Sunday, June 22, 2008

No time to read the guidelines?

As the editor of an ezine that publishes crime fiction, as well as the owner of a small-press publishing company, I'm constantly getting queries and submissions from people who would like to have their story or book published.

Of course, I WANT submissions!  I'm a publisher, after all.  There have been a couple of occasions when submissions were thin on the ground, and I despaired of having enough stories for an issue of the ezine.

But recently I received an email submission for the ezine from someone and I was puzzled.  The email had two flash pieces in it, both in a single attached document.  The writer had not included in the email:
  • a cover note of any kind
  • the author's name
  • the titles of the story
  • any prior publishing credits
  • any idea of what the stories were about
  • an indication of which issue the stories were for (as each issue is themed, I need to know this as it is not always obvious and it helps me to read with an eye toward the theme)
ALL those things are stated clearly in the Submission Guidelines, as being required for a submission. I read the stories anyway, as they were flash and therefore short.  They had absolutely no relevance to my ezine at all, much less to any theme.

So, I wrote back to the individual about the stories.  In my email, I asked if the writer had read the guidelines as to how to submit and what was required in the submission.  I also had the temerity to ask him if he had even read one issue of the ezine, to see what the contents are like.

Here is his unedited response: 

"Thanks for looking Tony, this is my first adventure into the world of flash fiction and such and I'm getting battered around a bit. It seems editors in fiction are a different breed. I run 4 publisher sites so I know some of what you go through. But working full time self employed, writing, publishing others doesn't allow for a word to word reading of all guidelines-if I did-I'd go broke since seldom do writers get paid."

Now, this individual claims to run four "publisher sites." What that means, I'm not sure, unless he has some sort of business where he publishes work for others, apparently non-fiction since we fiction editors "are a different breed." I wrote non-fiction for years, and you know, non-fiction editors want you to follow the guidelines, too. In fact, most are notably pickier than fiction editors!

But he doesn't want to read the guidelines and submit according to them. If he didn't have time to read the guidelines, I can almost guarantee that he didn't read any of the sample copies that are available. Of course, without reading the guidelines, his statement about writers seldom getting paid is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it?  I mean, if you submit and don't follow the guidelines, you probably won't get accepted and therefore won't get paid.

What makes people think that they can throw work out there into the world of editors, willy-nilly and without paying attention to guidelines, and survive as a writer? Sure, someone will accept the work on occasion, but isn't it much more intelligent and efficient to target things appropriately? Sure, you can cast your bread upon the waters. But you better be willing to waste a lot of loaves if you do it that way.

Honestly, it just seems stupid to do things the way this person did. If you disagree, please let me know! I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Paying to Be (not See) the Show

On an online discussion group I frequent, there has been some discussion about the relative value (to authors) of attending conferences and conventions. I like them, and I attend them when I can, but the cost of transportation,and the rising cost of attendance at such events has greatly curtailed my attendance for the near future.

One person in the group, who is both an author and a minister, said he was disturbed by the idea of being invited to be a presenter or on a panel at such a gathering, and then being told, "Oh, by the way, you have to pay registration just like everyone else." He compared it to being a visiting or stand-in minister at another church, and not being reimbursed for his expenses, or perhaps even being asked to pay to be there.

In my mind, it's a reasonable statement and I hear you, Reverend! 

I was invited to moderate a panel at a particular crime fiction con last year and was excited about it even though it was going to cost me airfare, hotel and incidentals. I was discussing this with someone else who had attended, and presented, at that conference before, and she asked me about my registration fee. I was surprised, as I thought, as a part of the "attractions" as it were, I wouldn't need to pay a registration fee.  SURPRISE! I was wrong.

I opted not to moderate that panel nor to attend the con.  The registration would have added about $150 to my cost of attendance, but that was not really the point. In large part it was the idea that I had not been told up front that I had to pay registration, even though I was going to be a presenter.  The person to whom I spoke at the con (the organizer) was surprised at my reaction, as though that was the way it is all over.

