:

Cassie, Tamora Pierce says in the notes to one of her books that she got a hundred extra pages to work with, and I believe she directly blamed/thanked the Harry Potter phenomenon. So there's that data point.

Sixty kilowords is a great plenty for many things. It's a different pacing than most adult work in the genre (today), but it's quite workable. Frankly, sometimes it's a relief to me to turn from something like The Confusion and read a book that gets done what it needs to get done in 45k or less.

Fran, anyone who uses the phrase "prostitute my art" gets automatically filed away as "not serious about this" in my head. Unless they're deliberately doing comic melodrama with overlarge hand gestures and other phrases like "well, I never!" and "mercy, the very thought!" I sometimes do things like that when I judge that Upper Midwestern deadpan humor is not likely to come through clearly. But anyone who talks about not prostituting their art by (gasp) changing the title or (bigger gasp) allowing the publisher to pick the cover is not living in the land of serious grown-ups.

(Actually, I have an unreasonable prejudice against people who refer to their Art in general. I recognize that it's unreasonable, but the more truly great artists I meet in this genre who don't talk about their Art, the happier it makes me.)

#30 ::: Cat D ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:26 AM:

Okay, time for me to fess up.

I was taken in by an electronic self-publishing scam when the internet was younger. Did I learn my lesson? Yes I did. How much did it cost me? Ohhhh, I don't really want to go there, but for the purpose of coming clean, let's say $2k. The reasons I don't continually go crazy over the memories are because 1) I escaped when I know of other people who got burned much worse, and am now able to warn others 2)I did not go into long-term debt over this 3) Having been burned, I was able to dodge much better packaged scams, and spread the word 4) The company involved has had sooooooo many complaints filed against it, it may go belly-up soon. (Or, then again, like the cockroach it is, it may mutate into something else while undergoing the atomic consumer wrath aimed at it.)

So now, I have come to the same 1+1=2 conclusion that wiser heads than myself decided long ago -- if the legitimate publishers don't want you, it's probably because you're not at publishable standards yet.

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:28 AM:

One of my favorite lines from Beetlejuice is "This is my Art, and it is dangerous!" And it was literally true, too.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 12:56 PM:

Jane Carnall, the author could have brought forward the uncanny aspects, made them more literal, put in the missing explanations of the interesting social issues, added 2K words in the process, and had a novel that was either quirky SF or urban dark fantasy.

He could have made the uncanny bits more explicitly supernatural, emphasized the darkly menacing aspects, added 2K words, and had a horror novel that probably wouldn't have sold that year (this was after the horror collapse).

He could have fleshed out the relationship between the heroine and her male best friend, brought the uncanny aspects further forward, at least mentioned a few of the interesting social issues, made the heroine's professional travails a little less bleakly hopeless, added 2K words, and had a fairly nifty supernatural romance.

None of these changes would have been unnatural to the work. The author had deliberately overtightened it, paring away all the pictures and conversations and normal human warmth. There were many admirable things about the piece, but reading it felt like getting stuck for hours in one of those waiting areas where there's no place to sit down when you're in the early stages of a case of the flu.

Did I mention that he wasn't a young, new, or naive author? This was a self-willed problem if ever I've seen one. He knew better than to say "prostituting my art" when he was explaining yet again that the piece was going to be a thundering success Just As It Was, but otherwise his performance was very similar the ones Fran describes.

#33 ::: Fuzzy Gerdes ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 01:08 PM:

The Washington Post actively doesn't help this weekend and Nick Mamatas rips it for us.

#34 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 02:05 PM:

Lenora said: Naivete is not a crime, even when the information to cure it is out there. ... Even arrogant refusal to seek out that information when pointed there by a helping hand is not criminal. Just aggravating.

One of the dynamics that makes an exchange of ideas on this topic difficult is that since the swindlers claim the victims were asking for it, statements pointing out that the victims acted unwisely are often interpreted as, "They asked for it."

If we take it as a given that what the scammers are doing is wrong, can we then move on to a discussion that's less black and white?

#35 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 02:26 PM:

One of my greatest frustrations as an ex- Literary Agent, besides the fact that I just wasn't very good at it, was that the authors whom I represented were often unwilling to accept advice of the editors and publishers to whom I showed manuscripts.

