Here’s a real-life story, borrowed from the pages of a writer friend’s journal. It should probably be filed under the True Crime/Ripper genre.
Yep, you know what’s coming. It’s time to give publishers another good spanking.
Imagine you’re a writer. You have the opportunity to contribute to an anthology that’s targeted to your favorite genre, True Crime. The publisher, a well-known and large house, is planning to sell the anthology to libraries. It’s not intended for the broad trade market. The publisher knows that anthologies in the public square usually don’t do well. Libraries, on the other hand, are this publisher’s dream come true, especially when their workload and overhead is tiny.
So, as a writer, here are your requirements:
- Prepare a top-notch essay of 5,000 words.
- Stick to the publisher’s guidelines, which can best be described as “anal.”
- Add proper footnotes and references according to publisher specifications.
- Finalize the essay in print-ready format with tons of technical specifications.
- It must be perfect, which is what you also want to achieve.
- Be a flawless copy editor or buy those services yourself.
- Make modifications in accordance with the Editor-In-Chief.
- Be ready for those last minute technical changes sure to come.
- Repeat as necessary.
- Always take all responsibility for all work. Do so without complaint.
OK, you’re ready to go, right? Well, not quite. The publisher has a few other, small requirements. So, get back to work.
- Write a bio of 300 words according to the publisher’s “anal” requirements.
- Complete a questionnaire of some three pages for the publisher’s use.
- Supply an appropriate photo/image of the proper size and specification.
- Have a Twitter account.
- Have a Facebook page.
- A website is STRONGLY suggested, encouraged, nearly demanded.
- Fund these and all future marketing projects out of your own pocket.
- Agree, in writing, to participate in the publisher’s marketing strategies, no matter what they may entail.
- In fact, just become the marketing agent for the publisher.
In the heat of passion, you have already signed the contract. It was a more extensive, detailed series of publisher demands and requirements. Oh, plus all those disclaimers that will forever prohibit you from making a dime on your efforts. Did you read the fine print? No? Well, you should have delved into the minutiae before you began this arduous journey.
Too late. Carry on.
Now, it’s reward time, eh? Let’s look at the bottom line for your efforts.
- You will receive zero payment. No advance, no royalties. Ever.
- You will receive one copy of the anthology.
- You will receive the promised exposure, to all those library-buyer powerhouses. Wow!
Well, my writer friend, have you made a good deal?
The Editor-In-Chief will make some money on the deal. That’s appropriate. It’s hard work to put this kind of project together and make it appealing. The publisher will take all the profits, which seems appropriate since they did none of the work. It’s the zen of publishers these days.
In the words of Dirty Harry, “Go ahead, make my day.”
You would have received better exposure by carefully placing your words into appropriate blogs, online magazines, websites and the like. Hell, put it on cheap paper and pass it out at your favorite shopping mall! That’s exposure. Forget the fact that you received no compensation, whatsoever.
But think of the time and effort you could have saved by writing for a different venue, in a different media and without all the publisher hoops. Woops.
Did you do yourself any good with all this trouble? Are you happy that a few libraries have given you such far-reaching exposure? Maybe there are a handful of real readers out there who will actually buy the anthology? So, what? Won’t do you any good. The publisher would like it, though.
Next time you consider such an “offer,” you owe it to yourself to also consider the alternatives at your disposal. If you are willing to give your work away, do so in your best interest, not for that oh-so-generous publisher who comes calling.
Remember Dirty Harry.