Monday, 6 February 2017

Time Alone Press, or, How to Spot the Time Wasters

 "How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?"

John McClane, Die Hard 2: Die Harder

I wrote a post here, not much over a year ago, about the dreadful experiences I had with an outfit by the name of Eldritch Press, who accepted my story Br(other) and then proceeded to muck me around for a very long time indeed, before finally admitting that they wouldn't be publishing my work - and had no intention of paying me a single cent for the months in which they'd tied up the rights while purposefully obfuscating the fact that they knew damn well the book would likely never happen.

What a rubbish experience that was!  And thank goodness these things happen almost never!  I mean, the odds of then selling that same story to another supposedly pro-rate anthology, and the editors again going suspiciously silent for months on end, with the occasional burst of self-aggrandizing nonsense, only to finally admit - in a narcissistic e-mail that suggested they were largely blind to the harm they'd done - that said anthology wouldn't be happening, while ignoring any suggestion that they might compensate writers, are, what?  One in a zillion?

Well, in this case they were precisely one in one, since that's just what happened with Time Alone Press, and their now defunct Let Us In anthology.

Now, my first thought was that there's nothing much you can do in these instances except name and shame: to wit, given that all traces of Time Alone have vanished, all I can say is that, if you should ever come across the improbably-monickered Karl Hexean Sumner, you'd do well to have your lying cat handy.  But then I realised that, since I got a suspicious vibe off of this guy pretty much right from the off, here was a useful opportunity to share some thoughts on how to spot the time wasters early.  And while this probably won't materially help anyone, since there's not a great deal you can do in these situations except hope for the best, at least it might save a little heartbreak when the letdowns finally come.

You Have To Think Anyway, So Why Not Think Big?
Ambition is great, right?  Everyone loves ambition.  Only, ambitious people tend to be ambitious in all directions at once, and hard-working people tend to leave no stones unturned in their pursuit of excellence, and ... look ... if a publisher is espousing their wildly optimistic plans but not doing a whole lot of anything that you can see then maybe they're the sorts of people that are better at daydreaming than doing.  For Time Alone that meant one anthology that turned into a three volume series that turned into a three volume series plus a magazine that turned into a whole boatload of nothing.
Show Me the Money
This one can actually double as a general life lesson: if someone is promising you money then take a moment to wonder where that money might be coming from.  I mean, I'm not saying you should start investigating their investments or anything, but - well, look, we're using Time Alone as an example, aren't we?  Time Alone had publicly promised to publish three anthologies of short fiction, to a total of some sixty or so stories, meaning an up-front investment of somewhere around the fifteen thousand dollar mark.  And yet their website looked like they persuaded a toddler to make it on the promise of a trip to the park.  The point being: does the amount you're being promised align with the sort of money the publisher is spending elsewhere?  Or is there a general air that their funding plans involve a significant lottery win?
It's. Oh. So Quiet
Short story publishing is, admittedly, not a business that requires constant communication; sometimes months may pass in which you'll hear nothing, especially if a market buys well in advance.  Still, there are certain definite circumstances where silence becomes suspicious.  Having had an acceptance, have you had a contract?  Having had a contract, have you had payment?  If the answer's no on either front and more than a month has gone by then something's likely amiss.  And when that gets to Time Alone levels, with websites and Facebook pages left for weeks on end without updates, it's safe to assume that something's going majorly wrong behind the scenes.
What Does God Need With a Starship?
Following on from all the earlier points: real publishers have plans about how they're going to achieve their goals.  That may mean Kickstarters or subscriber programs or being millionaires from the off, but there should generally be at least some sense of how those goals will become ends.  If a publisher's business plan appears to be along the lines of "make a book and then poof! magic, and also there will be unicorns" then there's a reasonable chance that they do not, in fact, know what they're doing.  By the same measure, you might want to look and see if they've previously published any books, and if so, how well they've managed them.  Lots of pending projects and few or no actual projects are another good warning sign, as are half-built websites staying half-built for months on end.
It's Not You, It's Me
Good publishers are enthusiastic about publishing.  Holy crap, that sounds so obvious when you say it like that!  And those good publishers tend to devote their energies to talking about their writers, their writers' stories, their projects, rather than - you know - themselves.  If every e-mail you get, and every Facebook post, and everything on the website, screams of a publisher that's terribly excited about their own existence and at best mildly interested in the writers they should be promoting then that right there is another flashing red light.
Needless to say, none of these warning signs mean a great deal in isolation; no-one's perfect, after all.  It's when you see two or three of them together that you should start readying for bad news - and when you see all five then you should assume that it's pretty much guaranteed.

And, hey, on a concluding note - if anyone wants to buy a horror story of just under 6000 words that is very clearly cursed then do please let me know.

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