Friday, August 22, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- AbandonedNovel.com

I've been getting some questions about a new publisher called AbandonedNovel.com.

At AbandonedNovel.com, we're seeking the greatest stories never finished. We want the best beginnings to your unfinished novels to publish in a new book with other stories that never found their conclusion.

The book will be called Beginnings - A Novel, and will feature "ten selections of the best opening chapters of abandoned novels." Most genres are acceptable (though erotica, romance, and children's books are excluded). The deadline for submission is November 30, 2008.

AbandonedNovel's parent company is Teton River Productions, whose press release about the venture can be seen here.

Tempted? I can understand why you might be. Most writers have manuscripts they've given up on--books they had great hopes for but never finished, books they finished and submitted without success, books that didn't work out as planned or that had insoluble plot or character problems. (My abandoned novel is a historical that my agent refused to represent unless I completely re-worked the concept and characters; I didn't feel I was capable of doing what she wanted, so I set it aside. I was devastated, of course--but several years and four books on, I can see that her assessment was 100% correct--and I can also, as I couldn't then, see how to fix the problems.) If the manuscript is just sitting on your hard drive, going nowhere and doing nothing, why not jump at the chance to (maybe) let it see the light of day?

Not so fast. As you might suspect from the fact that I'm blogging about it, AbandonedNovel has problems.

Problem Number One: Teton River Productions, AbandonedNovel's parent company, does not appear to have an iota of publishing experience. The press release linked in above describes AbandonedNovel as "Teton River's first foray into print media." Teton River's business, according to its website, is providing web design, hosting, and content services, as well as producing "original video, audio and print materials"--all very far from publishing (and even in those areas, its track record to date seems scanty). As I've said so many times before, querying new publishers is risky, and the risk is even greater when those publishers have no experience.

Problem Number Two: the fine print. In this case, AbandonedNovel's Terms and Conditions, to which writers submitting material must agree in full. Slide on down to Clause 4:

You agree that by submitting the work to us, you grant us a three year option to enter into an agreement with you to publish the work. During that time, you will not submit the work to any other publisher, nor will you self-publish or display the work in any public forum.

In other words, AbandonedNovel is demanding a three year exclusive submission period, in order to preserve its option to (maybe) publish your work at some future date, even if it doesn't accept you into the currently-planned anthology. This is completely unreasonable, in my opinion. It's fine to demand exclusive submission--many publishers do--but exclusivity should endure only until a work is rejected or accepted, and if the submission is for for an anthology project, the rejection or acceptance should be for that work only. A publisher should not keep writers on a string for years at a time just in case it might decide to someday use their work in some future volume as yet unplanned.

What's the big deal? you may ask. These are abandoned novels, after all--if all they're doing is gathering dust, where's the harm, even if the publisher is an amateur and the submission requirements aren't so great? But amateur publishers and bad submission requirements may well add up to crappy contract terms, if publication is offered--not to mention minimal sales and tiny exposure. I'd rather leave my work sitting on my computer forever than consign it to such a fate. Also, do you really want to have your work tied up for three whole years? (AbandonedNovel only wants your first chapter, but if your first chapter is tied up, so is the rest of the book.) Like me, you might figure out how to fix your abandoned novel, and decide to finish it. Even if you never do, there is a principle involved (yeah, I know I'm boring with all this ethical crap). Publishers--and writers--often try to rationalize bad contract or submission terms by saying "Well, it's only 500 words," or "Well, it's not like it'll be published anywhere else" or "Well, it's a way to get your name out there." But bad terms are bad terms. Rationalize as you wish, but there is never a good excuse to offer them--or a good reason to accept them.

Besides, if your trunk novel is complete and you're dying to get it out into the world, there's a better (and way cooler) alternative: Trunk Novels, a publishing service that specializes in bringing abandoned books to life. Trunk Novels charges no fees, takes only the rights necessary to e- and POD-publish, and makes books available for free download. No muss, no fuss, no lousy submission or contract terms--plus, you can publish the whole thing, not just the first chapter. (Disclaimer: I'm acquainted with some of the people involved with this site.)

10 comments:

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

I have a couple trunk novels that I am happy to keep in the trunk, thank you very much. And they won't come out of the trunk until I figure out how the hell they can be fixed. (Right now I have no idea.)

Lady Heidi, Duchess of Kneale said...

I'm happy to keep my unfinished works tucked safely away. Either I will find a better way to write them, or if not, it is best the world not see them at all.

Meanwhile, I don't know I would want to read the beginnings of books that are not finished. I like to read the end of a story, which is why I prefer fiction to non-fiction.

With a book of abandoned beginnings, either I will dislike the beginnings, which will lead me to say, "No wonder you were abandoned!" or I will like it, and will never get to know the ending.

Either way is not good for karma.

Carol V. said...

Thanks Victoria for always looking out for us! You are dedicated and tireless and I'm very thankful for that! Carol Van Drie

Anonymous said...

I wish them no success for such a bloody stupid idea.

Where's a Chuck Barris when you need him?

Just sign me,

Slush Pile Reader, who knows WHY those novels are incomplete.

Roman J. Martel said...

I can see the serious temptation of this type of service, but you're right on the money with the terms being severely overbearing.

Besides many of my abandoned projects have yielded some great characters or subplots that I've been able to forge into new stories. So it's just as well as these experiments remain behind the scenes.

jpfife said...

Has anyone tried contacting them re the bad terms and conditions? Maybe they would be willing to amend them - not that I would think about submitting - and it could be they have those terms and conditions because of naivety rather than nastiness.

Victoria Strauss said...

There was a discussion of this contest at Absolute Write back in April and May, in which one of the AbandonedNovel founders participated, where these concerns were expressed. He said he would discuss them with his colleagues. Since then, however, the guidelines haven't been changed.

Anonymous said...

This idea seems to share a flaw with many fringe publication ventures--it is for the benefit of writers, not readers. It's easy to see why a writer would want to find a home for a stalled piece of work--but why would a reader buy this compilation, instead of buying a conventional anthology? It's likely to be very frustrating to read.

Calvino pulled this off in _If on a winter's night a traveler_ well enough to please some readers, but (a) he had an overarching scheme, not just ten fragments, (b) he's a brilliant writer, and (c) some readers (including me, and I'm a fan of his) still found the whole thing a horrible exercise in frustration.

Mary

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

In case anybody cares, this pathetic idea of a publishing venture inspired me to write a post about my own trunk novels (which are completed, just too flawed to publish) at my blog. Check it out at jillelainehughes.blogspot.com

Pete Miller said...

Thank you for digging into the fine print to give voice for my mistrust of this contest. I could find nothing much about these people but if they want exclusive rights to the beginning of my book for 3 years, forget it. I might finish it well before then and would like to be able to show it to people.