Vanity Press (or The Glass Bead Game Revisited)

[This is already available from one of my other blogs, but I’m restructuring my non-work pages. The reason this is the first from the Miscellaneous Prose page to be copied here should become clear with the blog I’m writing next. ]

The fact that this was written around the time Rob Slade and I were doing the preparatory work and negotiation on a book called Viruses Revealed does not mean that this piece in any sense refers to Osborne or McGraw-Hill. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t. I did think about doing something similar about my experiences with Syngress and Wiley, but got depressed just thinking about it.

I haven’t any plans to write any more books at present (and if I was, I’d be thinking seriously about self-publishing), but most of the security-related books I’ve been involved with are listed on my Wikipedia entry, which is surprisingly accurate. 

Dear Mr. Harley

Thank you for choosing MacMidden McGrawful Simplex and Shyster to publish your book on Algorithmic Approaches to Bio-molecular Modelling, which we will be publishing under the title Shiny Bead Diagrams for Morons. We are pleased to offer you an advance on royalties equivalent to a trainee assistant copyeditor’s salary for one month. You will receive 6.25% of whatever we eventually decide to charge for it, for sales in the United States, and 4% for sales anywhere we don’t care about, such as Europe. As a European, you presumably won’t object to being paid beads, rather like the ones you bought this country with, several years ago.

You will agree never to publish any other book on the same subject, or indeed, using diagrams or mentioning beads, for any other publisher, until the book has been out-of-print for five years or you have been dead for fifteen years, whichever comes later. In any case, we operate a print-on-demand service, so the book will never be out of print unless we get bored with it. If we decide that it’s worth our squeezing a 2nd Edition out of you, you will produce it for exactly the same sum, irrespective of the amount of work entailed, the rate of inflation, and the current exchange rate.

We look forward to receiving your detailed book plan. Please ensure that it specifies the number of pages and words each chapter will contain, including tables and footnotes. We will also need you to supply us with a schedule detailing when each chapter will be submitted, and whether it will arrive before or after lunch. We realize, of course, that other commitments, family illness and so on may lead to unanticipated delays. You should therefore include details of any unanticipated delays in your preliminary schedule.

We regret that we cannot handle whatever archaic word-processor or esoteric document processing package you favour, since you have to use our house-style document template, so that our Desktop Publishing Package doesn’t fall over with its paws in the air. Go and buy a copy of Microsoft Office.

You may wish to know more about the book production process. First of all, we will keep you busy changing the book plan, so as to eliminate any risk of your starting work on the first chapter before the submission date in your original schedule. You will then need to recast the schedule. This should not take more than five or six attempts, as long as you don’t attempt to defer the submission date for the final chapter. This is because we will be arranging all manner of expensive promotional exercises with deadlines we have no intention of telling you about, but expect you to meet nonetheless.

When you submit your first chapter, we will tear it to pieces for not conforming to the Chicago Manual of Style. We do not care that you have never been West of Rhyl: we expect you to write like Jerry Springer talks. Nor have we heard of the Oxford English Dictionary or anyone called Fowler. After we have argued about this for a few weeks, we expect you to submit a style sheet incorporating the spelling and formatting details negotiated over that period. This will be used during the copyediting process to wrap bagels and dispose of gum tidily. It would be helpful if you could submit a digitized photograph of yourself at this stage, so that we have something to spit at.

After we stop laughing, your chapters will then be submitted to a technical reviewer. You are encouraged to suggest the name of a suitably qualified expert in your field. After he or she refuses our contract on the grounds that it costs them more than the fee we’re offering to switch on their laptop in the morning, we will offer the contract to someone who has never heard of you (or vice versa), but who once had a job in a bead factory.

After you have incorporated their suggestions into your chapter, we will pass it on to the copyeditor. Our copyeditors are very careful selected, and have to meet very strict criteria. Copyeditors whose first language is English are only allowed to work on foreign language books. In this case, UK English is not regarded as a foreign language. Copy editors are not allowed a sense of humour. This is to ensure that all traces of wit and irony are removed at the pre-proofing stage. Any copyeditor with an IQ over 90 is diverted to the comics division.

These criteria are strictly enforced, being designed to ensure that the book will be comprehensible to the general public and press, who would never dream of reading your book anyway.

After the copyeditor has squeezed all the life, elegance, humour and academic credibility out of your work, disregarded all your typographical, syntactical, and grammatical errors and introduced some new ones, the proofing editor will ask you to rewrite whole chapters because one or two of the footnotes cite articles without listing the first names and middle initials of one of the contributors. Each chapter then goes to our highly-qualified proofing team, who will take time out from randomly hitting typewriter keys in the hope of writing the complete works of Shakespeare. Their task is to misplace, scramble, or mislocate whole tables and paragraphs, sabotage the formatting, and introduce yet more typographical errors. You will be sent copies of their work in the form of humungous email attachments which you will be expected to review and return within two hours so that we can get on with the indexing. Trust us, you do not want to know about the index compiler, whose fee will come out of your advance.

This, by the way will be sent to you in dribs and drabs as you reach arbitrary milestones in the production process, just often enough to stop you abandoning the project in a fit of rage. Regardless of the fact that you are not a US national, we will send you numerous forms relating to taxation, so as to give us an excuse for delaying dispatch of royalty cheques, proofs, and author’s copies. Just to inject a little humour into your tight-assed English life, we will also enter your address into our database correctly, apart from the suffix “Shetland Islands”, despite the fact that you live in Lyme Regis. This will ensure that cheques will not reach you until you have written them off and asked us to stop them and send another.

We look forward to playing – errr, working – with you.

Yours truly,
Aaron Grunge
Acquisitions Editor

[Any resemblance to any real publisher, living or brain-dead, is entirely coincidental. David Harley, 23rd August, 2001]


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