It's NOT that way all over, and it shouldn't be that way at any con that is well established.  Sure, I understand small cons can't afford to pay the expenses of their presenters or panelists, nor sometimes even their registration fees. (Though why this should be a problem, I'm not sure. A registration fee at a small con usually doesn't purchase any tangibles, so there is no loss as far as I can see.) But large cons such as BoucherCon or LCC are large enough, and cost enough, that they should be able to pay their presenters' registration fees, if not also an honorarium of some sort.  If they can't, maybe they should reexamine whether or not they are popular enough to even continue.

Yes, go ahead and splutter your outrage.  It's alright with me.  It's amazing how often I hear the phrase, "The money must always flow TO the writer," as though it were directly from some sacred tome, yet these cons (who usually disdainfully sneer at authors who stoop to self- or subsidy publish because of the direction of cash flow), don't see it that way when the money is flowing FROM them and TO the writers who are part of the attraction of the con in the first place.

I mean, think about it: if it's a fan convention, the reason the fans are there is to meet, hear, schmooze with and otherwise interact with authors.  If there were no authors present, there would be no fans attending.

If it's a writer's conference, the attendees are there to learn something FROM the authors, editors and agents who are there presenting and on panels.  Again, if those presenters weren't there, the attendees would not swarm the place simply because it's being held in a nice hotel.

In either case, the attraction is primarily because of the presenters.  Why, then, should they have to pay for the privilege of attracting attendees to pay to hear and meet them?  I'm really puzzled by the economics of this!

I haven't seen any sort of event where, with a substantial audience, the entertainers pay to be part of the show (well, unless they have a chance at winning a sizable jackpot, as in a rodeo!)

Someone objected to my statements by saying that "No cons of any kind pay registration fees or expenses for presenters!"

I beg to differ—in the last couple of years I have presented at seven different cons.  Three were for fans, and in no case did I have to pay a registration fee.  Instead, I received free registration and free meals during my attendance.  I had to pay my own transportation  costs, but at least part of the cost was covered.

Four of them were cons for writers, and at two (within driving distance) I had my parking fees reimbursed and did not have to pay registration.  The other two paid my registration, provided me with a nice hotel room and meals and paid a nice stipend to pay for transportation and incidentals.

So, I KNOW it happens.  And it's funny that it doesn't happen with mystery cons, because when I was in a different line of work (computer software) I attended cons quite often, both as an ordinary attendee and as a speaker/presenter.  NEVER when I was a presenter or speaker did I have to pay my registration fee, and most of the time I had my transportation covered.  I certainly don't expect all this generosity from every writing con (for writers or fans) but I don't expect the other extreme, either.

What do you think? Is the laborer worthy of his (or her) hire?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Ethics and Morality of Writing About Evil

On another list to which I belong, we have been having a rather heated debate about the way some crime fiction has evolved over the last few years.  One person, Sandra Parshall, noted that she felt that fiction she identified as "torture porn" had taken over a segment of the crime fiction genre.  There were some people who agreed with her, and some who vigorously denied this statement.  

But the discussion 
went from there to the idea of censorship, 
and then to the desirability of writing sympathetically about evil characters, so they come across as evil good guys.  One of the examples that was batted back and forth was the book about the character Dexter, as in Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

My take on it?  I am not for censorship, within reason.  I believe that the market will naturally select those books that are written about things people want to read about, and the others will fall by the wayside.

HOWEVER... just because one has the legal right to write about something, doesn't mean it's a good thing to do so.  Let's explore that.

If you don't know who Dexter is, here's a capsule summary: Dexter is a sociopathic individual, a vivisectionist whose father was a policeman.  His father, recognizing his son's tendencies, guided him into a position where his natural proclivities about blood could be of use (as a blood spatter tech in a crime lab).  Dexter also, however, sees that a lot of bad guys get off on technicalities and walk, so he carefully stalks these people and kills them by dissecting them... while they are alive.

