This article, passed on to me by Cantara Christopher, publisher of Cantaraville, reminded me of how vulnerable people who dream of publishing success can be. The odds are incredibly long. A market for literary fiction exists, and in spite of the whining of those of us who haven’t “made it,” it’s not on the verge of extinction, but it is relatively small and static. The supply of literary fiction, however, is endless. I remember reading an article in some writing magazine that said that The New Yorker receives 10,000 unsolicited short fiction submissions a year. That number is staggering considering that, as a weekly, they will only publish 52 short stories a year, most of them submitted by agents. They accept electronic submissions, so once or twice a year, I submit something to them because, “Hey, you never know.” Every time I do that, I also stop by the convenience store on the way home from work and buy a lottery ticket. Even if my submission is good enough for The New Yorker (and I’m perfectly willing to accept the possibility that it isn’t) my odds in the multi-state Powerball are probably better. I’m more likely to get that house by the lake that all writers dream of from the lottery than I am from my writing.
But we are dreamers and that makes us vulnerable to scam artists. No matter how smart we are in everything else, we can fall prey to those who know where our buttons are: so-called literary agencies who charge reading fees or refer us to “critiquing services” (with a special discount of course), vanity presses, and hucksters selling books that will reveal the secrets to getting published. You can find examples of this on the right sidebar of this blog. I signed up with Google AdSense, which scans my content and feeds appropriate ads. Given that this blog is about writing, they keep serving up scam artist. Occasionally, they feed an ad for a legitimate MFA program, but for the most part, it looks like the classifieds in the back of Reader’s Digest. If the mix of the ads doesn’t improve soon, I’m removing it.
A few years ago, when I was in a particularly mischievous mood, I visited the website of one of these fraudulent literary agencies, The New York Literary Agency, impressed by how creative they were in naming themselves. I won’t provide a link. You can Google them and find not only their site, unchanged, along with hundreds of other links to discussion boards that expose their fraud. The website allowed you to submit a query to them for consideration. Again, I was feeling a little mischievous, so here is how I filled out their questionnaire:
Name: Nick Caraway
How Did You Hear of Us: Web
Title of Work: Rising Sun
Synopsis: Jake has been wounded in the war and cannot have sex. He is in love with Brett, who is a nymphomaniac. Brett, whose heart was broken when her own true love was killed, loves Jake, but sublimates her love by sleeping with all of Jake’s friends. This makes Jake cranky. They all travel to Spain where Brett has an affair with a young bullfighter who wears tight pants. Jake’s friend, Robert, gets jealous and beats the bullfighter to within an inch of his life.
Two days later, I received an email from Sherry Fine, Vice President of Acquisitions, expressing her interest in my work and asking my to send several chapters for further evaluation.
I admit I had some fun messing with them, but not as much fun as I am now having by posting this on my blog.
If you’re looking for something to help your writing or to re-motivate you, don’t bother clicking on the right-sidebar. Find a workshop or get yourself a copy of John Gardner’s classic:
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