Wherein I Answer An Awkward Question

Monday, August 29, 2011

18 Chiming In
Hi guys. I'm going to answer something today, and I'm not calling out any names or anything because I don't want to embarrass or anger anyone, but this seems to be a fairly common line of questioning, so maybe this will help. I'm going to be a bit frank, but please don't think I'm belittling anyone's ability. This is NOT about the writers who have asked, but rather about the companies they've mentioned.

If you write a book and either skip or have no luck with the agent step, you might be tempted to send your book direct to publishers. Okay, fine. That totally works for some people, and despite the odds, YES, sometimes real publishers will respond to unsolicited submissions. I know this for a fact because I've done it. I don't recommend it, but I've done it. (years ago, pre-agent, and the book was not published).

Having said that --

IF said publisher turns around in 2 days or less and screams that they want to give your book a chance, I know it's hard not to jump up and down and start composing letters in your head to all those people who said you'd never achieve your goals, but please - PLEASE - before you agree to anything with a publisher, unagented, and with no advocate on your side, DO SOME RESEARCH.

Google is your friend. There are many legitimate small presses out there, and you may not have heard of them, so Google to make sure the one that's offering isn't a vanity press if you aren't specifically looking for a vanity press. (There are real reasons to use a self-publishing service, and if that's what you want, and the company is upfront about their services, then more power to you.)

If you get an offer from a company you've never heard of, do this:
  1. go to Google
  2. type in: "really awesome publishing company SCAM"
If this results in a long list of complaints, then READ THEM. Yes, it sucks to think you got excited over something and then that something turns out to be not what you thought it was, but it's better to find out before you sign anything.

Call your local bookstore and ask them if they stock books by Really Awesome Publishing Company.

You can also query a couple of agents with the header :I HAVE AN OFFER FROM A PUBLISHER. and see if anyone responds. Most agents will tell you flat out if the "offer" is from a scam press (assuming it's one they've heard of). Please listen to them. They are not jealous of you or trying to keep you down. They are people who love writing and books and writers and don't want to see a potentially amazing book thrown into a black hole.

There are 2 kinds of vanity presses -

  1. A regular vanity press says "pay me $X.XX and I will give you YYY". Very straightforward. If you want only a couple of copies of a book or if you write to a small niche audience, then this might work for you. (It might not, that's not my call.)
  2. The sneakier option is a "reverse" vanity press. They say they're "traditional" in that they don't require payment for a book to be published. They may offer a small "token" advance. They're very careful to word things so that you will assume that by signing with them your book will be on shelves and that you will have signings and that you will be able to pay your bills with your royalty checks. Then, as soon as the contract is signed, they start bombarding you with offers to buy copies of your own book.
There are tons of these places out there and they know exactly what to say to make it seem like you're getting an amazing break, but please take the time to find out about any publisher (or agent) you've never heard of before. You spend months, if not years, writing your book, so don't risk throwing it in the trash by only taking ten minutes to find it a home.

Just some things to consider, pulled from different sites/companies, etc.
  • A press cannot simultaneously be a small press and still put out over 3,000 books a year. This is a #logicfail
  • They will dazzle you with statistics like how few "books" are sold in bookstores these days. (Less than 40%). What they don't tell you is that "book" =/= "novel". Most books aren't for commercial use; they're technical manuals and reference books put out for specific industries, but when added into the volume of all books published in a given year, they skew the percentages. Remember: Numbers don't lie, but you can lie with numbers.
  • No legit publisher tries to find you another publisher to take on your book after they've bought the rights to it.
  • No legit publisher tries to find you an agent to sell the book they've contracted for.
  • No legit agent requires you to pay them to read your submission.
  • No legit publisher charges you to fix typos
  • No legit publisher charges you for galleys.
  • No legit publisher will sell you a USB drive with your book on it in e-form.
  • Even the smallest of micropresses will give you at least 1 free copy of your book

Work out the average earning/author with the company's provided stats. Most of them will tell you, upfront, the number of authors they have. This is to make you think there are thousands out there, happily churning out books for the company. The company will likely also tell you that it's reached some major milestone in royalty payments, usually a million or two. Don't be awed by all those zeroes - do some basic math. Take that threshold and divide it by the number of authors the company claims.

