Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Caveat Emptor

Caveat emptor.  Let the buyer beware.  The term hearkens from way back in Roman days, the Latin word for somebody who buys something being "emptor" and the third person subjunctive (the tense that suggests that he or she might oughtta think about probably doing something) of "to beware" (cavere) being "caveat."

Betcha didn't know I speak Latin. Truth be told, I only speak Latin when I'm near a computer, and then with a strong Google accent.

That said--yeah, caveat emptor.  The idea that the buyer should be the one responsible for knowing what needs to be known to ensure a purchase is fair.  It didn't really come from Roman days, actually, but rather from English courts way back when they were wrestling over suitable laws of commerce.  The English just wanted their terms to sound all fancy and stuff, and so they borrowed the fine lingo known as Latin because, well, you know, it sounds official.  The newly-formed American court system, then, needed its own lingua eruditis, and voila.  Official court, they became, just add Latin.

No, seriously.  Try speaking a bit of Latin to someone and Professor Dumbledore they'll see.  "Migale in sinu meo" is your first one--rip that one off at a party and watch them flock to the Master of Erudition.   Makes you sound all Law-y, don't it?

Back to the matter at hand--caveat emptor--the concept was cemented into U.S. law back in 1817 when the Supreme Court said so in its opinion on Laidlaw vs. Organ.  The basic idea was that a party to a commercial contract is under an obligation to not falsify information, but not under an obligation to willingly produce information that is not requested or required.  These days, as commercial transactions become more and more complex while buyers--well, aren't--the concept isn't always holding up, but it's still the rallying cry of free market lovers everywhere.

Caveat emptor!  Hooray!

Up in Alaska we bought into what's called a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) agreement in which, for a fee (once a month in that case) we received a chunk of the vegetables and fruits harvested using the pooled money we all paid in.  It was wonderful.  We generally got a large box, half a bushel in size, every week, and opening it was like watching the Mystery Boxes being opened on the reality show Chopped but without Ted Allen's snarky commentary or the ensuing time limit stress.  We'd open the box, say things like, "I wonder what to do with this bulbous white thing," go to the web site for identification and then to Google for recipes, and come out of each week a little bit smarter. 

And it was all fresh, and certified organically grown.

That's why I jumped to join a CSA when we arrived here.  Oops.  Caveat emptor, indeed.

Oh, it's been fine so far.  Three boxes have been received, and the fruit has been wonderful.  I've been eating nectarines and peaches like they're going out of style.  Which, kind of sort of in a way of speaking, they are; those things rot quickly.

It's just I opened the first box and said, "who forgot the vegetables?"  There were a few little yellow squash, and the rest were fruit.  Don't worry, I reasoned, this is still sort of springtime.  I'm sure veggies will come as the summer ripens.

They didn't.  This recent box?  Once you recognize that tomatoes are technically fruit, you'll see that it's all fruit.

Oh, and they're not technically organic.  Nowhere on their site does it say they're organic.  For the size of farm they maintain, being certified organic would be a pain in the tuckass.  But I assumed, because the previous one was, that they were, too.  Not.

Why is the fruit to veggie ratio important to me?  Hey, it cost a decent chunk of money to buy into the 4-month program.  While I and the rest of the family do, in fact, love fresh fruit, we eat vegetables for most of our diets.  I was envisioning this, like the one in Alaska, to pay for itself by reducing the need to do grocery shopping, but--well, it doesn't.  *ahem*

Man Does Not Live Off Of Peaches Alone.

*ahem* So anyway--yep, perfect example of caveat emptor.  I didn't get what I was hoping to out of the deal, but that was only because I assumed too much about it.  Silly, silly me.  Not too bad of a thing, I suppose, as there's still plenty of value in what I am getting.  It's just--not what I wanted.

There are plenty of examples of caveat emptor floating around the newswaves, of course.  The Supreme Court recently gave us yet another in Mutual Pharmaceutical v. Bartlett.  "Generic medicine gave you a flesh-eating condition?  Caveat emptor, baby.  Go back to your coma and read the warning label next time."

All this, of course, ties back to the world of authorpreneurship.  There have always been plenty of scams out there waiting to prey upon your dreams of seeing your name in print.  Now that technology has sped things up, there exist people who can run away with your money far faster than they've ever been able to before.  And the flip side is that you never really know enough--it's no longer just an initiation issue.  As tech grows and the legal and commercial landscapes shift, the ways in which you can get scammed do the same.

Frankly, it's an easy scam, in general, to work.  Legitimate publishers are, for the most part, hiding behind "no contact unless you're an agent" signs ("nisi forte quis non agens" for the ones who wanna sound Law-y).  Legitimate agents may or may not be accepting the fabulously frightening-to-write documents known as queries.  Those who are taking them apparently get so many that most of them ignore all but the very best.  So then, after sending 40, 50, 60 (as The Help author did) or even 80 (as I did) of them out, you get a note saying "hey, yeah, we'll take your book."

You'll feel like you won the lottery.

Never mind you didn't play the lottery.

You jump in anyway, though, since it's your dream come true, and next thing you know you get the bill.  That, or you find out that the folks you jumped into the wagon with are so not-respected that you'll never get your books into a bookstore other than, and you could've done that all by yourself.

It's a tough world out there, really, and it's evolving to be tougher every day.  So what can you do to make sure you're an adequately caveating emptor?  (see how Law-y I sounded?)  First, get to know some people, through Facebook or a local writers group or elsewhere, who've done it.  Ask their opinion, and listen when it's given.

Second, check out for yourself the site called Preditors and Editors.  They've been around a long time and have a pretty good database built up of the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Use the information there to guide your networking efforts.

Third, follow other writers' and even occasionally agents' blogs.  For example, David Gaughran is an Irish author who runs a blog that discusses the pros and the cons of various companies out there.  I've learned quite a bit just by following his blog and reading the posts.

Hope this helps.

Carpe diem, and caveat, you emptors! Veni, vidi, visa!


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