Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Today I wanted to refresh a message I share with you from time to time. It never gets old, because it never goes away. And each time I put it out there, my hope is that one more person sees and absorbs the message. Today, I want to talk about vanity publishers.

Let me put this as plainly as possible: vanity publishing is a scam. Anyone who asks you for money to publish your work is not a legit publisher. Money flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way around. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it very likely is. Legitimate publishers rarely contact writers unprompted with contract offers. Before you sign any kind of contract, make absolutely sure you know what you’re getting into.

Last night my friend @luisaraegan posted a wonderful breakdown of some of the pitfalls of vanity publishing. You can read her article here, and I definitely recommend it – and not just because she quoted me throughout! I love that she’s helping to spread the word about this scam, and when she asked for my input I was happy to oblige.

In my writing class, Crafting the Short Story, I spend some time discussing the things to watch for when choosing a publisher. I put a lot of emphasis on avoiding these types of publishers because many of the participants are relatively new to the publishing world and have no idea this sort of thing even exists.

Again, if we can reach even one person and save them a lot of headache and heartache, mission accomplished. I’m always happy to do my part to put a dent in the potential pool of scam victims.

Thanks as always for reading. If you’d like to receive updates delivered right to your inbox, you can pop over to my contact page and sign up to be among the first to see all new posts. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

April News and Notes

It’s Easter weekend, so happy Easter for those of you who celebrate! Today’s post is just a quick little update to stay in touch and chat about a few recent highlights.

First, a reminder that Old Bones is now available on most major online platforms in both hard cover and ebook editions. Following the release of two full-length novels, we’ve gathered some of my favorite short stories from over the years into one convenient collection. I’m proud of the stories between these covers, and of the fact it’s the first ever of its kind from World Castle Publishing. That’s a pretty big deal, and I’d love it if those of you that read it could pop over to Amazon, or Goodreads (or both) and leave an honest review. It doesn’t have to be elaborate (though I do enjoy those!), and every one of them makes a world of difference.

Also, for those who live or travel in the area, I’m happy to report that Old Bones and all of my titles are available at Dog Eared Books in Oromocto. There’s just something about walking into a store and seeing your books on their shelves that never gets old, and Dog Eared Books does a lot to support not only local authors but other small businesses as well. As I mentioned, my books are there, as well as Sheryl’s and a host of others from here and around the province. Check them out!

For the writers, new to the craft and a little more experienced alike, a reminder that the summer sessions of Crafting the Short Story (May 14th) and Writing Horror: The Dark Side (May 9th) are starting soon. If you or someone you know is interested in honing your craft in an interactive setting, why not check out the links above and see if one or both might be a good fit for you?

Lastly, thanks to all for your continued support. All the messages, comments, book purchases, ratings and reviews are so important and appreciated. For updates delivered immediately to your inbox, feel free to pop on over to my contact page and sign up. It only takes a few seconds, and the added site hits and traffic make a huge difference.

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Spotlight on Short Stories

Winter hasn’t passed us by just yet, but here in my region of the world we’re getting a bit of a reprieve – sort of. There’s been snow and/or freezing rain nearly every night, but daytime temperatures have been on the happy side of freezing for a couple of days and several more just like it in the forecast. It might be a tiny oasis in the middle of the freezin’ season, but at this point we’ll take it!

This week I’m getting back to my roots a little bit with a focus on short stories. A while back I did a sort of miniseries where I took a look behind the scenes of some of the stories in Old Bones, my forthcoming collection. I took a break from doing that to promote Seventeen Skulls, and never got around to picking up where I’d left off. Fast forward to now, which finds me happy to report the edits have been completed and the release date of Old Bones is approaching.

as a reminder, here’s a look at the cover art and blurb:

Gather round, my friends. Get comfortable, dim the lights, and settle in for a terrifying journey where each stop along the way is creepier than the last.

