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The Dangers of Bad Publishers

Last week I blogged about the different types of publishers.  Well over the last week, mainly the last two days, there is a blog post that is going viral in the writing community.  I thought I would talk a little bit about it, and in this community we all want to learn from each other (even our mistakes).

Mandy DeGeit published a post called “When Publishing Goes Wrong…Starring Undead Press“.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  The language is strong but if this happened to me, mine would be too.  In short, Mandy wrote a story called “She makes me smile” and it was excepted by Undead Press for their anthology Cavalcade of Terror.  Needless to say, Mandy rushed to read her work in this anthology.  She opened it up to find the title had a typo (adding an apostrophe where there shouldn’t be one).  I wish it ended there.  However the editor took out whole chunks of her narrative and even added a very poorly written paragraph.  Not to mention adding a gender to a genderless character.

Mandy contacted the publisher, which is a one man company run by Anthony Giangregorio (who also runs Open Casket Press and Living Dead Press), and she received a very unprofessional response.  One that included vague legal threats.  It appears this is not the only unprofessional issue he has had.  It appears a soon to be released Anthology World’s Collider had some issues as well (read about those here).

Long story short this was a very bad press, run by someone without much skill in the area of business relations.  It is a very unfortunate thing but fortunately writers and other independent presses have risen up to effectively cause some disturbances to Mr. Giangregorio’s businesses.  On the heals of DeGeit’s post, Undead Press announced it would only be accepting submissions from authors living in the United States (DeGeit lives in Canada).  I’m sorry Mr. Giangregorio, nation of residency had nothing to do with this.  Today, as I write this blog, I can no longer seem to find Undead press on Facebook.  Thanks to authors everywhere taking action and declaring this unfair and wrong, we can all hope Mr. Giangregorio doesn’t do business again.  I encourage you to read Mandy’s article and then tweet it, post it, and reblog it until we see nothing more of Giangregorio.

Your first thought might be to steer clear of independent presses all together.  While I can’t speak for DeGeit, I don’t think that was the intentions of her post.  It was a warning beacon to us all to carefully check out an editor and publisher before doing business with them.  I still champion smaller presses, in fact I am starting a magazine of my own, but we all have to be aware of what to look out for when we get ready to be published.  Here are some tips:

  1. Research the publisher before submitting.  See what they publish.  See if they have had any complaints.  If they are a new publisher, that is not a red flag.  Red flags include multiple name changes, no contracts to sign, poor reviews by other authors, and negative ratings on social sites.
  2. You take no risk by submitting your work to a publisher.  Remember, until you sign the contract you can walk away at any time.  If something doesn’t feel right, you don’t agree with wording in an acceptance, or if you just don’t like their publication any longer, you can walk away.  And you should.  No publisher, at least the good ones, want you to commit to something you are not comfortable with.  It is easy to be excited over that acceptance letter, but don’t let your excitement blind you.
  3. Read the entire contract for yourself.  Read every section of the contract word for word.  Look for things that are either vague or overly complicated.  Make sure the contract is something you can live with before you sign it.  If not, ask the company to make changes to it.  If they can accommodate you, or at least meet you half way, most publishers will try.  If they can’t or won’t you can walk away.
  4. Editing is important.  Nearly every contract has an editing clause in it.  It should only allow for punctuation, grammar, and formatting.  There should always be a line in there that says something to the nature of “All other changes must be agreed to in writing.”
  5. Always make sure payment terms are laid out.  When will you be paid, how much you will be paid, and how you will be paid should all be spelled out.  Typically pay times range from the day you sign the contract to 30 days after publication.
  6. When working with a publisher, MONEY SHOULD ALWAYS FLOW IN THE DIRECTION OF THE WRITER.  That means no reputable publisher will ever charge you any fees to publish with them.  Bottom line, no excuses.  They pay you for your talent and that is it.  I can’t stress this enough.  Do not pay a publisher a dime, or even a cent!
  7. Rights is another important area on the contract.  First Print and First Electronic rights are common (meaning your story is first being published with them).  Rights typically last for only 365 days on short stories (with an option to extend say for a yearly anthology).  Anything longer than that seems outrageous to me.
  8. Keep copies of any emails, letters, or other correspondence you have with the staff of the publisher.  This may be very important if something comes to dispute.  Keep a file cabinet for that stuff.
  9. It is not uncommon for an editor to ask for changes to be made.  Usually this is done before acceptance and contract signing (in the form of a rewrite request).  You don’t have to rewrite it and you don’t have to resubmit it to them even if you do rewrite it.  If you don’t like their changes don’t change it.  If requests are done after contract signing, you should be the only one to rewrite your story.  Again, all parties should have to agree to this in writing per the contract.
  10. Know your opt out clauses.  Know certain situation where it is okay for either you or the publisher to choose not to publish any longer.  This could be a mutual withdrawal, such as if publisher and writer can not agree on a change.  Or there could be other clauses thrown in there (don’t sign the contract if you don’t like it).
  11. I may have said this before, but if there is no contract then DO NOT PUBLISH, with them.  Contracts are in place to protect you, just as much as they are there to protect the publisher.

