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.
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.
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!