Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Writer's Rant

I often tell people that the publishing of my first novel taught me a lot about the publishing industry and how I DIDN'T want my future novels published.

Trut be told, my first novel - North Coast Gothic: A Grim Fairy Tale - was for all intents and purposes self-published. My publisher, iUniverse, was at that time an oddity in the vanity press marketplace. They were actually owned by Barnes and Noble and Writer's Digest and they were making a name as a self-publisher that was trying to make self-publishing respectable. Unlike the other scams out there - and Publish America come to mind - they were selective in their acceptance and were actually concerned with providing an avenue for young authors to get their works out there.

In fact, I was a rarity in those days in that the majority of the books they published made the authors pay for their services. Since they were a young company, however, they were also looking for well written books to provide legitimacy. To that end - I paid nothing to publish my first novel and it was actually published under the Writer's Showcase imprint, and not iUniverse. In other words, they accepted it and treated my book as a traditional publisher would, with no fees. I was lucky in that respect.

However - the fact of the matter is that they weren't a traditional publisher... no matter how much I wished it so. Their relationship with Barnes and Noble allowed me to do a couple book signings, but any other marketing help fell solely to me. And, as I was a new husband and father, I had no time to promote myself or my work without any support.

Over the years, I've collected my royalty checks and been grateful that they helped me publish my first novel. I've never had a problem with them, considering that they didn't really do anything with my novel besides keep it available all these years later. Occasionally, they'd send me an 'offer' to include my book in a USA Today, or Entertainment Weekly ad (of course asking me to pay for part of it), but it was never a problem. I simply ignored it.

However, I recently called them and asked them for a copy of my contract with them and to ask them about Kindle publishing. It turns out that they've recently been sold by Barnes and Noble and a new company has taken them over.

This is what's pissed me off.

My contacting them and updating my information has obviously put me on their radar. Last night I received a call from a Lea who works with their newly developed Media Division. She called me and explained that the Media Division's mission was to look at the catalog of iUniverse novels and select works that they were certain would translate well to the big screen. Basically it was a sales call to get me to give them money to turn my novel into the NEXT BIG MOVIE IN HOLLYWOOD!!!111oneone!

I asked several times how much this venture would cost me and, after the third time of her not answering my question about cost, I started to get pissed off. She said that there 'would be an investment' but it would be worth it to see my novel as a screenplay and on the big screen. Of course, she'd only read the backpage synopsis - but felt it had sooo much potential!

After talking to her for twenty-five loooong minutes (she had an accent and an only rudimentary grasp on English), and listening to her very obviously read sales scripts to me, and have her even try an assumptive sales approach; I told her I needed to go... could she email me the information?

And she did.

So here's the two options they tried to sell me

Option one:
(1) A screenplay - They have another writer write a screenplay(!) and then enter it into the Hollywood Database(whatever that is) where HOLLYWOOD AGENTS, WRITERS, DIRECTORS, AND ACTORS (gasp!) have access to it (Cost = $14,999, or 3 payments of $4,999)

(2) A Treatment - Again, prepared by them. (Cost = $3,499, or 3 payments of $1,163)
(3) Coverage - Another ghostwritten review and pitch of the screenplay (Cost = 799, or 3 payments of $266.33

Option Two
The Pitch Festival - a weekend conference in LA where I can attend lectures and workshops to prepare my story and then pitch it with Hollywood insiders. It's headlined by someone dubbed "The King of the Pitch" named Robert Kosberg. A quick IMDB search actually shows he's produced quite a few successful films (Commando, Deep Blue Sea, 12 Monkeys). They will also register my story with the WGA. (Cost? Right around $4500. Not including travel expenses or hotel. They do have payment plans for the conference though!)

Of course, Lea recommended I go with Option One because it's the most aggressive for a book as wonderful as mine.

So I read the emails last night, laughed at them with my wife, and closed them with no intention of calling or emailing Lea back.

The thing is, the more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got.

The pushy sales call, the fucking ridiculous pandering to my ego, and the shameless manipulation of my art pissed me off. A lot.

This is the sort of scam and bullshit that gives publishers and vanity presses bad names. The worst part is that there are people out there who aren't as cynical and misanthropic as I am. There are delusional, gullible people out there who fall for this shit. iUniverse is taking advantage of people who may write as a hobby, and then con them out of money they very likely don't have. Or, worse, they go $20,000 or more into debt because they might get a big shot at fame and fortune!

