Protecting Yourself as a Writer

As this stinky business with Undead Press, Anthony Giangregorio, and any other publishing entities the man uses, blows up all over writerly facebook pages and blogs everywhere, I thought I’d post my thoughts on the issue.

For those not aware of what I’m talking about, her is Mandy DeGeit’s original post that is going viral as I type.  I think I commented last night, when there were about 30 other comments.  Now my inbox has accumulated each subsequent comment to the tune of 400 and counting.  It’s like she made the Freshly Pressed pages here at good old WordPress.  The girl had a crappola thing happen to her, but all the buzz is a sweet turnaround, so the story may indeed have a happy ending.

Anyway, read her post.  Cringe along with everyone else.  And then ask yourself, “How do I, as a fledgling author, keep buggery like that from happening to me?”

The allure of thy name in print is strong.  So powerful, in fact, that tons of would-be authors probably fall for scammy publishers every day.  Not all bad experiences make the viral radar, however.  So we need to arm ourselves here, people.  Together, if we refuse to work with these tumors, they will eventually shrivel up and die.  Because, let’s face it–they’re blood-sucking leeches who can’t sustain themselves with their own sub-par writing, so they climb on the backs of the innocent and naive.

I was fortunate enough to have the first piece of writing I ever sent out be picked up by a reputable (and professionally paying) publisher.  Had that not been the case, I can see where I might have undervalued my work; where I even might have been desperate enough to send weeks worth of work to a POS like Mr. Giangregorio for the chance to be published by ANYBODY in the world.  His shtick, you’re not good enough for publication, but I’m going to do it anyway, could look like a golden opportunity for a newbie, and one might easily overlook the fine print.

So what’s an author to do?  Well, first of all, knowledge is power.  Know the web sites that post reviews of publishers and editors.  Predators and Editors is one.  Writer Beware is another.

Google is your friend.  Seedy publishers are not.

Talk to other writers and find out about their good and bad experiences.  Absolute Write is a fabulous site, chock-full of information and helpful people fighting the same fight you are.

Research, research, research.  You do it for your writing, so why wouldn’t you do it when seeking a potential publisher; when sending your baby out into the cruel world?

Another thing: Go with your gut.  If the website of a potential publisher looks like a child put it together, they obviously do not invest much time and effort into their “business.”  It stands to reason, they will invest even less time and effort into your writing.  You want your work in a well-put-together and attractive package that you won’t be embarrassed to show to friends and family.

If a pub’s website looks like this, odds are your book will look like shit, too, even if they don’t butcher your hard work before printing it.  I landed on Open Casket Press’ site while floating around the ether investigating submission calls a while back.  It just so happens that Open Casket is another of  Giangregorio’s publishing ventures.  Well, I noticed the horrid web presence and out of morbid curiosity stuck around long enough to see what they were paying for a story.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.

And that is exactly what they think of your work.

Have more respect for yourself than that.

And, finally, we get to the contract.  If you submit, and your work is accepted, there will be a contract.  This is your legal bible.  Your authorial condom there to protect you from underhanded disease carriers.  Read it carefully.  Pull it out of the package and fill it with water.  If it leaks from countless different holes, toss that shit.  If you are unsure of what a “normal” contract looks like, or whether or not the people who want to print your story are royally screwing you over–ASK!  Just ask.  Jump on Absolute Write and post on the appropriate forum.  Guaranteed, you will have twenty responses in a day.  Don’t sign anything unless you know what you are getting yourself into.

At the end of the day, it is your story.  Your hard work, and no one is entitled to make money off of it and leave you high and dry without your say so.  Just say no, because odds are you won’t end up being an overnight sensation and gaining thousands of new blog followers by allowing your work to be defiled and your name to be jeopardized.

Odds are, all you’ll have to show for it are a bunch of overpriced books sitting in your basement and a very sore ass.

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Writing For the Love (of Pete)

Today I was thinking about how I don’t really offer up the “I’m an author” line to many people.  Generally speaking, I keep it to myself unless it comes up.  I was wondering if I made a living writing (which I do not—I couldn’t feed my cat with money from my writing, let alone a family of five) would I be more inclined to pony-up the information? 

Not that I am ashamed of how I spend my free time.  Hell, I’d like to let people know that my house gets cleaned even less lately because I’m “working” in my free time.  This place isn’t a pig sty because I’m watching Vampire Diaries and eating bon-bons for the eight hours a week all three of my kids are in school. 

I don’t suppose I can call it work if I don’t really make any money doing it, can I?   