Most independent publishers are reputable businesses that work to help writers reach the goal of being published.  They share the desire to entertain readers.  Every now and then a publisher surfaces that needs to be stopped.  That is when we as writers and publishers unite to keep the problems out.  I have to thank Mary DeGeit for being bold enough to share this and sound the alarm.  I’d like to thank everyone else for taking her story and sharing it everywhere they can.

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“The End” Doesn’t Really Mean The End

So many of you made a point of letting me know that I forgot my weekly blog post this past Sunday.  I didn’t forget, in fact I let my Facebook and Twitter followers know exactly why I didn’t post.  I was finishing my novel.

Of course, by finish I mean putting ### (The End) on the first draft of my novel manuscript.  It is in no way finished.  But it sure felt nice to say it was finished.  I let myself bask in the fact that I had completed my novel for a few days.  And now, reality has struck.  “The End” on paper doesn’t really mean the end.

Many of us can write.  Most of us can write enough to create a short story.  A few less can write enough to create a novel.  But far fewer can keep following though on all the steps after “The End” to really finish a novel (or even a short story).  I’d like to see a few more people reach the real finish line.

When it comes to writing works for publication (even self publication) there are steps you have to take to reach the finish.  I’m going to clue you in on some steps so that you know what to expect after you type “The End” on your manuscript.  I’m new to the Novel steps, but they are the same as those for a short story, just longer (and maybe harder).

Let it Rest

You have to let the story rest in your head for awhile.  That is, you have to forget about it a little.  If you finish the first draft and then start edits the next day, you’re bound to miss things because the ideas and words you typed are still fresh in your head.

How long is enough time?  Well that is really up to you.  I know fellow writers who wait months to touch a short story and years for a novel.  I know others who can wait a week on a short story and two weeks on a novel.  There is no right answer when it comes to time.

For my short stories, I post the first 13 lines (or the hook) in my writer’s group.  I give them a week to ten days to share their thoughts and offer to read the story.  After that I move to my second step.  With this novel, I plan to wait until March to start the next step.  I think it will be enough time for me.  If not, I’ll give myself more time after the next novel.

You don’t need to forget the story as a whole.  If you are like me that could be impossible.  It’s just enough time to allow you to forget enough of the gritty details that you will see things like inconsistencies, grammar errors, missing words, POV errors, and other things.

Self Edit

Next, you will need to read your entire manuscript and self edit.  Check for errors that don’t fit the story line.  Maybe you typed a chapter thinking you’d go one direction and now it no longer belongs in the story.  Perhaps another area needs more development to increase the story.  Go though and edit all these things.  If you find grammar errors, punctuation mistakes and typos fix those too, but that isn’t the main focus here.  They point here is to begin to smooth out the story.  Cutting out unneeded areas, and beefing up areas that need it.  Once you are done with that, you’ve got a second draft.

Trial Readers

Once you are done with that second draft you need some trial readers.  You need someone who will give you HONEST thoughts on your story.  This isn’t likely to be a family member or even a close friend.  No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially not those of a friend.  Friends and Family are best left to read the final product, not your drafts.

This is where a writers group is very handy.  You can get honest thoughts and critiques on your work from other trusted readers who also know a bit about the business.  I’ve planned a blog post for later this month on critiques.  Watch for it.

Now, you are likely to get responses at different times.  One reader might be done in a week, the other might take two.  Since you definitely need to have more then one trial reader, here in my suggestion:  Don’t read any critiques or change anything until you get a response from all your trial readers.  Otherwise you may change something one reader hated, but the other four readers loved.  So save yourself the extra work and go through each critique after you have them all.

Self Edit: Part 2

Look at all these suggestions your trial readers gave you.  Some of them you will find completely useless and you should ignore those.  However, if all the readers point out the same trip up, you might want to fix it (even if you think it is fine the way it is).  But remember, this your work not theirs.   And only you know what is best.