One author wrote a rather stylish dark mundane novel with borderline SF content, somehow in the vein of Philip K. Dick's posthumous mundane novels. The protagonist was a failure in life, and had encounters, sometimes piquant, with other losers. I managed to personally deliver this novel manuscript to a Really Big Editor/Publisher, who had a string of literary successes AND bestsellers under his/her belt.

The Editor/Publisher gave me a 3-page handwritten commentary on the book, under terms that I convey the analysis to the author without divulging my contact.

In essence, the advice was in three parts: (1) You are clearly a professional author, and this is of publishable quality as such; (2) the borderline genre material -- a pilot who may or may not have had a UFO encounter -- can be fleshed out further, allowing cross-marketing to be considered in the P&L; (3) all your characters are losers and, at best, anti-heroes: try contrasting them with one single Winner, say a corporate big-wig, or a Howard Hughes type both wealthy and connected to aviation.

The writer refused to (I paraphrase) prostitute his Unique Artistic Vision. We parted on friendly terms, dissolved the Author/Agent contract, and I stopped listed myself as an Agent in the SFWA Directory.

I still have mss to pitch, some novels and stories and screenplays, remaining from previous representation, for authors whom I'd obtained some small checks. But my heart's not in it. I'm not a good agent. I put a lot of time in grooming the mss, many of which I dearly liked (and read aloud one wonderful one with magic and dragons to my son when he was a little boy). But without a Big Sale, I would never have been able to pay myself or my suthors enough to make the process worthwhile.

But everything that Teresa has said in this thread is pure gold.

#36 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 03:17 PM:

*collects another link in case she meets person being scammed who needs a resource*

I don't think I have a Unique Artistic Vision. I already know I don't have a vision, period. If you cut my brain open you'd have a hard time finding *any* pictures in it...

If anyone *really* wants to find out, please wait until after I'm dead and don't care what happens to the grey, polka-dot, or plaid matter that might reside within my skull. >:-)

I suppose the dubious advantage of relative social isolation is coming across fewer Unique Artistic Vision conversations, although Narrative Writing in college sometimes came shuddersomely close.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 04:20 PM:

I liked Nick Mamatas' shredding of that WPost piece, but I also have my own half-written analysis of it. Maybe I'll finish it.

#38 ::: Darice ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 04:34 PM:

True tales about regular, everyday people's ideas about publishing:

1. When I finished NaNoWriMo in 2002, I went off to the family Thanksgiving event pleased as punch and told family members that I was happy because I'd finished writing the first draft of a book. Certain family members asked me when they could find it in the stores. "Next month?"

2. One night when some friends were hanging out and talking about what we wanted to do when we grew up, I mentioned writing and wanting to get published. One friend said, "Oh, that's easy. There's a place online that'll do it only for $100."

3. My mother, on hearing that my novel had been rejected (not right for their line): "But the letter says she liked it. Why didn't she publish it if she likes it?"

In all cases, I had to explain that publishing -- real publishing -- Doesn't Work Like That. They had no idea. And even after explanation, it still doesn't make sense to them. I wrote a book, therefore it should be on sale in stores, right?

(My mother, of course, might be forgiven for her bias in assuming that I ought to be published.)

Given these examples, though, it's easy to see why people fall for the scams. They have no concept of the business behind the bookshelves, but what's more, they thoroughly believe that publication is just something that happens when you write a book. (Which is why the vanity scammers get a lot of business. *sigh*)

#39 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 04:50 PM:

You know, it occurs to me that all of these misconceptions about publishing are good examples of Why Writers Should Read. I learned a lot about the publishing business from an early age simply by reading a lot of books. Authors who write what they know are likely to have a great deal of firsthand experience in the publishing business, and this finds its way into their writing. If not in the books or stories themselves, then at least in the introductory notes.

Maybe this is more prevalent in genre publishing. Now that I reflect on it, most of what I learned of the publishing industry in my childhood came from the works of Isaac Asimov and Stephen King. But I'm sure there are many other authors who sprinkle true and interesting tidbits about publishing into their writing. I'd think that someone who reads a lot would pick this stuff up by osmosis.

