Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Library Memoir?

When I read about a librarian losing her job because she wrote a library story that hit a little too close to home, I was intrigued. I don't think the library had any grounds for dismissal (especially since the author clearly says the book is fiction), unless the librarian in question had made other offenses while working, wrote the book while at work, or signed a contract saying she would not write about her workplace, but it will make an interesting case, nonetheless. It's funny that no one in the book seems to be complaining about how they've been portrayed or that their rights were violated; perhaps they're afraid to step-up and admit who they are in the book?

What I will say about the book, without actually reading it (and having no intention of reading it), is it's more than likely garbage. How can I make this claim without even browsing through it? Easy: it's published by Publish America--in my opinion, they are one of the most shameful book producers (note I do not use the word publisher, because they don't really publish the book--they print them, and use POD technology to produce the book when (if?) someone actually buys it). They are just one notch higher than vanity presses, and, though they claim books will be available, I've heard of few (any?) actually being in stock anywhere but online. I've also read that they also are notorious for telling their writers they should use their own money to buy copies (FYI, a real publisher gives you copies...I got around 30 hardcovers of mine, and another dozen or so proof copies, and I never paid them a dime, nor did they expect me to).

Several people have done random experiments with the company. One group of sci-fi writers decided to write the worst book ever and submit it to the publisher to see if it was accepted: it was!

From what I understand, the company also doesn't really use editors; they, for the most part, publish the book as is, and hope the writer will buy the book. I've also heard (although I can't say with certainty) they ask writers to hand over email contacts so they can email everyone the writer knows and tell them to also buy the book.

So why do writers publish with them? Every writer gets to a point where they are desperate and will do anything to see their book published (I've been writing for over 15 me, I know). If the only place that accepts your book, however, is Publish America, then there's probably a reason--it's not ready. That's not to say you're not good enough to write, or that the topic is not interesting; you just haven't written something that's ready for publication. It's a sign that you should keep writing, and do whatever it takes to write something worthy of a real publisher--don't settle.

Do you think anyone will read your book if you publish it through Publish America? Maybe. But consider this--the library book is getting a lot of free attention, and it's not even listed on WorldCat. That's a pretty good indication that this book is not very popular. So now this lady, for now, has lost her job, the book will go largely unread, and, while Publish America's contract seems purposely vague, she will likely not even stand to make 500 bucks off the deal. Was it worth it? Sure people will use her name to promote free speech, but she'll be forgotten in a few months time.

The last time I check, no writing guild will accept a book published by Publish America as an actual publication credit. When I became a member of the Authors Guild a few years back, my only major publication credit was my dispatches on McSweeney's. When a blog counts as a bigger writing credit then a book publisher, that should tell you something about the book publisher.

I have nothing against people writing memoirs about libraries; there are plenty more stories to tell, and I hope more people tell them, and succeed. But do it with a real publisher. I'm sure most of you know that I'm not a fan of the other library memoir that came out last November (for the record I think he tried too hard to sound cranky, and did not try hard enough to show the true value of public libraries in the community), but at least he did it through a real publisher, and I respect him for that. So if any of you out there in cyber land want to tell your story, I hope you do so, and I hope you do it well...send me a draft and I'd be happy to help you along and help you write something that can find a real publisher.


Anonymous said...

"That's not to say your not good enough to write, or that the topic is not interesting; you just haven't wrote something that's ready for publication."

Ack! Ack! Ordinarily, I wouldn't say anything, but since this is a post giving advice on writing, I'd recommend "you're" and "haven't written." (You don't necessarily have to even approve & post this comment, but please fix!)

Scott Douglas said...

Happy! And thanks! I've never claimed to be an editor....and writing most of these post late at night, I'm pretty tired!

I approve all the comments...the only ones I reject are the ones trying to sell something, are blantant pieces of propoganda, or are disturbing in nature.

Anonymous said...

I'd fix this, too:

Several people have did random experiments with the company.

[different anonymous person]

Emily Lloyd said...

