If Only It Was Fiction…

Imagine this:

You’re a young writer and you dream big, just like any new writer does.  You stand around at work, day after day, letting your imagination be carried away by your muse, so that, night after night, you can go home and pound away at the little black laptop keys and tell the story that begs to be told.  You hope and you dream that someday, someone out there will read this story/book and be entertained, if even for ten minutes.  You hope that maybe…possibly they remember your name long enough to look you up on the internet, track down your other work, then buy and enjoy it.  You dream that some kid, maybe not far off from your age might be inspired to start up writing…all because of you.  Though you’d never say it out loud, you hope that maybe you’ll hit big, sell a few great novels and have that young writer approach you at a convention or a book store, nervous, shaking, just waiting to tell you that you were the reason they wanted to be a writer.

But until then, you keep writing.  You focus.  You learn.  You submit, submit, submit.  You sit, even when there’s something better on TV that you would rather be watching, and you prove to yourself why you deserve to be heard.  You spend four years, against popular standards, writing that novel idea that wouldn’t let you go.  Sure, you should have started out writing short stories, but, hey, everyone’s different.  By the time you finish that novel, you’re prompted to get back into writing shorts because you need to get your name out there.  And you do.  You spend most of the year working on short fiction, trying to figure out how to keep your ideas under 5,000 words–some ideas work, some don’t.

Then it happens.

An editor likes your story, boy howdy, and he/she wants to buy it.  You see that email and you can’t believe your eyes.  This is it!  You’re finally doing it!  Hell, you call your parents to celebrate and they take you out for a Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream cone, but then you go home right after and keep writing.  And you sell another.  And another.  And another.

2011 is YOUR year!

Then you get the word that one of those books is coming out.  You order your copies.  And you wait.  Then you get home one day to find that box on your doorstep.  THE box.  Your breath catches in your throat.  You leap from the car, grab the box, rush inside, open it, take that first book out, smell it, feel it on your fingers.  This is what you’ve been waiting for!  You crack that fresh new copy open, find your by-line and your story on Page 32, then flip to find…

This is not your story.

This is what I’ve been dealing with for the last six days of my life, and you may or may not have noticed that I’ve completely erased not only two of my blog entries, but two stories from my Biblio page and two pictures from my Facebook page.  The reason is simple.

Earlier this summer, after my first two story sales and placing in the final eleven (out of 110 entries) in the Cemetery Dance Amateur Writing Competition, I sold not one but two of my stories to a gentleman, of who I will not name.  These were going to be placed into an anthology showcasing talent from a particular Mid Western state, one boasting horror stories, and the other science fiction.  I kept in regular touch with the editor, and from what I could tell was a fairly nice individual, who was extremely excited to edit what he believed would be an annual anthology based on these two genres.  I was excited as well.  I thought: Hell yes, here’s something I could be proud to be a part of on a yearly basis.

Last Wednesday, when my Amazon shipment hit my doorstep, I opened my book to discover that what was placed between pages 32-37 was not  what I had submitted, but what the editor had decided would be fitting to his needs.  Mr. Editor took what I believed was a mature, psychological story of a man with a debilitating phobia and what he does to conquer it into a poorly edited, incompetent sex romp, complete with phrases like “piece of limp-dick shit”, “your tiny little cock and skinny neck”, “you fucking, pathetic excuse for a man” (notice the awful comma placement), and completely made up words like “Strangulophobia”.  To say the very least, I was outraged.

For the next twenty-four hours I did some private eye investigating, and come to find out, I wasn’t the only one this happened to.  Again, I will not mention names, but from what I gather it seemed as though the few who had received their copies weren’t thrilled about what was done with their stories.  And from what I gather, mine was by far the worst.

Through word of mouth, the editor contacted me and asked me why I was so upset.  And I gave it to him.  He was completely in breach of contract for these two reasons: One, it is stated in the contract that he wrote, that any major altercations made to this story would need written consent from the author, which was not given.  And two, although briefly mentioned as an option, no e-rights were signed for this book, and yet there’s an e-book version sitting happily on Amazon.

The editor, who was extremely apologetic, gave me three options on how to rectify this situation, but I took it upon myself to give him my own option: You are to immediately remove my story (or, your version of my story) from the anthology, remove my name from the Amazon page, the Facebook page and webpage, and shred my contract for not only this book but the other I’ve been signed for.  And it was done with numerous “sorry’s” and “this was my first time doing this’s”.

It was completely shame it had to be this way, but the editor brought it upon himself.  After speaking with two of my very good friends, they gave me two options of their own: We can be loud and boisterous about this and let the world know of this bullshit, or we can quietly sweep this under the rug and try to forget about it.  I chose the latter.  Even though I wanted to spread the word about this nonsense, to scream and rage in frustration, after a few days I calmed down and leveled out, and decided to just forget the whole damn thing and move on, because there are bigger fish to fry.

I guess the point of this lengthy blog to make people aware that there is a dark side to publishing.  Like any entertainment business, whether it’s loud movie or a quiet book, there are other people out there who are willing to fuck it up for you, whether they know it or not.  Do I believe Mr. Editor did this on purpose to screw with my story in a way that it completely changed not only the language but the tone and point of the story?  No.  I believe he truly thought he was making better, doing what he thought would make it something he would read.  But like any writer, we know that’s not the way it’s done.  If he didn’t like the story or the way it was written, he could have either passed on the story, or, like stated in the contract that he so blatantly ignored, suggest how to make it better.

My point is: Get to know who you’re submitting to.  If you find a market that interests you, then study up.  Find authors who are featured in that magazine/antho and ask them about their experience, what they thought of the editor, and what sort of rights were they asking for.  And for God’s sake: READ YOUR STORY BEFORE IT HITS PRINT!!!  As newbies, we’re tempted to send out our work to anyone who’s willing to throw $5 our way just to see our stories in print.  We’re naive and we’ll trust anyone, even when they decide to stick it in and break it off.  We have to aim higher, and we have to beware.  There are good people out there who are more than willing to help you along the way–that I can guarantee–you just have to watch yourself and those you decide to associate with.  I wouldn’t wish what happened to me happen to anyone else.

You should be able open that first box of books with your name on it and cry–not tears of anger, but tears of joy.