Like many other writers trying to make it in the world, most of us have had an unfortunate experience in the publishing industry. With the incredible number of publishers out there who are ready and willing to make your dreams come true (or take advantage of you), what can you do to help prevent your next contract from becoming a nightmare?
All writers should be cautious and critical in considering the merits of any prospective contract. After all, when it comes right down to it, we are not only selling a product, we are offering a piece of ourselves. If you come across an online firm that advertises certain promises and, once the work is finished, fails to deliver, it is your duty to report them. Protect your profession! Below, you’ll be introduced to some websites you can use to protect yourself and also limit the number of victims in our industry by posting your own experiences.
In a collective attempt to expose unscrupulous editors and publishers, many writers have been posting their own personal publishing nightmares on WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings. This forum provides writers, editors and publishers alike with the opportunity to read, review and record their own accounts and encounters with individual publishing houses, magazines, websites and more.
WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings is primarily composed of one persons’ initial experience or inquiry regarding a specific company or individual. The post is then open to commentary from any concerned parties who may offer the details of their own opinions or encounters in relation to that listing. Many of the personal accounts relate to very prominent sites located on the Web that advertise all manner of publishing companies and services for writers.
Another similar site established to provide aspiring authors a place where they may congregate and discuss the pros and cons of certain publishers and literary employers is the ‘Bewares and Background Check’ page located at Absolute Write. This location is packed with personal accounts of writers who have taken the time to provide helpful suggestions on their own past and present relationships with all manner of ‘writer-friendly’ publishing houses and presses. The subject matter involves everything from poetry scams to bogus literary agents and nearly every question branches off into a multitude of helpful responses.
Sites even exist that cater to specific genres. The ‘Writer Beware’ board set up by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. offers a helpful question and answer page that assists in targeting particular problems faced by writers of that genre. With such a high volume of publishers out there that advertise services on the Web it goes without saying that many of them will likewise target a definitive category of author. This Q&A forum is very effective in narrowing the field and then placing focus on the root concerns of these writers and their company. There are also specific “alerts” posted for firms that should be avoided.
Still other websites have gone so far as to compile entire lists of publishing companies that have previously had complaints lodged against them and their business practices. These are usually allegations that have been known to be widely circulated amongst authors, editors and publishers alike. Instances where copyright infringement and gross misrepresentation have previously hindered writers should be noted. ‘Preditors & Editors’ also features a list of sites with their own versions of warnings to writers here: http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubwarn.htm
The more we know about what’s out there and who we’re dealing with, the better prepared we may be in negotiating our prospective careers. One organization that is entirely devoted to helping writers do just that is the National Writers Union. The NWU is wholly dedicated to representing freelance writers in all genres, formats and media (provided you’re a paid member). The NWU website provides easy access to a number of resources including press passes, job hotlines, health insurance, and even a Grievance & Contract Division that has already worked to reclaim over one million dollars for writers from publishers who refused to pay.
Unfortunately, even the best of us will sometimes get burned. The best thing to do is stand up and make it known that we won’t take it lying down. Despite the fact that we are independent contractors, that does not mean we have to feel alone. Consider, for a moment, how many publishers are out there. Now take into account the legion of journalists, authors, tech writers, playwrights, poets, and more. Trustworthy and treacherous alike, if a publisher misrepresents themselves or breaks a contract, they break the law. It is up to us to make it known. Take responsibility for your craft. Read your contracts. If you have questions, contact a lawyer who can explain what you’re signing. We are brokers in the business of moving and making information. If you have a contract that isn’t being honored, post your experience at a forum to warn your fellow writers, contact the Better Business Bureau so they are made aware of the situation or report it to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center.
Literature is our livelihood. In all of its conceivable constructs, we take the human language and forge it into something new. We write. We create. We work. We absorb and produce. And, like any other independent contractor in the world, when the task is set and the work has been performed, it’s time to get paid.
Justin Ulmer lives and works in East Texas. A real estate professional specializing in residential property management by trade, Justin devotes his spare time to writing articles for local newspapers and various e-zines. He is currently working on a compilation of poetry.