You're joking, right? You really think having a book accepted by a big house chock-full of editors is a testimony to the quality of the writing? Can we say "James Patterson"?

I've read a number of excellent books published through Lulu, a self-publishing site which I imagine is not too different from Publish America. There are any number of reasons one might choose to publish that way. One that appeals to me is that it eliminates the time lag between getting a ms accepted and seeing it actually come out in print--with more traditional presses that can take years, by which point I'd certainly be too bored with what I'd written to want to go on tour with it.

You put an awful lot of trust in publishing houses to know what makes a good book. Do you also think that the major TV networks all "publish" the best video/tv series, and that the major record labels have signed the very best bands out there?

C'mon. More often than not, it's a matter of good networking that gets someone published by a big press. And I'd rather read a good writer than a good networker.

Scott Douglas said...

Actually, I think Publish America claims the lag time between accepting the book and publishing it is one year; I know a lot of publishers that get books out earlier then a year.

In all honesty, however, you're right about one thing; once a book comes out, you're pretty sick of it. You've invested a great deal of time writing it, and you're probably eager to get on with your life and write something else. But that's going to happen anyway; it doesn't matter if it's published one month after you write it or six years after you write it. Once you start getting feedback from people and hearing that you wrote something that people actually like, then you'll get excited all over again.

All I'm saying is if a writer believes in a book enough to write it, they should at least go to a publisher who has the courage to publish and promote it. Self-publishing houses are simply POD’s that don't care about you or your book; publishing houses care about money, but they have editors who care enough about your book to take it on and help you develop it.

Lulu and Publish America also don't promote your book, so it's not going to get read. Sure you can hire a publicist, but as soon as a newspaper or magazine sees the publisher they will usually not give it a second look, because it's just self-published non-sense from a desperate writer.

This poor woman got fired, and for what? So a couple copies of her book would get sold? If her book was published by a “real” publisher, and she was fired, it would probably make national headlines. It’s great controversy and controversy sells. As it stands, more then likely no one is going to review her book, and only a handful of curious librarians are going to buy it.

Of course there are a lot of writers out there that write books only for themselves and a select number of family members; if that's the case then self-publishing is one of the best options around town. If you have bigger dreams--and if you're really a writer, I know you do--then the only way your book is actually going to get read is to go the traditional route. There are very few success stories to the self-publishing way.

As for James Patterson, I have never taken the time to read him, but I imagine he can write a good page-turner, and that's usually all it takes to sell popular fiction. I happen to think Dan Brown is a lousy writer, but I still read all of the Da Vinci Code just to see what happened. Sometimes making the reader guess what's going to happen next makes the reader forget that what they are reading is lousy.

I hate people. I am awkward in social situations. I cannot network. And I can't sell anything (let alone a book). Writers don't have to network. They just have to write. They have agents to do the networking for them. In Hollywood it's all about who you know, but in publishing any writer can make it with the right amount of passion and energy. If I had to guess 95% of all writers will tell the same story about how they got published, and it will go like this, "I sent a query letter to an agent, the agent asked for more, and the agent liked what they read, I signed a contract with the agent, the agent sold my book." The other 5% probably had rich and famous parents or knew someone.

Anonymous said...

Lame article and lame Blog. Why? To "create" anything why does one need a middle man? I have seen absolute crap published by "real publishers" and on the other hand true genius writing written in a journal that will never see the light of day other than those in it's immediate blazing path. Scott Douglas obviously doesn't realize this and has a vendetta against the process of taking ones work to the masses other than the traditional method. To me, the process of getting your work out is in itself an art form. Take the traditional methods and kick them out on their whore asses. Art, whether crap or not, is not meant to be judged by HOW it reaches it audience. The fact he hasn't even read the book(or will) based on HOW it it's delivered to his eye just shows his ignorance in full bloom.

Scott Douglas said...

You know where the best ideas are? Graveyards. They die with people who never had the balls to make a difference in the world. Self-publishing is for people who have given up on their dreams, and their great ideas will join thousands of others when they die.

