I don’t often do mathematics. Even simple arithmetic. My head isn’t designed for it. At school a teacher once asked, me: “If you have five apples in one hand and four apples in the other, what do you have?”

My response was: “Fucking big hands.”

It wasn’t the worst answer I ever gave to a question at school. In woodwork I sat a written paper which asked me to name three types of screwdriver. I wrote: “A red one and two blue ones.” It will surprise no one to learn that I’ve not been successful with any woodwork projects since then.

When asked to write a sentence using the word loquacious, I wrote: This is a sentence using the word loquacious. I still think that’s as good an answer as any other.

But it’s mathematics where I have always had problems and the situation has grown worse over the years. Since the invention of the pocket calculator I’ve always maintained that mathematics has become redundant. Why do I need to know how to add, subtract or do the other one when I can buy a cheap machine that will do it all for me? Why do I need to be able to calculate percentages when computers, calculators and cash machines are already programmed to perform that function on my behalf? To my mind it’s like learning how to chew soup or blink in reverse: a skill that will never benefit me in any way whatsoever.

But there is one equation I know off by heart. An equation that I believe every writer should have embroidered in linen and framed over their desk, or tattooed on the arse of a confidante so the words can be read at the writer’s leisure.

£$€ → writer

This equation is best understood where £$€ = ‘money’; → = ‘goes to”; and ‘writer’ = ‘writer.’

The logistics behind this equation are remarkably simple. A writer writes something. For the purposes of this article ‘something’ could refer to a novel, short story, poem or any of a thousand other variations on the materials produced by a writer. The writer then sells that ‘something’ for money. The money then goes to the writer.

It’s a remarkably simple equation. But it’s also an equation that many non-writers try to usurp. Vanity publishing is just one instance, where ne’er-do-well scam artists try to inveigle the money from a writer’s pocket with the sordid promise of publication. According to the equation (and the equation is never wrong) this is not how reality works. Read the equation again if you have any doubts.

£$€ → writer

Manuscript Appraisal services are another area where outside parties try to distort the equation. A Manuscript Appraisal services is where the writer is expected to pay someone to read their work and tell them how to improve it. How fucked up is that? I don’t write something and then pay people to read what I’ve written. (Admittedly, there are some people who say I couldn’t pay them to read what I’ve written, but you expect that sort of backchat from family and friends).

The idea of a writer paying someone to read their work is anathema to the glorious equation. (The equation that is never wrong). Once again, the equation is reiterated below in case anyone has missed the way this works.

£$ € → writer

And then there are agencies who charge reading fees. I’ve read websites where agencies explain that they’re busy people. They have a lot of work. Their time is a precious commodity. And so they have to charge a reading fee to cover the time and expense of reading a proposal.

Personally, I have never thought that these charges are legitimate. Rather than an agency trying to compensate for the loss of their precious time, I’ve always suspected that this is a scam trying to milk aspiring authors of hard-earned cash. And the wisdom of the equation proves me right.

If you’re reading this and looking to get published, I wish you all the luck in the world. It’s not easy and it can be a demanding and soul-destroying process. But I would urge you to NEVER part with money on your bid to secure publication. It defies the flow of the equation, and the equation cannot be defied.

Ashley Lister
May-June 2010

“The Write Stuff” © 2010 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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