Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

James made a post yesterday that got me thinking about the service industry, and in particular, bad service.

And what options we lowly consumers have for dealing with it.

Now, I'm one of those people who alternates between two extremes. I'll either be the doormat, silently seething but outwardly being treated like shit. That is the 'produce of her upbringing Sandra'.

Or I'll go up one side of a person and down the other until I'm sure I've put them in their place.

And then I'll go home and cry because I feel like shit.

But I have very strong opinions about service, about getting what you pay for, about being treated with respect. And I have fought the good fight on more than one occasion.

Like just after Kevin and I got married, he bought me a computer. This was before I converted him to the wonders of Mac's, and he bought me (shudder) a Hewlett-Packard P-O-C.

Within a month, the hard drive had gone. And then again. And again. And each time, I had to schedule myself at home to wait for some boneheaded repairman to try the same thing as last time, which clearly wasn't the problem.

Kev knew what the problem was. He tried talking sense to these idiots. Finally, the computer had to be sent in. A whole month and guess what? When it came back, it still didn't work.

I blew a gasket on the help line and threw the phone against the wall and busted it. At that point, it was all-out war. They finally told me they'd give me a full credit for the machine and to take it to the store where I'd bought it for my credit.

Which was when Office Depot started cursing HP, because that was the first they'd heard about it.

End of the day, the price of computers had dropped significantly. I got a new computer and a new printer and something else for the price of the original. And it damn well wasn't a HP, since the store honoured the credit.

Now, this all brings me to my present dilemma. You now know I can fight an 11-month war. You already knew I can be a bit of a bitch.

Two years ago, I subscribed to For thirty-some-odd bucks per year I have access to their listings of agents, publishers, writing contests and magazines. I get updates of new information. Subscribers can post feedback, which is sometimes very helpful in figuring out if an agent is good or bad or otherwise.

I thought it a worthwhile subscription. Cheaper than the cost of the Writer's Market book, usually not as outdated.

But recent events have forced me to wonder about just who it is Firstwriter panders to.

Magazines, agents and publishers can all post listings for no cost. Great for them - free advertising.

Great for the scammers too, as Firstwriter relies on what the agencies and publishers choose to say about themselves. I have found many postings for publishers and agents that, upon checking preditors and editors, I've learned were swinderlers or Vanity presses.

Of course, my recent situation was born out of querying off of Firstwriter. There was nothing on anyone involved on P&E, so it came down to internet research. Couldn't find anything warning me off there either, so I decided to submit.

And we all know how that turned out.

But what bothers me is that I was looking at some stuff on Firstwriter the other day. A person had made a negative comment about an agent. And the agent responded with a comment of their own. Clearly, checking on the site.

I went to this publisher's listing and found only glowing, positive comments. From people who said they hadn't been offered contracts, but their experience was just so darned pleasant and encouraging.

I'm one to think I'd like to warn people to stay away from a vulture like that press. I'd like to spare people the heartache.

And I can be a bit of a vindictive bitch.

But if I post a comment about my experience, Firstwriter will no longer let me do that anonymously. They post the name and the town and country of residence of the poster.

I emailed about this. They say free speech has to be tempered with responsibility. And that the publisher can't sue me anyway.

No, I said, maybe not. But they've already wasted days of my life with multiple harassing emails and I'd rather not go through that again.

I made a suggestion about balancing the 'anonymity' of the posters and still giving Firstwriter recourse to not post the comments or remove them if inappropriate.

They brushed me off.

All of which has me completely pissed off. They do no research on the companies that list with them. The companies could be out of business, could be charging people for services, vanity presses - whatever.

The subscribers - the writers - who actually pay for the service have to find this out on their own.

And I've found myself turning to the Writer's Market anyway now, to substantiate information about presses and agents.

So why am I subscribing to Firstwriter? I haven't got a bloody clue anymore. I can find listings for most agents and publishers via free websites. What am I paying a few bucks a month for this lack of service for?

I started this off to pose the question to you all - should I stay or should I cancel my subscription? What do you think? Am I overreacting?

And what else, besides notifying P&E, can writers do to help protect other writers from scammers? How do we stop them?

I do think I'll write to Firstwriter and complain about one thing, though. Privacy laws. They shouldn't be allowed to dispense any personal information about their subscribers without consent, so I want my town and full name removed from posts I made.

Yeah, I can be a bit of a bitch... Am I wrong?


JamesO said...

No, Sandra, you're absolutely right.

Being somewhat pathetic when it comes to researching markets and so forth, I'd never come across first writer, but it sounds like what we call a bag of shite over here. It may have started off with good intentions, but it seems to have lost them along the way to commercial exploitation.