A themed corporate gathering…children with very special, very disturbing powers…a well-meaning criminal who can’t quite manage to stay on the straight and narrow…filmmakers chasing an old legend that’s more than just a story… a spectral visitor returns with stories from the past…

These stories reveal the evils of humanity at its worst, and the nightmarish things that lurk just around the corner from reality. Deceit, jealousy, temptation, danger, evil. Twelve tales of horror that delve into the dark recesses of your worst nightmares and lay them bare upon the page.

I’ll keep you in the loop as the release date draws nearer. As an added bonus I’m very pleased to announce one of the stories from Old Bones will appear in audio form on the Creepy Podcast. I find this pretty cool, as it marks another first for me along my chosen path. I’ve listened to a few horror podcasts, with mixed results. Some, obviously, are better than others. Creepy does a nice job with production, and the actors enhance rather than detract from the story. As with all things, I’ll keep you posted when it’s finished and goes live. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of audio books or are familiar with and enjoy the podcast experience, why don’t you pop on over to Creepy and give them a try.

It’s been a productive week, for sure. Additionally, the winter session of Crafting the Short Story is in full swing with a a fun and creative group of writers. As I posted this link I was reminded of a short promotional video we put together, which now appears at the bottom of the registration page. I believe they’re planning to add more of these by other instructors but for now mine is, as far as I know, the only one. Just a little something fun for those who might be considering one of my classes. It looks like it’s on the page for Writing Horror: The Dark Side too.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for reading and dropping by. Feel free to pop over to my contact page to sign up for updates sent directly to your inbox. Leave reviews for authors you enjoy, help spread the word and shine light on books that deserve to be noticed. Not just mine, but anyone whose work you’ve read and enjoyed. It makes a difference, I guarantee it!

Be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Picking Up Where We Left Off

“Where the hell have you been, Joe? We haven’t heard from you in months!”

Oh, how the time does fly by. It’s been a long and harsh winter here on the east coast, and it’s really only getting started. To pass the time until spring arrives I’ve been holed up here, doing my level best to stay warm as well as clear of the Omicron-riddled masses. Imagine my surprise, then, when I noticed just how long it had been since I last posted anything here! Far too long, my friends. So today, we take the first step toward righting the ship and getting back out there.

First things first: it’s that time of year again, we’re back in the classroom! Well, not really. I’m in the office down the hall and you’re in your homes, but we’ll be together again nonetheless. Crafting the Short Story and Writing Horror: The Dark Side both kick off the 2022 winter sessions next week, and as luck would have it there’s still room in both classes for a few more last-minute additions to the roster.

Speaking of writing tips and advice, I received a nice shout out from my friend (and Crafting the Short Story alumnus) on her blog. She’s just finished her first novel, in fact – I’m so proud! – and has a lot of fun and cool stuff on her author page. You can check out her entry which features some of our conversation here, but feel free to browse around the rest of the site, too!

On the book front, I’m happy to report that quite a lot of people picked up copies of Seventeen Skulls and, to a lesser extent, Terror in High Water over the holidays. I’m grateful for that, and would like to take a moment to remind those of you who have read either or both that leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both) only takes a few minutes and really helps a lot. So if you can, please take the time to leave a review – not just for me, but for any other authors whose books you’ve read and enjoyed. It means the world to them, I promise.

As always, feel free to pop over to my contact page and sign up to have updates sent directly to your inbox, hot off the presses, the moment they’re published here. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Inside Old Bones: Creature Comforts

Just before we dive into today’s post I want to take a second to plug Crafting the Short Story, which kicks off this Thursday. There are still spots left if you or someone you know is interested in this fun and informative writing course.

As we continue to wend our way through the table of contents of my forthcoming short story collection, Old Bones, we come to a fun little tale called Creature Comforts. Nine-year-old Paulina is having trouble with bullies at her school. Her grandfather gets wind of this and gives her his old teddy bear for protection. But this toy brings more to the table than just moral support, to Paulina’s great delight.