But it is work.  It’s a time-consuming job trying to crank out enough coherent words strung into sentences, glued into paragraphs and sandwiched together with a layer of literary bubblegum to create a short story.  Forget about the bigger projects I try to make time for.

When you think about the time spent simply daydreaming up an idea–which is usually during dinner or while your Lego master is explaining his latest creation, or while you are driving a bus of wild animals to choir practice—already you are looking at hours and hours spent on a short alone.  Again, a full novel takes weeks of thinking, planning, outlining, note-taking and people-watching before you even sit down at a computer.  Then you get there and realize you know nothing about the California Gold Rush and the research begins.  Think term papers without direct quotes, only on a major scale.

Have we started writing yet?  Maybe you are a fly-by-your-seat kinda author.  Cool.  I salute you.  That could save you a bundle of time.  Or it could burn you alive with re-writes once you get half way done and realize you have plot holes the size of Jupiter.  Me, I outline.  The carefree method that would seem to be my style superficially, just doesn’t pan out for me when I’m sifting for gold nuggets.  In California.  In 1851.  With the help of my time machine.  Just tying that back together.

Okay, so all of the homework completed, we move on to the writing part.  Now, I’m a fast typist, so essentially, this doesn’t take all that long provided I am not distracted by squirrels, or bon-bons, or laundry, or singing karaoke to Breaking Benjamin songs that are too R rated to play at full blast while the kids are home.  So let’s say I rein in my ADD for the time it takes me to hammer out a 5,000 word piece.

And then saunters in my arch enemy of the writing world—editing.  I’d like to punch this guy in the face, but I can’t.  He is the most important piece of the puzzle (or so he thinks, the conceited bastard).  Editing takes a number of days, if not weeks, and a number of reads. 

All the while, an equal number of hilarious squirrels are jumping around my lawn like little clowns, waving their bon-bons at me and flipping me off to the tune of Shallow Bay.  I ignore them.  I hope.  And I get it done.

Oh!  Lest we forget, I must check the submission guidelines and format my work to the specifications of my chosen market.  Busy work, but, like editing, a necessary evil.

Now, what was my chosen market again?  In all likelihood, especially for newer authors, the publisher may have a cute little sentence under the title PAYMENT.  It could very well, and very often does, read “For the Love.”

For the love of Pete.  This is why I cannot feel comfortable saying “I’m an author.”  Like, “I work from home.  I write.”  And I do.  But non-paying markets, or token payments, for—how much time did it take me?—they don’t add up to a living. 

Therefore, this is not my job.  It is my hobby (cringe).

Do I enjoy it?  Yes.  Do I love to see my name in print?  Absolutely.  Do I want to do it for free just to spread my creativity like an infection to the masses (or the few, as the case may be)?  No, I don’t.  I can blog for free to reach out and grab someone.  I can make pointless, but ultra-funny, nonsense flyers and staple them all over town in the middle of the night.

I loved working as an RN.  Would I go pull an eight-hour shift sans pay just because helping sick people is so rewarding?  Ah, no.  Florence Nightingale I ain’t.  And she probably got paid anyway.

So why is the “For the Love” trend so prevalent?  Could be the saturation of the market.  The name in print scenario I mentioned so enough people are willing to work for free, perpetuating the problem.  All the free e-books on Amazon from self-pubs and fledgling indie publishers that make people think that the written word shouldn’t cost a penny.  It’s possible. 

But these little anthologies that are just getting their foot in the publishing door could still offer a small royalty payment.  That way the authors are more vested in promoting the material.  The publishers don’t have to come up with up-front payment.  And the authors don’t have to feel like someone is bending them over and…I’ll keep it clean, but you know where I was going.

But when I spend more money than I earned to buy a copy or two of “my” book, it hurts my heart a little.  I end up paying more than I was paid.  That is essentially paying to have your work published, which is a number one no-no, as everyone knows.

Can I be one of those working writers?  Go get a day job like so many and write in my “spare” time?  Yup, and I just may one of these days if my Sugar Daddy gets tired of supporting my pipe dreams. 

Or I may decide that my massive amounts of time are better spent elsewhere and give up the authorial ghost.

I hope that day never comes, because as much as “For the Love” is a gang of rude squirrels defecating in my sandbox, I still love to write.  For now I’ll throw my bon-bons at them and power through. 

I don’t need the empty calories anyway.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a cannibalism story that needs to be written.  Twenty-five bucks and a zombie t-shirt riding on this one, baby.  Woo hoo!  They had me at zombie.  And again at t-shirt. 

Take that, you stupid squirrels!