Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Published writers get published; wannabes get exploited

I have long thought that one could write an exposé contending the most exploited group of workers in this country are writers, especially would-be authors. Think of the huge industry there is taking money from people who hope, mostly in vain. They hope that this or that book, this or that course, this or that editor, this or that workshop, this or that magazine, this or that paid-to-read agency, this or that "contest," and, finally, this or that vanity press, will somehow get their manuscripts published, and as best sellers! Ah, the hopes of the millions who wish to see their words in print! The proliferation of blogs is at least partly a result of that wish.

I cannot imagine that Tom Wolfe, for example, purchases a new copy of the WRITERS MARKET each year. But the reference book is expanded and updated yearly and sold for big bucks to thousands upon thousands of aspiring writers, some who have a closet full of older editions. The number of publishing houses who will not consider new authors grows with each fat edition. So do the number of notations that only agent-submitted manuscripts will be considered. Still, would-be authors by the tens of thousands buy the new edition each year and pour over the pages looking for the publisher of their dreams to reject their work.

I would even bet that there are few published authors who subscribe to WRITERS DIGEST. The large circulation figures of that magazine are made up of people who hope to be published, not authors of best sellers, Pulitzer winners, and other writers supporting themselves as authors.

There are other marketing volumes offering hope similar to that of WRITERS MARKET. Countless books with the promises of publication embedded somehow in the hopeful title fill bookstore shelves.

Who buys them? Not published authors! The wannabes fill their shelves with the latest on how to write, how to publish, how to market, etc.

Some struggling to publish have been willing to pay as much as $10,000 for the professional editing of a story they believe will make them famous and rich, in that order. Yes, there are “editors” advertising their services for such fees. No promise of publication accompanies their offer to edit, however. Editors make their money from the hopeful writer. The writer makes nothing. You don’t believe me? Then tell an editor you will pay his fees after you sign the six figure contract as a result, in part, of his editing your manuscript. See if the editor will work for and with you and take pay only after the sale, as you, the writer must do.

There are also books and articles and workshops, almost yearly, on how to write successful queries. How to write an outline. How to develop a plot. How to create believable characters. There was even a book a few years ago on how to name characters. I have come to believe that the best way to get published may well be to write a book on some aspect of how to get published! The potential market for such volumes is, obviously, huge and never ending.

So the "struggling writer," believing in himself or herself, tries everything, spends money by the buckets, and keeps trying and spending and spending and spending as the huge publishing industry, with all its tangental groups and businesses, makes money from the "writers'" efforts while almost never publishing the writer’s work.

There are many "Contests" requiring entry fees! Sponsors make millions and give away thousands in "prizes." Writers are pleased enough with a certificate of participation or one of the thousands of fancy ones mailed to “runners -up” that they happily send a check the next year with a new entry.

Anthologies of the best poetry, or short stories, of 2005, or the like, are announced yearly. And guess what? Enter six short poems (they don’t accept long ones) and likely be notified that one has been selected. There will also be a prepublication order form for a copy of the $75 book which will include your poem. In print at last! For only $75 dollars a book! And thousands of wannabes do it with every scam publication that comes along.

Magazines occasionally buy an article and all the rights to it from a new writer for a pittance or for complimentary copies of the magazine! Editors of poetry journals from the many university presses tell those who submit that subscribers to their poetry journal have a better chance of being selected for publication, and, “By the way, here is a subscription form.”

Many agents charge a fee to read and "evaluate" a manuscript. Those who don't charge for evaluation, charge for trying to sell it to the publishers where they have an "in." And they charge the author for phone calls, copying, and mailing done on the authors’ behalf. No one takes a chance but the writer. If the manuscript does sell, the agent makes even more from the writers’ talent.

Publishers who occasionally buy a manuscript tell the new author their "tentative" and grandiose plans for national marketing. If sales do not take off on day one, the publisher does not increase advertising and send the unknown author on a promotional tour, including television appearances. The company changes those "tentative" plans and sells the small first printing as best it can while looking elsewhere for the next book to publish.

I understand that the system is free enterprise. I understand that publishing is meant to be a money making business, not a subsidy of the arts or a promotion of literature. That does not change the exploitive nature of all who take money from would-be writers in exchange for hope.

And all the while published authors continue to publish. Anything they write. Their later works may be critically panned. The quality may deteriorate. It may be far less literary or readable than that of many unpublished writers striving to be published. No matter. If one is published, then one will get published. If not already published, then the chances are weighted heavily against the possibility of ever getting published.

Millions of unpublished writers collect rejection slips each year. Most may be accurate assessments of both the quality of the manuscript and the chances that it would make money for the publisher.

Some, however, are rejections of masterpieces that could become best sellers, contribute to the fine literature of the nation, and make millions for both the publisher and the author. If only a publishing company with sense and taste and a willingness to promote a new genius would read and accept the manuscript!

My own submitted and rejected stories are good examples.

I would expand on all this to a book-length manuscript, but where could I possibly get it published?

~ ~

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose you are basically right. I did laugh when I got to the end and read that your own stories were good examples of the good stuff publishers are missing. Thanks for the smiles.

12/14/2005 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm laughing with you. Why not post one of your stories and let us decide how stupid the publishers are who reject it.

12/15/2005 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Thumbleina said...

So sadly true, but you made me laugh, as well. Good luck with your submissions.

12/15/2005 8:37 PM  
Blogger unknown said...

thanks for your comment. yeah i agree with 1 of the anonymous, why not post 1 of your stories? would really love to read it.

12/17/2005 11:12 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Imagine! Half those who commented so far want to read one of my stories. Just don't point out to me that the number is two. HALF is so much more flattering.
Maybe I'll post a story sometime. Consider yourselves forewarned. And thanks for asking.

12/18/2005 2:26 PM  
Blogger Willich said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/19/2005 7:35 AM  
Blogger Willich said...

Hi Dana,

I think you have picked up on a very important point. Just a few weeks back I was turning the pages of the Adelaide local newspaper (not a great one I am afraid but the only one published in the city) and a rather large 1/3 page advertisement stands out promising to make you a fortune as a 'new writer'. Of course the catch is that you have to go to the course and pay fees with little real chance of being published.

Seems to be a very sad state of affairs if you ask me.

12/19/2005 7:36 AM  
Blogger unknown said...

hey dana, whats love? how do you define love? how would you know if you have found the right person? ah well...

12/19/2005 11:09 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

I'm not sure how the comment above fits the post, but you ask interesting questions. Perhaps the answer is similar to the one the stuffy salesman tells the person looking at a 300 foot yacht: "If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it."

Maybe that is the way with love. If you question it, want to define it, it isn't real.

12/19/2005 6:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dana: Having had my own great masterpieces rejected by some some obviously unfit publisher, I commiserate with your feelings. It may be, then, that the reward for our literary effort should be the pleasure we get out of writing it...not the pleasure we get out of having it read.
How's that for rationalization?

12/27/2005 3:35 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

The older I get, the more certain I am that the best reason to write is for self satisfaction! Thanks for reminding me.

A favorite teacher/colleague/friend used to say, "Writing is also simply a good thing to do."

12/28/2005 9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did you find it? Interesting read here

3/16/2007 2:36 PM  

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