Friday, October 28, 2005

I'VE BEEN ATTACKED

I’ve been looking for a good reason to get this blog started (the software has been sitting here unused for awhile), and the other day I finally got one. I became the victim of a vicious and unprovoked attack on the internet!

Here’s how it went down:

I was googling the title of my forthcoming novel “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps,” as I do from time to time, just to see if anyone else is using the title or if word about the book and its contents is gradually leaking out (there have been some mentions of it here and there in various gambling forums), when suddenly I found this ... on a blog called “Miss Snark, The Literary Agent” (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/):


"THE $120 SEMINAR ... AND IF YOU READ THIS BEFORE MIDNIGHT TONIGHT!

A Snarkling commented he'd attended a $120 seminar wherein he was told advances had to be returned to the publisher if book sales didn't cover that amount. I was amused by the idea anyone would actually tell people such an outright lie.

Silly Miss Snark, I should have asked WHY someone would tell such an outrageous lie. And the story behind the lie is this: these seminar producers want you to buy their services. Why am I not surprised.

Here's the link so you can see for yourself: BooksAmerica

I clicked on the title "God Doesn't Shoot Craps" because I realized it's a play on the Einstein quote "God doesn't play dice with the universe". There's a VERY slick opening ad. Then the author makes the classic amateur huckster mistake: he lets you read two chapters free. Well. This man needs an editor. Maybe two. One for his active voice and one for his passive voice.

I imagine this author went to one of these $120 seminars and heard how hard it was to get published. That dovetailed with his experience since I bet he had a stack of rejection letters for that novel. He decided to publish on his own. The seminar leaders then give him a way to sell his book on the web, and better yet, offered fulfillment serives: someone to answer the phone, take the order and ship it. All for a small fee-$375/annually and 20% of your RETAIL price.

Every single time you hear something about publishing keep in mind who is telling you and what their agenda is. If you paid money to hear them, even more so. If they want you to buy more services from them, remember, they aren't providing services out of altruism, they're making money off your ignorance."


Well, you can imagine how thrilled I was to read this! Like I don’t have enough rejection letters from literary agents that I have to get a rejection letter from an agent I didn’t even send the manuscript to! My writing needs two editors? One for my active voice and one for my passive voice? I got your active voice right here, baby.

But wait, it gets worse.

Miss Snark has a loyal following of groupies that she calls “Snarklings.” And one of the Snarklings felt the need to pile on (a 15-yard penalty in the NFL) with the following sniveling post. And when I say sniveling, I really mean sniveling. Wait, you’ll see:


"I felt real pain for that poor man!

I WAS so completely distracted by the word WAS, that between laughing and wiping my sinus riddled eyes and nose (If it doesn't stop raining in New York, they're going to need to come with the ARK!) I only got through about a page!

That guy needs someone to tell him that he wasted his money! (A fool and his money are soon parted.)"


This particular Snarkling was named “Bonnie Calhoun” and her post contained a headshot of herself (but thankfully without the mucus dribbling out of her nose). In her profile, she listed her occupation as “Writer/Seamstress.” Now there’s an unusual career path! Hey, I don’t go to her office and tell her that her hemlines are uneven or her pleats are wrinkled. I’m still not sure what I did to deserve this. Apparently, she doesn’t like the past tense of the verb “to be.” I’m afraid she’s going to have a hard time in her writing career if she avoids this word. It’s gonna take some fancy footwork to keep from saying that from time to time. I wonder if in her other profession she has an aversion to needles and thread?

Then someone rose to my defense – but not quite in the way I would’ve liked. Apparently, “Pam G.” knows me by reputation as a direct-mail copywiter. So she came up with this variation on the “If-you’re-so-smart-why-aren’t-you-rich” argument:


"Don't feel too much pain for him, Bonnie. He's a very in-demand copywriter, specializing in direct mail. I'll bet he makes more than everyone who visits this blog combined.

Copywriters are discouraged from using adjectives, adverbs and ultra-colorful language, but I guess those urges have to find an escape hatch somewhere. :) Maybe the great ad man Rosser Reeves was right, when he said a copywriter trying to be a novelist (and vice-versa) was 'just silly."


