Friday, April 07, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- The Life of Riley -- er -- Writer

This was one of the silliest writing-related (well, sort of) things I ran across last year: the Book Millionaire "reality show." It's the brainchild not of a publishing industry insider--or even a publishing industry outsider--but of Lori Prokop, purveyor of a variety of get-rich-quick tapes, seminars, and books, and owner of her very own vanity press, Best Seller Publishing, Inc. (which has no website, but here's one of its projects.)

Trudging in the footsteps of reality shows like Fear Factor and My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, the Book Millionaire reality show will feature "Eight people with dreams of seeing their book ideas become published and being the next author launched to best selling and celebrity status." And guess what--these lucky would-be authors don't need to squeeze out a single line of prose! According to the show's FAQ: "We are looking for a person who desires to be America's next Book Millionaire and best selling author. This means the book may or may not be written yet nor would it need to be written before filming of the show."

So this is a book contest in which an actual book is irrelevant. Why didn't I think of that? How easy would my authorial life be if I didn't have to worry about writing those damn books? I guess all the people who always kinda thought they might write the Great American Novel but never quite found the time, or the people who have a fab idea for a book if someone else would just take care of writing it for them, or the people who want to be authors but don't want to take the time to turn themselves into writers, now have a chance to become rich and famous, just like me.

What can lucky contestants expect? "You and other chosen Candidate Authors will come to a filming location near Minneapolis, Minnesota," the FAQ continues. "You and others will complete a series of tasks which pertain to book promotion and living the lifestyle of a best selling author." Sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry, doesn't it--unless of course these authors have aspirations to be Bret Easton Ellis, in which case Minneapolis will be too small to hold them. For any contestants who might be feeling a little nervous about that unwritten book, not to worry--you can use someone else's! "You will not need to have your own book finished for the filming," the ever-helpful FAQ explains. "Rather, we will use prominent company products and currently published books for the tasks." Goody! Can I be Robin Hobb?

The lucky winner will realize "the ultimate dream — to enjoy the lifestyle of being a successfully published author." Yeah, baby! The late advance checks. The impossible deadlines. The writer's block. The unsympathetic editors. The too-busy agents. The midlist. The death spiral. The constant struggle to juggle a writing life with real life. Bring it on!

Of course, if you read the fine print, the actual prize is much less than it appears (surprised?) In fact, based on this excerpt from the participation agreement that Book Millionaire hopefuls are required to sign, it appears to be a contract with Lori Prokop's own vanity publisher, Best Seller Publishing:

8. PRIZES. Game Winner receives: A Publishing Contract. The winner gets to have their book manuscript published and available on Amazon.com and available to bookstores in the United States. Prizes are not transferable and no substitution of prizes is permitted except that Best Seller Publications reserves the right to substitute a prize of equivalent value or greater if a prize is unavailable.

Note the key words "available." That's a euphemism for POD. So what would be equivalent value? A contract with iUniverse?

If, like me when I first ran across the contest, you thought that no one would be so gullible as to fall for this flimflam (which actually made it into the Museum of Hoaxes), you'd be wrong. Videos made by aspiring book millionaires have begun to appear on the contest website, and there will be more in coming weeks. Right now there's Neil, who wants to reveal the secrets of creativity. There's Nick, who has "spent a great deal of my life being a Christian – a characteristic about myself that I commonly share with many other Americans." There's Chet--who, believe it or not, is already a multi-published author, with books from Bantam and Thorndike Press among others. There's Sheree, who wants to "die a best selling writer." (Me too, Sheree, although I'd like to live with it a little first.) There's feisty New Yorker Robin, the Red Hot Woman, whose magnum opus is a porn novel. You can vote for your favorites. In fact, since there don't appear to be any provisions in place to guard against vote-rigging, you can vote for them often.

So where will we be seeing Book Millionaire, once the finalists are chosen? Not on network TV. Not on cable TV. Not on local access TV. Not even at 2:00am on paid infomercial TV. No--Book Millionaire will be broadcast FREE online! The website tries to put a good face on this. "After listening to all the emails asking how people could make sure they could see the show (regardless of where they lived) and talking to cable channels, who were both very interested in the show and very fun to talk with, and talking to sponsors who wanted the highest amount of distribution possible, we have all agreed that broadcasting Book Millionaire online for FREE is a great answer." It's pretty easy to read between the lines, however. The TV channels wouldn't even take a meeting for this absurd concept, so Book Millionaire is stuck with the Internet.

Would-be book millionaires, I, a book non-millionaire, salute you. I wish you all the best of luck. I also hope you read the disclaimer in your participation agreement--just in case this celebrity author thing doesn't wind up being all it's cracked up to be:

20. PARTICIPATION...You understand if chosen as a Candidate Author, your participation in Program will not be all that you may want or need to do to achieve the ultimate publishing success. You understand and agree the Book MillionaireTM Reality TV Show and its producers, owners, officers, directors, employees, judges, agents, representatives, and affiliates do not warrant any particular level of success from your participation in the Program. You expressly acknowledge that no promises have been made to you, either express or implied, verbal or written, regarding any income you might earn or success you might achieve due to your participation in the Process or Program or any expenses you might earn back, including your travel or other expenses in conjunction with the Application or Participation in Process or Program.