I do think that, on forums, blogs and whatever, people shouldn't hide behind 'anonymous' when making comments, especially when those comments are negative. But that's different from saying that they should have to give their name, address and social security number to anyone they dare to criticise. And if first writer won't let you keep some measure of anonimity when reporting your experiences, then their service is pretty much worthless. If they were doing their job properly they would be monitoring comments to make sure no-one was abusive or defamatory anyway.

It's a cruel world out there, sadly. A hundred million wannabe writers makes a big pool for the sharks to swim around in. I suggest you dump first writer, and maybe refer them to P&E as well (another site I'd not come across).

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks James. I actually issued a complaint to them, after copying out their privacy policy which says they won't disclose your information to anyone.

Except, evidentally, everyone who subscribes.

But they also won't give me my money back if I cancel. Pay for the year at a time, its $35 or something like that, but if you cancel you don't get back any money already paid. And I'm paid through to October.

So I'm wondering. I've asked them to remove my personal information from all comments on their site. Now I'm going to see what happens.

P&E should be on every writer's booksmarks bar!

Vincent said...

I find myself suspicious of a service where the impoverished 'talent' pay a subscription, but the businesses do not. Especially one where they seem more concerned with currying favour with the people who use the site for free, rather than the ones who actually pay to keep it running.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You know, I agree Vincent.

And there is a mechanism to filter inappropriate comments. When you fill out a comment form, it goes through a moderator before its posted. I once had them email me back and say I had to reword it so that it was 'in my experience' so that people didn't assume it was absolutely true of the publisher or agent - can't remember which is was now.

So the more I think about it, the less I like it.

I'm waiting to see what they do about my complaint. Since I belong to a few writer's groups and was asked to speak next month on writer's aides, I suppose one know one I won't be recommending.

Boy Kim said...

Now I can't get the damn Clash song out of my head. Thanks!


"Yeah, I can be a bit of a bitch... Am I wrong?"

Did I read this question differently from everyone else?

Sandra Ruttan said...

You didn't exactly answer the question though!

In either context.

Boy Kim said...

Well I wasn't sure which interpretation to answer. Help me here.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Consult your lawyer. See what she says!

Seriously, remember I'm thousands of miles away.

But I won't be in July.

And I know somebody who knows somebody who knows where you live!

M. G. Tarquini said...

I'd dump 'em, Sandra. They've always hit me as being 'off'. With the advent of and combining it with use of google, I can't imagine what firstwriter would tell me that I can't find just as easily on my own.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You're right about that, MG. Agentquery and a search engine are almost all you'll ever need.

Interestingly enough, I threatened to cancel my subscription, and they said nada to persuade me otherwise.

And I've still received no response to my complaint about the privacy laws violation.

So I'm going to wait until end of business today, and then I'm going to cancel my subscription. And tell them I'm deeply displeased with the lack of service to their paying customers.

Boy Kim said...

My lawyer tells me to keep quiet.

I'm beginning to wonder why I pay her so much just to tell me to keep quiet.

Oh I know... because it's so much better when I can't answer her back.

(I so hope she isn't reading this!)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well what can she say? She told you to be quiet.

She didn't say don't type.

Boy Kim said...

But she didn't say do type either. It's a permission thing, you see.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Pay me $100 per hour and I'll let you call me your lawyer too.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...


*pulls hair out*

I left you such a nice comment yesterday and now it's not on here.

I HATE word verification!!!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Okay, you motivated me. I turned word verification off.

Hopefully the spammers won't descend mercilessly on me. Wait a second, what am I saying? I already have Boy Kim...

Trace said...

I don't think you're a bitch. Not even a bit of one. Writers are getting swindled each and every day by these scammers.

Boy Kim said...

What's $100 in real money? If it's what I think it is, then you're cheap (yeah yeah, nothing we didn't know already).

And you're getting your roles reversed again my dear. I prefer to get mercilessly descended upon, not the other way around. Remember?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Boy Kim, keep your positioning to yourself!

Boy Kim said...

Now that would be a neat trick. Not to mention very self-satisfying.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm not touching that...

Boy Kim said...

... which, spookily, is precisely what my first girlfriend said when she saw me naked for the first time.

OK, confession time. I made that up. What she actually said was: oh Kim! How cute. It's exactly like a penis... only much smaller. said...

Sandra's entitled to her opinion, however there are some important points she doesn't mention.

The first thing to note is that she was told when she left the comment that her name, town, and country would be posted. She left the comment anyway.

Sandra also doesn't mention the fact that, in response to her complaint, we altered our entire database system (not an easy thing) so that town would no longer be displayed, according to her request.

Changing the set-up so that users could leave anonymous feedback was even more complicated, but - finally - that was also completed, so users can now leave anonymous comments, just as Sandra requested.

And finally, no, we didn't pester Sandra when she said she was going to cancel, because frankly that annoys the hell out of people. If someone wants to cancel, they should be allowed to do so in peace.

J. Paul Dyson
Managing Editor