The Mail I Get — Still More!

I have two pieces of mail to share with you today. First off is this query from an aspiring screenwriter in Germany:

I am trying to collect experience in "stoffentwicklung" what might be similar to the expression "scriptwriting" for movies and television. I had the Idea to got to Los Angeles- Hollywood to do a trainee, but I really don't know if this is
common in the same way as it is here in Germany. I would be very greatfull if
you could help me on this.

I replied:

I'm not aware of all the trainee opportunities in screenwriting in L.A…but the few that I know about are highly competitive. You would be competing against graduates of the film schools at UCLA, USC and NYU, to name a few. And I suspect the trainee programs are more likely to take a U.S. writer than one from Europe. That said, it couldn't hurt to apply anyway. All it will cost you is a stamp or a click.

I got the following email from a writer who says he's trying to decide whether or not to self-publish his novel. But  it seems to me from his note that he has already decided to self-publish and is trying to justify his decision to himself:

I am an aspiring and intelligent writer who is aware that there are so many less-than-honest companies. Do you despise all self publishing or do you see the value in some authors deciding to self publish? Are there any companies in particular that you have found success with? Do you know approximately how many legitimate literary agents are available in the US and how many manuscripts they take on per year? I know that there are relatively unknown authors that do get the opportunity to publish but is there an average advancement amount that is given to a first timer? How is the figure decided? I am passionate about what I have written and I do not want the manuscript, characters, places, etc to be altered in any way. Can I get a guarantee from a traditional publisher that my work will not be manipulated or misconstrued?

Here's how I replied:

I don't know how many legitimate literary agents there are, or how many manuscripts are published each year, or what the average advance is for new writers. It's irrelevant anyway. It sounds to me like you are asking those questions to justify a decision you've already made to hand over your credit card to a vanity press. What you're implying is that it's just too damn hard to break in… and you don't want to make the effort. And since, on top of that, you refuse to even consider editing your work in any way, then yes, I think it's unlikely that you will find an agent or a publisher.

Why? Because no agent is likely to represent a newbie writer as inflexible  as you appear to be…unless, of course, your work is
mind-blowingly spectacular and amazingly commercial.  And while a real publisher won't edit your work without your consent…they also won't publish it if you are unwilling to make the changes they think are necessary.

So if what you want is your manuscript to be printed in a form resembling a book without any editing whatsoever, then hell yes, call iUniverse right away. You won't sell any copies, and it will cost you a small fortune, but at least it will be printed in book form without any chance of rejection, editing…or  advances and sales. But hey, at least you will have done it your way and avoided any chance of someone telling you something you don't want to hear.

You are, in fact, exactly the kind of person vanity presses pray for…not only do they like the desperate and naive, they also appreciate people whose high opinion of their own work is only matched by their fear of rejection and lack of fortitude.

Do I despise all self-publishing? No, I don't. I despise the vanity presses that prey on the stupidity and desperation of aspiring authors and swindle them out of their money. And I have little patience for newbie writers who are so intent on finding a short-cut that they blind themselves to obvious scams.

Self-publishing is rarely a wise idea for fiction but it can work with non-fiction, especially if you have a strong platform from which to publicize and sell the book,  like teaching a class, hosting a TV or radio show, preaching to a congregation, touring as a speaker, running seminars, etc.

4 thoughts on “The Mail I Get — Still More!”

  1. Well said. Were you to post this at you’d be mobbed by hordes of insulted housewives throwing eggs and F-bombs. They’d still be wrong, regardless of hurt feelings.
    The message is: my fiction has failed.

  2. Excellent answer.
    I know of only one successful novelist, Loren Estleman, who won’t permit alterations of his manuscripts. Maybe there are others. Usually, when successful authors become rigid about editing, it hastens their decline.


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