a quick rule of thumb," John Scalzi ('Old
Man's War') tells
us in his AOL
blog. "Don't annoy science fiction writers.
These are people who destroy entire planets before lunch. Think
of what they'll do to you."
stayed upright reading it." -- Jane Yolen.
As a reader, in general, I prefer to talk about good books rather
than talk about bad ones. Though the latter outnumber the former
significantly, I think that I speak for most of the readers of this
column when I say that I have a surfeit of highly desirable reading
sitting about my room waiting to be read. But the process whereby
books come into being is of no little interest. Writing is not a
high-paying business. Even the best, the most outstanding writers,
are likely to need employment outside the field of writing to be
able to support a family. Witness for example Ramsey Campbell's stint
working at a Borders. Of course, Campbell mined that experience for
his excellent novel 'The
Overnight'. But for every Ramsey Campbell,
there are literally hundreds, no thousands of would-be writers out
there, working at other jobs and praying for publication, not for
a big break, but any break whatsoever.
While they claim to be a "a well-established
fiction publisher," they follow that up with, "ready to
offer its publishing services to you, the first-time author."
Wait a second -- that sounds like they consider the author a customer.
And that should send out the alerts.
Unfortunately, for many novice authors, it doesn't. Authors who have
been in the biz for years -- and in particular, genre fiction authors
-- easily recognize a scam when they see it and don’t hesitate
to call attention to it. There are threads right now in numerous
discussion boards and on Usenet about scam operations that prey on
novice authors. The old "Come on -- tell us how you really feel" comes
to mind as one reads the acid-tinged rants directed at these unscrupulous
One might imagine that such discussions do not engender a warm feeling
for genre fiction authors on the part of such publishers. PublishAmerica,
under the guise of Authorsmarket.net, made its feelings known.
"As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy
is a lot lower than for all other fiction. Therefore, beware of published
authors who are self-crowned writing experts. When they tell you
what to do and not to do in getting your book published, always first
ask them what genre they write. If it's sci-fi or fantasy, run. They
have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how
to find them a home. Unless you are a sci-fi or fantasy author yourself."
Publishing this little admonition to would-be writers on Authorsmarket.net
proved to be a Very Bad Idea. See John Scalzi's comment above.
Unhappy with this slam on published genre fiction authors, in December
of 2003, James
D. Macdonald put
out a call for submissions to genre fiction authors.
He cited PublishAmerica's claims that it "rejects
80% of the submissions it receives." Macdonald's
idea was to create a deliberately bad mainstream novel and submit
to see if they would publish it. David Kuzminski was there from
the beginning as well. This is a sort of reversal of those hoaxers
who have submitted literary classics
mainstream, New York
publishers, only to have them sent back from the slush pile not because
they are plagiarized word-for-word, but because, the sub-sub-sub-assistant-editor
tells the rejectee, "The manuscript doesn't meet our needs."
white, black & blue.
Macdonald, author of 'The
Kuzminski, and a bunch of other SF writers cooked up a bad,
bad, very bad book they called 'Atlanta Nights'. You can read an
excerpt at Lulu.com,
PublishAmerica's online fiction venue. But then you’d have
to join Lulu.com, and though you can wash your hands afterwards and
you can clean out your browser's cache, you still
can't make the memory go away, no matter how much Philip K. Dick
If you must read some, Scalzi has a couple of paragraphs over at
blog. If you dare. Trust me, it's bad. The entire book includes
a chapter that is repeated, two chapters with the same number and
prose written so deliberately bad that it will make your toes curl.
They submitted it and on December 7, 2004, it was accepted by PublishAmerica.com.
The writers revealed the hoax on January 23, shortly before the book
went to press, and PublishAmerica retracted the acceptance. You can
now look the whole sordid affair up in the WikiPedia, and read more
about it on Patrick
Nielsen Hayden's website.
For me, it's a bitter pill. I imagine that 'Atlanta Nights' was quite
fun to write, even though it may be equally painful to read. PublishAmerica
-- and Lulu.com -- are exposed for the fraudulent operations they
are. But that makes it no less poignantly sad for me to receive emails
from budding writers who have published there, hoping to find someone
who will read and enjoy their book. I wish I had the time to do so,
because I would hope to find some undiscovered gem.
But the fact of the matter is that discovered gems go unsold. You
need only look at the remainder pile at any bookstore to see a year
or so of an author's life waiting to be moved like a can of past-their-date
beans. I'm talking about fantastic, wonderful, literary works and
genre fiction works, the kind of stuff you expect to eventually be
foisted on English students as examples of fine literature -- Thomas
Pynchon and Jonathan Lethem, for example. Every time I buy a new
book, I cast forward in my mind to the time when it is remaindered.
My queue is long enough that I've purchased books new only to see
them show up on the remainder pile before I get a chance to read
We've already arrived at what Stanislaw Lem called 'Pericalypsis',
that is, an apocalypse that has come to pass without anyone noticing.
In Lem's article, he reviews a non-existant book that proposes a
subsidy program to pay writers not to write, to ensure that only
the most driven, the most talented would pursue a career in writing.
Of course, since they’re trying to kill off farm subsidies,
you've got to imagine that they're not going to spring for non-writing
subsidies. And there's no guarantee that the most driven an d the
most talented are all one in the same. But we can, we should dream.
The same discussion boards that host alerts about scam operations
like PublishAmerica also host discussions of "Funny Slush" --
the epically bad submissions to magazine slush piles. But I know
for a fact that in my life, I've sent in submissions that demonstrated
a breathtaking lack of clues to one of the editors commenting in
Slush" thread. Much of the discussion revolves around the
appropriateness of the thread itself.
If I participate, am I talking about myself?
As my very smart wife is fond of telling me, paper has yet to refuse
ink. The screen you read this upon has yet to refuse pixels. And
sad but true, what you are reading is one hundred percent home-brew
self-published at a significant loss to the author. PublishAmerica?
'Atlanta Nights'? Big press, small press? Thomas Pynchon and Jonathan
Lethem? Pot? Kettle? Black? One must wonder at the world of literature
where every word, every page is rendered in black and white, describing
a world where the only black-and-white one encounters is on the
printed page. "Think of what they'll do to you," indeed.