If they say they have 75,000 authors, and that they've cleared 3 million in royalties:

3,000,000/75,000 =$40

$40 is the average total royalties per author, and that's assuming none of those authors have more than one book with the company. Is your book worth more to you than $40? (or whatever total you come up with given the company's stats)

These are just a few red flags, but there are hundreds of others. If you see them, heed them. Don't ignore them because of the glow of being accepted. <--- this is what these companies count on. They know that the average writer dreams of being someone snapped up right away, and so they do it. But by doing this, and having such a quick turnaround, they can pressure a potentially commercially successful author into signing away their rights. Once those rights are gone, they're gone. The book is published, and it now has a sales history -- as do you. 99.99999% of the time that sales history will be dismal. (Vanity published books average in the low double digits for sales.)

Now for the big one. If you've signed with a vanity press by mistake...

It means none of those things. ALL it means is that you ran into people who are professionals in the business of persuasion and insinuation, who prey on the hopes and dreams of those who have worked hard to create something they're proud of, and you made a mistake. It's NOT the end of the world, and it doesn't have to be the end of your writing career.

These companies are not set-up to make a writer successful. They're not equipt to handle the demand that would arise from a book becoming popular. They can't get an author into a worthwhile situation because their experience isn't in real publishing and their reputations are trash in the industry. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to succeed as a writer through a scam vanity press, because their definition of success is to get as much money from the writer as possible before the writer realizes the truth. They actually make it difficult to sell/ship to anyone other than the author because outside income sources don't pay off as well as continuing to ransom the dream back to the dreamer. If you're stuck with one of these companies, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT THAT YOUR BOOK ISN'T SELLING. It's the way the system is set up.

When someone tells me "OMG, I'm being published, too!" I want to be able to jump up and down and smile and say "YAY!" right along with them. I don't want to get messages like this, then hear the company involved and feel a cold knot in my stomach because I know that elation is going to be short-lived. I hope everyone who reads this blog and wants to be published reaches their goal. (It's possible, statistics are only important for those who conform to them.) But I hope they take the steps to keep that dream from turning into a nightmare.

A Little Something Different

Monday, August 15, 2011

8 Chiming In

This is my tree - the one in my backyard, specifically. (Please ignore my trashcan next to the pile of what would be a picnic table had the kit not been missing its braces.) When I first moved into my house a few years ago, this tree had issues. It had a weak limb, so I had to remove it to save the tree. The space left behind when that limb was excised created this image.

I'm not Catholic, none of my immediate family is Catholic, but everyone who sees my tree says the same thing, which is some variation of "That looks like Mary!" (or St. Mary or the Virgin Mary, or whatever the given viewer's qualifier is).

(ETA, one of them shaded in what they say they see to make it clearer, and to be honest, now it's all I can see when I look at my tree, too. Here's that version... yes, before anyone says anything THIS ONE IS PHOTOSHOPPED. Most people wouldn't question that, but there's always someone who thinks they're funny. )

So what does that have to do with writing or books or anything else? Not much, honestly, but I think it's unusual and interesting, and if I must tie this into something useful in the writing world, it's a metaphor. If I'd left the diseased limb on the tree, the tree would have still looked okay. It probably would have been strong enough to live for years, but by cutting off a seemingly good bit of the tree, something completely different became clear. Sure, it's just the way the wood snapped, but it's still nice to look at, and it gives my tree character it didn't have before -- editing books can be the same way.

Maybe what you've got works, but if you cut out the weakest portion, then you may find something completely unexpected that will take you places and directions you never imagined.