19 comments:

michaelc said...

Looks like an ideal opportunity for Atlanta Nights and any of the Travis Teas that care to participate. Actually, it sounds like something Travis himself might think up.

Kendall said...

Thanks, Victoria -- this really gives new meaning to the old saw that "truth is stranger than fiction." No fiction necessary...yet the reality of it is one big fiction!

lorra laven said...

And here I thought April Fools only occurred on the first day of the month. Silly me.

James Goodman said...

Oh my, the depths of depravity these people will sink to in the hopes of fleecing the masses never cease to amaze me. Sadly, the “Winners” will probably herald their successes from the roof tops, not realizing that they’ve been had.

But then, there will always be those who feed the illusion. We have a local magazine (Tulsa People) that I peruse from time to time. Last November, I read an article showcasing local authors (in hopes of making their books possible Christmas presents I assume) and as I read the descriptions one of them (I can’t remember for the life of me the name of the book or the author for that matter) published by Publish America in the last sentence. *Sighs*

Sam said...

I thought I'd see it all...

P.N. Elrod said...

Urrgh...arrrgh....

....mustn't laugh.

Doctor warned...

NO LAUGHING...COULD... BE...FATAL...

Nooooooo...

URRRGGGGH

ArghahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--
BWAHAHAHAHAHAAaaa...

:drops unconscious and dies:

Anonymous said...

Maybe Hollyweird's smart enough to turn down their harebrained scams. That's why they're left with the internet. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Getting a publishing contract without having any of your writing evaluated is complete bullocks. I can't believe people actually fall for this.

Sure, it's easy to fall for people who say your book is great and that they want to publish you, but honestly how are people supposed to become best-selling authors and "living the dream" without writing the book FIRST.

Those network shows have more brains than I give them credit for.

--E said...

But...how does Best Seller Publishing (or whoever) make money from this? Is there an entry fee or something?

Yes, it sounds too stupid for words. It sounds like a colossal waste of time for anyone silly enough to fall into it. I'm just trying to figure out where the profit is.

Julia said...

Is it any surprise that one of the authors in week 1 is with Publish America?

ALC said...

Yes, I saw that! The guy listed himself as a "published author". I didn't read his full shpiel or listen to his whole video. I did, however look his "novel" up on Amazon.com. Published by Publish America! Figures. You'd think after being taken once, people would grow wary of opportunities like this! Maybe he hasn't yet figured out that he's been taken by PA????

The saddest part of checking out the Book Millionaire site is that those poor people were gullible enough to not just sent photos but also video footage of themselves. It's really sad. I hate that people will be ridiculed for dreaming.

Be careful where you pour your heart out, folks! Don't cast your pearls before the swine!!!

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

What's really pathetic is some of the submitters actually ARE published writers---journalists, columnists, etc.---who have had their work published in legitimate publications. Why are they so gullible as to fall for this?

Victoria Strauss said...

I agree that it's sad that people are falling for this, and I'm going to resist the temptation to make fun of the applicants' videos as they're displayed over the next 8 or 10 weeks. I will be checking in from time to time to see how (or if) things are still going; and if Lori Prokop fulfills her threat to broadcast this thing online, I'll be there!

--e asked how Prokop makes money from this. That's not totally clear to me. People who sign up for this thing get her newsletter, which hawks her videos and workshops and so on; maybe the show is another way to build her customer list. Or possibly she hopes to attract sponsors or investors for the show (good luck). Or maybe once the finalists are chosen they'll be asked for some kind of "investment." Or maybe everyone who entered the contest will be offered a vanity contract with Best Seller Publishing.

It's also quite possible that Prokop isn't conducting the competition to rook potential victims (or just to rook them), but in all seriousness. Many people who launch questionable agencies or harebrained publishing endeavors are completely sincere; they really believe they can be successful or that they're helping writers. That doesn't make whatever they're doing more palatable, of course. But people do scammish things for all kinds of reasons, and not all of them involve the active intent to scam.

Jillian said...

Victoria...

I've just discovered this blog, and I must say -- you are wit personified! Methinks I will be spending a lot of time here, simply to soak up the super writing (hard to find in today's blog glut).

Thanks not only for what you and Ann have been doing for quite some time, but for adding to it with this well-penned gem.

gabe chouinard said...

Oh, goodness. Is it wrong that I am soooooo tempted to submit my own totally absurd video and "book premise" in the hopes of being chosen as a winner?!?! There are so many possible ways to have fun with something like that; the mind boggles.

Yet at the same time, it makes me want to weep. For a long, long time. Poor souls.

Lee Goldberg said...

Lori Prokop, the huckster behind Book Millionare, claims the project was killed by a secret publishing industry conspiracy that paid bloggers to trash the show. You can find out more here:

http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/a_writers_life/2007/09/lori-prokops-sp.html

http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/a_writers_life/2007/09/loris-mission-f.html

http://leegoldberg.typepad.com/a_writers_life/2007/09/the-best-of-lor.html

jw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jw said...

i have a question. if you have signed a contract with an agency and you now suspect that they are not legit and may be scamming you can you legally break the contract and try to find another agency to represent you?

Victoria Strauss said...

jw, please contact Writer Beware via email with your question: beware@sfwa.org.