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Literary Grift: A Primer For The Modern Woman

flickr / ZITTO & GUARDA

This handy guide will help you spot all the dubious characters you’ll meet in the wild and woolly world of publishing.

So, you are a woman with literary aspirations. You want to write the Great American Novel or work your way into the elite halls of publishing. You believe all you need is talent, hard work, and a little bit of luck.

You are wrong.

Publishing is a snake pit filled with venomous but charming creatures in rumpled suits. This handy guide* will help you spot the cons, the fakes, and the shady characters you’ll encounter on your journey. You can’t avoid them all, but knowledge is power.

  1. The Pig in a Poke. A trite and common gambit. A man of middling talent is given a seven-figure advance and major marketing support for his debut novel. The plot is a blatant rip-off of a previously published novel from a female author. When she points this out, he pokes her in the eye. The literati cheer.
  2. The Pyramid Scheme. A few powerful white male editors at major publishing houses buddy up with a handful of white male agents representing a boatload of white male writers. The writers get publishing deals, the agents get rich, the editors get richer and everyone agrees it’s a shame that so few women or people of color are published, but what can they do about it?
  3. The Shell Game. Three upmarket, suspense fiction books featuring unreliable (drunk) female narrators top the bestseller list. The authors use pseudonyms like B.F. Warren and L.M. James. Your challenge? To find the one female-driven narrative written by an actual woman. (Spoiler: there is no actual woman.)
  4. The Sting. A writer and low-level publishing house employee lies about his credentials, his experience, and his history to blaze his way to a high paying job and a lucrative book contract. When it looks like he might be caught, he invents a health crisis and a series of family tragedies as a diversion. Even when everyone discovers he’s a liar, nothing bad happens to him and he remains wealthy by literary standards. It stings.
  5. The Counterfeit. A man writes a memoir chronicling his drug addiction. Oprah tells everyone to buy his book. When the book is exposed as fabricated claptrap, he goes on Oprah for the second time to cry literary crocodile tears. He writes more books, which somehow get published, and he makes a bunch of money, and no one believes he is sorry that he lied to Oprah.
  6. The Bait and Switch. A literary maven appears on the scene in your town. She shows up at parties. She hosts literary fundraisers. She offers to read your manuscript, to introduce you to her agent, to get your book into the hands of powerful people if you’ll just donate to this very worthy cause she has invented or put down a deposit on a writing retreat in Italy that is never going to happen. She is a fierce woman with pink hair and cool glasses, so you trust her. She’s not like all the men who’ve lied and scammed their way into your literary heart. Except, of course, she is.
  7. The Charm Offensive. A somewhat famous and critically acclaimed author teaches at literary festivals across the country. He says your writing has real potential. He offers to meet with you about your manuscript. But when you meet, he is drunk and his hand keeps drifting to your knee and you understand that the only thing of yours he’s ever read or will ever read is your name-tag, which is conveniently located right above your breasts.
  8. The Slow Burn. An awards committee announces its longlist and brags that it’s the most diverse group of writers in the history of the award. Articles are written about the extraordinary inclusiveness of the list. The committee is praised for its open mindedness. The shortlist contains three white men and one woman of color. A man wins.
  9. The Spitball. You work at a major publishing house and your boss calls you in to spitball some ideas for marketing the Summer releases. You give him all your best thoughts in a carefully prepared and meticulously researched report. He thanks you and then presents your ideas as his own at the next editor’s meeting. (Just kidding, he doesn’t actually thank you.)
  10. The Upchuck. You are in a writing workshop with five men, all of whom insist you could learn a lot by reading the novels of Chuck Palahniuk. You vomit.

* This is not in any way a comprehensive guide. Proceed at your own risk.