how not to get published

…would you, during a job interview, offer to pay the company for the privilege of letting you work? would you pay your customers to take your wares? of course not. that’s just common sense, right? well, the same goes for publishing. if your work is good, you should be able to place it somewhere, in some form – without paying for it. ideally, you should get paid for the work you do. as poets we rarely see any currency. which is sad, but hey.


why write this blog post? well – i stumbled across an advance reading copy of a book of fiction today, of stampedes, runaway trains, & riverboat scoundrels by james c. o’donnell, which made me sad and a little bit upset.

there are plenty of companies out there that fool new writers into thinking this is the way it works, that you have to pay to get published. no, no, no! you – the author, the person who did all the work – you should be the person getting paid, if there is money involved, which, in a first publication, there might not be. if this blog post saves at least one person from spending 880 (or more) dollars on getting published, i will be happy. 

james c. o’donnell chose to publish with, under their imprint “bedside books.” his stories are genre writing; they are stories of the wild, wild west the way we’d expect them to be told around a campfire. in his dedication (which isn’t really one), o’donnell refers to “we fathers”, suggesting that the stories were collected with the help of others, but only one other person is mentioned (steve) and only o’donnell is credited as the author.

now, one man’s charm is another man’s clichee, and i’ll happily concede that whether or not this is an enjoyable book to read is really a matter of taste. i don’t read fiction of that genre and so am in no position to evaluate it from any other perspective as my own, as a random reader. if you like western stories, you might thoroughly enjoy o’donnell’s collection of fireside tales.

what does upset me, however, happens on a very different level. while the book is, physically, of decent quality (paperback, glue-bound, 220 pages with glossy colour cover) it is not professionally made. out of curiosity, i went to, and found some interesting bits and pieces. this is what has to say about vanity publishing:

Unfortunately, most new authors turn to vanity, self-publishing propositions, and even scam operations, all of which may charge writers large sums of money and damage their opportunities to succeed with the media. These publishing options provide little or no content or developmental book editing, custom design,  publicity, or distribution capabilities.  (source:

ok. sounds fine. let’s read on:

We may issue publishing contracts to talented writers who have not been published before or become accomplished in their writing career, and this contract may request a one-time deposit of $880 that is returnable.

uh… why is that then? i mean, that sounds a lot like vanity-publishing to me… right?!

The purpose of this returnable deposit is to ensure long-term cooperation with a talented but possibly undisciplined new author.
This one-time, returnable deposit is returned to the author during the first royalty period after his/her book is published (when minimum sales have been met). This returnable deposit is less than most low-priced self-publishers that, unlike us, provide no investment in editing, book distribution, or custom art work and do not ever return any fees to their authors. 

… so there’s a minimum number of books that have to be sold before i get my 880 bucks back? how large is that number? (if you know, feel free to add that info in the comments section and i’ll update this post…) at $18 a pop for 220 pages, i honestly don’t think o’donnell will be able to move many of these books to people other than family and friends. this is unfortunate. not because i think he deserves the next nobel prize for literature – he doesn’t – but because simply by publishing this way, he is limiting his audience, as well as investing a considerable amount of money – i’m assuming he had to pay, since i find no other titles by him.

Many authors that have selected the self-publishing route now regret it, as they find that you can’t skip the traditional quality publisher services of editing, design, and distribution and still succeed. 

yes, sort of – there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing, but there is with vanity publishing. what’s the difference? in vanity publishing, you are paying someone (who is supposedly a pro) to get your work out there. too often, they do a sloppy job. in self-publishing, you do the work, you do your writing and take care of the editing and are in charge of all the steps. you find a printer or use sites like lulu (for e-books) and probably put some limited amount of money into the venture, but nobody is making money off you. promises, on their site, that they will take care of the editing, design and distribution. i am on page 29 and have already found numerous mistakes, including erratic or missing punctuation marks. whoever edited this manuscript did a poor job – any english grad student could have done it better.

so all y’all folks out there aspiring to be a published author – as soon as there’s any mention of you paying anything towards the publication of your work, be careful. do not pay others for your work – that’s topsy-turvy and all wrong. you put your mental energy into that manuscript, you spent time on it, you worked for it – you should be getting, not giving. even if all you’re getting is credit / contributor’s copies / author copies.

oh, and all of you who are curious about of stampedes, runaway trains, & riverboat scoundrels – in the rip-roaring days of the west by james c. o’donnell, here are two sample passages (exactly as printed in the book, so see if you can find any issues that a decent editor should have spotted…). The first chapter gives us the framing device for this book:

Pulling into a small western town, I parked and then walked into the Last Chance Saloon, which was also the name of the town. The saloon was very rustic with a long bar, wooden floors, smoky mirrors, and dim lights. Was that honky-tonk music I heard in another room? West Texas is a mysterious land where fantastic legends were born and live even today. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t remember seeing Last Chance on the map.

in this saloon, our narrator meets an old, white-bearded billy the kid, who invites him to his table:

Settling in and feeling comfortable, the old codger poured each of us a shot of whiskey and began spinning tall-tales of the West. Later on, I scrambled to scribble down everything I could remember, so others could enjoy these old-time Spirit of the West stories. Why there is Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Calamity Jane and of course Judge Roy Bean, and many, many others.
Leaning his chair against the wall, and pulling out some fixins, he rolled a cigarette, and staring into space began to talk of these wonderful talks of our wild and wooly West. (11-13)

and here’s part of the first story billy shares with our american traveller:

In New Orleans, it isn’t a good idea to short change an ancient gypsy fortune teller. They know things we mortals couldn’t even begin to comprehend
With a frown still on her face, the gypsy rushed through her cold, dark den back to her crystal ball […]
You know voodoo lurks at night in New Orleans. It seeps in unseen, with the chilly bayou fog. Like deadly fumes, it creeps through the dark, shadowy, alley-ways and onto Bourbon Street where we already know, anything goes. (28-29)

P.S. – here’s another voice:
apparently, this happens in music as well:
P.P.S. – a useful resource – (writer beware) warns about all sorts of publishing related scams. (their blog)

About annette.c.boehm

words escape me.

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