Scott Douglas said...

And, for the record, I have not said anywhere than I think just because something gets published it's good. Clearly that is not always the case. But if something is good then there is absolutely no reason why they would need to publish with some place like Publish America (or Lulu for that matter). You might as well just go to Kinko’s and Xerox your book, because it would be cheaper and basically the same quality (if not better) as any of those places.

Anonymous said...

Christ, for someone whose writing reads like a goddamn ransom note, you're certainly full of yourself to complain about others.

I dont think the editor of your book should be bragging about being an editor either.

Roland Saint-Laurent said...

"and on the other hand true genius writing written in a journal that will never see the light of day other than those in it's immediate blazing path."

Are these your own personal journals, or something that a romantic interest wrote in a creative writing course?

Please share some examples, as I'd love to see an unrecognized true genius get their due.

This is not sarcasm.

Scott Douglas said...

Rasnom note? Interesting way of putting it...I guess.

The blog was complaining about a shady publisher; if anything it was to show how sad it is that someone fell into their trap.

Do a quick Google search about Publish America...I'm not the first one, and certainly not the last one, who has spoken out against their tactics.

Sunny said...

I really like the blog and the book Scott. I don't know why there are so many comments that are negative.

I don't agree with your comment that the library had no grounds for dismissal. She put a picture of her library on the cover of the book. Of course I am not for censorship, but I am also not for outing patrons. The article said that many of the people she described were easily identifiable.

If you don't agree that she should have been fired, surely you must agree that it was bad decision making on her part?

Scott Douglas said...

It sounds a bit pompous to say that just because this woman didn't publish with what I call a "real" publisher that her book is more than likely no good. So that's why people get mad. And I admit it is a pompous statement, but it's the truth. No one is going to take you or your book seriously unless you get it published by a real publisher.

As far as her dismissal, as far as I can tell she didn't do anything wrong, but I'm not close to the case (nor am I a lawyer), so anything I say would be speculative. It's perfectly legal (usually) to take a picture of the outside of a building (inside would be a different story). And the picture on the cover really could be any library; it just looks like an old Carnegie library to me. I suspect there might be more to the story; that perhaps she was a bad employee and this was just the straw that broke the camels back.

I don't think it was a bad idea to write a book about the library (heck I did the same thing!). I will say I was incredibly careful about how I described people (especially patrons), and tended to focus more on what they did and not what they looked like.
My guess is the librarian wrote the book just because she was frustrated, and writing is always a good way to release those frustrations. Is it wrong to make fun of patrons when we're frustrated? No--but we still do it all the time! The only difference is we do it behind their backs.

The case reminds me of that Delta airline employee who was fired for blogging about her job a few years back. If I recall, however, she took photos in her uniform and even in the plane, so rules were violated.

Lori said...

There's actually quite a bit of a difference between Lulu and PublishAmerica. Lulu, for example, is honest that they are not a publisher. They are a printer. They do not claim to get author's books into stores, to be traditional, or anything other than what they are. Anyone who is using their services is using them as a printing service for an extremely small press or in order to self-publish.

On the other hand, PublishAmerica claims that they are a traditional publisher, by which they mean a commercial publisher. They claim to place their author's books into stores, edit them, etc. In fact, they are a "vanity" publisher, who charge author's fees on the back-end (rather than on the front-end as most vanity publishers do) by marketing the books they produce directly to the author rather than to bookstores or to readers. They have admitted, in court, that their target audience is the author, not the reader.

Additionally, they have no selection criteria -- something a true "traditional" publisher needs, do not edit their books, and are known to accept anything. For an example of this, google Atlanta Nights. They also do not have a sales or marketing force, no distribution plan in place, and no way of getting their books in stores except through the author's efforts. Because their books are overpriced, they often do not provide the stock they are contracted to provide, and because they have no return policy, most major bookstore chains have a policy against stocking their books.

Anonymous said...

This is the writer of "The Library Diaries" speaking to a local TV network.

Some of her statements are downright scary...and at times she contradicts herself!