It sounds so surreal that few writers dare to talk about it. Yes, preying on writers who wish to establish a foothold in the hotly contested literary world has taken on a revolting nature, so more and more authors seem ready to morph into rebels with a revolutionary cause: fighting for writers’ rights.
Predatory practices in the literary market are nothing new. Except for a few, they all do it—conventional, indie and vanity publishers, writer’s associations, developing editors and more…. Making money from defenseless writers is their creed.
So how does a writer protect himself from this seemingly everlasting malady? When Therese Parker wrote When a Rooster Crows at Night, no one wanted to give her a chance. She then went on to self-publish the book with I-Universe. Soon, she ran into a major roadblock: she had to pay for everything to get her message across, including paying thousands of dollars to a marketing firm in Austin, Texas which promised to usher her book into becoming an instant bestseller. I met her there in 2004 at a writer’s conference, hopelessly trying to recover her money through threats of lawsuit. But it was a losing battle.
Then she decided to get on the road with her story—compelling and gut wrenching about the Korean war. She visited local radio stations, nearby churches and public libraries. She ultimately became her lone, prime advocate. Timidly and reluctantly, the readers started to trickle in—a dozen, 2 dozens etc… Soon, they started coming by the hundreds. The rest is history.
Therese’s story is not unique. It is just a replica of millions like hers—stories of writers who dwell solely in the struggle to beat the odds. When you write a story from the deepest end of your soul, for which you’re determined to be its principal advocate, people will listen.
Now, I’m never going to encourage any writer to first go down the path to self-publishing. This should be the choice of last resort, when all other avenues have been exhausted. Self-publishing means you ARE on your own. All traditional doors are shut at your face, including doors to literary contests. Not everyone has the time, the conviction and the resources to break through on his own.
Stay away from vanity publishers who ask first for a fee to get your book out there. The mutual interest has already been compromised. He has already cashed in on your project. While you wait for him to fulfill his empty promises, he’s already moved on—up to his next victim. The expression “if I only knew” always leads to the city of “Too Late.” Remember this.
Conventional way still remains the best route to literary success, until struggling writers understand they’re the backbones of this financial windfall, the foundation from which the money flows ceaselessly. As writers, we need to rise above hidden pity and jealousy, fighting off the grudge when a fellow writer breaks through. Tomorrow may be your turn, but if and only if you understand writers helping writers is the best route to literary success.
Note: Ardain Isma is a novelist and editing manager at CSMS Magazine. He heads the Center for Strategic and Multicultural Studies. He also teaches Introduction to Research Methods at Embry Riddle University. To see his books, click here.