There’s an inherent problem with being an aspiring writer: you’re not all that sure of yourself yet. You have this “Go get ’em” attitude and you want your stories to be read by the public and you hope way down deep inside for that validation that comes with publishing and seeing your name in print. Every writer remembers what it’s like to finish a story you know is good, but then to have niggling doubts nibble at the fringes of your consciousness. “Maybe it’s not THAT good.” That’s when you seek out the approval of others. Sometimes, it’s family. But most times, writers put their faith in the expertise of an editor – be it a book editor or a story editor. If you submit that story enough, you just might get the validation you seek through a contract to publish it. And it feels good.
It feels REALLY good.
The first time I sold a short story was way back in 1996 to Rictus Magazine. It was for my story “I, the Courier,” and it earned me a whopping $5 bucks. It could have been a million. Or it could have been a penny. It wouldn’t have mattered; what counted was that someone had finally read something I wrote and judged it worthy enough of being published. It was a high I’ll never forget. And the Peking Duck my wife and I had that night at our favorite Chinese restaurant was one helluva meal. I never cashed that check, either. I framed it and it hangs on the wall in my office.
So, much like baby turtles squirming through the sands on their way into the ocean for the first time, aspiring writers are somewhat clumsy, mostly insecure, and vulnerable to the sharks cruising just beyond the beach anxiously awaiting an easy meal. Except the predators awaiting aspiring writers aren’t really sharks at all – that would be an insult to sharks – they’re scumbags and sleazeballs and pretty much every other degrading insult you could come up with. Mostly, they’re insecure wanna-be writers themselves who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag, so they open up fly-by-night sham operations and publish themselves. Maybe they make a little money. They get a taste of power. Perhaps they decide to publish an anthology and put out submission guidelines, and then they sit back and wait for aspiring writers to send them stories. Having been rejected themselves, they enjoy the power they have over those aspiring writers. That’s when the nightmares start for the aspiring writers. Maybe they get scammed out of money. Maybe they get treated like dirt. Or maybe, just maybe, they get their story “edited” but it’s not really an edit – it’s a completely different story.
Such was the case with Mandy DeGeit and her story, which was accepted into an anthology by some pathetic schmoe named Anthony Giangregorio. In short, Giangregorio runs an outfit called Undead Press, which was previously Open Casket press, and at least one other name, which is never a good sign. In Mandy’s case, Giangregorio (who is himself also a writer – although probably only in the least complimentary terms possible, as in “learning my letters” given his various responses online) changed whole parts of Mandy’s story without telling her about it and when she cried foul, he proceeded to dump all over her and strut about in full peacock douchebaggery mode. Mandy’s account is well worth reading although I won’t even dream of linking to Giangregorio’s effluence here.
Suffice it to say, I think this guy is utter scum. But therein lies the problem: people like this fermented dung stain exist, and they’re all too eager to take advantage of the desire of aspiring writers to be validated and vindicated for their efforts. It’s tragic, but it’s also part of the world that exists in writing & publishing. So how do you protect yourself?
1. Google: it’s quick and it’s easy. And if you’re going to do business with someone, Google them. Then don’t just quickly scan the first page of results, but get deeper in. This is your hard work we’re talking about. Treat it like it’s got some worth. Go at least ten pages into search results and learn about your potential business partner.
2. The obvious: look at the website of the publisher you’re going to deal with. A quick glance at the Undead Press website shows it’s a mess of cover art that would be better if it had been done by a blind, rabbit ferret with a crystal meth addiction. That alone should be enough to make you steer clear: who wants horrible cover art on their work? If the publisher was making a serious, honest attempt, they’d be willing to invest in superior packaging for their books. It’s that simple.
3. Terms: contributor copies – uh uh. No way. Sorry, I know there are a lot of good people out there trying to be publishers (I tried myself at one point and failed miserably) but if all you can offer is contributor copies then no dice. At least offer twenty bucks – give the author you’re publishing enough to pick up a pizza for the family and celebrate their accomplishment, for crying out loud. Twenty bucks against royalties isn’t that much of a stretch and if you can’t afford to do even that, then you shouldn’t be in business in the first place.
4. Communication: if you communicate with an editor and the editor’s email is chock full of typos like “alot” and “its” when they mean “it’s,” then I’d run. They may not be writers, but they still need to be able to use the English language.
5. Study the business! I can’t say this enough. If you are a writer, it is NOT enough to simply write. It’s not. Those days of being groomed for superstardom by some wizened editor in NYC are gone. Seriously. Stop living in that fantasy world because it simply does not exist anymore. These days, you need to know what is happening in the business itself and then all the other businesses that are tangential to it. How are people making money with content? As writers, we are part of an industry that generates trillions of dollars in revenue. Seriously. The film/TV industry could not exist without writers. Neither could the video game industry. Nor could a host of other industries that rely on content and writers to generate story ideas, news reports, etc. Treat your work with the respect it deserves – and if you hone your craft enough, then your writing will have value to it.
While validation feels great – it is not worth the anguish you’ll feel after being screwed over by someone like a Giangregorio. So do your homework. And only do business with people who are reputable and show some measure of business savvy.