You may really like a scene, but your readers have trouble with it.  Rewrite it then, or cut it.  That is up to you.  But again, this isn’t about grammar and punctuation.  You will be polishing this into a even better story.  Soon, you will have something resembling a third draft.

Proofreading

Unless you made major story changes, it is time to move on to the final draft.  I am a firm believer in four drafts and done (the done being the fourth).  It keeps you out of the endless rewrite circle.  I have a friend who is on their twelfth draft of a novel.  As I have told that friend, that novel will not be published.  They have become obsessed with making it perfect.  It won’t happen.

Now, with my short stories my proofreader is my wife.  She catches most, if not all, my typos, grammar mistakes, and punctuation screw ups.  And for a short story that is enough.

There are proofreading services out there.  I haven’t use any, but I may use one when it come to my novel.  I miss things, and a professional shouldn’t.  Now, some people don’t feel comfortable with that.  It is entirely a choice that is up to you.  I see no reason to do it for short stories.  But, my novel is 67,000 words.  So after my wife reads it she may miss some things.  If the rate is reasonable I will use one.  Otherwise, I am an author that has no money.  I won’t spend a lot on it.

However, no matter how you do your proof reading this is the time to go grammar cop.  Fix all those little mistakes.  Look for those rather then anything to do with the story.  Fix them.  Once they are fixed you have your forth draft and your completed manuscript.

THE END

You are done with your novel, right?  Well not exactly.  You want to see it published.  That involves a lot more work.  It is really a blog topic in itself.  But you have already accomplished much more then the average person who sets out to write.  You have a completed manuscript.  Pat yourself on the back.  Go get a snack, and then start working to get it published.

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Grammar Police

My rant on Grammar Police in Social Networks

I have always found it a bit aggravating to run across the Grammar Police during my adventures on the Social Networking sites I frequent.

First of all, compared to the vast majority of what I have read in status updates and news feeds, the mistakes I make do not come close to warranting the attention of Grammar Cops.  Many of these people, especially the generation coming up behind mine, post words (and I use that term loosely) that are not recognizable as English.

But secondly, and most annoying to me, is that fact that this is social networking.  It is not a college dissertation and type0s are to be expected.  I don’t know anyone that proof reads their tweets, calls in an editor for a Facebook entry, or scrutinizes their Google+ feed.  The fact of the matter is this is Social Networking, it is more about the exchange of ideas and thoughts (and more commonly the way you tell us all that you finished breakfast).  So be happy I didn’t tell you about my last toilet break instead of worrying about my use of punctuation.

Grammar and the Writer

So I can already hear the Grammar Cops saying: “Mr. Flores, you are a Author you should have more respect for the grammar law.”

Well, sorry Officer.  Good grammar is not necessary to be an amazing Author.

I will give you a minute to catch you breaths and pick your jaws up off the floor.

Think about the greatest stories you have ever read.  For me they include many great works by undisputed story telling superstars.  What made those stories good?  Was it the fact that the Author knew the right location for a semicolon?  Or was it the life-like characters, the vivid scenes, the compelling dialogue, and the intertwining plot threads?

If you are any of my English Teachers you probably said the semicolon.  If you are a true fan for reading and story telling, you likely chose the second.

It takes imagination to write a good story.  It takes skillful character building to make them real people.  It takes a skillful world builder to make a planet you have never seen seem like its your favorite vacation spot.  It takes a special talent to develop a plot that does not seem like it was developed at all.  It takes a whole different breed of person to then selflessly hash apart your work to make it reach a publishable word limit.  To remove scenes you are in love with because it doesn’t really move the story forward.  Or to ruthlessly murder your favorite character because his time had come.

The grammar errors can even be put in on purpose, to illustrate a point.  Words may be spelled wrong because as you desperately click away the keys on your keyboard you might miss a letter, or hit the wrong one.  It is part of the writing process.

Grammar Police do have a place

My spelling is not the best, my grammar can always use work.  But, that is why all my stories go though checks by other people.  I even have my own Grammar Cop that looks at my works in progress just to catch grammar mistakes and ignores the prose.  I need them, but when the time is right.

When I have gotten the story just right.  When it is just about to go out to those pesky (but necessary) editors.  I hand my work to my Grammar Cop and she writes me a boat load of infractions.  I pay the fine, fix the mistakes, and send it out.

But when I am on the social networks, writing in forums, or posting on this blog the Grammar Cops can move along.  There is nothing more to see here.

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