With Apologies to Paul Simon, ” 50 Ways to

Screw a Writer”
By Rachael Ikins

For those born with the desire and talent to write, be it novel, poetry, short fiction, newspaper article or whatever, unless you are a part of a university machine in an English department or have a stroke of luck like that of JK Rowling, succeeding at your art can be a difficult journey.

It can begin with a simple put down from a parent, ” That’s not poetry, it doesn’t rhyme.” Or lack of support in pursuit of a career in the arts by starting with a college degree program in same.
” You can’t be a poet/artist. You won’t make any money.”
While this is disappointingly true, it isn’t ALWAYS true. There are many ways of defining success as a writer.
In addition to unsupportive relatives, other pitfalls lurk in the swamp of the literary world, giant crocodile heads masquerading as stepping stones to gobble up a naive, trusting and inexperienced writer.
Most of the examples to follow are from my own path. I share them because I believe writers should help each other and I don’t want them to be a part of your path, too. Together we are un-empowering the bullies.

The very first thing was a theft of one of my poetry manuscripts.
Next, I found an editor for a novel manuscript back in the early ’90s. I looked somewhere reputable, the classified section of The Writers Market. I mailed my ms. To her after some preliminary negotiation. All seemed to be okay until so much time had lapsed and no matter when I phoned her or how many letters I sent, I received no reply. Finally, in despair because writing a full length book no matter the topic takes a substantial amount of time, at long last I was referred to a local- to- me news anchorwoman who was known for being a consumer advocate. It turns out the ” editor” was deaf, lived on an island off Washington state, had no phone nor regular mail. Eventually to my immense relief the manuscript arrived home. Imagine my dismay when I opened it and half was missing, illustrations were gone and portions of what did remain were obviously water damaged. I ended up re- writing the entire book.

When my interests in writing poetry expanded to include short stories and children’s books both illustrated and not, I decided to try to find a literary agency. I found one in the classifieds again, a safe bet. Her business was in NYC an added bit of gravitas. Instead of actually being what she advertised herself as, she would not speak with me on the telephone for any reason unless I paid her $500. She also did not tell me she did not work with poets or children’s book writers. So she sent all, I bet, twelve manuscripts out and around. After telling me she would only contact me if someone showed interest, almost weekly my mailbox was full of rejection notices. I don’t remember how long this went on. She was obviously a fraud. It was with my great relief a huge box with all my works was returned to me after a letter cc ed to my lawyer requesting same.
I’ve taken workshops, attended writers conferences, since spoken with many writing professionals from publishers or literary agents or editors. Real agents do not make you pay anything. Rarely does an agency take on a poet. Each place I study to learn as much as I can to improve my skills and to still, make it as a writer. Since the literary agency fraud, I have had published six books of poetry via traditional means. I spent a goodly amount of time in an online self publishing chat group as well, to learn marketing techniques and to make friends and connections.
After workshopping YA fiction I finally had a first novel manuscript ready to find a home in the 1990s. Two agencies were quite positive and wrote me encouraging hand written notes that were in their rejection notices. Then a friend of a friend suggested I submit to someone they knew. I had moved house several times and had joined a writing group in one of the new cities where I lived. When I ran this by other members of the quite large writing community there, I noticed hesitation and lack of comment. It made me uneasy. But then I was confused. Why would a friend send me to someone disreputable?
Meantime the manuscript languished a year unanswered and I even forgot. My marriage dissolved in a messy divorce. Having no idea how I was going to support myself as a single person, except by writing and art, when “the company” with my manuscript popped up out of the blue again and said they wanted to do it, I was totally vulnerable and said “OK.” Once a sample contract was emailed to me, I did do my due diligence. I showed it to a very well established university poet friend. He thought it looked fine. Showed it to another well established poet mentor who questioned not being able to research the individual or company.
So by this time I was living happily on my own and writing another book. At some point I opened the manuscript, now tentatively with this “company” and realized it had been so long unseen by me, it had several major obvious edits required.

Immediately, though no contract had been signed, only email agreement interspersed with long amounts of unreadable ness and unreturned emails or phone call queries, the ” company” had gone ahead with production of the physical book. I was railed at and cursed for the expense of mucking up the type set that had already been done. The abusive language and disrespect was enough for me to say, ” We ‘re done.” Time passed. My mother became very ill. She is very old and I decided to go back to communication with ” the company”. I thought she was dying. My vulnerability was high.
The book was produced, contract appeared. I showed it to whom I could, my lawyer who was navigating me through my divorce was going to look for a friend to check it since as a poet, one tends to be perennially poverty- stricken. Unfortunately I did not follow up and nobody saw it.
In time, after readings, sales and so forth, I realized, having gotten to know
” the company” they were spread very thin and had two whole other businesses to run. I wrote a friendly ( I thought we were friends, sounds lame, I know) communication asking to terminate the agreement.
I had found a publishing house with interest in all of my works. They market, they do signings , and they concern themselves with legal protection of their authors as well as making the connection to the film world, for example. No hard feelings, we part friends. On their own, the new representative with whom I spoke offered to look at this extant contract.
The same night I received the most abusive, brutal response to my request for termination of contract from ” the company”. Profanity, name calling, slurs, put downs, and refusal to terminate the contract except for big bucks.
Obviously, everyone who had concerns had been correct about this
” company” was right and once again, due to circumstance and desire, I had been duped into believing someone was something they were not. AND on top of that, was now the recipient of ugly unprofessional refusals to terminate and demands for money. I had read the contract thoroughly but never knew the company had managed to insert “any and all new books I might write” if this was a saga or series. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I felt like someone I had thought was a trustworthy friend, along with the ” friend” who set up the initial connection, had stolen my life’s work.

Needless to say, from this moment on things are changing. Of course, I am a prolific writer and have many books in me. Now I have an actual attorney to protect my business.

It is hugely sad that a simple wish of a kid who published a first poem at age 14 with help from an English teacher to be a writer has been so dashed and dragged through mud by relatives, bullies and fraudulent individuals alike.
New writers take heed: BUYER BEWARE! Check out your contacts with a trusted advisor who can read the fine print of anything you contemplate signing. Including if you are self published. You have to protect yourself. Making it as a writer is hard enough, without extra hassles. Good luck!


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