For years I wrote short stories. It was fun. Wild ideas blossomed in my head and danced to the end of my fingers onto the keyboard. Characters came to life; plots and themes were conceived and raised in the nursery of the computer. Now what? How did I push them into the big world? Were they publishable? Was I wasting time?
My mother called, saying she saw an ad in the local throw-away. “New website starting out, needs writers,” she said. I emailed the address in the paper, and I was off! I waited three days after sending fourteen of my best stories through cyberspace to a guy--let’s call him Mark. And sure enough, there they were! I was published on the internet, electronic but no payment. But hey, this was the big world and a start!
The site was non-fiction: places to eat and visit to attract tourists, typical magazine articles. My stories were the first fiction. Mark was delighted, and he planned on opening a novel section soon. He appointed me the editor of fiction section as long as my contribution topped the list. Wasn't too hard to top a list of one, mine.
Weeks later nothing happened. There were no readers. Only prodded friends and family read my stories, and they made a few supportive comments. Where were the other readers in this big world, lovers of short fiction?
I forgot about Mark’s site and joined WDC and started on a not-very-straight-and-bumpy road. I worked on the stories with the help of friends, reviewers and Horizon Academy’s teachers; they nodded here and there, pointed out possible expansion, wordiness; you know the journey. Your babies keep growing and maturing. It’s never finished.
I subscribed to Grammarly. I ran my stories through and a warning came up: PLAGEARISM CITATION. What? The references were from Mark’s site and WDC.
WDC was easy to fix. If I clicked on Access Restrictions and chose, Registered Authors and higher only, it removed the plagiarism citation. But what about Mark’s site?
I emailed him and asked him to delete my stories. He said, “No.” Three years had passed without public comment on any of the fourteen stories. I went into the site and deleted my stories through a word processing, editing service. It worked!
And two weeks ago my dream came true. A publisher short listed my story and would print and pay! I would have my story as part of an anthology, bounded, pages smelling of ink, paper feeling smooth and clean. She noticed the story was much longer and improved. There were two conditions: first, to get my story off the internet, second, to change the title.
I Googled my name and title of the story. Shit! My story. How? I’d deleted them a long time ago! I did a search on Mark. His CV included working for Apple, and he offered forensic computer solutions. Not only could he stash my stories on the internet somewhere else, he could be a hacker. He certainly had the knowledge. Uh oh, walking on eggshells.
With urging from the publisher, I emailed Mark to please take off the one story. I pleaded.
“No. Look at the Terms and Conditions.”
I was sure it was a 6-month exclusive, like my previous, electronic published items. But how could I prove it? How could I take an internet site to court? How could I afford an attorney specializing in intellectual property? I emailed again, offering to pay him to take it off, to pay him the money I’d get from publication and the time he spent setting the story up.
The question was why not? How were the 3-yr-old stories helping him? What were his motives for keeping them?
I forwarded his emails to the publisher. She wrote back saying she was sorry, but could not accept the story because it had been printed.
Fourteen, hard-worked stories, most of them my best. Terms and conditions—co-exclusive rights, forever.
Depression clung to me like Spanish Moss for a month. Anger and despair exchanged places like dance partners.
I know. It’s out there and screaming. READ THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS.
Note: If you are submitting a story for publication which is in your WDC portfolio, change the Access Restriction to: Keep PRIVATE, for my eyes only! And, of course, duh, always read the fine print. Please comment if you want to share information for aspiring authors who want to publish. I'll try and add them to the end of the article.