May 1st, 2007


Writers Are Such Easy Prey...

...and new writers, those who are just starting out and are unpublished, are the easiest prey of all. We've seen it a million times with self-publishing scams (even back in the '80s when Vantage Press would claim that their books always got in the New York Times Book Review - what they meant of course was that they took out tiny little ads every week that no one paid any attention to) and with non-vanity presses that may as well be vanities (PublishAmerica is perhaps the most famous recent example of this).

It doesn't look like this predatory approach to writers will be stopping anytime soon. I was flipping through the April 2007 issue of Rue Morgue when I saw an ad Medallion Press took out for Mary Ann Mitchell's novel The Witch. (It's on page 64, for those following along.) The problem, as I see it, is that the ad is a half-page vertical one, but only half the ad is devoted to Ms. Mitchell's novel. The lower half - and half is no exaggeration - is filled with the following text:


Do you have the next great horror story?

Medallion Press, Inc. is currently seeking quality submissions in the following genres...

Then it goes on to list its genres and tells the reader to go to their website for guidelines on "how you may be the next great Medallion Press author!"

I have two enormous problems with this.

First of all, Rue Morgue is a consumer magazine, not a trade one. It would be one thing to find an ad like this in a magazine like Writers & Poets, but it's quite another to find it in a magazine that's aimed at the horror consumer, the people who want to read product reviews or know about the latest horror movies or books. A call for submissions in a consumer magazine sends up a huge red flag. It means Medallion Press is looking for quantity, not quality. It means they're looking for the hobbyists, the tinkerers, the ones who watch slasher movies and think they can write an awesome story that's just like the last one they saw, only better because at the end the Devil shows up and fucks everyone.

I don't know much about Medallion Press, but I do know what quantity over quality means. It means they're looking for authors to stiff. It means they're looking for newbies who won't know any better if they're offered terrible advances (I've heard rumors of how much Medallion, a mass market paperback publisher, pays) and horrible royalty percentages despite Medallion's impressive distribution (I've seen their books in B&Ns all over New York City).

The second issue I have with it is that if I were Mary Ann Mitchell and I saw half of the ad for my new novel was taken up with a call for submissions, I'd be furious. It's a quite clear indication that your novel is a secondary consideration to keeping the stable of disposable authors full. Because more authors means more product, and even if they don't sell well, they don't have to worry about recouping much of an investment because hell, it's not like they paid their authors much of anything.

It makes me wonder if Mary Ann Mitchell complained about the ad. I hope so, but I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't. So many authors don't want to rock the boat, they just want to go along to get along because they're so happy someone is publishing them that they forget they're supposed to be treated like human beings.

That's why writers are such easy prey.