#40 ::: Nonny ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 04:56 PM:

Tracina said: One of the dynamics that makes an exchange of ideas on this topic difficult is that since the swindlers claim the victims were asking for it, statements pointing out that the victims acted unwisely are often interpreted as, "They asked for it."

Which is not what I said. I'm saying there is fault on both sides, and I don't feel much pity for someone who buys into scams that have an incredible amount of information about them online.

That said, there are other scams that don't appear as such. My girlfriend recently submitted a story to a magazine; when they rejected it, they included a blurb about their editorial services. I'm still not entirely sure if that market is a scam, or if they just have no sense of what's appropriate to put in a rejection letter.

So, I agree. It's not black and white in all cases. But, the majority of scam victims I've heard would not have gotten into that situation had they researched and used a little bit of common sense. (Then again, maybe the people who say it's uncommon sense are right ... :P)

Nonny

#41 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:09 PM:

Darice, one of my husband's friends had recently gotten laid off and was trying to figure out what he could do to keep cash flow positive while he was looking for another job. He hit upon the idea of writing SF and fantasy short stories to fill the rent gap between jobs. Mentioned this to my husband knowing that I write that kind of thing, wondering if I had tips on the best markets.

The spouse, when he could stop laughing for long enough, explained to his friend about per word pay rates and response times. He did a quick best-case scenario analysis: if his friend had a bunch of stories all ready to send out and they were each bought by the highest paying market for that type of story as soon as the editor saw the story, how much money his friend could expect and when he could expect it.

His friend tried temping. And treated me with a lot more respect after that. Some people are in more awe of stubbornness than of perceived literary talent.

My parents have gotten a lot more savvy about publishing in the last 4-5 years, after some very tentative questions that provoked half hour explanations. It's a really big relief to overhear my mom explaining to my aunt, "Well, they don't like them to send the story to more than one editor at once, because...." It's one less time I have to give the spiel.

#42 ::: L.N. Hammer ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:12 PM:

Teresa, please do.

---L.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:13 PM:

Nonny, there's a pertinent rant by HapiSofi on this page. You have to scroll down a bit. You're in the right place when you reach a heading that says "Why Reading the Fine Print Isn't Enough."

#44 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:15 PM:

Tracina: Victims often act unwisely, and pointing out how is a good way to teach others. However, I was not responding to the general thread, but to the **single** post which, on first reading, seemed to me to be past the point of "Here's how people are acting foolishly" and into the realm of, "It's their own fault, because they're not all smart like me."

I don't think this subject is black and white. In other scenarios, I've been the one to say the equivalent of "You acted pretty foolishly --please, please learn better." I misread one post as being black and white, and reacted thusly.

Speaking of which:

Nonny, your clarification was excellent. I did rather misread the level of judgementalness in your first post, and I apologise.

And while I was previewing this, three more messages popped up. One of which causes me to repeat, "Well said, Nonny. And I apologize for misreading at first."

Jimcat: That is true to some degree. However, the worst, worst, WORST Mercedes Lackey Book was the one which was half a tract on "the realities of writing and publishing" in supremely poor disguise. I've seen other authors bring it up, more subtly, and more tastefully, but I always point to that book as the reason so many guidelines request "No writer stories".

#45 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:31 PM:

May I make a small addition to the list of linguistic markers?

"You can't trust the advice of professional authors. They're afraid of competition and don't want you to succeed." Or some variation.

Helpful pros warn writers away from scams. Scammers do their best to discredit that advice. The potential marks can't always tell whose advice should carry weight and whose should be discredited. Being human beings, they naturally tend to the advice that tells them what they want to hear.

#46 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:41 PM:

Has anyone else noticed that the reporter in that Washington Post article keeps saying "ISBN number"? Bleah!

#47 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Has anyone else noticed that the reporter in that Washington Post article keeps saying "ISBN number"? Bleah!

<raising hand>.

But given the actual content of the -rest- of the article, a little redundancy seemed to pale by comparison...

#48 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 06:15 PM:

Darice mused:

Given these examples, though, it's easy to see why people fall for the scams. They have no concept of the business behind the bookshelves, but what's more, they thoroughly believe that publication is just something that happens when you write a book.

