|Nobody has time for yours.|
This post was going to be something else entirely, a celebration. My wife and I received a positive response from a publisher, and the other night, we made a special toast at P.F. Chang’s, “To passing the second gate!” See, there are three main obstacles to publication. First, your query letter has to catch the eye of an agent or publisher. This is the first gate. If they are interested, they will ask for your synopsis and three sample chapters, and if the powers-that-be are impressed, they’ll request the entire manuscript, and this is what had my wife thrilled, even though I had my doubts. Now my wife isn’t gullible. “It looks legit!” she said, after looking over their website and checking out their covers, many of which are quite professional looking. The company is Olympia Publishers, based in the U.K.
At one point, I thought, “Hey, all the best writers are from there!” Which, for me at least, is true. I went through my shelf, picking out my favorites, originally published in the U.K., like Harry Potter and Cloud Atlas and Never Let Me Go. Yessir, I thought, the British know good literature when they see it!
A cursory look into their company revealed a small press, which rang a few alarm bells. But I rationalized, “Hey, they’re taking a chance on an unknown, so why not give them a chance? Maybe I can help put them on the map.” After all, smaller companies are more willing to take risks, whereas the mega-publishers, like Tor and Bantam, are homogenized, afraid to try new and different things. Ages of Aenya isn’t your typical rogue/elf/dragon story, and I needed a company with the balls to sell it. Then, when I sat down with my wife to print a hardcopy to send to them, I decided to do a little more research.
The thing about scams these days is that they don’t look like what you see on TV. Nobody is going to sell you a box of rocks and run off laughing with your money. Just like consumers, scammers have wizened up. They know how easy it is to Google them before you give out your credit card, and so now we have the soft scam, and the best (or worst) part is, it’s not illegal, because what you hope to be getting is never explicitly stated, only implied. I experienced this in 2000, after exhaustively researching self-publishing, and a company called Xlibris. Now, it’s not as if Xlibris gave me nothing in return for my money. In fact, their print quality is superb, and in some cases superior to many books sold in stores. But the headliner on their website read, “Write your success story!” They imply fame and fortune, but what they don’t tell you is that none of their authors have ever managed it. Could it happen? I don’t doubt it, but the chances are so unlikely, it might as well be a scam.
Olympia Publishers isn’t doing anything illegal, but I put them into a category below Xlibris. At least self-publishing houses have the good graces to admit what they are offering. Small presses like Olympia pretend to allow for success, to do what publishers are supposed to do: promote your writing and profit from readers, but they work in reverse. They ask you to send in a query and synopsis, and after a few tense weeks, ask for the manuscript. If it passes the scrutiny of their editors, you become a published author! If not, there is a second option, a pay to play option. After a little Googling, I found dozens of heartbroken writers tricked by this scheme, who were told they would be published, only to be asked to cover costs of up to 3500 pounds (nearly $5000)!
With the advent of free Internet media, free e-books, and the sheer glut of crap novels making the rounds these days, it must be difficult for any publisher to survive. I wouldn’t doubt whether many small presses started out in earnest, only to realize they couldn’t cut it the traditional way. Inundated with desperate would-be authors and totally indifferent readers, it was only a matter of time before someone got smart and reversed the flow, profiting off of writers instead. After all, making money is all about supply meeting demand, and the demand writers have for recognition is palpable!
Still, it sickens me to know people will profit off desperation, from crushed hopes and dreams. My wife was so visibly shaken by the experience, I ended up feeling worse for her than for myself.
But, what if we hadn’t found any bad press about Olympia Publishers? What if we had been the first to be duped? Well, there’s an easy trick to finding out who’s legit, and who isn’t. Just go to Amazon, under the Book department, and search by Publisher. Olympia has many books listed, so at least they’re not a total scam, but not one of their titles ranks above one millionth in sales! If you want to be ranked a millionth, by all means proceed, but that isn’t any publisher I want representing my fifteen years of passion! Heck, one book was ranked in the 5 millionths, worse than my own The Dark Age of Enya, which is in the 4 millionths! It is an unusual situation when a POD book is outselling a “legitimately” published book.
Being a writer these days is to court insanity and despair. My honest advice to you is: choose another profession, because there is more heartache and disappointment in this field than in any other. Not only do you spend thousands upon thousands of hours working at something without getting paid for it, but the people in your life don’t even consider it a job. Add to that the total lack of moral support from friends and family, and mix in, as a special bonus, all of the scammers trying to take advantage of you, and well . . . that’s the industry. The only reason I haven’t quit, can’t quit, is because it’s a part of me, my writer’s disease. And, god dammit, Ages of Aenya is good book.