Second from the bottom

One of the bad parts of the amateur writing scene is the large number of ‘vanity publisher’ scams.

These companies make their money by charging fees to authors rather than by selling books. Their ‘services’ are over-priced, and don’t get the results that they imply. Sometimes they just straight up lie and rip off their clients (for example by not paying royalties).

Recently a couple of major publishers have become involved in this part of the industry (more information here). I don’t know whether this is because they’re losing money due to ebooks. I suppose companies don’t need a reason to become part of a consistently profitable business.

Personally, I find other amateur writers’ reaction to the scams as depressing as the scams themselves. The post I linked to above says, at one point, “Before you say that any writer who gets suckered only has themselves to blame…”. The post says this because that’s exactly the reaction that a lot of amateur writers have (at least online: I’ve never heard anyone say it in real life).

This is quite a strange reaction. In my very limited experience, musicians sympathise with other musicians who get ripped off by managers or venues. Role-players can be pretty nasty online – yet if someone was ripped off thousands of dollars by false promises of a contract with Wizards of the Coast, I think most people would sympathise with them.

You could, of course, argue that there are more exploited people in the world. You can’t get ripped off thousands of dollars without having thousands of dollars in the first place. But this isn’t the argument that amateur authors make. Their argument, if you can call it that, is essentially that anyone who gets fooled deserves to be fooled.

I don’t know why people do this. But I think it might be partly a reaction to being bottom of the pile. As an unpublished (or Amazon-ebook-published) author, you’re one of thousands, most of whom aren’t going to get to the next level. People who are ripped off by vanity presses are someone to look down on. Compared to them, anyone can feel knowledgable and street-smart.

Should I finish this?

I wrote this unfinished parody of The Raven a few years ago. I wonder if you guys think I should finish it.

The Gamer

It was on an evening boring
As I sat there, inventorying,
Games of dwarves and halflings warring, ordered many months before.
Unsold stock – well I had plenty; Modern Western Dark d20,
Lite d20, Hard d20, and more d20s galore.
OGL, and nothing core.

“Would you rather something Forgey?
Look – this one has rules for orgies.
Or this old-school zine with artwork straight from 1984?
Or this one we’ve had for ages that has seven hundred pages,
That the author spent a decade on, and blew his savings for?
Yes, all right, it’s pretty poor.”

“But this one has stats for trollkin.
It owes not one thing to Tolkien!
And these guys with pointy ears are…OK, never mind that. Or”,
Then I said, my eyes alighting on a book with robots fighting,
“OK this one looks exciting.” But the ruleset was a bore.
D&D, and not much more.*

(*Rifts is tm Kevin Sembieda. I obey the law)

But, undaunted, I persisted
And, “With house rules,” I insisted,
“Any system can be twisted into what you bought it for.
World of Darkness with Godzilla! Traveller, but you’re all gorillas!
D&D does Speed! Why would you need your console any more?”
Quoth the gamer: “Gears of War.”

“Fiend!” I cried. “Go back to Blizzard
With its poly-counts and wizards
made of pixels, not of paper and named ‘b0br0x94’.
Go! Rejoin your guild of hot chicks
who are rock chicks, and are not chicks!”
(here I wondered; hadn’t Dr Suess said much the same before?)
“Get off my lawn! And shut the door.”

So the last game store in Britain
still is sitting, still is shitting,
still is bleeding streams of currency, of metaphoric gore.
It is Stunned, and Prone, and Bloodied,
and…this prose is getting muddied.
It is losing lots of money, going bankrupt and, therefore,
will be open – not much more.

from A Shropshire Lad

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

from Two Poems, After A. E. Housman

What, still alive at twenty-two,

A clean upstanding chap like you?
Why, if your throat is hard to slit,

Slit your girl’s and swing for it!
Like enough you won’t be glad

When they come to hang you, lad,
But bacon’s not the only thing

That’s cured by hanging from a string.
When the blotting pad of night

Sucks the latest drop of light,
Lads whose job is still to do

Shall whet their knives and think of you.