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Location: Baltimore-DC Area

Author who writes for a living and lives for writing. // WOMB: a novel in utero (Merge Publishing 2017) // TRACKS: A Novel in Stories (Atticus Books 2011) // FLIGHTLESS GOOSE, a storybook for children (Writers Lair Books 2008) // www.EricDGoodman.com

Friday, April 01, 2011

Beware Those April Atlanta Nights

For April Fool’s Day, here’s the story about how a group of writers turned the tables and made a fool out of an unscrupulous publisher.

A.C. Crispin is the author of 24 novels, some of them bestsellers. She is well known as the author of the V novelization and her backstory novels for such popular characters as Han Solo, Spock’s father, and her upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean prequel.

Crispin spoke to the Baltimore chapter of the Maryland Writers Association this past week—not about her own work, but about how new writers should do their homework and protect themselves from scams. In addition to being the go-to person for backstory, she is known for her author advocacy with Writer Beware, which tracks and exposes scams and frauds in the publishing industry. She shared a story which writers who have been around may know: the story of the worst novel ever written—and accepted for publication.

Atlanta Nights was written by 20 individual authors with the intention of writing a terrible novel. The idea was to submit it and expose PublishAmerica, a company that claims to be a “traditional publisher.” Critics have long claimed the company actually a vanity press making its money by selling overpriced books to the authors.

Atlanta Nights is so awful it’s funny: chapters rewritten by different authors from the same segment of the outline (13 and 15), a missing chapter (21), two chapters that are word-for-word identical to each other (4 and 17), two different chapters with the same chapter number (12 and 12), and a chapter randomly generated by a computer (34). Characters change gender and race; they die and reappear without explanation. Spelling and grammar are nonstandard and the formatting is inconsistent. The initials of characters spell out "PublishAmerica is a vanity press.”

Consider this fine passage from Atlanta Nights, authored by the computer program:

He knows something, thought of something, myself. She put in the sweltering Atlanta heat, Callie interjected. "It’s hair into a hot tip on the kids?" Fine, Sir. "Going to the geezer, who sees us!" growled Isaacs.

Or this gem:

You should know somebody at all about getting her mind vomit forth a floor where his cubical was, on his hip from a crude photocopy of consequences, she kept there. She still had heard right. Penny, said he had it come to its tight skirt. Did Callie Like a peach juice? It’s important. They needed a hot tip and didn’t know. You should have figured out like this.

The passages written by people were delightfully bad, too:

“As you know, Nurse Eastman, the government spooks controlling this hospital will not permit me to give this patient the care I think he needs.” “Yes, doctor.” The voice was breathy, sweet, so sweet and sexy. “We will therefore just monitor his sign’s. Serious trauma like this patient suffered requires extra care, but the rich patsies controlling the hospital will make certain I cannot try any of my new treatments on him.”

Not to mention the chapter-end cliffhangers:

"Going down," Isadore Trent chuckled as he pressed the down button, and laughing at his own joke. Had he but known what was to come he would have been laughing out of the other side of his mouth.

They submitted it under the pen name "Travis Tea" and received this response: “I am happy to inform you that PublishAmerica has decided to give "Atlanta Nights" the chance it deserves.”

The point? Authors who have gotten rejection after rejection letter (which includes almost all authors in the beginning) so covet that elusive publishing contract/lotto ticket that they’re often willing to sign the first contract that comes down the pike. But when a company instantly tells you they want to give your book the chance it deserves and then wants to charge you money, run. At the very least, authors should protect themselves by doing their research (even if only a Google search) before signing with any agent or publisher … and never pay money up front.

Don’t let a scammer use your eagerness to make an April fool out of you.

Learn more about A.C. Crispin and her talk at Channel 37. While you’re there, check out some of the serialized stories by authors Paul Lagasse and Gary Lester. http://channel-37.net/?p=640

Visit Writer Beware to get a list of the 20 worst publishers and agents (who aren’t really true publishers or agents since they make their money by charging authors, not selling books). http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/

Learn more about Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea at the website. http://www.travistea.com/

You can even read the entire novel … or just laugh at the first chapter or so. Check out the first reference listed at the Atlanta Nights Wikipedia entry. (Or buy it.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta_Nights

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