17 August 2003

Follow the Money
If you ever really want to frighten yourself, educate yourself about the publishing industry, then read the ads in Writer's Digest (note the absence of a link; I cannot in good conscience recommend it), or most other "writers' magazines". With very few exceptions, the products and services advertised prey upon ignorance. There is, however one rule that will keep writers from being ripped off too often.

Yog's Law:
Money flows toward the author.

This does not mean that all services and products for which a writer is asked to pay are fraudulent. Instead, it is based on the "car mechanic" theory. The reason that one should take a used car to a mechanic before purchasing it is that very few people know enough, and have the tools available, to protect themselves from vehicle problems. Similarly, very few authors—and I do not exclude experienced authors, many of whom should know better—know enough about publishing-industry practices to protect themselves from the inappropriate (and worse).

   Over the next few weeks, I will describe some of these inappropriate (and worse) practices, and try to relate them to the legal environment of the publishing industry. There is considerable tension among personal ambition, economics, and literary merit, whether one is looking at "high literary" fiction, weekly news features, or anywhere in between. As rather pleasant homework, I suggest reading Hoop Dreams, or seeing the film (usually available on videotape through a local rental store or library) first.