Froma Bird's Eye View

Commentary by Author Raven West

Writers Beware! Don’t sign away your soul just to be published!

The life of a writer takes many strange turns and on the way we meet many strange people. We love to hear that the time we spend typing our guts onto a computer screen is appreciated, and we are ecstatic beyond words when a publisher is enthusiastic enough about our work to offer us a contract. That is, after all, the ultimate goal of any author. When it finally happens, our first reaction is to open a bottle of champagne and have a party. Until we discover the champagne has gone flat and all we have to show for the celebration is the dirty plates and left-over food.

Yes, this is yet another story of the pricks of the world who love to burst our happiness bubble. Although I enjoy sharing my “horror” stories with fellow authors, I do wish they’d stop happening to me! But I digress. Back to the story.

I met “Marge” (not her real name, although why I want to protect her I have no idea) at a writers conference where I was invited to conduct a workshop on electronic publishing. After the presentation, she told me she was interested in taking over the publication of my novel “Red Wine For Breakfast” and, after reading the first three chapters of my new novel “First Class Male”, wanted to offer me an advance on that one as well. I was thrilled. I checked out her credentials on the web and she seemed legit. We spoke on the phone several times over the course of the next few weeks and planned to meet for lunch near her hometown, which was about a two hour drive up the California coast, where we would finalize the two contracts. She even suggested I obtain an agent to protect my interests, which I did through a contact in one of my writer’s organizations.

On Thursday morning, I had a publisher. I met Marge at her favorite restaurant where she knew everyone and everyone knew her. My first indication that things were not exactly the way she’d presented them, was when the entire staff practically ran from the room when she rolled in. Oh, did I forget to mention? Marge is in a wheelchair. I was impressed with her energy and enthusiasm in spite of being afflicted with MS, and felt she was THE person to take my book to the top of the Best Seller List.

She was very warm and friendly and we shared some light conversation over an overpriced lunch which was, she pointed out, her treat . Marge talked about how she’d inherited the publishing company and had so much money, she didn’t know what to do with it. She showed me her five caret diamond and mentioned how much she’d spent on her previous author, who she was having problems with. She then began telling me, in intimate detail all about the problems, including her suspicion that the author was having an affair. I attributed the small cringe in my stomach to the curry salad dressing, but  something told me things were only going to go downhill from there.

We finally got down to business, and she produced the first contract in which she would take over the publication of my novel. The one I’d spent four years on. The one that was already in bookstores, on the web and doing just fine. Her plan was to do a mass market paperback, put in airports and grocery stores, even Costco and WalMart. And I’d get 30% of all sales. It sounded great…until she took out her pen and crossed out the paragraph that referred to the advance. It was her understanding that since the book was already out, she wasn’t going to pay me anything for the rights, but the royalties would be sufficient. The curry was now starting to make it’s way back up into my throat.

When she pulled out the second contract, which was a boilerplate she’d printed off the internet, she apologized for the misunderstanding regarding the advance she had previously offered. This was a small company, she said, so she couldn’t possibly offer me the $1,000, but only half that amount. (She could hock the ring, I thought but didn’t think it was a good time to make that suggestion) I read through the rest of the contract and was stunned to see that, for a mere $250.00, she expected me to sign over ALL rights, till death did us part, to her company. The salad was now threatening to join the dressing. Unfortunately, she’d forgotten to keep the last page which stated in big, bold letters: THIS CONTRACT FAVORS THE PUBLISHER. No, DUH!

I took the papers, put them into my briefcase and told her I would discuss it with my agent (which I had) and my attorney (which I didn’t have) and get back to her.  Still feeling that maybe there would be room for negotiation, I didn’t want to tell her what I was really thinking. Until she made a comment that totally destroyed any chance of us ever working together, even if she had offered me ten million dollars. Marge, the nice lady in a wheelchair, told me her lawyer asked her if she would have any trouble working with a JEW! Yes, that’s what she said. And, if you can believe this, her response to his question was; “Some of my best friends are Jewish.”

I excused myself from the table, went to the bathroom and tossed the $24.95 salad into the toilet. Taking a deep breath, I returned to the table where Marge was busy selling my book and asking me to sign them for the ambushed customers and staff who couldn’t say no to the “handicapped” lady. I smiled. I signed. I watch her pocket the $13.95 for a book she had purchased from me at MY cost. When the last of the books were sold, I thanked her for lunch, got into my car and drove back down the coast. The view was extraordinary, the ocean magnificent. The temptation too great. I pulled off the side of the road, tore the contracts into tiny little pieces, threw them into the ocean and watched as they floated into oblivion.

Thursday morning, I had a publisher. Thursday afternoon, I didn’t, and when I returned home, I opened a bottle of champagne and celebrated.

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