I wrote this story, or most of the bones of it at least, in my little studio space. Years ago I shared a studio with several other artists on the top floor of an old building in the downtown core. It ultimately wasn’t the most productive creative space during the year-plus I spent there, although a few ideas did come from my time there. One, which I’ll talk about at length in a future post, was the earliest stages of what would become my second novel, Seventeen Skulls. Another was Creature Comforts.

There are monsters everywhere, if you look hard enough. Sometimes you don’t have to look all that hard. This is a story about monsters, but more than that it’s about family. How far would you go in order to protect the ones you love? What sort of evil would you be willing to unleash, knowing the potential consequences? These are some of the themes I wanted to explore, knowing as I do the answers will vary from person to person. Paulina isn’t based on a real person exactly, nor is her grandfather, but I tried to get into the heads of both characters to determine how each would react to the situation I put them in. I wasn’t exactly sure how things would turn out, and I was pleasantly surprised.

As I mentioned in the last post, I wanted to experiment with writing from different points of view that aren’t exactly like mine. While I’m not, nor have I ever been, a nine-year-old girl, I did have access to one for a while a number of years ago. I drew on my observations and experiences to try and add realism to my character. Hopefully I came close. As for the grandfather, I can identify with him a little more closely. I know the lengths I would go to but also my limitations in such a scenario. I wanted to give him an interesting way to protect his granddaughter, and I think I did that.

The title has a double meaning, as my titles so often do: everyone knows what creature comforts are, but in Paulina’s case she takes comfort in the presence of an actual “creature” – grandpa’s stuffed bear. As always it’s tricky to go into detail without giving too much away. Hopefully when the book comes out you’ll read these stories and realize why these posts have intentionally been a little vague.

Thanks as always for reading along and continuing to come back to this space. Feel free to subscribe for updates directly to your inbox.

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Back to Class

Just a quick update today to remind you that spring is here, which means it’s time for the next round of online writing classes. Time is ticking, but there’s still time to register for Writing Horror: The Dark Side and Crafting the Short Story. Dark Side kicks off this Monday, April 12th, with Short Story a few days later, starting Thursday, April 15th.

What are these classes all about, you ask? From UNB’s registration site:

“Short story creation is an art form that is often neglected and overlooked. Related to – but entirely separate from – novel writing, short story creation can be a tricky art to master but also fun and rewarding. It has been suggested that writing short stories can even be more difficult than novels. Impossible? Take this course and judge for yourself!

Here’s an opportunity to focus on writing effective short stories, covering many of the basics of short story writing. You’ll learn how to set the scene, create and develop believable characters, avoid common pitfalls, and much more.

With an emphasis on developing the craft through good writing practices and habits, the course offers tips and advice on discovering the joys of short speculative fiction.

The course also covers important topics such as editing and preparing your work for publication. There is a segment that focuses on submitting for publication, publishing contracts, identifying and avoiding scams, and more, to help avoid the worst of the potential pitfalls in the publishing world.”

As for Horror: the Dark Side:

“The word “horror” often conjures images of masked, machete-wielding monsters doing unspeakable things to innocent teenagers. That’s definitely part of it, but there’s a lot more to the story.

Horror is a genre unlike no other. Its purpose is to unsettle, to elicit a strong emotional response from the reader through “safe scares”. It’s also perhaps the most misunderstood genre of all.

Horror is hack and slash, blood and guts. It’s creepy ghosts and haunted houses. It’s psychological thrillers, gothic tales, atmospheric tension, human drama, and of course, monsters. It spans generations and appeals to a wide audience – from Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe to Neil Gaiman and R.L. Stine, horror brings joy (and scares) to kids and adults alike.

In this course, we’ll dispel some of the myths surrounding horror, and explore the key elements including, what turns an ordinary story into a spooky tale, how to build and maintain suspense, developing strong characters (human and otherwise), how to write an ending with maximum impact, and more.

This course shares some basic elements with Crafting the Short Story, and emphasizes developing the craft through good writing practices and habits.”

