Friday, September 22, 2006

Is My Publishing Contract A Scam?

There are only a matter of inches of distance between your head and your heart, but it take be a hell of a lot of pain to bridge the gap between what you know theoretically and what you understand from experience, or what you really know.

I’ve experienced a lot of bridge building lately.

There has been so much stuff going on with Spinetingler and Killer Year that my creative juices have been tapped. I haven’t had the energy or enthusiasm for much, to be honest.

And there was another situation I was facing, that meant no matter what, today just wasn’t going to be a happy smiley kind of day. Some of you know about our legal battle with the energy company over our mineral rights, because they’ve been stealing the natural gas reserves we own from under our property. Well, we finally (only something like 17 months along) worked it out to sell, and now the bank has an issue.

Just understand that I already wasn’t in a great mood, and I won’t be around this morning, because I’ll be biting my tongue off while I smile nicely at some arrogant bank manager.

Setting the bank issue aside, I was actually starting to feel a bit better. Monday will be hell, as JT and I work to get all the Killer Year press releases out and I finish the Killer Year press kits, then pack for B’con, but otherwise, I was finally starting to feel like I’d caught up.

Only to find myself coming face to face with some slanderous inferences about me online. Now, it’s been pointed out perhaps I should ignore it instead of drawing attention to it. I have to say this isn’t the first time it’s come up. I’ve ignored and ignored and ignored. It’s just the first time my name has been dragged into it, and I’ve got to get this off my chest.

But first, I’d like to point out that things seem to go in a steady pattern for me. Something good happens, something bad happens. And recently, something very good happened – I had a phone call from the delightful Robert Fate, and he gave me this blurb after reading Suspicious Circumstances:

“Sandra Ruttan’s Suspicious Circumstances soars. It is complex, exciting, and elegant. In musical terms, it’s listening to Bach. I’m in love with Lara Kelly, the smart, strong, vulnerable protagonist. Her detective lover better move fast or I’m in there. A gripping adventure, a large cast of marvelous characters, and twists that follow turns. Read it. You’ll love it too.”

Robert Fate, author of Baby Shark

And if you haven’t heard of Robert Fate yet, you will. JT Ellison recently reviewed Baby Shark and declared: There are very few books that I read these days that take my breath away -- but Robert Fate's BABY SHARK is one of them. It's certainly the best book I've read this year, and possibly one of the best I've ever read. That may sound like overblown hype, but believe me, this is an amazing debut.

And this amazing author had some praise for my debut effort?

I tell you guys, when I got that, I cried. It was one of the few moments along the way when….Well, I knew someone else believed in what I could do. Every time I get a blurb, it helps. I’ve been really nervous about asking for blurbs, and haven’t asked a lot of people I know, so to go through all the anxiety of working up the courage and asking someone to consider reading the book and then they do, and they like it… Amazing.

But, as seems to be the way for me, high was followed by low – Kevin’s car died. Then another high (stuff I can’t disclose just yet).

Then another low, with these statements.

Sandra Ruttan is an interesting case in point…. She's "published" by this
company…* After numerous statements about my publisher, the anonymous commenters ask, Are there really people out there stupid enough to fall for shit like this????

Let’s address a few points here. If you refer to my interview with Lynne Patrick, who founded Crème de la Crime, you will see that they launched their company with a contest that charged a £10 entry fee. They received over 600 entries, from which they selected 20 with promise. The 20 were offered editorial support in exchange for signing an agreement to give Crème de la Crime first option on publishing their manuscript, but if CDLC passed on it, they could take it elsewhere.

Crème de la Crime has been in the business three years, is bringing their books to the American market now, and Lynne has been invited to speak on panels, including where I first met her, at Harrogate Crime Festival. She is well respected and runs a credible business.

So, the $5 contest entry fee my publisher charges is hardly criminal. These anonymous accuser also fail to note it’s optional. Nobody has to pay anything to submit their manuscript.

My own reasoning was that if I paid to print off my manuscript and mail it, it would cost far more than $5. I decided to submit it for the basic assessment.

I didn’t think about winning the contest for best fiction.

There are a number of people who have deals with my publisher who didn’t win a contest, either. They were offered contracts based on the assessed merit of their work. Not everyone who submits is offered a deal. It’s publishing.

