How not to get published: cash prizes for readers

Paul Raven @ 21-05-2010

The rise of the internet has seen many frustrated aspiring authors turn to forms of self-publication and showy promotional gambits in the hope of catching the eye of someone with a cheque-book and a pile of blank contracts, but this is probably the most spectacularly desperate-sounding tactic I’ve heard of so far: offering US$3,000 in cash prizes to people who can answer questions based on a close reading of the novel in question [via PD_Smith].

Furthermore (as if the general public needed more encouragement to sneer at the genre), the guy’s a science fiction author…

Riley decided to post the novel online for free earlier this month, giving those who read it the chance to win a chunk of a $3,000 prize money pot if they answer questions about the book correctly.

“I’m hoping that publishing the book online and pretty well paying people to read it will get it noticed on the internet, and ultimately discovered by a legit publisher,” said Riley on his website. “Crass gimmick? You bet. But if it works, I won’t look back.

I’m 65 god-damned years old, this novel means more to me than anything in the world, and I’m desperate to get it published while I’m still alive. I know this may sound odd, but I feel western society needs this book. It’s a contribution I feel I must make.”

A quick scan of the first few pages suggests that Riley failed to sell his novel for the same reason that a lot of people fail to sell science fiction novels: he doesn’t appear to have read any that were published after 1975 or so, his infodumps make Asimov look like a minimalist poet, and the narrative mode he’s using is… well, let’s say “changeable”. In other words, I’m willing to bet that it’s just not very good, and even the prospect of winning a chunk of money isn’t enough to entice me to read any further.

However, Riley might end up with some degree of immortality from his experiment – if the Guiness Book of Records doesn’t have an entry for “biggest fee paid for an ultimately unsuccessful manuscript critique”, it’s high time they wrote one up. I honestly feel sorry for Riley – he obviously really wants to be a published author – but he’s about to find out, at great expense, that there aren’t any shortcuts.

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6 Responses to “How not to get published: cash prizes for readers”

  1. Dave says:

    This seems mean, dude. Terrible unpublished fiction abounds. Furthermore, terrible fiction is published every year. I don’t think it’s cool to pick out examples and calumniate them.

    Besides, I can think of some highly successful, critically recognized SF from recent years about which we could make many of the same complaints — braver and more important to go after that kind of stuff, if pillorying bad fiction is what you want to do.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    I wouldn’t normally pillory the unpublished, but the man has blatantly stuck his head over the parapet; until people are honest about his work, he’s going to labour under a serious misconception. I wouldn’t go kicking a fan-fic forum, for instance, because they’re not offering $3,000 to gain the public’s eye. Riley wants to be published; I feel no guilt about pointing out why he hasn’t been, and would say as much to his face. (I do some manuscript critiquing, and I’ve done slushpile reading, and I can assure you, the adage about knowing within the first page whether a writer is publishable is one that holds up to the evidence very well indeed.)

    The point of the post was to illustrate that throwing $3,000 into promoting your unpublished novel is pointless unless the novel’s any good; I admire the guy’s faith in himself and commitment to getting published, but he’d have been better off keeping the money and rewriting the book. Or just vanity pressing it, for that matter.

    And if you can seriously name me one critically lauded recent sf novel that’s that poorly written (rather than just long-winded, obtuse, pretentious or old-fashioned), I’ll happily write a review of it here as penance. 🙂

  3. Drake P says:

    The worst part about the contest is one of the rules at the bottom:

    “a) No one may win more than one prize; ”

    Why would I even ATTEMPT to answer anything but the thousand dollar question?

  4. Robert Koslover says:

    Ha ha. Well, there does exist at least one genuine shortcut (sort-of): Become famous for something else before writing your novel. The publishers will publish your work not because it is good, but simply because you are famous. And given the intensity of competition in modern fiction authorship, I suspect that achieving fame in some unrelated area may actually be the easiest path. For example, if Lady Gaga wrote a novel, then it might or might not be very good and it might or might not be especially profitable, but you can bet that it would be published. Based on your analysis, Mr. Riley may not have any talent as an author. But the fact that his (arguably pathetic) approach has actually caught your attention means that we just may not have seen the last of him, fame-wise! When speaking of fame, power, and money, always remember that if you can get enough of just one of them, then you can obtain the other two as well.

  5. Nate Stokes says:

    I actually had a go at reading this, with no intention of trying to claim a prize or anything. Ya know, a kind of “well hell, I’ll give the old guy a shot, since he’s willing to put himself out there.” I read a LOT of fiction, not all of it good, and I tend to be pretty persistant. I ‘collect’ finished stories and I have finished some doozies.

    I just couldn’t keep going. After about 10 lines.
    Someone should tell him to spend the $3000 on a professional editor, or a writers retreat, a workshop. I mean the premise sounds like it could be kinda fun.

  6. Julie Hannah says:

    I really enjoy reading scifi, so I thought I’d give this book a go. I’m with you, Mr. Stokes. I actually made it to the third chapter before I couldn’t continue. The premise of the book is good, and he knows something about the physics behind it, but the writing…uggghhh. The sex scenes in particular made me fluctuate between laughter and nausea. An editor may not be enough in this case!