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Thursday, July 29, 2010

You're Never Too Old to Fail

...or to be scammed.

As further proof that, aside from Mrs. Jurassicpork and a handful of kind readers, there is literally no one on the planet who has any use for me except as a source of income. Whether it be my landlord, utility companies, my kids' custodial family, literary agents, temp agencies and the like, my personal worth to them is directly proportionate to my potential for putting cha-ching in someone's pocket.

Take Cambridge House Books, for instance. Some of you may remember that, last May 25th, I wrote a post lauding these people after I got one of their emails and checked them out. The first one or two emails I got from one of their so-called editors, Rachel Trusheim, only further encouraged me.

Then I got around to telling Rachel that, even though I was a blogger, my daily readership could be counted in the hundreds and that, oh yeah, I'd been unemployed for 13 months. Call it coincidence or not, but the enthusiastic letters exhorting me to submit American Zen suddenly got briefer, cooler, terser and far less frequent when Cambridge House Books got wind of my insolvency.

Eventually, when I badgered Trusheim into giving me some resolution regarding AZ, I was told in no uncertain terms that, since I didn't have the marketing potential of a Bill O'Reilly (whom she'd used as an example), I would have to underwrite half the publishing expenses if they chose my book. Otherwise, I was too big of a "risk."

I never got anything resembling any resolution regarding whether Cambridge House's editorial board ever decided on it but perhaps news of my pecuniary state helped speed along their non-decision. By this time, I'd already sent them a proposal for another novel that, officially speaking, still hasn't been acknowledged much less decided upon. That was in late May when I sent it off. I sent Trusheim an email a month later wondering aloud if the fact I was living on unemployment for the second year had anything to do with the fact that her communiques got less frequent than Osama bin Laden's. I'm still eagerly awaiting her response.

Basically, Cambridge House Books (I refuse to link to these con artists and I removed the link in the referenced post) is a scam organization, a gussied up vanity press looking for people who either have money to defray their overhead expenses or have a national audience that will guarantee sales so their publicity department won't have to do as much work.

In other words, they're no different from publishers and literary agencies except for this one crucual difference: Publishers underwrite 100% of the publication expenses and virtually all of the publicity expenses and legit literary agencies get paid by you only after they sell your book. Cambridge House will charge you thousands up front if they arbitrarily decide you're too big of a risk to take on as an author, especially a first time novelist whose name isn't Glenn Beck.

Now, it would be easy to make this a personal gripe but this is an experience that many of us, writer or not, share. My experience is only synecdochal of that of many others. What set me off today on my latest rampage was the email I got from these predatory, opportunistic cocksuckers asking me to give them another chance to help them help me to help them.

My response was so vitriolic, I hesitate to recount even here to my veteran readers what I told them in response this morning but it involved tender orifices and rough sticks.

It's bad enough when literary agents and editors have turned the publishing business into a giant glorified vanity press. It's more self-serve than ever before and, as with temp agencies, they demand experience, education, credentials and a track record that very few of us in the real world actually have.

A couple of decades ago, I sold a slogan to a button company that read, "Fortune Favors Those Who Have One." I was barely out of my 20's when I wrote that but my youthful cynicism had proven to be more justified and timely than ever. Fortune does favor those who have one, as if wealth and or power ought to be self-sustaining, as if one's personal manifest destiny ought to snowball despite limitations of talent and a propensity for prevarication and moral putrefaction.

The bottom line is, if you're poor and obscure, your chances of succeeding at anything in this world is limited to the point of guaranteed futility. Millions are spent troweling out crap like Going Rogue or The Overton Window, books attributed to right wing racists and ghost-written by right wing racists, as long as you have a national platform.

Never mind the fact that their "authors" got rich and are getting richer by scrawling the absurdest conspiracy theories on blackboards and saying "Drill, Baby, Drill!" and "hopey changey" to millions of drooling idiots. The fact is that Beck, Palin and other no-talent brain transplant candidates have gotten the attention of millions of mouth-breathers. That automatically gives them about 100 more legs up in the business than anyone like me. Talent isn't even secondary.

Now, in order to be "qualified" to be a novelist, you have to either have a massive presence on the web, be an acknowledged expert in one profession or another or be a celebrity. Talent is no longer a qualifier. In fact, once editors and agents find out you've never been put between covers, that's usually strike one. The current, short-sighted business models governing publishing and job careers requires spontaneous history despite no one wanting to take a chance on the uninitiated and inexperienced. Temp agencies and actual employers, for instance, are making an official/unofficial policy of ignoring the unemployed just as literary agencies are ignoring the unpublished.

Look at our current political structure. Sometime during the 80's, some fucking genius got it into his head that we should allow millionaires to run for Congress and the White House so they won't be tainted by campaign money.

How's that hopey changey thing worked out for us? The system simply got more corrupt than ever and, thanks to the Supreme Court, will get more corrupt than Tammany Hall's wildest, wettest dreams. Now, Congress and one White House after another is overrun by out-of-touch robber baron sociopaths who don't have any clue what it feels like to have to decide between food or health care, people who have never touched a snow shovel or rake in their lives or had to literally count out pocket change or had to hold back groceries at the store checkout.

Audaciously, we're then blamed for finding ourselves in this hole even when these same naysayers and detractors are the ones who pulled up the rope ladder.
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Anonymous mandt said...
Cambridge House Books? Oh Boy, yes, I know these scammers too. They hired me as an editor and never paid up---one excuse after another and then the dropping off of communications after a hail-hearty come-on. Avoid them like the plague!

Anonymous The New York Crank said...
I don't know where you live, but virtually everything you said in this post is confirmed by two literary agents and one publisher I know here in New York, and by my own experience.

That said, the big publishers (and bookstore chains) are doomed to eternal imprisonment in a narrow niche (albeit a profitable one) if they keep sticking to the the way they do business now.

The future of book publishing a parallel to way blogs have helped doom print newspapers.

That's because anyone can publish a book for next to nothing on the web via Smashwords and other online publishers.

Yeah, you won't get reviewed by any traditional publication such as the New York Times Book Review. And yeah, your sales are gonna be limited by whatever kind of promotion you can do on your own—on your blog(s) for example, or a web-page, or word of mouth.

But you'll get to keep a big percentage of the selling price, and you can name the selling price. And getting 300 bucks for selling 50 books at least guarantees that your book is out there. Besides which, 300 bucks is better than no bucks.

Incidentally, while vanity publishers (including Amazon) almost universally suck, and exist primarily to sell you useless canned promotions, you can also find on-demand printers who can make your book available via Amazon.

The only reason to write these days (unless you're Stephen King) is because you have fun writing. Sell the words off for whatever you can, find a day job that pays the rent, and take courage from the fact that while the publishers and agents have a finger in your eye, you can also stick one in theirs.

Yours very crankily,
The New York Crank

Anonymous Anonymous said...
A quiet little corner that I, an aging heterosexual hillbilly male, has found to produce a consistently high quality of product and the lowest level of violence of any books is the lesbian press.

Struggling, but excellent.