Sunday, June 12, 2016

On following your own advice.

It's been a little over a year since we ran that month of #PublishingFoul coverage at Indies Unlimited. Our aim was to document the ways vanity publishers and other sleazy operators take advantage of newbie authors -- first by telling them how great their book is, in order to suck them in; then by overcharging them for editing and/or formatting services that are never delivered, or are delivered improperly; and by charging them exorbitant fees for marketing packages that never pan out.

One of the things I wanted to make sure we emphasized was that the authors are victims in these scenarios. Sure, they might have saved themselves grief if they'd done a little googling before signing a contract with one of these shysters -- but why would an author brand-new to publishing think to do that? Besides, vanity presses are run by professionals in the art of separating newbie authors from their money. They've been at it for decades. Tens of thousands of people have been taken in by these scam artists. And the shame and embarrassment they feel when they realize what's happened often keep them from telling anyone about their experience -- which then makes it easier for the scammers to perpetrate the scam on others.

Our message was this: You were taken advantage of by an expert at this stuff. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn't your fault.
johnhain | Pixabay
It's good advice, and it applies in a lot of situations. Too bad it took me so long to make the connection in my own life.

True story: After my divorce, I was approached by a guy I'd met in grad school and had become friends with. He was broke with no job and needed a place to stay; I had a mostly-empty basement and told him he could move into it. I'll admit I was interested in being more than friends -- so I let him cook in my kitchen, borrow my car, bring his kid over on weekends. I loaned him money that he never paid back.

This went on for quite a while. Eventually he began to say things that undermined my sense of self-worth. I walked too heavily. I talked too much. What I did for a living (I was still in broadcast news at the time) didn't make any sense to him. I didn't treat his stuff with respect -- never mind that he had broken several of my things and neither apologized nor offered to replace them.

Once, I tried to work with him to set some house rules, and he told me point-blank that he wouldn't follow them.

Another time, he said to me, "What can I say to convince you I'm not an asshole?" The perfect retort, of course, would have been, There's nothing you can say -- but if you stopped acting like an asshole, that would be a big help. But the thing was, I had never thought of the possibility that he was an asshole until he said it.

At last, at a point where my life had completely fallen apart -- my mother had been sick with cancer, I'd lost my job and was about to lose my house -- I discovered he didn't care for me at all. Never had. And he claimed he had no idea I had been interested in him.

I sold the house partly because I couldn't think of any other way to get him to leave.

Anyway, the whole thing was humiliating. I came out of it questioning my judgment so harshly that I didn't dare to even think of dating anyone.

That was eighteen years ago. Over the years, I've recognized that I was verbally and emotionally abused by him. But it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I made the connection between "I was victimized" and "I have nothing to be ashamed of."

Who knows why it took so long? After all, it was staring me right in the face: Why would he suggest that I thought he was an asshole unless he knew he was behaving like one?

Anyway, I'm now certain that I was not the only woman he ever took advantage of. I believe he was an expert at manipulating people to get what he wanted, and he took advantage of me. And as we said last year to the authors who'd been taken advantage of by scammy publishers, there's no shame in that.

Hence, this post. And I hope it helps someone figure things out more quickly than I did.

These moments of cautionary yet shame-free blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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