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A Warning to All Who Want to Get Published

by Charles Barry

Having already posted one article here I would like to add more warnings to prospective authors. Perhaps none of the writers on this website have had any difficulties but I think it is only right to make some more new to the game to be aware.

You see on the Internet - NEW AUTHORS WANTED - and then you get to the subscription section. Free subscriptions here they say - you only have to submit $10 when you’re sending your sample chapters. But hang on a minute! If you have to pay $10 that means it is NOT a free subscription! 

Then you log in to another site and see the notice LOOKING FOR NEW WRITING - and it turns out that the maximum word count is 10,000 words. They were only looking for short stories….

But hang on again - I will edit my novel - I will cut it down to 10,000 words - anything to get it published! But yet again a point I overlooked earlier - it must be a short story of American interest or it must be written by a citizen of the UK…...

Oh what a trap these lupine publishers like to lure their innocent victims into!

You then browse yet another website and everything looks really nice with lots of comments about how marvelous this publisher is. You scan for the catch and yes - there it is! Please do not send unsolicited manuscripts. This means in everyday English that you should not send your work unless it was asked for! And now please tell me how many publishers will ask a first-time author for their work??

And then the other un is the unagented one. Literary agents must represent all authors who send us submissions. That warning has given me a stab any time I’ve thought innocently of submitting my book.. As if a first-time author can get a literary agent! It’s just putting the cart before the horse…..

There are so many traps for first-time authors. If it is not the genre trap that I mentioned earlier (they only want short stories - so why do they say new writing wanted?) it might be the gender trap. Don’t make any mistake about that! We might think that even now in our politically correct era, women do not get their fair crack of the whip but believe it or not men can still lose out too.

Many times I have seen the notice - WRITERS WANTED - and eagerly scrolled on getting ready to submit my manuscript online and then the coup de grace - WOMEN WRITERS ONLY. Don’t get me wrong here - I am an ardent feminist and I realize very well that there is an urgent need for more female authors - but why not give these details on the home page? Why let hope spring in your potential authors’ breasts only to be dashed later on? I won’t say how many times this sort of thing has demotivated me.

Then there is the age trap. Again I enthusiastically see the headline on the website - WE ARE LOOKING FOR NEW AUTHORS. I click and click till my mouse nearly breaks down and then I see the message - We are interested in getting subscriptions from any writers in any category who are below the age of 25. Well I do understand that new normally means young but not necessarily. A critic once said you write yourself out at 40 or else you write yourself in at 40. But Chandler and Defoe wrote themselves in at 50. Why are people so biased against autumn authors? The age-old stereotype is as eternal as the Sphinx - the old are there to observe and review rather than create. The use of our talents in all their creative or imaginative force is a prerogative of the young. Or at least if you made it as a writer when you were young you are allowed to go on for many years  - but if you start writing in later middle age ….well there’s something funny there.

And why is this the way? It is surely only a rule of convention. I am sure that there would be more first-time authors of my age if there was not such a shame - yes I will keep the word shame -about it. Older people feel they have missed the boat and they give up and perhaps face retirement with an even greater depression than they would otherwise.

Perhaps I have digressed a bit from what I was saying but this negative attitude about senior first-time writers makes me really angry whether it is held by publishers or the public.

The last trap that I will mention here is that of the hybrid publisher. Before I was sending in my work on a regular basis I had never heard the term. So to illuminate - we are told that traditional publishers look at your work and either refuse it or take it. If they refuse it - then better luck next time. If they take it they pay for all aspects relating to its publication and you get a share in the royalties. But hybrid publishers ask you to help out with the expenses of publication. The positive side of this is, of course, they are much happier to take your work but the negative side is that you may end up with an excessive bill which will be decided by your publishing partner and you have no alternative but to pay up.

I sent one of my plays to a hybrid publisher and after being given a great puffing up - After careful consideration, our executive team has decided that your work has reached the eminent standard which we always require from our authors- I was told publishing could go ahead but there was one snag. I only had to pay $3,000 to start the ball rolling. Only $3,000 - I like that! Obviously the publisher did not know how low teachers’ salaries are in Poland. This money would only get my book published! It did not guarantee anything else. I politely declined the offer.

I have given a very brief and random recollection of my experiences. On the basis of these I am reminded of what one professional writer said to me. He said he had no problems with writing a book. The problems started from the time he wrote The End till when he got published!

I would be delighted to hear from any of the writers or viewers of this website. Please send me your comments on Soup Mail.