The Shell Game
Guest Post by Ruth Dewey
So you threw that letter fom Dorrance in the round file. Good for
you. For those of you didn’t and now find yourself caught in their web, don’t
despair and don’t slit your wrist. There is a road to recovery but first let’s take
my journey I knew there was a reason I signed that stupid contract when all reason
screamed at me not to — I have finally discovered it.
What happens after you sign that paper promising to pay that subsidy fee?
Well, I got a lot of letters from them. One of the first, dated the 13th of June, 2008, was quite interesting. It came with the contract and “proposed to bring my manuscript into print in our Traditional Subsidy Program.” As we in the South are wont to say,”Well, butter my buns and call me a biscuit.”
First red flag: there is no such thing as a traditional subsidy program. A publishing company is either 1) traditional, meaning they give the author an advance to work on a book, which reaches them via an agent, or a query letter, unless one wants to risk drowning in a slush pile. and for which the author earns royalties; 2) subsidy, meaning the author subsidizes the publishing of the book with his own money, a route used most often when the book has a very narrow audience and 3) vanity, meaning the author wants the prestige of being published without all the hassle of query letters, agents or re-working his manuscript. Again, the author pays. There are additional types of publishers such as educational and trade but for our purposes these three should suffice.
So with those distinctions in mind, a traditional subsidy program is either one of two things: a vanity publisher in drag or a shell game otherwise known as a Ponzi scheme. For the latter, we have a mark, the author to whom the letter has been sent asking for money with which to screw himself. Now all we
need are the shills, the muscle and the operator. Keep this vehicle, or extended metaphor, in mind as we continue.
At this point I was balking at this first red flag as anyone with an ounce of common sense would. Reading further along in the letter which hadn’t yet asked for my first-born, I find that “since the cost of reproducing full-color illustrations can be cost-prohibitive, we propose to feature the illustrations in
“black-and-white” Well, you picked a fine time to tell me, Dorrance — just as you got my money. What timing! I dared not even venture to request a quote to publish the book in color. No doubt it would rival the national debt. I was trapped into doing it in black-and-white due to budget parameters on my part.
Why on earth would I want to do it in “black-and-white if the orginal was in color? Why was the color subsidy fee just not laid out for me? Why all of these alternatives? The next line gave me the answer — the fee. Then they wanted the original illustrations from which to work. I hadn’t even signed the contract yet and they wanted the original manuscript — in your dreams! I set aside all of the materials they had sent and went about my life, hoping they would forget about me. They didn’t As I said in my
previous post, a phone call from a very pushy saleslady followed the letter — enter the muscle. She was not taking “No” for an answer. Why didn’t I just hang up. I don’t know. Maybe it is because she had the manuscript and I feared for what may happen to it if I didn’t listen. Maybe she was a Mafioso. But when she said she would come down there personally and hammer out a contract I WOULD sign, I began to feel pressured. I did not want her coming down here. Whatever happened to “no obligation”? I was beginning to feel mightly obligated. I hate getting the “bum’s rush.” So why did I sign that contract? Sometimes the answer comes later. Something just said to sign it, so I did.
So what happened after I signed the “contract,” you want to know or you wouldn’t have read this far. Not much transpired between the time I signed it and my next letter from them, dated the 20th of April, 2009. Supposedly they were busy “editing” my book to the tune of $362.50 a month. There was hardly any editing to be done as it had been worked and re-worked some many times that holes were beginning to appear in the manuscript. I guess they were busy hauling all of that money to the bank. They had conveniently broken my “subsidy” fee into 24 monthly installments. How thoughtful of them! They did claim to “care” about their authors, after all. The 20th of April has never been a date of good portent for me. This one proved to be no exception.
“Enclosed herewith, you will find the cover design for your book, SPRINGBORN,” it proclaimed. It was about time! When I looked at it, I nearly had a heart attack. They had put some little squiggles at the top and bottom. It took them nearly a year to come up with a few squiggles. I was impressed beyond measure. They had clearly timed it to come right as the production portion of the fee was coming to a close and wanted to see if they could pull any more money out of me.
I was even more impressed when I read further. Although they had “incorporated any design ideas” I had into this cover, I was now advised that “For any design changes requested to the cover that, in the judgment of Dorrance, are extensive, an author alteration fee will be assessed at $150.00 per request.” In other words, if I didn’t like those squiggles, which were never my idea to begin with, I could have them erased to the tune of my first hidden fee. If I wanted a new cover, they would be more than happy to do that to the tune of a $250 author alteration fee. After that any further changes or corrections after I gave my approval would be $50.00 to “re-open the job from our artist, plus $10” They were doing the job all right.
If I could not see where this was going with the first letter, at this juncture, it became painfully obvious. There was no doubt in my mind that I was dealing with some slick ones. As they had nearly all of the fee by now, I was compelled to continue to the bottom of this Titanic literary adventure, costly
as it was.
While one may not be able to judge a book by its cover, one can surely judge a publishing company by the job they do on the cover. The production shills were evidently playing their role by letting me know I was in the game and had to stay in it to the bitter end or lose everything I had “invested” in my book. A sense of foreboding enveloped me at this time. I started making copies of e-mails and putting them in a file. Letters went in there as well. I knew they would come in handy in time should the promotion department be as disastrous as the production department was turning out to be. As the drug-dealer cop in “Training Day” put it, it isn’t what you know, it’s what you can prove.
Ruth D. Dewey is a former English teacher turned gentleman farmer’s wife. Her first book is SPRINGBORN, (Dorrance Publishing Co. 2009) a poetic chronicle of a calico kitten’s life employing the Old English kenning. She is also a contributor to ANGELS magazine. Her current work-in-progress concerns her recent experience with Dorrance Publishing Company.