IMHO it's not just "business behind the bookshelves" - most people have no idea at all of how money moves around. There's an odd disjoint between "I want to be paid more", "Why do things cost more" and "Why is the company [cutting costs|moving to somewhere else|being driven out of business]".

It's hardly surprising that people who have a poor grasp on basic supply/demand/cost aren't able to wrap their brains around the intricacies of publishing.

Your degree of cynicism may vary.

#49 ::: Maggie ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 06:53 PM:

*lurker emerging from shadows*

One reason why new, naive writers are prey for bad advice, even with the many warnings on the net, is that it's sometimes hard to tell what authority a source has (or if that makes it reputable). One easy example would be assistant professor wossname who said that people should lie on their cover letters. I can imagine someone reading that, seeing that he's a professor, and thinking "well, it's gotta be legitimate advice then..."

Another example would be a published poet I know, who gave me the advice to send out lots of copies of a story at once to all the markets I could find. Twelve or fifteen simultaneous submissions. I don't know if the market situation is different for poetry, but all I could think on hearing that was "wha?" If I'd had less experience and fewer friends who are writers, I might have gone ahead and done as she advised.

Neither of these are specifically scam-related, but they do show how intelligent people could be led astray (even by well-meaning friends).

And as for "prostituting my Art," I'll do it only if I get to wear a pimp hat. Purple velvet, preferably.

#50 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 06:53 PM:

I spent the day going through death certificates as part of my regular job. It's truly amazing just how many people never received more than a third grade education, let alone a seventh grade level. Those were two of the more frequent levels I encountered. Between that and what I perceive as an inadequate educational system, is it any wonder that scammers are stealing money so easily?

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:33 PM:

Maggie, in a pinch, believe Yog Sysop and Victoria Strauss. They don't have a completely, utterly, absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of every branch of the publishing world, but they know a great deal, they'll tell you when they don't know something, they have excellent go-to connections where they can get additional info, and they'll never lie to you.

The trouble with the writing community is that so many of its members have the ability to sound plausible when they're talking through their hats. It's like trying to conduct a dorm-room inspection and bed check at a school full of illusionist wizards.

#52 ::: Darice ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:48 PM:

Mris,

Another friend of mine, newly divorced and casting about for gainful employment, had the same idea, except hers was "I'll write books!" I had to sort of gently dissuade her and point out the financial realities, e.g., production rate, submission process, financial return on time invested, need for groceries and car payments NOW rather than later. Not a fun conversation.

Xeger,

Oh, yes. I watched that dance in the corporate office where I used to work. "Another company bought us? But why won't they listen to OUR NEEDS?" everyone howled. No one seemed to understand that we weren't the head office any more, and they made little to no effort to make themselves useful for OtherCompany. And many of them made the situation so untenable that the Big Cheese of OtherCompany got frustrated with dealing with our office, and closed it down and laid everyone off.

I don't detect the same sense of burning entitlement from the people I spoke with. (Although I'm quite sure there are people who feel just that entitled about it, based on earlier comments about UAV.) Mostly, the people I spoke with just never thought about publishing as a business, because to them, books are fun.

#53 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:53 PM:

Dave: Actually, I'd be willing to bet that a large number of people with that little education, provided they were not relatively young at age of death, were better equipped to deal with scams than many people with college degrees. Most of those people probably had street smarts.

I actually will go one further and note that between a 7th grade drop-out and a person with a shiny new college degree, I would bet on the latter as the person who is right now submitting to poetry.com, not because the drop-out doesn't write poetry, but because he's got a nose for bad deals and doesn't think he's the king of the universe just cuz he has a little piece of paper telling him how SMRT* he is.

My father dropped out of high school -- granted, a somewhat higher education than you're discussing, but only by a couple-three years -- and he's a hell of a lot smarter than a lot of college-educated people I know. He's just not book-inclined.

----
*This is not an acronym. It is a reference to "I is smart, S-M-R-T", which ISTR** is a punchline to a joke.

**ISTR is, however, an acronym.

#54 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:06 PM:

Teresa made the analogy to Bayesian anti-spam filters. It seems to me that there ought to be a complementary list of linguistic markers for, ahh, "traditional" publishers.