You overestimate me, Pam! I’m sure I don’t make more money than everyone who visits that blog combined. Although I’m pretty sure I make more than the Writer/Seamstress. And I suspect that I make more than the literary agent, Miss Snark, too. She seems like she has a little too much time on her hands. I’ve signed contracts with four literary agents over the years, including the “super-agent” Richard Pine, and I haven’t met one yet who had enough spare time to work on a blog! (Hell, I’m wondering right now if I have enough spare time to work on a blog, and I have more free time than any non-retired person I’ve ever met!) Most literary agents are up half the night reading manuscripts. Of course, that’s only because they spent half the day at lunch!

Well, I’m such a sweet and gentlemanly guy (but not on this blog) that I responded with the following good-natured post:


Why, Miss Snark (and friends), you cut me to the quick! I'll have you know that my novel, "God Doesn't Shoot Craps," was represented by one of New York's finest literary agencies (the same one that sold "The Corrections") and was sold to Sourcebooks, a well-regarded independent publisher, for a sizeable ... well, a moderate ... well, a decent advance. Fortunately, they have lots of editors at Sourcebooks so they've assigned one to my active voice and one to my passive voice! Look for it in Spring of '06.


Properly chastened, Miss Snark got back to me right quick with the following olive-branch letter. But the olive branch still had a few thorns on it, because she sorta says between the lines that Sourcebooks must be temporarily insane (after taking care to note that she has some first-name friends there) and she kindly offers to buy the book when it comes out -- but not to go back and re-read the two chapters on my website without prejudice or malice aforethought. I didn’t care much for the phrase “cold splash of water” either, since it implies that I have been confronted with the truth about my talent (or lack thereof):


"Sourcebooks is indeed well respected, and I know Peter and Bethany pretty well by now. If they see possibilities, who am I to argue.

Heck, I'll even buy the book. Let me know when it's out.

And thanks for responding with graciousness to what must have been a cold splash of water."


All of this brouhaha is based on the fact that I attended a seminar two years ago hosted by a small company called “BooksAmerica” on publishing and promoting your book. Silly me, I’m the kind of guy who believes that you can always learn something new from somebody else – even if you happen to know a lot about the subject already. (I spent $5,000 to attend a seminar on direct-mail copywriting last spring – and I learned a lot – despite the fact that, as Pam G. pointed out, I have some experience in the field.)

BooksAmerica is run by a husband-and-wife team from northern California who, it’s true, don’t know a lot about conventional publishing New York-style, but they have a ton of experience with self-publishing and self-promotion. I learned a lot from their seminar – particularly about how to get invited to do book signings and how to make those signings successful. I intend to use that information next spring when my novel comes out. The reason my book is on the BooksAmerica website is because I may need their fulfillment services later on. I have an agreement with my publisher that allows me to buy hardcover copies at an extremely deep discount, and I may need some help from BooksAmerica in selling those (providing a toll-free number, a merchant account, etc.).

There’s nothing nefarious going on with BooksAmerica. They’re a very decent young couple. In fact, when I asked the woman if she could describe her fulfillment service, she said, “I’d rather not do that during the seminar. If you like, you can go on our website and get some information about it later.” Have you ever known a seminar leader to respond to a fat softball like that with such integrity???

The ironic thing is that Miss Snark is just as ignorant and ill-informed about self-publishing as BooksAmerica is about conventional publishing. I can say so, because I have considerable experience with both. Thanks to the internet in general and Amazon.com in particular, there are opportunities in self-publishing that didn’t exist twenty years ago when I had my first two books published by Morrow. In fact, if I ever write another non-fiction book, I almost certainly will choose to publish it myself. But the success of fiction depends so heavily on bricks-and-mortar bookstores (access to which the conventional publishing houses still exert much control), that I was very happy Sourcebooks chose to overlook my execrable writing (and my persistent use of the verb “to be”). And I think I’m going to make them very happy about it, too.

By the way, in a later post, I asked Miss Snark why she thought it was an “classic amateur huckster mistake” to give away two free chapters on my website. But she didn’t respond. I think she wants to get this little contretemps behind her.

“Huckster,” I don’t mind. I’m proud to be a huckster. But “amateur” hurts! Plus, I’d really like to know. Is it a mistake or not? I have a lot of experience with selling books by mail, but this is my first time selling one through the internet. So if anyone out there has an opinion on that question, I’d love to hear from you.

And thanks for reading the first (and who knows, possibly last) entry on my new blog!

Comments:
I skimmed your blog. Don't be offended; all the twists and turns of this story lost me, and I'm not at my best today (Saturday night party the day before), but I did get that you'd been nearly cremated through a series of blog comments, which is like being roasted in a forum. I've experienced this several times.