Now, granted, we want Justice to be done.  And we also know that the Law and Justice are sometimes diametrically opposed.  But is it good for a character in a book or television show to be portrayed sympathetically when he (or she) is patently Doing Evil in the pursuit of Doing Good?  And to take it further, is it a good thing to portray torture graphically in a book or show, simply because that torture is supposed to balance the scales of justice?

Why is the torture, maiming and killing of people for the pleasure of an individual considered to be worth writing about with a positive slant?  And make no mistake—Dexter enjoys his work.  He rhapsodizes, for example, over finding a severed arm at a murder site, where there is not one trace of blood.  You can almost see him drooling, panting with jealousy and admiration for the criminal's ability to work so cleanly.

Let me ask you this: what if, instead of a sociopathic vivisectionist, this person were a violently rabid racist who hates Jews?  Would we still paint him so sympathetically when he hunts down a Jewish criminal who happened to slip through the net of the law, and tortures him or her to death?  Or suppose he were homophobic instead of a racist... could we empathize with him then?

The point I'm trying to make is, we have drawn some sort of imaginary and arbitrary line that says "This heinous behavior is acceptable, even admirable," but I doubt we would accept it if that same character crossed the PC (political correctness) boundary.

I was a drug and alcohol counselor for a while, and I know how cocaine acts on the brain.  It pushed the user up to a new level of high by creating artificial levels of endorphins.  But the problem is, when the user comes down from that high, their normal endorphin threshold has been raised and what was a high before is now closer to normal.  It takes more endorphins to cross that line into actual enjoyment, for the user to feel "normal" so the user takes more cocaine the next time, and the cycle repeats.  After a while, the usual levels of endorphins created by something like a beautiful sunset, or even sex, don't cut it any more.

I have a feeling it's becoming that way for many people with violence, torture and terror in literature.  Readers have become so accustomed to these things by constantly increasing levels of exposure, that it takes more and more to raise even a normal level of adrenaline and horripilation... just like the cocaine addict.

For my part, I feel like it's socially immoral and irresponsible to contribute to that problem.  I am not asking for censorship by any central authority.  But it would be good to see more responsible writing instead of pandering to the baser instincts, and more talented writing instead of titillation.

What do you think? 

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Amazon and ethics

Well, if you are a writer, a publisher or just someone who keeps up with the news in the bookselling world, you know about all the brouhaha that has arisen about Amazon's decision to put the thumbscrews to publishers who use POD (print-on-demand) technology.

To use a well-worn expression, a lot of people are up in arms.  People are shouting, "Monopoly! Restraint of trade!" and marching around Amazon blowing trumpets, waiting for the walls to fall down.  Sad to say, I don't think it's going to happen.

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, although I have played a judge on the stage.  But to me, there is no evidence that Amazon has created a monopoly--after all, there still are other online booksellers such as Barnes and Noble or Powell's.  And as to restraint of trade--well, they don't say you can't sell on Amazon, but rather that you must follow their particular rules in order to have the most-desired selling method.  Even if you don't follow those rules, your books will still appear if carried by third-party sellers.  It all appears to this non-lawyer that what they are doing is perfectly legal.

Moral?  Ethical?  

The problem is, many things that are absolutely, 100% legal are immoral or unethical.  For example, it's legal to arrest a handicapped woman who parks in a handicapped space, with a handicapped sticker on her car... because it's a RESERVED handicapped space.   Or as a security guard in a Target store, you can legally be fired because you quietly and without fuss stop a minor from stealing liquor from the store.

That being said, Amazon has a legal right to run it's business as it sees fit, within reason.  It's the same as with Microsoft (who, we all know, has fought their own battles regarding market share and unfair practices.)  Of course, now I own two Macs instead of two Windows machines, and get along just fine, thanks!