Something like:


  • Manuscripts that are not formatted according to the guidelines will be discarded.
  • We are not looking for any of the following genres: [any non-zero length list]
  • Please allow up to one year for consideration.
  • Any use of the phrase "self-addressed stamped envelope."
  • Any use of the phrase "We do not accept" in any context.
  • The publisher has published books you have heard of, or even more preferably, read.

#55 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:07 PM:

Mrissa: My parents have gotten a lot more savvy about publishing in the last 4-5 years, after some very tentative questions that provoked half hour explanations. It's a really big relief to overhear my mom explaining to my aunt, "Well, they don't like them to send the story to more than one editor at once, because...." It's one less time I have to give the spiel.

Oh, yes. In my case, it isn't my parents--although my mom sounds like she has a pretty good handle on reality, and my dad's the one who asks about "writing another Harry Potter" when mostly I write non-YA military-ish sf, which he would know if he'd actually read anything I'd sold--but my husband. Who has heard me rant about pay rates, response times, what-I-know-about-advances, lag time between acceptance and publication, etc. ad nauseam to the point where he's correcting his parents when they ask a hair-tearingly dumb question, or friends, or whatnot.

I'm not sure the short stories pay for themselves at my rate of production, let alone the rent. *snicker* It could be worse. I could still be into a collectible card game and sinking $$ into that...

#56 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:20 PM:

Speaking of misguided would-be authors, have people seen this?

I'm hoping it's a clever satire, but I'm not 100% sure.

#57 ::: Maggie ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:33 PM:

Thanks. I think I'm learning a little more about the business of writing these days (unfortunately, it's often from wandering the Web when I should be sitting down and doing the actual writing). I used to be at a loss for an answer when someone asked me "why don't you just use X vanity press?" other than it just didn't feel right. It's good to have several concrete reasons handy.

*returning to shadows, tripping over cat on the way*

#58 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:40 PM:

Speaking of misguided would-be authors

Oh. My. God. I think that maybe this belonged in the Miskatonic thread instead. *gibbers*

Unfortunately for Mr. Winslet, he now skips over this mystic dreamland and enters the other place. The place filled with extreme darkness and fear. Yes, John is now in a terrifying nightmare and trying to break free. Whether this formerly drawn monster that oppresses the senses of someone's sleep was linked to John's past or not, one thing was for sure, it was definitely a place that no one ever wants to be, at any given moment.

You know, just yesterday I was having a crisis over how crappy my own writing is.

I feel a lot better now.

#59 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:40 PM:

Rivka, I just posted that to my very favorite Web reading, Disturbing Auctions Daily (DA). Thanks. (We find and present, then comment on auctions that are wrong in so many ways. eBay keeps track of US to find out if someone's posted something that's against their usage rules and tosses them out if they are.)

If anyone wants to find the DA link and can't, email me.

#60 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 10:48 PM:

You know, if you look closely at one of the pictures (where he says "a legit company has contacted me, asking to let them put my book into print") the letter is from AuthorHouse.

#61 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:46 PM:

IA! IA, SHUB-EBAYNET!

#62 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 03:27 AM:

The followers of the Old Ones are numerous and pervasive.

#63 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 03:38 AM:

Back when I was in high school, reading damn little other than Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut and bad Star Trek adaptations by James Blish, I firmly believed that the author was always right to fight for his or her Unique Artistic Vision. I think that faded as I edited my first fanzine, and had to clean up everyone else's UAVs.

My self-publishing story: in the late 1980s, my beloved husband managed to almost earn a living for a while, editing a newsletter and self-publishing books about unreleased music by a certain well-known band. The newsletter helped to sell the books, not in huge numbers but all over the world. Other than a few copies ordered by B&T, John sold them all directly by mail, having paid a printer and taken possession of the copies himself. We eventually had to sell our house, and he had to get a real job, but that was partly because the FBI seized most of the print run of one of the books, claiming, falsely, that they "tell you where to buy bootlegs."

It seems to me that most of the legitimately happy self-publishing stories involve niche markets and no expectation of vast numbers sold.

