Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Publishing, the perils of

This morning I met with a man who is serious about wanting to get published. He’s 83 and frankly admits to feeling a certain urgency.

Sadly, his desire has led him into a deal with a publisher who’s not as squeaky-scrupulous as we’d like the world to be.

We talked about what he’d done and what he’d committed to by signing their more-complicated-than-necessary contract. Turns out they hold exclusive copyright on his work for the next seven years.

Chances are, when it comes to my friend’s poems, this doesn’t mean a huge whole lot. However, there are people for who it could have meant the difference between sweet diddly-squat and a fortune.

Consider The Celestine Prophecy. Anyone who’s made it through its 200-some pages probably won’t proclaim it great literature. It ain’t. But the message it contains is one that millions of people apparently needed to hear, as it sold and sold and sold.

Its author, James Redfield, self-published the book. By word of mouth and assorted networked ripples, the book caught the imagination of enough people that a commercial publisher decided it would be a worthwhile investment. As it turns out, the book sold millions and was even made it into a feature film.

Had James Redfield self-published through the company my friend’s dealing with, he’d have been out of luck when the big publisher took notice and wanted to buy his manuscript. That seven-year clause would have meant the shall-remain-unnamed publisher would have been the one to make the fortune that should have rightfully gone to the author.

Not all self-publishing companies operate this way. Many are legitimate enterprises that respect their authors and don't take advantage of them. The photo on today's post shows a number of self-published books in my collection. They range from the very professional (inside and out) Sixty-Five Sunsets to a couple of spiral-bound productions to the tiny, purposefully homemade look of books I bought from a street busker in San Francisco. And oh yes, The Joy of Cooking. Like James Redfield's book, it too was originally self-published.

Nor are all poetry ‘contests’ scams. But there sure are a lot of miserable characters out there who prey on unsuspecting writers who believe it when they're told their poem is going to win the Nobel Prize or their book is going to be the next bestseller on the New York Times list.

Good information about publishers and publishing is available. Here are three good links. The first is specifically for poetry, the links page at the League of Canadian Poets’ website. Explore the links there to find out about contests and other publishing information.

The Federation of BC Writers also offers links to an extensive list of markets and legitimate contests.

And a great site that lists questions to ask yourself if a publishing offer sounds too good to be true (it probably is) is one presented by Writer’s Digest.

But don’t put that pencil (pen/keyboard) down. Happy writing!

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