It started with a post by a friend about a writing conference at an idyllic spot in New England over the Halloween weekend. It was billed as a workshop for people working on a horror or mystery novel, and I had about a hundred pages written in my first attempt at writing a vampire novel. This conference promised to be fun seminar to help me learn to navigate the horror book market.
It was a five hour drive from my home to the small town, and it was pouring rain when I arrived at the hundred-year old inn. Low-hanging gray clouds hid the mountain vistas the area was known for. The driveway was mud that threatened to suck the boots off my feet. Determined to make the best of it, I lugged a couple of bags from my car, grumbling to myself about my tendency to bring my entire house with me when I traveled, and made my way in.
The woman who ran the charming old inn welcomed me with a friendly smile and helped get my suitcase and various bags up the stairs. I would have the Emily Dickinson room, with a comfortable queen-sized bed, well-used dresser and desk, and ancient radiators that hissed and gave off a metallic smell that reminded me of the radiators in the Victorian-era home I grew up in. Two shared baths were around the corner. I set up my computer at the desk and made a few jots into a journal I would keep about the four day stay, freshened up a bit, then headed down to a get-together wine and cheese for the group.
As it turned out, there would be only five participants this weekend. Four would-be participants had canceled at the last minute, we were told. After a lovely dinner, we all sat around a warm fireplace in the comfy living room. One of the event organizers, a man named Steve, asked us to introduced our writer-selves. One writer was working on a mystery novel. Someone else was working on a history of the Japanese during World War II. I shared how, over the previous few weeks, I had sent out a dozen or so queries to publishing agents and small presses to see if I could get my memoir published, and I had received the expected few “no thank you’s.” I told the group about my frustration, then explained I was interested in focusing this weekend on my vampire novel, and spent a few minutes talking about where I was on that. “But what about your memoir?” I was asked.
Over the next day and a half, I was subjected to a full court press of efforts to get me to sign up for the sponsor’s “pitch contest,” an American Idol for writers, where I could pitch my completed memoir to three possible publishers. If I signed up for $15,000 worth of editing, marketing, book cover design, and other services, I could be one of eight writers who would be selected to present to the judges (a la American Idol) who might pick me for a $50,000 book deal.
I tried to pay attention to the workshop on ghostly apparitions and the nuanced differences between horror, mystery, and suspense. And then, as the group broke up, Steve would again ask, “Have you thought any more about joining the pitch contest?” After a sleepless night, tossing and turning wondering if I should take the deal, I came to my senses. I got up at six, packed, went downstairs for a quick breakfast, and left, arriving home just beginning to emerge from the after effects of a marketing slam.
Within a couple of days, my answering machine had eight messages on it. Where did you go? We were worried about you. I called back, and Steve tried his damnedest to get me back into the game. I called four people who had participated in previous years’ marketing slams, and a couple of them had not done too badly. They were out $12,000 to $15,000, but hopeful their book would do well. The other two were less than thrilled at the experience; one owed a great deal of money (for her) for the effort; she had won two years before, but her book was still not published. I eventually found the gumption to give him a definitive no. I felt relieved.
I have come to the conclusion that publishing has become a confidence game, and the con men and con women are everywhere! Do they think writers are made of money? What happened to the stereotype of “starving artist?”
We writers sit at our computers working at our manuscripts, and I assume that other writers, like me, eventually abandon their book for a few minutes and check out the internet. And what do we find?
free offers: Give my free teensy bit of advice you probably already know a try, and I will then pitch my editing/inspiration/marketing services daily, weekly, monthly, until you succumb and ask what is it that you do? Then you will be pitched the $2,000 to $6,000 in services you undoubtedly need to get your manuscript completed and fit for viewing by an agent.
webinars – probably what I hate the most: A Tweet, Facebook post or junk email advises me that someone (the sender) will be giving away a FREE webinar that will help me solve some marketing problem I have. How to get an agent’s eye, how to get my self-published book to fly off the shelves… something most writers will fall for. When I sign into the webinar, I hear 10 minutes of talk describing the problems many first time authors encounter. “You all know how it goes,” the potential consultant says, ” you try and try and don’t get anywhere.” There are twenty different examples of frustrating experiences. The next ten minutes describe how happy I would be if I could overcome this obstacle. And then… And then, by this time, I have signed off. I presume that eventually there will be a pitch to hire this consultant for hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars, to help me solve whatever it is they say I am doing wrong. But I am gone. The free advice they were offering never appears.
Help finding a publisher — really a pitch for me to spend $6,000 to $10,000 self publishing: I still get phone calls and emails.
So this is a message to my fellow writers: If you need help – whether editing (and we all need an editor) or marketing or whatever, ask a published author for the name of someone to work with and skip the free offers. They’re not really free.