Karen

#64 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 10:03 AM:

I was trying to find the book used as an illustration for the Washington Post's intensely stupid and harmful article by Rachel F. Elson (and Hi, Rachel -- I used your name so that when you go ego-scanning you'll find folks talking about you), a tome called Vanity Unfair, with a subtitle How to get your story told when publishers ignore you. Alas, no author name is shown, and neither Amazon nor Barnes&Noble list any such book, which rather proves the point that Rachel F. Elson seems to have missed.

A Google search didn't turn up any mention of this book either. I did, however, find this, which, while old, is wonderful.

#65 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 10:04 AM:

Lenora Rose: However, the worst, worst, WORST Mercedes Lackey Book was the one which was half a tract on "the realities of writing and publishing" in supremely poor disguise.

Which book would this be, so I can avoid it?

#66 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 10:49 AM:

Karen Funk Blocher:

"We eventually had to sell our house, and he had to get a real job, but that was partly because the FBI seized most of the print run of one of the books, claiming, falsely, that they 'tell you where to buy bootlegs.'"

You have my retroactive but severe sympathy.

Was this the same Keystone Kops who busted Steve Jackson Games, nearly bankrupting him, because they thought that the game "Cyberpunk" was a handbook for hacker-terrorists?

Feeling safer now?

Or was it covertly ordered by Yoko Ono, who is posessed by The Old Ones of Nippon?

Is your horror story posted somewhere on the web for us to read, while gritting our teeth?

#67 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 12:11 PM:

JvP: No, the Keystone Kops raiding SJG were the Secret Service.

#68 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 01:13 PM:

JVP asks,

Is your horror story posted somewhere on the web for us to read, while gritting our teeth?

I hesitate to write about this in detail, because John values his privacy. He published the books and the newsletter under a pen name. Only a handful of people know even now the "secret identity" of the second most important writer-researcher in that field at that time.

The books were seized in 1990 in connection with a raid on some record bootleggers. John was advised by a lawyer not to ask for the books back. This has always struck me as fundamentally unfair, but it could have been worse. The bootlegger, a friend of John's, actually went to jail.

#69 ::: Marci ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 01:37 PM:

Of course, the Washington Post seems to think self-publishing is the way to go:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45761-2004Sep23.html

#70 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 02:44 PM:

Just jumping in with a couple of random comments:

Education levels and scams: More education does not protect people from scams. Instead, what one needs are awareness and information. One of my clients, who got scammed by a notorious vanity press/fraudulent literary agent not far east of Youngstown, Ohio, is a judge. And not a stupid one, either; just unsophisticated about publishing at the time. However, he wised up, which puts him at the 96th percentile of scam victims. (That's right: only about 4% of scam victims ever realize they've been had without someone else pointing that out to them.)

Self-Publishing: I wrote a nasty correction letter to the Post on Rachel's drivel. In that letter, I pointed out both the Grisham factual error (it wasn't self-published) and that what she described is actually low-end vanity publishing, not self publishing. As I've noted before, the critical test is not the money flow, but who has legal title to the copies as they come off the press. If it's the author, we're talking about self-publishing (with a couple of negligible exceptions); if it's the publisher, we're definitely not talking about self-publishing (with no exceptions at all). I covered the whole illusory-self-publishing racket extensively at Scrivener's Error in August; just link to the August archive and scroll to the bottom, then read upward. TNH may disagree with some of what I said; keep in mind that most of my expertise/business in the publishing industry relates to serious nonfiction, so my perspective is somewhat different from hers. Trust her on how Tor works, or even the slightly broader area of speculative fiction publishing!

#71 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 03:32 PM:

Come see the "free poetry contest" from poetry.com here:
http://www.poetryweekly.com/?affil=1463

The domain name should, perhaps, be www.poetryweakly.com?