It's fucking criminal.

It's no worse than a fucking Nigerian 419 scam.

The thing is -- the conference is appealing. If they had presented it as a genuine opportunity for me to pitch my novel - I might pay for that. As a writer - I get I may need to pay for some things. And an opportunity like that is still an opportunity. But don't insult me by trying to sell me all of the other crap. It's jackassery of the highest order. And don't assume that I need YOUR very expensive help to turn my novel into a screenplay.

I don't know which is more insulting - the transparent attempt to bilk me out of gobs of money, the blatant fuckwittedness that no self-respecting publisher would ever particpate in, or the affront to the brilliance of my writing.


So, after mulling it over, I wrote Lea back and graciously made her an offer I'm sure she'll be interested in. I've posted my response below.

Too harsh?

Thank you for the offer... but I am not interested in this 'exciting opportunity'. North Coast Gothic was my first novel and I learned a considerable amount about the publishing industry after I published this novel. Especially the self-publishing industry and its associated perils. As I have since had two novels published via more traditional routes, I've also learned that - as the author - I should not have to pay to have my publisher try to make my novel a success in other avenues beyond the initial publication. Our's should be a relationship of mutual benefit - in which we are both dedicated to the success of my novel; where we both should benefit and profit from that same success.

If you - as my publisher (or as a duly appointed subsidiary of my publisher) - feel that my novel would make an exceptional screenplay, as you seem to think, you should be working to make it so. If, on the hand, you are saying such things to persuade me to give your company money with no promise of success, that is - at the very least - disingenuous. At the most, it is predatory and borderline insulting.

In other words - I should not pay you to have it turned into a screenplay. Especially at the ridiculously, and laughable, amount of $15,000.

If you feel it would make a great movie - I would happy to work with you to make it a cohesive and marketable screenplay (I am a successful commercial writer after all, and it confuses me that your service would have someone else do that. But I digress...)

I'll tell you what - I am willing to renegotiate my initial publishing contract with you. I will turn North Coast Gothic into a screenplay and give it to you to enter it into any database you feel would provide it the best exposure, or present it to whatever Hollywood industry contacts you have. If and when it is optioned, and if it is actually made into a movie, I would have no problem allowing you to continue selling the novel version and will pay you the $15,000 your 'service' provides out of the first revenue or offer for the property. In other words, you can have an advance on the profits - but only after it has been successfully sold as a viable screenplay project.

What do you think? Would you be willing to take my offer?

Somehow, though - I don't feel you'll take me up on this. The truth of the matter is that you do not really believe it would make a good screenplay (a point on which we disagree - I think my novel would make an EXCEPTIONAL movie), but you are only trying to milk more money out of a naive self-published author. A real publisher would accept my offer and take the chance on my novel. Your company, however, sees my novel as only another way for me to pay you for a pipe dream.

I am grateful to iUniverse for publishing my first novel. and I am grateful that you continue to carry my work for me. I do appreciate the rare royalty checks I receive, no matter how small they may be. They - at the least - allow me to buy the occasional bottle of Irish whiskey, which relaxes me and liberates my muse whilst writing. However, I am under no illusion that you view my novel - and me as the author - as anything more that a mark to be fleeced with vague promises and a good con.

So - consider my offer and let me know what you think. Better yet, have one of your attorneys contact me and I'll be happy to discuss the renegotiation of the terms of our relationship. I will even discuss this sans an agent or my own attorney.

To reiterate:
-- I will not pay you anything.
-- We will make my novel into a screenplay
-- As my publisher, YOU will provide all the services listed below - at YOUR expense
-- Any profits of our mutual fruits of labor will be shared by your company and I, with the cost of the services below tendered to you at that time.

Thank you for your time, Lea. I look forward to hearing from you again (although I am doubtful I will). I should add that, as a media professional, I would seriously consider my offer if I were you. I'm sure you'd find my novel (if you actually read it, as opposed to glancing at the back cover blurb) exciting, well-written, and an excellent source for a screenplay. I am a humble man. I am not one to brag. However, in regards to my writing, I am a genius and a prodigy. IF you took my offer, I'm certain you would be surprised at the success of it.

Thank you,
D. Allen Crowley

Jack Torrance would have NEVER put up with this shit!

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