Don't worry about it. For every person out there that agrees with you, there will always be someone, or two, or three, that doesn't. It's just a fact of web life. Unfortunately, it is also a fact of life that most people have a hard time backing down when they are in the wrong. So don't be surprised when an olive branch has thorns.

Good luck with your book sales. Best way to prove anyone that they are wrong is to flourish at your endeavour.
 
thanks, km. yes, you got the gist of it. and that is indeed the best revenge. (i'm workin' on it!)
 
You might want to look at the start of the thread on my blog before you talk about that seminar as a good place to learn. The Snarkling who brought it up commented that some very basic information was just plain wrong.

Perhaps these folks are good at fulfillment services. I know they don't know much about how publishing works if they tell people advances have to be returned.
 
Miss Snark, what a pleasant surprise! No, as I said, I don't think they know diddly about conventional publishing. But they seemed to know a lot about self-publishing and book promotion. Most self-publishing seminars begin with a long rant against the New York publishing industry. (And there's no excuse for making stuff up when there's certainly enough to say in the way of legitimate criticism.) But you might find it in your heart to forgive them for making a mistake. They didn't strike me as con men at all. In fact, trudging from one adult-ed venue to the next across the country struck me as a pretty hard way to make a living. Hey, Miss Snark, I've been reading your blog and I actually think you're pretty terrific and you're giving out very good advice. But what about the two free chapter thingie? You never answered.
 
Ah, here we are. A better place for this discussion.

Richard, I understand where you're coming from (in reference to the comments you made on Miss Snark's blog). I am coming at this issue from both sides of the fence. I've been through the POD trenches and I'm currently pending publication through a small traditional house -- and I fully expect to shoulder the promotional responsibility myself, regardless. Authors must promote themselves whether they are produced by PoeDunk Press or Random House.

Now, I can't speak for everyone personally regarding the comments on MS' blog, but for me at least, condescension is not the issue. It's damned hard to be successful through POD publishing because no matter how hard you try, you cannot achieve widespread distribution through bookstores.

Yes, some POD houses pay attention to their authors. Many don't. It's the same with traditional publishers. I know quite a few PA (Publish America) authors with a wide range of stories, from "PA ignores my e-mails" to "one of the editors at PA paid for a contest submission for me out of her own pocket."

In truth, the entire publishing industry, including POD presses, is the same. They are concerned with the bottom line, which is written in dollar signs. This is reflected in traditional publishing through the attitudes of offering superstar authors enormous advances while virtually ignoring first-timers; and in POD by putting the dollars before the author.

In both cases, there are still a select few editors who care and will go that extra mile for their authors. That is: very, very few. It's disheartening, to say the least.

Some of the comments made on the other blog regarding your books were certainly out of line and likely stemmed from bitterness--nearly all authors are disgruntled. The published attack the unpublished, the unpublished attack the disillusioned, the disillusioned attack the published. A vicious circle.

What POD publishers should do -- and admittedly some of them, such as iUniverse, do practice this -- is to let authors know exactly what they're getting into and what is and is not available to them when they choose the POD route. That way everyone who goes with POD will be making an intelligent and conscious choice, and not being misled into believing they are on the path to the NYT bestseller list.

By the way, I am not instigating anything personal with you. Just responding to what I see as an avenue for intelligent debate between two people who understand publishing ... likely far more than they ever wanted to.
 
Richard,
I read your comments at Miss Snark's about self-publishing and then read the post here in your blog. Very interesting.
I was curious. How did things go for you with posting sample chapters on your web site? Did you have to discontinue that when the book was released or was there some other reason you stopped? Or, horrors, were they there in plain sight and I missed them?
I ask because I'm considering posting a chapter or two of my work on a web site. At first blush I don't see why this would be a bad idea in spite of what some might say. But I would appreciate any feed back you can give me based on your experience.
Thanks and may the book have much success. Buona Fortuna Ricardo!
 
hey, sole, sorry about the delay in getting back to you. i've been neglecting my own blog. miss snark never answered my question about why sample chapters are an "amateurish huckster mistake." i thought about it a lot and eventually decided that sample chapters are a good idea *prior* to publication, but probably a bad idea *after* publication. once the book is available, you don't want to give too much away ... and I think some people just read the sample chapters in order to convince themselves *not* to buy it.
 
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