Before submitting, you have to agree to a statement (boldface mine) that says:

I hereby certify that the above poem is my original work and that all rights to this poem are mine. I am entering this poem as an honest and true effort of my personal creativity and unique artistic vision, and I understand that it will be published on the Internet as my original work and under my own copyright by The International Library of Poetry (poetry.com). The community of poets who use this forum for self-expression will also be able to view and share my poem, always as my original work and under my own copyright in the various ways described on this website.
#72 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 06:05 PM:

Kate Nepveu: I was trying to be kind and not mention the title, but... what the hell. Jinx High. Thankfully i think it's currently ourt of print. It was the third in a series about a supernatural sleuth/romance writer (intended to be ongoing, but cut short due apparantly to "actions by some disturbed individuals"). Somehow, in book three, the romance writer ends up teaching a class of teenagers (Very poor stand-ins for her average fans) about the realities of writing. And Misty, who goes into lecture-mode several times even in her decent books, hardly leaves it in this one. It's not the only reason the book stinks, but it's the largest.

#73 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 07:02 PM:

Actually, I liked Jinx High. Lectures and all. And IMO she actually had her protagonist offer some useful advice.

#74 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2004, 01:17 AM:

Tina: Most of the advice was dead on. That isn't the point. I wasn't in the mood to read a book on how to write. I wasn't in the mood to be lectured like the average fourteen year old I know is a staple of her readership.

And there were other problems with the book that had to do with the plot - characters suddenly being stupider than they were 20 pages ago, and the like. Plus blatant last-second set-up for a sequel. (Not because the sequel didn't happen so much as because the set up was too clunky and didn't *fit*.)

#75 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2004, 03:12 AM:

Maggie wrote:

Another example would be a published poet I know, who gave me the advice to send out lots of copies of a story at once to all the markets I could find. Twelve or fifteen simultaneous submissions. I don't know if the market situation is different for poetry, but all I could think on hearing that was "wha?" If I'd had less experience and fewer friends who are writers, I might have gone ahead and done as she advised.

While the poetry market is different in some respects, the prohibition regarding simultaneous submissions is still the norm. A few markets specify in their guidelines that they don't mind as long as you're straight up with them in your cover letter, but they're a very small minority. Sending simultaneous submissions to a market that hasn't explicitly invited them is an offense that justifies blacklisting (or horsewhipping, or hanging, depending on which editor you ask).

#76 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2004, 03:36 AM:

Actually, I need to amend the above slightly. It's increasingly common for book publishers to run competitions open only to authors who have not yet published a volume of poetry, and first book competition guidelines all, in my experience, specify that simultaneous submissions are acceptable, provided the entrant withdraws his/her manuscript in writing if the book is accepted elsewhere before the competition results are announced.

These competitions tend to cost about $20 per manuscript in reading fees, for the venerable Yale Younger Poets Prize at the top of the prestige scale as well as for the tiny prizes from presses nobody's ever heard of. In the case of first book competitions in poetry, the requirement of a reading fee is not necessarily an indicator that the press is not legitimate. The practice might arguably be illegitimate, but that's another question.

#77 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2004, 06:32 PM:

Has anyone else noticed the new sidebar ads over at nytimes.com for iUniverse? I ran into one earlier today and was, well, aghast might be an appropriate phrase. The first one started out with a pile of paper and the words "Other writers collect rejection letters." Cut to a man in a beach chair and the words "Our writers collect royalties." And apparently, if you publish now, they'll even toss in author copies. Seeing publication advertised like toothpaste-- urgh.

As for seeing other authors run into fee-charging agents... man. It's like watching puppies get kicked, but sadder. I've seen some people who nearly knew better but still didn't want to turn it down just in case it was the real thing. And then I've known of people who gave out advice on agents themselves and still fell into the trap.

#78 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2004, 01:13 AM:

Saturday's WashPost Letters had a reply to the how-to-self-publish article:

" I Learned How. Did You?

The Sept. 26 Sunday Source "How To" article, on publishing your own book, caught my eye, mostly because I recently did so. Checking to make sure I had covered all the recommended bases, I saw that your author had not. On the subject of publicity -- the first step in getting people to read your book and stores to stock it -- Rachel F. Elson says we should "call the local media, and submit excerpts to magazines and newsletters." Here's the real deal: No one will touch your book if it is self-published. As I was informed after sending out review copies to 40 book editors, "It is our policy not to review self-published books." I received that depressing statement from the book editor of . . . The Washington Post.

-- Andrea Rouda
Washington"

#79 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2004, 12:21 PM:

May I suggest an additional marker?

"New paradigm in publishing."

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