Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Lost Work

Waaaaay back in February of last year -- just before I started working at my current job -- I put together a short story for release via Psicom Publishing. I remember it quite clearly because I was given a mere week to come up with a work of speculative fiction, and I just barely beat the deadline in this case. In fact, I actually noted the experience in an introduction to one of my blog posts around that time.

"Automata" ended up being a sci-fi effort from my end, clocking in at seven pages in Times New Roman 12, double-spaced, with a total of just over thirteen thousand words to its credit. I don't remember if I was to be paid for the work, but the target publication in question was a follow-up to the company's Pinoy Amazing Adventures, and at that time I was eager to find possible outlets for my writing.

It took the company three months to send me a contract, after which I noted some nasty irregularities and sent it back for change. I also received a manuscript proof around that time, where I noted that the typesetter had put most of my paragraph indentations out of whack. After an hour's worth of corrections, I sent that file back as well.

Then... nothing.

We're now approaching the middle of August 2008, and it seems that I haven't heard anything about the status of the story for over a year now. I'll confess that I scour the bookstores every now and then to see if the publication ever came out... but it looks like it hasn't. Sometimes I wonder if they're ever going to get back to me with a revised contract, and sometimes I wonder if they're just going to screw me over and use the story without getting so much as an okay from me.

But that's all moot, though, because I've seen neither hide nor hair of my one-week wonder. It's quite weird.

To be honest, I'm not looking forward to the story coming out. This is because I don't think that it's representative of my best work, although I think that it's fairly readable on its own merits. For that matter, I've also moved on... which pretty much lowers the significance of this one little work in my book. In short, it's old hat.

That said, though, I don't know what my jurisdiction is with regards to this one. Usually, whenever I submit a short story to a publisher, I do so with the understanding that said publisher is "leasing" it for use within a certain period of time. Psicom, however, was different -- for a company that's been around for a while now, I have yet to see them take the lead on any formal arrangements. In my case, I handed them the story without knowing how long they were going to hang on to it... or for that matter, whether or not they were going to hold onto the rights in the first place.

And now, over one year later, I'm wondering if it's legal for me to put the story up on this blog... or submit it to another publication... or even so much as put up excerpts of it to see what other people think. As you can see, I'm confused.

I'll probably end up writing a short e-mail to Psicom Publishing in order to find out the fate of my story. (Or, failing that, I can also contact our go-between to see if he's still involved.) Hopefully they've done something rash, such as tossing it into the shredder or feeding it to the German Shepherd next door or something like that; those scenarios seem a lot better than just filing the work away for fifteen straight months.

And in any event, it looks like Psicom's spec fic effort is dead on the vine. There are better outlets for these pieces right now -- Philippine Genre Stories is still accepting works, as is Story Philippines. A number of local magazines have begun to feature short stories by the new generation of speculative fiction writers, and Dean Alfar's yearly anthology still sits at the top of many lists. The fact that the Fully Booked competition looks more and more sustainable as it goes on is merely icing on the cake. The main thing is, there are a ton of avenues available to people now -- why wait for a publisher who hasn't put out their planned collection in more than a year?

I'd still like to get some closure on my story, though. I mean, it can't just stay in my hard drive forever...


Dominique said...

seven pages in Times New Roman 12, double-spaced, with a total of just over thirteen thousand words

Eh? Don't you mean 1,300 words? At those specs, one page is about 250 words.

Regardless, I hope to read that story soon.

Sean said...

Dominique: Good catch. It turns out to be thirteen thousand characters -- I was looking at the wrong number. The story actually clocks in at 2,793 words, about 380 per page or so.

Dean said...

Sean, it seems you don't have a contract with them - if, in fact, you did not sign anything (and they did return a contract for signature with your required corrections).

If so, then send off an email query to the editor or your contract regarding the status of the story and inform them that, as the author and owner of the intellectual property, you intend to market or publish it.

Alternately, you can write them and formally pull out your story from their publications schedule.

I hate it when a story gets trapped in limbo.


Sean said...

Dean: Based on how Psicom treated our contract proceedings, it felt as though they didn't deal with writers' contracts on a regular basis. As much as I don't like it, I'll have to consider the possibility that they think of contracts as unnecessary to the publication process.

The letter should be on its way now, and I'll wait for a response. That said, I'd first like to see what plans Psicom had in store for the story, if any. I'll come to a decision only after all the factors are considered.

Adam said...

as someone who was part of that little abortion of a book for that dismal publishing house...

... it seems to us (ie, me and the editor/compiler of the book) from how the overseeing editor (now former-overseeing-editor (she quit)) pretty much ignored our eMails and text messages about that book around a year or so ago, that they won't be publishing it any time soon. you can simply rewrite a few things in it, extend a few paragraphs and rename a few things, and technically (legally) it's new work, which means you can send it to other publishers you feel would treat it better (ie, everyone else).

Sean said...

Adam: Hey there, Adam. I drop by Random Fandom every now and then, you know. :)

As much as the immediate solution is obvious -- that I can just use the story without consideration for Psicom and their contacts -- I'm more after the closure here. I'd like to get some official word from Psicom in one way or another, some guarantee that I can go about my writing without having to worry about what they plan to do with my story. Given their track record, I probably won't see anything from them for a good while, but I'd at least like to try.

Adam said...

hey, sean. sorry to say, but you might as well hope for a hilton blowjob, you know?

at bakit ka nagbabasa ng blog ko? sa ilalim ng batas na sinusulong sa ay bawal yun!

Sean said...

Adam: May that be the only time I ever see the words "hilton blowjob" on screen, much less on this blog. The mental image is too horrifying to retain.

That said... the anti-obscenity and pornography act hasn't passed into law yet. :)