I is For...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

0 Chiming In
I haven't done one of these in a while, but I'm trying to get back into the habit. So, now we pick up our alphabetical trip through writing, publishing, and anything else I can convincingly tie to the process of being professionally delusional (read: writing fiction) where we left off -- the letter "I".

I is for Idea -- that thing which is simultaneously priceless and worthless. Writers have ideas; it's what starts the process. Something appears in your brain, nearly as (or even more) real than the world in which you live, and it begs to be put down on paper (or on screen) before it disappears back to the aether never to be experienced again. Sometimes ideas are stubborn and hide behind blocks; other times, there will be so many available and vying for your attention that you'll feel like the sheer number is crushing you.

It's a hard truth for new writers (and consequently one that crushes many) that there are no "new" ideas. There are variations and spins and slants, but all ideas have come from the ideas of those before us. Our ideas are the product of environment, exposure and belief, and it's not impossible for someone with a similar background to have a similar idea independent of the one they created. Or to say it simply, no, that guy didn't steal from you just because you both have a book about goats in space.

I is for Ingenuity -- where the mundane becomes magic. There are only 26 letters in the English language, and yet those 26 letters can be used in an infinite number of combinations. It's up to the writer to determine how to take those plain old letters and turn them into something never seen or heard before. (Yes, I'm aware that I just said there were no new ideas - deal with the dichotomy or pick a new career, dude.) Your ingenuity is what makes your worthless ideas priceless.

I is for Ick-factors -- the lines a writer refuses to cross. We all (or at least most) have them. Maybe you can't write out graphic violence or intimate love scenes. Maybe you refuse to detail the rotting stench of a zombie's presence. Maybe you just... can't... make... your... character... do... er... that... (whatever it happens to be). If you're uncomfortable, it will read in your writing - that can either help or hurt you. If it's going to give a scene weight and legitimate awkwardness, then consider the "cowboy up" method of doing what needs done. But if you find yourself sneaking in euphemisms for things you can't seem to stomach saying in earnest, then maybe you should fade to black lest your emotional turmoil turn to snicker-worthy spork bait on the page.

I is for Inspiration -- it has to come from somewhere. Ideas don't spring independently from a primordial soup in your head; people you know or things you've seen will creep into your creative process. They may be unrecognizable once they hit the page (and unless you're being very, very kind, this is probably for the best), but you should always keep your eyes open for the striking moments in every day life.

One day, I will find a way to work the trio of Catholic nuns and trio of Buddhist monks who were both in line for rides at Disney World into a story. I will.

I is for Irritating, Insulted, Irate, Insomnia, Incomplete, Insanity and Integrity.

You will find it irritating when people equate your time on the computer with "playing" or utter the words "since you aren't doing anything, could you....", you may even be insulted or become irate, but remember... they don't get it. They live in the "real" world and are therefore to be pitied. To use the term Chuck Wendig coined, they are Pen-Muggles, and therefore do not understand your word-magic. Leave them to believe your pen is a pen and not the wand that transfigures blank pages into a new world they can't even imagine.

Get used to Insomnia, as it will find new and insidious means of making itself known. (Usually, these will be sneak attacks disguised as ideas telling you to get up and write before they disappear on you.

Do not fear the Incomplete story. For all you know, it's not the beginning you think it is, but the middle of another story you haven't thought of yet.

You make things up for a living, and then pretend they're real. You can either call this lying or Insanity - one makes people hate you and the other gets you labeled the loveable eccentric. Also, eccentrics get to wear capes and no one can say a word. When liars wear capes, they get called villains. (Yes, I own a cape and no, you can't borrow it. Cut up your own drapes.)

And then we come to Integrity, which is what you have and what you can lose. The Internet can be a friendly place or shark infested waters (sadly not the kind who munch on queries for their daily snack). What you say and how you conduct yourself on-line can lead to people knowing your name, just try and make sure it's for your work and not your melt-downs. (sheesh, I feel like such a high school guidance counselor with that one.)

Next time, J is for Justice, Jealousy and Just write the *(^%& thing already.