It is true that there is an editorial feedback option you can pay for. $30 or so – I didn’t pay much attention because I wasn’t interested. Your manuscript gets assessed faster, and you get editorial feedback. This, again, isn’t unreasonable, per se. It is something that a lot of places do. It doesn’t make them a book doctor – they make no commitment to publish those books, and there are places that charge far more online. I do know I never paid for it, nor was I encouraged to do so.

I know in fall of 2005, when I entered the Opening Pages competition, I paid £12 to enter and get editorial feedback. The winner of the competition got a publishing contract. I made the long list. I got the feedback I paid for. Although they had initially stated long-listed authors would receive additional feedback and short-listed authors would receive a manuscript evaluation, I never got anything beyond what I paid for. I was a bit pissed off about that at the time. I heard some negative stuff about the short-listed people having to argue for that critique, but did it make them a vanity press? No. Why? Because they publish all kinds of people who just submit their work. They have a contest – lots of publishers have contests to find new talent. Sometimes, it’s a way in. People pay to enter the Debut Dagger, and they have no guarantee of being published. I know the CWA has credibility, and don’t question that. What I’m saying is, on the face of it, charging a contest entry fee doesn’t make you vanity, a scam or mean you’re taking advantage of writers.

Now, the paid-for reviews. That, again, is not something that necessarily applies to anyone being published by my publisher. Let’s look at this objectively. I have Spinetingler. We publish reviews. We will not publish a review of my book in the ezine, because I don’t think that would be right, even if one of the other reviewers submitted it.

On our online review site? I don’t know. We get a lot of submissions and I don’t monitor them– Andrea Maloney does, and she does a fantastic job.

Spinetingler averages 8000 downloads an issue, plus online reads. We’re optimized. Type ‘Mark Billingham review’ into google, and the review I did over a year ago comes up #2.

Not too shabby.

Would I charge people to be reviewed in Spinetingler? No. Never.

Would I pay anyone for a review?

No. Never. I’ll come back to this.

Now, all of these things are separate, but they’ve been pulled together to make some big conclusions, namely that my publisher charges fees for publishing and reviews and handles that for all their authors and is a scam. It makes it sound like, in order to be published by them, you’re obligated to pay all these fees.

I certainly wasn’t. In fact, I didn’t know about the paid reviews until I read someone criticizing it online, elsewhere.

This is what I know. I paid $5 to enter a contest. Didn’t bug me – it was cheaper than paying to print the ms and mail it. I won best fiction. I have an award. They sent it with a card and a t-shirt.

ARCs of Suspicious Circumstances are already out there, making the rounds. Next week, I’ll hold one in my hands for the first time, at Bouchercon. (So, no, Kevin won’t be there to see it or take a photo. Just another moment that will come and go in this process, essentially unmarked.)

Some promotional material is being printed for Bouchercon.

And I haven’t paid for any of it.

Nor would I.

I’m not a fucking idiot. I had the contract checked by people I knew in the business. People who live in New York and London. People who were willing to put their names behind their commentary directly to me.

Preditors and Editors gave my publisher a bad rap, and told me it was because they didn’t like the percentage they took if they sold movie rights. I found it incredibly hypocritical, because another publisher P&E recommended on their site takes 100% of those royalties, something I knew because I know an author who was under contract with that other publisher. Facts I pointed out to P&E and here, on my blog, way back in Feb/March, for anyone who’s interested in reading all about it. And, as one author told me, it was a bit of a red herring, since movie rights are rarely sold anyway. Certainly not a reason to turn it down if that was the only concern.

My publisher’s website is geared to writers, not readers, and I’ve received multiple email complaints about it. What can I do about it? Sweet fuck all. And if I put my honest opinion on it in writing I’d be in deep shit, but….

As far as I can see, nobody is paying for the reviews, so having that on the site is only hurting their credibility, not earning them any money. (And it’s just a bad idea all-round. If it had been on there when I signed on… well, I might not have taken the contract. Who can say now? Hindsight is 20-20.) If you lack credibility in this business, you won’t get serious writers. You won’t get the next real talent. End of the day, publishers need to make money. That means they need to find the most marketable books that require the least amount of editing in order to be strong sellers and get them out there, but the website should be about the books they publish and the front page shouldn’t read like a recruitment message. When the books are selling and the publisher has credibility they don’t need to advertise for authors – they’ll have more than they can handle submitting work.

I mean, when I go into Sears, if they hand me a leaflet telling me how nicely they treat their staff, do I care? Where’s the garbage? is what I’m thinking.

