Anyone who’s had any experience whatsoever with publishing, even with a single short story or a poem, must have acquired the kind of uneasy feeling that this is a sea full of sharks and other life forms that do not exactly have your best interests at heart. Sadly, it seems that sooner or later most of us run into these life forms.
These are not necessarily the much derided vanity presses, whom you give money to publish — or rather, slap a cover and print — the book you’ve laboured over for years. No, things in this particular segment of self-publishing have evolved. You can now pay to have your book proofread and formatted, have a high-quality cover designed, the book printed and distributed. That’s what I did. But besides these evolved forms of the vanity press, there are also those that will feed on your dreams.
I got contacted by a lady last week, from a media company, who praised my book saying their editors had reviewed it — I wasn’t aware it was being reviewed by anyone — and decided it was worth turning into a script for film or a TV series. Twice in her email the lady used wording featuring the pronouns we/our and the verb invest. At first glance, these nice people wanted to invest in my book, to turn it into a script. The lady literally said so. So I wrote back.
Now, I will gladly admit I have had adaptation dreams about The Lamiastriga. It’s cinematic as it is, as per reader feedback, and as per my plans for it. I have lined up the cast. So, naturally, my initial reaction was wild joy that It Was Happening. My second reaction, however, was doubt, not just because I don’t believe in Santa Clause any more but because if I’ve learned one thing about all this books and films business it is that it is, well, a business, meaning a construct built with the singular goal of making money. Still, I allowed for the possibility that my book is so excellent someone had decided it worth investing in. We scheduled a call and I called the lady because she said that, for some reason, she couldn’t get through to me.
I, strangely, got through to her without any problems. Calling a toll-free U.S. number is not free from abroad but I was feeling generous because I was feeling curious. We chatted for fifteen minutes before the lady got to the point and the point turned out to be called “shared investment”. The moment she mentioned this, I got it.
Nobody was making my dreams come true. People were earning their own living and no, my book wasn’t that brilliant that someone had decided to invest in it on their own. I cut the lady short — the older you get the less time for empty niceties you have — and asked for a figure. She gave it to me. I laughed out loud, which wasn’t very polite but then, the figure was ridiculous even with the stipulation that the firm will cover more than half of the total.
It was an admirable scheme if you’re new and gullible, which, apparently, I no longer am, I was pleased to discover. They give you a five-figure number for all the services they would render, which, when you look at them through sober eyes, are not that many or that costly, and they tell you they will cover more than 50% of the cost. It does sound tempting until you realise they won’t need to spend a penny. You will cover everything. But if you don’t land a film/TV series deal, they will reimburse half of what you paid. Hard to resist, right? At least, if you have that kind of money set aside.
When you don’t have that kind of money set aside, the decision is pretty easy and I made it before my prepaid card ran out. (I don’t have a subscription plan. I don’t t need a subscription plan. I use my phone to call the optician’s once a quarter, when I order contacts. Of course I’ll have a prepaid card.) I wrote to the lady to clarify I hadn’t hung up on her and to tell her to feel free to share any details she would like me to see. She sent me a formal partnership proposal. I read it through and politely declined it. Financial decisions are so easy to make when you don’t have the money required and even if you did, you had once and for all decided to not spend another penny on that book.
The following night I dreamed of an evil presence that ate people (and left internal organs lying around), a presence that followed me from a motel to my house where it started trying to kill us all one by one. The last thing I remember before waking up was me shouting at the presence that I will finish it no matter what. Anyone care to interpret that dream? I’m rather proud of it, to be honest.
So, I’m happy to say I got a little wiser after that encounter. I’m sure this firm’s business activity a legitimate way to help people confident in the merits of their work realise their dreams at a cost that is probably quite palatable for some and that could be more than recovered if they do get a film deal. Yet it’s not the way I want to see my dreams come true (unless a deal was guaranteed, which it never is). I’d rather keep writing, leaving my books to promote themselves, which is all but doomed to failure in the vast ocean of books coming out every day. But, hey, at least books don’t spoil. Who knows, maybe a decade from now one of my novels will become a hit and Netflix or whoever would grab the opportunity to adapt it for TV. That’s one of the greatest things about all physical forms of art. They last.