I am not a pundit of the publishing industry.  But to me, there's something inherently wrong in using your muscle to squeeze more money out of companies and individuals, just because you can.  It's not about business--it's about what is right, and what is wrong. 

Just be honest, Mr. Bezos: it's all about the money and the control.  This way, you can either make money twice on a book if it's printed through BookSurge (once for printing and once for selling it), or you can force publishers to kowtow to you and give you a bigger discount than the brick-and-mortar stores will get, so you can undersell them and put more of them out of business. 

My father, a man I greatly respect and admire, said to me once, "I'd rather an honest thief held a gun to my head and took my wallet, than someone steal from me by manipulating the rules.  At least then it's all out in the open."

Like I said, it's probably legal.  The decision on that has yet to be made.  My opinion?  It's unethical, and bad business in the long run.  But what do I know?  

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rain again

The last time I posted, I talked about rain.  I also talked about how we (or rather our goats) were expecting a kid.  Well, it has been raining again, and we also have that kid now!

Sadie was born on February 29, 2008.  (It rained that day here, too.)  Here's a picture of her not long after she was born.

She's growing quickly and is about three times that size now.

It rained last night, too, and stormed pretty heavily.  But that didn't stop people from coming out to see, hear and meet the delightful Susan Gregg Gilmore, author of LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN.  Susan and her husband were guests at the Harris Arts Center in nearby Calhoun, GA.  Susan told us all about her journey to being an author, and how LOOKING FOR SALVATION came to be born. She also gave a brief reading, answered questions and signed copies of her book for her fans. I bought a copy and although I haven't had time to dig too deeply in, I'm charmed by what I've read thus far.


Here is a picture of Susan with Gray Bridges, the Program Coordinator at the Harris Arts Center.  (Gray is the one wearing glasses.) 

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rain, Rain...

Yeah,  I know, I know... it's been a while.

It's raining here as I type.  In fact, after last year's drought, this has been an amazingly damp winter.  I'm not complaining, mind!  I'm glad of it.  Last year's drought contributed to the burnout of our well pump and therefore to the unplanned expenditure of a couple thousand bucks.  But I digress.

Actually, I like rain.  Rain somehow seems to make me more creative.  As I sit and listen to the rain falling on the roof, beating on the window, and pattering on the deck, it relaxes me.  And it changes enough not to become really monotonous--like a constantly varying source of white noise.  

While I sat here this morning, I've gotten three new ideas for stories and made a few notes on each one.  I've worked on a video teaser for a client.  And, I haven't had to beat my Muse with a club to make it happen.  (Good thing, too, because sometimes she takes it away from me and returns the favor.)

On the home agricultural front, our Boer doe, Hazel, is quite pregnant.  It seems Teddy, the buck, managed to convince her of his good intentions and, well, the natural thing occurred. We're expecting her to deliver her kid(s) in late February or early March.  It's a very cool thing, and I'm only hoping that Lara will not be at work when it happens.  After all, she's the nurse, I'm not.  But if I'm here on my own, I'll do the best I can.  We have a "kidding kit" all prepared and in a safe, easily accessible place.

Yes,  I do talk about the mundane, non-writerly things here.  But you see, it's the mundane parts of life that give ideas for stories.  The truth is, if a novel only includes the exciting bits of a protagonist's life, I find it boring.  Give me some of his or her day-to-day events.  Tell me what he had for breakfast before going out and getting shot at.  Tell me the name of her hairdresser and beauty salon, the one she's walking out of as she witnesses a hit-and-run accident.  Make the life of the character real, so I can connect better with him or her.  

Maybe that's why I have a hard time connecting with so many of the shows on TV lately.  I simply can't imagine being that person... I can't put myself into his or her shoes, perhaps because I have no idea what sort of shoes he or she actually wears.

Make some small helpings of real life part of the meal that is your book.  It will make it all the more appetizing for the reader.