But in all of that, when a publisher is starting out, they’re looking for writers. That’s been the focus. Whether I agree or disagree with how they manage it, this is a professional relationship. I have a contract. When I fulfill my contract, if they aren’t happy with me they can show me the door. If I’m not happy with them, I can walk off. That’s reality – we’re both assessing each other all the time and our future business relationship depends on both of us being happy. I have all the material I’m obligated to give them first look at done already. I could fulfill my contractual obligations tomorrow, short of final editing, and start taking fresh material elsewhere.

But my energy is where it should be – on doing what I can to make SC’s debut a success, with the support of my publisher behind me.

What matters is what’s in my contract and whether it’s legitimate. I’m not self-published or a vanity author, because I’m not paying to be published, and as I’ve established, the contest fee I did pay for is well within acceptable industry standards.

The distribution is Ingrams (I talked to bookstore owners about the distribution before I signed as well, and made sure there was a return policy in place), the other authors have their books on bookstore shelves, they have books on amazon - more than one book, I might add. The books are on Barns and Noble. An the books are on Chapters Indigo - type in Ronnie's Rotten Recipes - for some reason the direct link wouldn't work in blogger.

Less than six months from now, my book will be out. It will be available for purchase. It has an ISBN number. I’ve edited the hell out of the book. I’ve got blurbs - seven, from authors and reviewers already. I have people committed to reviewing the book.

I’m a founding member of Killer Year.

And I get an email that leads to the heart of an accusation that I’m nothing more than a wannabe hack who’s fallen for a scam.

You know what I find myself thinking about these anonymous accusers? I wonder why they don’t have the balls to sign their name to their statements. Could it be that they know they’ve just got a personal ax to grind, with me or my publisher?

Then I wonder if it’s anyone who’s ever submitted work to Spinetingler, who thinks they might be so smug that they’ll be sweetness and light to my face and stab me in the back when they think I can’t know it’s them.

I’ve had that a few times. There’s someone who’s posted nasty remarks on old posts on my blog. Anonymously. They think I don’t know who they are, but when you know a few things about them and the internet, it isn’t hard to track a blog post to… let’s say Oregon, for example. Not hard to collect enough evidence that you could report them for harassment to their ISP any time.

Forgive me for a being a wee bit bitter. I’ve worked my ass off for Killer Year. I work hard for Spinetingler. And I’ve worked very hard on my book.

Just to have to deal with shit like this?

If people have a negative impression of my publisher and use that as grounds to infer I’m not being legitimately published, it’s slander. This is 100% about defending me. If anyone wants to do an audit of my finances to prove I didn’t pay to be published, bring it on. I have nothing to hide. Unfortunately, though, just the accusations can be damaging and undermine my credibility. Maybe it makes people feel powerful to try to hurt others and their career from an insulated ‘anonymous’ vantage point.

Sadly, I come away from this feeling, again, jaded.

And I wonder how many people will be so petty that they’ll post trash reviews of my book on amazon, just because they’ve got nothing better to do than run around criticizing things? Or they don’t like me, or my publisher. Or they were rejected by some press and I’m a convenient target. If these people had been interested in facts, they could have come to me at any time and asked questions, as many people have. If people really cared about me and wanted to make sure I wasn’t being taken advantage of, they would have come to me.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, businesses can change over time. Not everything in place now was there eight months ago.

Look, I get it. I’m screwed. I may as well quit while I’m ahead, because this is going to tarnish my career forever, right? It’s got sweet fuck all to do with the writing and the book – some people will be against me just because they don’t like the publisher.

And there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.

Bottom line is, nobody is obligated to pay my publisher a cent to have their work assessed or to end up with a publishing contract. There is a difference between being offered to option to pay for a service if you choose, and being obligated. I 100% get why people are bothered and have concerns, but it isn’t like publishers that do a bait and switch and tell you you’re getting a deal and then they send you a bill.

And believe me – when I try to send feedback to writers when we reject their stories for Spinetingler and they argue with me, I wish it was a paid-for service. Makes me feel like an absolute idiot for investing my free time, trying to help people improve their chances of getting published.

I’m sure when I get home later, I’ll have some unpleasant emails to read. Yippee skippy. Happy Friday everyone.

Spinetingler Update.

The numbers were strong, so as of Monday I wondered if we’d make 6000 downloads by Friday.

We did it Wednesday. 6277 by Wednesday night.

Thanks guys.

