Hawking Up Hairballs

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Writer Beware

My novel, Buster Bungle's Big Top, will be ready to turn loose upon the world at the beginning of next week. I've been looking into publication. In the best of times, it's extremely difficult to find a publisher. Even before the current financial crisis, publishers had begun to change their business philosophies. They had begun to shed their mid-list authors as they took the Hollywood blockbuster approach to publishing, looking for those homerun books that would sell in the millions and make the big bucks. Now it's even worse. Under financial duress, some publishers are breaking contracts and demanding the return of advances that they have paid. Some are no longer even accepting manuscripts until times get better.

The literary world is full of scams and questionable schemes of all sorts. The bogus poetry anthologies are probably familiar to some of you. Some asshole will set himself up as a publisher and ask for submissions to a poetry anthology. He'll accept a poem from everyone who sends a submission, but the poet will be required to buy one or more copies of the anthology at inflated prices. This isn't illegal if properly done, but it's certainly sleazy. Even worse are the phony agents, who demand reading fees and such, then do nothing for their unfortunate clients.

It's no surprise that these sorts of practices exist. There are so many would-be authors out there who are desperate for publication that a certain number of them are bound to fall for these schemes. In the current environment, the problem has only worsened. It is for this reason that I was very glad to find the Writer Beware blog run by one Victoria Strauss. Writer Beware is an industry watchdog group sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Don't let that put you off. The blog is full of valuable information and advice for anyone who might be interested in publication, whatever the genre.

The blog has already helped me in regard to the Authonomy web site that is hosted by Harper Collins UK. At first, it looked like a great deal to me, but not now. After reading about the experiences of others on the Writer Beware blog, I'm not going to bother with it. Here's how the web site works. You register and post 10,000 words or more of your manuscript on the site. Other registered visitors to the site can read your manuscript and critique it. Likewise you can read and critique their work. There's also a forum in which you can interact with others. The manuscripts that are posted on the site are ranked, based on the critiques they have received. The top five are periodically read by Harper Collins editors with an eye toward possible publication.

I liked the idea when I first came upon it but, as is pointed out on the Writer Beware blog, it amounts to an electronic slush pile and it's a sweet deal for the publisher. Harper Collins doesn't have to pay people to work through the pile. The web site's visitors do it for free. It isn't that this is a scam or anything like that. It just isn't what one might think it would be. As a few commenters on the Writer Beware blog who claimed to have experience with Authonomy pointed out, it becomes an exercise in networking. Even worse, it becomes a you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours situation. If you give an author a less than enthusiastic critique, you're likely to receive the same in return, so everyone tends to say nothing but nice things about the manuscripts. That being the case, those authors who work hardest at networking find their manuscripts rising to the top. That wouldn't work for me. I'm not lickspittle enough to thrive there.

The lesson to be learned is one that I've learned many times before. There's no easy road to publication. It's a hard slog, and you can't let it get you down. That said, I'm impressed enough by the Writer Beware blog that I'm including a link to it here on my own blog.


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