Just a few days left to register, but there are still spots in both classes. Just follow the links above. If you or someone you know has an interest in learning the basics of creative fiction writing, or a specific peek into the world of creating scary stories, I’d love to have you come along with me this spring.

-JP

Last One of the Year

Happy Solstice! The shortest day of the year is now behind us, onward to longer (and, before we know it, warmer) days! It’s the holiday season, and possibly my last post of this crazy whirlwind that has been 2020. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, even if you’re in a place where travel restrictions and such have hampered your plans. As of today Ontario has gone into lock down for the next month, most other Canadian provinces are in various stages of restriction, and I understand there’s a new strain of COVID making its way through the UK and possibly into Australia. And of course America is reporting some frightening infection numbers. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a little way off still I think.

As for me, I’m recovering from entirely different health woes, having suffered some broken ribs about a week ago. It’s the second time in my life that I’ve damaged myself in this way, roughly twenty years between instances. It’s not any more pleasant this time around, I can tell you. Fortunately for me, the next couple of weeks will bring a light work schedule, which means more time to convalesce here at home.

The time off will give me a chance to put the finishing touches on my new Writing Horror: The Dark Side class, which debuts on January 25th. Meanwhile, Crafting the Short Story moves to its new time slot on Thursdays starting January 28th. It also switches to an eight-week course as noted in this previous post. I’m looking forward to getting back into the classroom – virtual though it may be – this new winter session.

In other news, I wrote a new story this weekend. One of those spur of the moment things where an idea occurred to me and I wrote it down as it was hatching. I guess it wasn’t so much the act of writing the story that was spur of the moment; I wanted to submit something to an open call but had nothing that really fit, so I did sit down with the intention of coming up with something. As for the story itself, I didn’t even have an inkling of what it would be before I started. Sometimes that’s how it works: a little spark of an idea turns into a story right before your astonished eyes. One of the things I tell my students involves a daily writing exercise which can spawn story ideas and, from time to time, actual stories.

Speaking of stories, keep an eye on this space in the new year for a new feature I plan to add to the site. I’ll be adding a section of free content including some stories and the like. For those who have already read some of my work and enjoy it, this is just a little something extra. For those who may not have read anything I’ve done yet, this is your chance to test the waters. Hopefully you’ll like what you see!

In case this is indeed my last post this year, let me thank you for spending some time here with me and my thoughts. Once again I end with the obligatory mention of my contact page, not only for yourself but any of your family and friends whom you think might enjoy what we do here. And what post would be complete without a gentle reminder than book reviews are the lifeline of all authors? Since it’s the season for giving and all, I would happily accept any and all reviews. Primarily and ideally for Terror in High Water, at any or all of here, here, or here. But any of the titles that have included my work would also be welcome. Finally, as always,

Be safe, talk soon!
-JP

Course Correction

Just a quick update to my (currently online, hopefully not forever) courses: An Introduction to Publishing is no longer being offered as a standalone class. We’ve now consolidated this as part of Crafting the Short Story, which will now have an extra two classes added. This makes more sense than forcing you guys to sign up for a second course to get information you really should have included as part of the main course. So for anyone who signed up for the February 2021 session (and I don’t think there was anyone yet), you should be aware of the change and contact the office to get that sorted.

Also, it’s official: the first run of Writing Horror: The Dark Side is a go for the winter session, beginning on January 25th. The class had already begun to fill up within days of the announcement, which is really cool. I’m really looking forward to seeing some old friends mixed in with the new faces. It should be a fun class.

I realized, as I was looking back at some recent posts, that it seems my writing classes are almost all I talk about lately in this space. I did mention recently the new anthologies with my stories in them, I guess. I’m also currently shopping my second novel, Seventeen Skulls, as well as a collection of my shorts called Old Bones. Hopefully we’ll see one or both of those available not too far down the road.

