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Writer Beware

November 23rd, 2007 7 comments

In the summer of 1995 I decided to get serious about something that had, up until that point, been not much more than an occasional hobby, one I took up every now and then to amuse my friends and myself. Every now and then I would write a short story, realize that I was probably the best writer since Stephen King, submit it to a couple of magazines, realize I sucked, then give it up for a while.

This time I was serious! I would paper the house with my rejection letters, I thought (not knowing just how close to the truth that thought was), until I finally sold my story.

My problem, I realized, was that I was writing short stories when I should be concentrating on a novel. Short stories were a waste of time. I certainly wasn’t going to get rich selling shorts.

I broke out my old Brother word processor, tracked down the floppy disk with the first few pages of an abandoned novel, and dedicated myself to finishing it.

This was my second attempt at a novel, the first having ended badly some five years previous when I loaned the first fifty handwritten, my only copy of them, to a girl I worked with (and had a huge crush on). The girl, Jennifer, forgot those pages after a late shift. The next morning the janitor found them on the break table and threw them out.

After another six months or so of working on second novel, the one I resumed while working a five dollar an hour construction job in Mountain Home, Idaho (an odd name for the town, since Mountain Home was splat in the middle of southern Idaho desert, and there was not a mountain in sight).

Some Kind of Hero, it was called.

Some Kind of Hero might have made a good comic book in the right hands, but as a novel, my novel, it stunk on ice. My first complete novel, much like other first novels I imagine, was not worth the stamps it cost to mail out submission packets. I eventually lost count of the number of submissions I made. I sent them to publishers, both large and small, and agents, and the only interest I generated was from a vanity publisher and a guy called Bill Appel from a company called Edit Ink.

These letters of interest came as a surprise, since I made a point of not sending subs to vanity publishers, and I had never even heard of Edit Ink, and in both cases, after coming down from my euphoria (Oh my god! They like me! They really, really like me!), I decided that Edit Ink was likely an expensive scam, and vanity publishing would be an empty victory. I am luckier (or maybe just smarter) than a lot of would be authors who threw money away on Edit Ink’s special services, but maybe not much luckier (or smarter). I was raising a family of four on five dollars an hour, and my wife did not work, so I didn’t really have the money to spend on them.

I have since deduced how Edit Ink got their info on me. Another agent sent me a rejection letter, with a request to resend the material once Edit Ink has had a chance to work with it. This rejection came with a very informative brochure about Edit Ink and their services.

I sometimes wonder how many agents and publishers were in on that scam with Edit Ink. I wonder if anyone other than Bill Appel and his partner in crime, Denise Sterrs, knows just how far spread this Quid Pro Quo went. I do know that Edit Ink set up fake agencies and publishing houses whose only purpose was to refer writers back to them.

Clever bastards.

A few years later another agent, responding to a query concerning my next novel, the equally horrible Black Day, requested that I seek out the services of Edit Ink and then resubmit. I rewrote the novel myself, even paid a local English professor to help me edit, and then resubmitted the work to her. It was, of course, rejected, as it should have been. It just wasn’t very good. Given the Edit Ink ties, however, I question whether she even read the resubmitted work.

I never did seek the services of Edit Ink, but they didn’t let that discourage them. I’m guessing quite a few of the agents I queried were affiliated with Mr. Appel, because he eventually took a personal interest and contacted me. He called my wife while I was at work, told her he was an editor, and that he was interested in one of my manuscripts.

I did return that call, thinking he was a real editor, and I still count that return call as one of the biggest disappointments in my life.

I can feel this wanting to veer off course and become a rant against agents, and I don’t want that to happen. Writers need agents. Despite my less than stellar past relationships with them, I’m still trying to land one. Maligning an entire branch of the literary field because of the sins of a few wont help me, and letting my frustration with a few crooked agents color your perception of them won’t help you.

This essay is not about agents. It is about vampires, bloodsuckers, leaches, and bottom feeders. This rant is about the people who put on pretender’s hats and call themselves editor, book doctor, and yes, sometimes agent.

After the multi-million dollar civil action filed against Bill Appel and Denise Sterrs by New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, I assumed that Edit Ink had been shut down, but upon further research, I’ve discovered that they may still be in business, pending an appeal.

Still in business, scamming naive writers.

Also still in business, the agent who referred them to me after receiving a query for Black Day, one Alison J. Picard.
Writer beware. Here there be monsters.

New writers need to know that these people are still out there, spewing false promises from their lying pie-holes, patting us on the back with one hand and picking our pockets with the other. Still trying to get their greedy mitts on our money. New writers must research every individual and business with which they intend to do business.

Google.com is your friend.

There are other online resources available to writers. In this era of the information super-highway, it has never been easier to arm yourself against the scumbags and swindlers who make their living off the trusting and naive.

There is Preditors and Editors. Yes, I know predators is misspelled. I assume they did it intentionally.

There is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. I am not a member. I am not yet accomplished enough to meet their membership standards, but their website is still a valuable source of information.

There is www.duotrope.com.

There is www.ralan.com.

There is the account of Matthew Warner’s personal experiences with Edit Ink at Horror World.

There are also countless writers groups and communities on the web. If you’ve found your way to Storytellers Unplugged, chances are you already found one or more of these. Seek out the real pros in these groups, and by pros I mean writers who have worked with established houses, writers who write for a living, working with publishers who publish for a living. The guy who just sold his bukkake haiku to Billy-Bob’s Poetry Slam webzine may have good intensions, but any advice he offers is likely to be less than sound.

As long as you’re already here, look up and down the contributor’s list. Most of the folks on it are much more qualified to give advice than I am. Stick around and get to know them. If you have even a scrap of talent and dedication, you could benefit from their experiences and advice.

Don’t take my word for anything.

Take theirs.

Brian Knight