Deletta sent me this joke. I’m so thankful for friends like Deletta, someone I’d never worry about turning my back on. Proof that there are still some wonderful, decent people in the world.

It was entertainment night at the senior center and the Amazing Claude was topping the bill. People came from miles around to see the famed hypnotist do his stuff. As Claude went to the front of the meeting room, he announced, "Unlike most hypnotists who invite two or three people up here to be put into a trance, I intend to hypnotize each and every member of the audience."

The excitement was almost electric as Claude withdrew a beautiful antique pocket watch from his coat. "I want you each to keep your eye on this antique watch. It's a very special watch. It's been in my family for six generations."

He began to swing the watch gently back and forth while quietly chanting, "Watch the watch, watch the watch, watch the watch..."

The crowd became mesmerized as the watch swayed back and forth, light gleaming off its polished surface. Hundreds of pairs of eyes followed the swaying watch, until suddenly, it slipped from the hypnotist's fingers and fell to the floor, breaking into a hundred pieces. "SHIT!" said the Hypnotist.

It took three days to clean up the senior center.

Tomorrow: On the road with Stuart in his Marauder. We have a photo!

* link


Daniel Hatadi said...

The publishing world is getting tougher every year, probably because people keep having more damn babies that end up being writers.

So the road to a published novel or for that matter a writing career is an ever changing one. The rules of the past are no longer the only ones that are valid.

I don't see any problem with what you're doing as long as you write the best you can and sell megatons of copies. Which the Killer Year family (mob? mafia?) should help along greatly.

Sandra, you have plenty of good people behind you, and I'd like to think I'm one of them (not in any kind of rude way, of course).

Keep powering on.

J.B. Thompson said...

As my dad used to say, "illegitimis non carburendum," my sweet little sister. It means, "don't let the bastards get you down". Someone else can come along and correct my spelling, but you get the idea.

Anyone who makes nasty comments anonymously is a COWARD and an insecure git whose only recourse is to try to make himself look good by making others look bad. Yes, this is a tough business, but has this person worked as hard or accomplished as much as you have? I'd bet not. If so, why don't they have the temerity to sign their name to their insults and lay their own reputations on the line rather than trying to smear those of others who legitimately deserve the accolades and recognition? Jealousy, baby, that's what it is. Pure, unadulterated jealousy.

You just blow it off, kiddo. Your friends know how terrific you are, and we'll shout it to the world so loud these insignificant yellow-livered vermin will never be heard.

So there.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh, man.

There is this tendency among groups of writers, such as communities, to hone in on one single aspect of any company, whether it's publisher or agent, and pronounce it "scam!" on that basis. Then, there is a ripple effect that spreads across the Internet, over forums and blogs and message boards, until everyone is shouting, "SCAM! Burn them! Stamp them into oblivion!"

Sound (Salem) familiar?

Worse, the instant one single "successful published author" casts aspersions on a publisher or agent, all the writers desperate to look smart and agree (just in case, yanno, said published author wants to give them a referral or something) jump on the bandwagon.

I have seen legitimate companies torn to shreds on message boards. The publishers or agents in question have often come to defend themselves. Some just dug themselves in deeper, proving that they were indeed the scam they had been accused of, but others -- no matter how many logical, rational point-by-point arguements the posted, some idiot would counter with, "Yeah, but do you wear low-heeled black pumps (or something equally not germane to the discussion)? No? Then you're a SCAM!!!"

Don't let it bother you, Sandra. It's the hive mentality at work.

Bill Cameron said...

Well, first things first. We'll get a good picture of you for Kevin, holding up your ARC for the first time. I got a pretty nice camera, and while I don't always know what I'm doing with it, it takes damn fine pics! Won't be the same as him being there with you, but at least we'll do some something to capture a piece of the moment if we can.

I've never understand the mindset of people who feel like they need to pick a fight just to pick a fight. What does this particular "anonymous" poster hope to gain? A leg up on the competition? Or is this one of those sad people who can only feel good about themselves when they're trashing someone else? Is there a pettiness gene, or is this kind of behavior learned? Nature or nutjob?

Honestly, I think your positive reputation -- Spinetingler, the hard work you're doing for KY, etc, -- will outweigh the trash talking. And there will always be trash talking. You already have friends and supporters, and when the crap starts flying, whether it's Snippy McSnippington hiding behind the word "anonymous" on your blog, or someone who amuses themselves with negative reviews at Amazon, we'll have your back.

Good luck at bank!

Bill Cameron said...