In a bit of writing/writing class crossover news: in the latest installment of CTSS I decided I would try something new. For the first time since we introduced the course many moons ago, I would write the weekly assignments along with the class. There were a few reasons for doing this, but a large part of it was that I wanted to show everyone that it was indeed possible, even by my own unorthodox methods. So I did write alongside my fellow writers, and shared my work with them as they did with me. It was interesting to see the process from the other side of the glass, so to speak. But in a plot twist even I didn’t see coming, my budding short story grew legs of its own and morphed from standalone story to what I’m tentatively calling ‘chapter one’. Yeah, I did it to myself – took something quick and easy, and turned it into a lengthy project for myself. I already have a few irons in the fire that need tending to, and I’ll get to them for sure. But this is just interesting enough to intrigue me, so I owe it to myself to see what (if anything) can be done with it. I’ll let you know what I find out!

That’s all for today. Just a few quick notes to keep everyone up to speed. As always, feel free to pop over to my contact page and sign up for email updates whenever new posts drop. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

The Dark Side of Writing

It’s November – early days, but November nonetheless – and it feels like spring out there. Sixteen degrees today, and a reported 20 tomorrow. High teens the rest of the week (That’s mid to high 60s, for my American friends). It’s as if I accidentally slipped into hibernation during last week’s sub-zero temperatures and arose from my slumber to happily discover I’d skipped ahead to April. I suspect these temperate days are destined to be short-lived, but considering what November usually feels like around here, we’ll take it.

On to more writerly matters: as of about two hours ago we wrapped up another successful run of Crafting the Short Story. It was a great group and we had a lot of fun, and everyone really impressed me with the cool stuff they came up with for the finale. It seems like a good time to plug the next offering, which moves to Thursday evenings for the winter session and beyond. The next round kicks off on January 28th and runs through March 25th (no class March 4th).

Why have we shifted to Thursdays after such a long run in the Monday slot? Oh, I’ll still be grinding away on Monday, fear not. But now, I’m pleased to introduce the debut of Writing Horror: The Dark Side. It’s an all-new course which, I’m told, was heavily requested by former and prospective students alike. So the good folks at the CEL asked if I’d be interested in offering such a course, to which I quickly agreed. This will occupy my Mondays beginning January 25th through March 15th (no class Feb. 15th and March 1st). I’m excited for this one – as much as I love teaching CTSS this is right up my alley, more in my wheelhouse, whatever tired cliche works for you.

Just before I go, I wanted to remind you that Scary Snippets – Campfire Edition is now available in Kindle and paperback. It’s my second time working with these publishers, along with Mother Ghost’s Grimm Vol. 2. Unlike MGG, which was written primarily for the little ones, Scary Snippets is aimed at a more mature audience. It’s filled with spooky stories that are on the shorter side (hence the ‘snippets’ thing) in there, including two of mine that are both loosely based on real events.

There, I think we’re mostly up to date now. If you’d like to have the latest blog posts delivered directly to your inbox, drop by my contact page and let me know, and we’ll make it happen. Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Step Right Up!

I want to take a slightly different approach with today’s post. It’s a little on the long side, but I think it’s a worthwhile read, especially if you’re a writer or potential author, regardless of skill level or advancement. Think of this as a public service announcement.

Some of you may not be aware that besides being my first line of defense and primary editor my wife, Sheryl, is an accomplished writer in her own right. She’s got a few publishing credits under her belt and sends her stuff out just like most of us, in the hopes that a publisher she’s identified as a potentially good fit will like what they see. This week she received an acceptance email from one such publisher. To avoid any potential legal ramifications I won’t name the UK-based publisher in question. Let me just say that they’re named after a winged horse that rhymes with “Megasus”.

While it’s always exciting to receive an acceptance, this one caused Sheryl’s antennae to twitch. Something didn’t seem quite right, and she showed it to me. I read it over, and was delighted to see that they’d offered to send a contract. I glanced over at her and said “Please have them send you a contract.” I really wanted to have a copy of it to avoid any heresay or slander accusations. Once I had it in hand I chuckled and told her to reply with a ‘thanks but no thanks’. She did reply, in her own inimitable, colorful style.

