This is my favorite Demotivational Poster:
As a writer, there are any number of ways to break into the business. The best ones involve sales of stories and books and notice and applause by the world. But all writers have at least one of the other kinds of stories. The kind where even as you’re living it, you begin thinking, “This is one of those bad moves that hopefully will serve as a warning to others. Maybe even myself.”
Back in July, I submitted (for the nth time) a short story in the hopes of having it included in an upcoming anthology. I can’t recall the exact source of the link that brought me to Inkception Press’s pages, but I send out a lot of stories and thus far haven’t had much traction. Off went one of my longer ones — one that includes a character in The Only Song Worth Singing — in the hopes that it would fit with an anthology called New Frontiers, which purported to be about women’s journeys with a side helping of genre. The story, “Rough Beast, Slouching,” fit quite well there. With luck, they’d agree.
Fast forward to the end of August. I get an acceptance letter! With a but: But would you make a few changes, we’d like to see it more dark, more creepy. That didn’t seem to totally jive with the original New Frontier pitch (which seemed to want literary, internal journey stories), but fine: I can accept constructive thoughts, and maybe the editor thought this was the best way to shape the story. In any case, they had me hooked. And the payment option — such as it was explained — was interesting (see highlighted bit below):
Hmm. Royalties. My story was 9,000+ words, so clearly that would be one of the longer ones and based on this would take up more book real estate and generate higher royalties. This seemed promising, if different.
Did I tilt my head sideways a bit when the edit letter came in with “Inkception” spelled correctly (Inception) rather than the stylized “Inkception”? A bit. But I’m new in this area, so you just let some things glide by.
The editor (who was terrific and ultimately sent me an apology email) and I went back and forth a few times, but I finished the revise, ran it by my writers group and sent it back. A line edit or two later and — success! I’m in. When would it pub? Mid-October? That seemed fast, but you can do a lot with e-publishing and CreateSpace so again, I’m not going to be the pain in the ass. I figure the deadline will probably get pushed anyway — that happens frequently.
October 1 came and the month went on. We were asked for bios, photos. No contract, though. How were they going to get all the contracts back in time to publish for October 15? I mean, nobody would publish if they didn’t have their contracts in, right?
My contract arrived on Saturday. In it, I learned a few things.
- The story wasn’t in New Frontiers. It would be in something called “The Creepy Collection.”
- The payment would be this: If you buy a book for resale at the full price, you’ll get $1 back. ($2 for a limited time.)
While this offer had a distinct odor from the moment I read the contract, it took a surprisingly long period of time for me to digest that this was not what I’d expected. I can’t say it wasn’t what I was promised, because I wasn’t promised a whole lot.
I poked around with friends in the business and my Amazing Agent, all of whom said they saw red flags. One Facebook commenter pointed to a post on Writer Beware, which is the Science Fiction Writers of America’s equivalent of the Better Business Bureau. What I was walking through didn’t show up directly on that site, but it had many earmarks of trouble other presses had put writers under through the years.
That left me with two choices: Suck it up and let it go and just say that yes, my story is in an anthology and let other people figure out that it’s far from super-pro — or to withdraw the story and hope I can place the story elsewhere.
But before I tell you what I did, let me tell you the one other odd event. As I noted, the contract arrived Saturday. Emails indicating the book was published arrived Monday!
Well, you can’t say they didn’t want to miss a deadline. That was exactly when they said they’d publish. But … publishing without getting your contracts in? Not. Cool. Also, probably not legal.
Along with the announcement of publication came a long email that explained things further: Namely, the buying of books and the rebate given back, how to participate in signings, how basically to sell your own work. Which you already sold — to them. Which you would have to buy back, in order to sell again.
There was also an option via the press’ own online store to buy in “bulk” at a discount and still get a rebate — but if you note, the “bulk” books (see below) weren’t exactly severely discounted.
As one author/editor noted to me, “[T]hey’re charging you full retail price????? I edited an antho. We sell it for 8.95. The cost to produce is under 4.00. If any participant wants to buy copies after their contributor copy, they can buy them through me at cost.”
Arguably, yes: I could buy the books and resell them. But think about it — the book was going for $12.99 retail. With the “discount”/royalty we’d be paying $11.99 (plus shipping) for each book. Now, while it is in the realm of possibility that readers would want a book of creepy stories by essentially unknown authors, the number of buyers who would pay that price (minimum) is going to be vanishingly small. Recouping that sunk investment (of buying the books) seemed like an impossibility to me.
I wrote the editors and the publisher to ask questions, see if I’d missed something, and to find out about the switch in anthologies. I was told the switch came because the New Frontiers window had closed and I had submitted close to the announcement of “Creepy.” But my original email title was specific about New Frontiers, and as of Monday, October 17 the Submissions page read as it does above. (It changed once I pointed it out.) I had noted that they were selling New Frontiers books on the site, but I assumed the call was for Volume II.
Back to the antho-switch for me: A simple email from editor to writer could have said, “You missed the deadline for X, how about Y?” At which time I could have had a choice. No such email arrived.
And so, in the end I took the advice of my agent, who insisted I could do better — and I withdrew my story from the collection. It’s painful: I was all set to shout from the rooftops that I got accepted, that it was a done deal, and go buy my book. I did hope I could work out some other deal with the publisher, but while an option was floated that seemed to be about giving me more books to sell and putting the percentage of royalty into the contract, in the end we were at cross paths. I just couldn’t see the right in spending all that money for a book to which I had contributed. That’s not how this is supposed to work.
It’s also short-sighted. I’d have taken a small token payment, and probably re-invested it by buying the books, if they’d also been offered at a reasonable “wholesale” or “at cost” price for authors. The press could have essentially had its money back. But for me it’s about getting a check as a writer to do with as I see fit. It’s also a) psychologically helpful in that you can say, “I got paid” and b) can be used to prove that you were paid for your fiction if you want to join certain writing associations.
All of this said, I do not sense mendacity in what happened with the story. I don’t really hold a grudge. There are a lot of outlets in publishing that do take advantage of writers, and do so with no intention toward fairness. But there’s a fine line between actively trying to scam and going with a different remuneration structure that fails to take into account how it seems from the writer’s side. The folks at Inkception gave me a great edit, and pushed me to shape the story into what I think is a better version, and I am appreciative. But that’s not the same as figuring out a way to pay the writers right.
So why publish this blog post if I’m not holding a grudge? Mainly to go on the record, in case someone else does a search for Inkception. When I did my due diligence on the press I found nothing untoward about them online. But as this is clearly a business model they intend to go forward with, it’s worth putting my experience out there.
As the publisher wrote me, “I am sorry that you don’t feel good about the offer. I feel great about opportunities I have provided dozens of authors. Inkception Books is a thriving and bustling community. After doing 3 anthologies and making deals with nearly 45 authors I have only had to pull 3 manuscripts since we began in 2013. One was due to editorial disagreements. The other was for similar reasons that you have stated.”
Yet they remain unclear in their submission requirements about how payments will be made. As of the timing of this post there are two open anthology calls, and no indication about payment at all — including the mention of royalties I included above. So I felt it was important to have this out there, and potentially searchable by those looking for more information about the press.
In the end, your story deserves a good home. The right home. Not just any home that happens to open a door.
Now, off to wet my pillow a little.
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