15 May 2012

Acting like a professional

There should be professionalism even in the non-professional field of small press publishing. And I’m not just talking about money.

Over the past year I have come across at least four publishers that did not give a contributor’s copy to the writers included in their anthologies. In one case, the publisher didn’t even supply the eBook version. No, I’m not going to name names – that way just leads to an endless tirade of abuse, and life is too short for that.

What this meant is that the author of the story, if he or she wanted a copy of the book the story was in (and who wouldn’t?) had to pay to be published. Sort of vanity publishing. Yes, sometimes the writer got paid a tiny sum – a friend received $5 for a story. Buying the book and paying for postage far exceeded that five dollars.

I know there are the submission guidelines and that we should read them carefully. But some of them seem to go on a bit and then I skip-read the final part, and so it was my fault that I didn’t get a free copy of the book (there was no payment, but I knew about that). In this case I put up my hands: mea culpa.

I run a small press outfit, The AlchemyPress, which has published a couple of anthologies – and has two more on the way. For the first two there was no payment – I wasn’t rich enough for that – but all contributors received copies. I will be paying a nominal sum for stories in the next two anthologies plus a contributor’s copy. It’s acting like a professional.

Looking good

When I began editing and producing small press magazines (for the British Fantasy Society) I had to type up the text using an electric typewriter. I’m not sure that personal computers existed back then. The typed text had to be cut and pasted onto plain paper using real scissors and glue, rulers to ensure straight edges, and Letraset for headings and titles. It took a lot of time, especially if one worked hard to produce something that looked neat and pleasing on the eye.

Now, with computers, word processors and design packages, it is so much easier to do a proper job – a professional-looking job. Just look at Rumours of the Marvellous by Peter Atkins (published by The Alchemy Press). I designed this book using inexpensive software. It wasn’t difficult to produce a volume that looked good, that’s a delight to own. (The hard bit was ensuring that the signature sheets were all signed and returned to me on time for printing to a deadline – but that was a rod I made for my own back.)

And the contributors got a free copy of the book – just saying.

I recently bought a small press book via Amazon because – well, just because. It was bought based on the contents. Okay, one can argue that it’s the words that matter, not the packaging. If that’s true, then I’d just buy Kindle books. But I, for one, like real books, books printed on paper. I like to flick the pages, read stories at random. Anyway, getting back to the book I ordered via Amazon…

There were no page numbers. The contents page was, therefore, useless. The author bios were printed at the back, using differing paragraph layouts (both single and 1.5 spaces). The margins were huge. It looked as if the designer simply cut and paste (electronically speaking) from the original manuscripts. It appalled me. As I said, it is so easy to make things look good nowadays – so why not take a little pride in the work and do just that? (I’d even do the work for you – see here.)

And finally

On Facebook recently there was mention of a certain editor who over-edited, with links to a couple of blogs that went into the story in greater detail. And that story is horrifying. Apparently a writer received her contributor’s copy (at least she got one) containing her story – but a story heavily edited. No, not edited: altered. The editor excused this by saying that she signed the contract allowing for editorial changes. Maybe she did. But there is editing and there is abuse, and it looks as if this editor abused the writer’s works. He said the story was improved by the alteration. I don’t know; I’ve not read either version.

The thing is, if the editor requires substantial changes it must be done with the writer (I’m not talking about grammar – I’m talking about changing the story). It’s called acting like a professional. Going back to when I started in this game, I didn’t use contracts. We exchanged letters and phone calls and maybe spoke face to face. I didn’t need contracts to be professional in my dealings. Perhaps I’m just old fashioned.

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