Why, you might be wondering, would anyone do such a thing? Isn’t a publishing contract the goal here? Well, as it turns out, “Megasus Publishing” is what is known as a hybrid publisher. That’s a fancy way of saying they’re a vanity publisher. Essentially, the author pays the publisher for the privilege of having them publish his or her work. In this case, the asking price was a cool 1,900 GBP (or roughly $3,200 CDN). Just send us this money, the acquisitions editor said, and we’ll take care of everything. Hell, we’ll even pay you royalties on any books we sell!

Now, the difference between a hybrid publisher and a true vanity is that the hybrid claims to be a legitimate publisher that also offers what they call “inclusive contracts”. In other words, even though we offer real, legit contracts that guarantee actual payment to some authors, in your case we’d rather you pay us to “help defray some of the costs”. The difference, of course, is that there is no difference. In neither case do these hucksters operate in any legitimate manner, it’s all a ruse. Just smoke and mirrors, designed to ensnare starry-eyed would-be authors with the idea of seeing their name in print. Sadly, many still fall for these scams, which is how they manage to stay in business.

I discuss vanity publishers and other such scams more in-depth in my Introduction to Publishing course, but here are a few of the highlights of this particular contract. For starters, of course, is the matter of shelling out over three grand under a clause they’ve sneakily called “advances”. Advances, for the uninitiated, are monies paid TO authors in advance of sales BY publishers, against future royalties earned. For this price they will perform edits, cover art (all at the publisher’s discretion, with them having final say in all matters), and a bunch of other stuff that any reputable publisher pays for. They lay claim to subsidiary rights and draconian percentages. They will send you also 25 complimentary copies of your book, “completely free of charge” as the contract makes a point to specifically note – which, for your $3,200, comes out to about $130 per “complimentary” copy. The duration of these contracts is often ridiculous, too. There is literally no part of it that benefits the author in any way.

Oh, and in case you become disgruntled at your handling by your hybrid publisher, there’s also a clause that prevents you from saying, writing, or doing anything disparaging or that “may adversely affect the production, promotion, and sales of the work.” Unbelievable. And just for fun, they’d like first refusal on your future works. You know, just in case you happen to have another few thousand dollars left.

What the contract won’t tell you about vanity publishers is stuff like: horrible editing (often worse than it was in the first place), poor formatting, shoddy book quality, and maybe best of all, unrealistic cover prices to ensure few if any copies are ever sold. They’ll do zero marketing, nor will they make any attempt whatsoever to sell your book – they’ve already made their money from it, from you. So now it’s up to the poor author to sell as many copies as they can on their own (purchased from the publisher, of course) to try and make back as much of their sunk investment as possible.

I mentioned before that people still fall for these types of scams. Additionally there are still people who, for whatever reason, will defend their decision to publish with these slimy operations. I happen to suspect that in many cases they’re just too embarrassed over being scammed to admit what a bad experience it was for them. For the record, $3,200 isn’t anywhere near the top of the scale of what these scam artists will try and charge. The highest I’ve heard of was north of $15,000. Just incredible, the temerity it takes to run this kind of con with a straight face.

The long and the short of it is this: never pay anyone to publish you. Ever. If you plan to self publish, pay an editor, sure. Pay an artist for cover art, absolutely. These are part of the cost of doing business, which are generally covered by a legitimate publisher. But under no circumstances should you ever pay a publisher. The money always flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is wrong. And possibly a vanity publisher.

In case it isn’t obvious at this point, Sheryl did not sign and return the contract. She will not be working with Megasus Publishing on this or any future project, a fact she made abundantly clear in her final correspondence.

The next installment of An Introduction to Publishing runs on November 7th. For more stories about scams like this one and how to avoid them plus a host of other fun topics, click the link and drop on in.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP