Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Rant: Everybody Loses to Preditors

Unfortunately, we authors all look as if we just feel off the tail end of a donkey cart. Once an American merchant in Acapulco told me I had "creampuff" written on my forehead so, obviously -- though I've been around the publishing track a few times --I can be as gullible as you, the reader who believes a review, or that new author who is offered what they most want but for a price. Those few treks around the track put me in a position to warn you and I'm not feeling like mincing words.

Because I'm so ticked off, I'm going to leave out the name of an offending bookstore because I don’t much are for slash and burn tactics. I suspect their heart is in what they are doing. Still, when I see an ethical lapse--intentional or not--no more creampuff. Here comes Napoleon.

At first I was pleased that there was going to be a new bookstore out there that welcomed all authors. You know, someone who judges a book by its contents, not its cover or the press it's printed on. The concept was so novel it got a write up in the LA Times even though the bookstore is in New York.

The story noted that this bookstore even had a patio at the back where they would welcome new self- and subsidy-published authors. OK. In New York that patio is going to be used (comfortably) possibly 30 days out of the year but that's another story.

I'm going to be in New York for Book Expo America so I asked Star Publishing's marketer extraordinaire to set something up for me. You may know Janet Elaine Smith, the author of Promo Paks. She places books in bookstores and arranges for events for Star authors who pay an additional fee for the service. So, this new bookstore was a new opportunity, right? This is what she found out:

This bookstore is sooooo author-friendly they are perfectly happy to charge authors $300 to put their books on their shelves. I guess you could call it turnkey money (or a bribe). Then the author supplies the books and the bookstore takes approximately the same percent to sell them as most bookstores do. And then those authors who have obligingly forked over their money will be considered for an event, but--of course--not at BEA time because this bookstore has so many takers ("takers" can be read as "a sucker is born every minute") that their spots are used up for the entire time the tradeshow is in town. Oh, so when would they offer their hard-working, hard-paying client-authors a spot? Perhaps in August when a half-block walk requires flat shoes and no-shrink cotton garments to acoomodate the . . . .ummm, moisture?

Another bookstore in the LA area wants a mere $25 to join the ranks of their authors who they then allow to sign books on the sidewalk in front of their store and take a table at some communicty book fairs. Yep. Lucky to sell, two books but at least there will be an evening breeze in this part of the country. (Yes, I know my prejudices are showing.)

This tendency to stalk the innocent is everywhere. In the old days, radio stations sold ads. With the proceeds from those ads they paid their hosts and some of their guests. So, Okay, If they didn't always pay their guests. At least they didn't charge them to appear. It was sort of a trade. Author comes to provide newsworthy and smart content for free and they get exposure in return. That was not such a bad trade. That kind of trade still being made. But there are those who also charge the host rather than pay him or her. Then the host charges the guest (that's you, dear writer!) And then you get to promote the show for them as well. If an author wants to do this under these circumstances (either become a or appear as a guest) it's their own decision, but they should at least know there are other, more journalistically acceptable and... ahem, cheaper ways for it to be done.

In the old days (back in the days when journalism was journalism) critics reviewed books and were honest about what they thought because they got paid by the journal they were reviewing for. Oh, yeah, they also got a free book. Now reviewers are expected to review with no pay and authors try to get them to take an electronic copy to save money. I understand, but, hey! Reviewers are writers, too. Everyone needs a paycheck of some kind!

Then along comes reviewers who decide they're tired of writing free and start offering to review books as if it's a service. That even includes the venerable review journal, Kirkus. So the poor author--probably a newbie -- gets taken again. He pays a reviewer to give him a review he hopes (but isn't promised) will be favorable. Everyone loses here. The reviewer has no credibility (even if he gives a bad review). The journal comes off looking like a panderer. The reader loses because she doesn't know who to believe. And the author has paid for something with no value at all for all of the above reasons.

And then there are the agents with no Rolodex. They have begun to swarm around unsuspecting authors. They'll represent your book though they have no contacts in the publishing industry. They'll represent your book if you pay them up front. They'll represent your book if you'll let them (or someone who gives them a kickback) edit it and that person is likely to be no more than a typo hunter. Whew!

Is everybody out there -- readers, writers, and publishers -- just bloody tired of all this?(Apologies to you Brits. We Americans think bloody sounds jolly angry but no more!)

I'm damn tired of this and won't take it anymore. No!! I won't pay you to stock my books or be my agent (unless you follow the age-old 15% of sales rule) or will--well . . . .you get the idea. Or, at least I hope you do.
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson comes from the old schools of journalism and public relations. She studies both subjects (University of Utah, University of Southern California) in the days when ethics courses were required. In this case, being hoplessly old-fashioned made her into THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER. She teaches courses in editing and marketing for UCLA Extension Writers' Program.

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