Good luck at THE bank, even. I must have been channeling my inner cave man in that last post.

Susan Flemming said...

Sandra, you know that you've done your research and you made a considered and informed decision.

There is so much more I want to say, but I cant' seem to get the words to come out right... but this is one aspect of the blogging world that I just hate... it's comparable to the vicious gossip spread by small town busybodies, only on a much larger and hurtful scale.

Your work does and will continue to speak for itself.

Lisa Hunter said...

Sandra, don't worry about the naysayers. You've done a fantastic job of positioning your novel to take off. Spinetingler's popularity and the ingeniousness of Killer Year are going to help make your book a big success. Oh yeah, and you're a terrific writer too.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Daniel, not in any rude way? How dull. ;) Seriously, I appreciate it. I'm waiting for the day I can nominate you for Killer Year.

JB, I know what you mean about anonymous comments. One of the things I love with forum fights is how when someone doesn't like something another person says, all of a sudden a whole bunch of "new" posters show up.

Only they all make the same grammatical and spelling errors.

Bill, really, we don't need photos. We don't need to break any cameras! And you're right about trash talking. I've always known a certain amount of it was coming. There's been plenty said online, much of which I choose to ignore, but this time my name was brought into it.

Oh, and the bank was.... well, the guy was really nice. That's something.

Susan, I appreciate what you're saying about the online gossip. It makes me hope I never find myself guilty of passing rash judgment, yet I know I do. I just always sign my name to it. Still, the support and encouragement means a lot to me.

Lisa, thanks so much. What are you - days from your book launch? You must be so freakin' excited!

To all: I wrote this last night, before I went to bed, tossed and turned and got up and exchanged more comments at Lee's. So, I want to make it clear. My frustration was with anonymous commenters, not Tod, David or Lee, all of whom have raised solid points with legitimate concerns.

angie said...

You're so awesome. I'm really looking forward to your book coming out next year. Here's to good writing & better people.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Angie! :)

anne frasier said...

i'm guessing this is the same fool who was flinging pretty much the same shit several months ago. i suppose the jealously level is growing as spinetingler's popularity rockets and your release date draws closer. there is some real desperation to such a public display of idiocy. i can almost see this person pacing and ripping out his own hair in an insane frenzy. i hate that you are the target of such maliciousness.

Andrea Maloney said...

Don't worry about it Sandra. Some people have nothing better to do than bash someone when success comes their way.

It's the price that, unfortunately, comes with putting yourself and work out there. And to do it anonymously pretty much voids anything they have to say. If you can't put your name to it you shouldn't even say it.

Steve Allan said...

Fuck 'em. You know, in the rude kinda way. :) Then eat some squeaky cheese.

Julia Buckley said...


You are one tough cookie. I think if someone bashed me for no good reason I'd want to call the police and press charges. :)

However, I'm here to sing that Fear song with you if you want. Go ahead. Download it now. Do it. It will feel so good to sing it and dance around your house in a ritual of cleansing.

And my two cents on people who feel the need to lash out for no reason--COMPENSATING FOR SOMETHING. Perhaps something very small.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anne... well, I don't know who it was this time, so no way to know. But you know what they say - nobody talks about you if you're irrelevant.

Andrea, you know I'm with you on that!

Steve... there are so many comments just begging to be made to that, but the cheese puts it over the edge for me. Okay, I'll give it a try. ;)

Julia, oh, yeah, we've got to sing the song next week at B'con! How many f words are in that?

Bill Cameron said...

F words? Fibula?

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think it's more like what Dilbert would say. Go fax yourself... Or something like that ;)

John R. said...

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter for shit what people say or don't say on the net, nor whether they're right or not, not unless it becomes A Movement and a bazillion people read it. Doubly so in crime fic where half the readership barely know what the internet is, or what those new-fangled "computers" are the youngsters are using these days.

It's not worth worrying about.

Lisa Hunter said...

Yes, the book launch is four weeks. Thanks for remembering. If you happen to be in Montreal for any of your own book brouhaha, let me know. I'll take you for beers and we can swap stories.

Sandra Ruttan said...

John is just so... mature. Scary.

Lisa, I'll be sure to let you know if I'm out that way! Same goes for you if you're in Calgary!

Trace said...

Fuck them, Sandra. Some people just don't have anything better to do than to try and make themselves appear smarter and more important than others, but it just screams, "I'm an inadequate bully!"

So fuck 'em.

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