Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers and industry news and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Writer Beware is taking time off for the holidays. Unless there's some especially major publishing news, look for us to be back after January 1.

Victoria will still be answering email. Contact her at beware [at] sfwa.org.

We wish all our readers peace, happiness, and excellent writing. Thanks so much for being here, for reading and commenting and sharing your experiences and spreading the word.

See you in 2014!

- Victoria Strauss
- Michael Capobianco
- Richard White

December 18, 2013

News of the Weird: Quill Shift Literary Agency

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

So...if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I love the crazy stuff, the little nuggets of publishing weirdness that I run across from time to time. Like author reality shows. Or bidding for a literary agent. Or trying to auction your story idea on eBay for millions of dollars. Or the tale of the "literary agent" who faked her own death and turned out to be a wanted criminal.

So here's another snippet of weirdness for y'all. Introducing Quill Shift Literary Agency ("Re-imagining the role of the literary agency by creating an environment that finds and promotes great writers, invites readers to participate, and intrigues publishing houses to purchase those writers' works").

Founded by Ayanna Coleman, who claims publishing experience but provides no specifics (though she appears at one point to have worked for Serendipity Literary Agency), the premise of Quill Shift is a bizarre mashup of crowdsourcing (represented mss. are posted on the agency's website for "shifters" to read and judge), crowdfunding ("shifters" can "donate money to see it become a physical book"), and purported market testing (if a ms. achieves its financial goal "showing that the market will support it", it's then submitted to publishers).

Erm.

Quill Shift is also raising money for itself, via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign ("Where Harry Potter Magic Meets American Idol Power"). Funding will be used for...
Creation of online community for readers to connect and support Quill Shift Literary Agency author works

Updating and/or creating the chosen authors' personal websites

Cover design for each chosen manuscript to be uploaded on the Quill Shift Literary Agency Website

Professional ePub formatting for each chosen manuscript

Social media marketing and outreach
All, need I say, completely irrelevant to the process of marketing books to publishers.

Where to even start with this? A bunch of random people reading manuscript excerpts online and maybe donating money a) isn't an "online community," and b) doesn't demonstrate market support. I seriously doubt that publishers will be impressed. Nor is this a workable concept in the long term, unless you're constantly refreshing your pool of readers. How many times will the same readers want to throw money at manuscript excerpts?

Also, crowdfunding your business is not a business plan. Assuming your campaign is successful, there's not a lot of risk to you, since you're going to be playing with Other People's Money, but if things don't work out it will be bad news for your guinea pigs--sorry, I mean your clients. And what if your campaign isn't successful? What's your Plan B? Do you even have one?

There's also a potential conflict of interest here. Quill Shift clients' manuscripts are also crowdfunded, with readers viewing excerpts and donating to a month-long "pre-publication platform and buzz creation" campaign. According to Quill Shift's FAQ, proceeds are split 50/50 between author and agency. Since this is money in hand--as opposed to the uncertainties of publisher submission--how tempting will it be for the agency to extend "buzz creation," rather than promptly sending out the manuscript? Of course, that pre-supposes that readers will actually donate, which I think is by no means a foregone conclusion.

And what about the unfortunate authors whose "buzz creation" campaign doesn't reach its goal? After all the excitement of getting "the offer," do they get kicked to the curb?

I don't doubt that Quill Shift's founder is well-intentioned. But she's clearly inhabiting that strange alternate reality that drives so many people on the fringes of publishing to try and re-invent the wheel. Sure, there are problems in the publishing biz, but a crowdsourced crowdfunded literary agency is not a solution. It's a hamster wheel for writers.

Quill Shift's IndieGoGo campaign goal is $15,000. Amazingly, people are donating--$2,356 so far, with 17 days to go. Since, unlike Kickstarter, IndieGoGo campaigns get their money whether the campaigns are successful or not, donors will be on the hook for this crazy scheme no matter what.

#sfwapro

December 13, 2013

Crowdfunded Anthologies: Concerns For Writers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Anthologies, once a staple of genre publishing, have become a rarity at major publishing houses over the past couple of decades.

Small presses still embrace the anthology format, however, as do genre readers--at least, judging by the number of small press or one-off genre anthology projects on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. While most of these campaigns are completely above-board, some are less so, and their growing popularity makes it vital for writers to be aware of several areas of concern. (Donors, too. Do you really want to give money to an anthology that doesn't treat its writers fairly?)

Donating backer prizes.

Many crowdfunded anthologies ask or expect their authors to donate prizes for campaign backers--a story critique, a Tuckerization, an illustration, an item of the author's choice.

From the perspective of the anthology's publisher or organizer, the benefits are obvious: more (and more tempting) backer incentives increase the chances of a successful campaign. For authors, though, things are not so clear-cut, and I've seen quite a bit of discussion of the ethics of being asked or expected to donate freebies. Some writers don't mind, especially where there's no pressure, but others worry about what seems to be a growing assumption that authors owe extra support to crowdfunded anthologies that include their work.

Small press publisher Steven Saus, who has conducted a number of Kickstarter campaigns, addresses this issue in an interesting post on how to manage backer rewards in an ethical fashion. This includes providing a written document or contract specifically addressing rewards.
The important features of such a contract will be:
  • Who is involved (organizer, author)
  • That ONLY if the crowdfunding succeeds, the author will offer a backer reward.
  • A clear explanation of the Reward
  • A timetable of delivery/fulfillment of the Reward
  • Any costs or reimbursement involved, as needed
  • That the offering of the Reward is independent of the contract for the story in the anthology
Short of that (and I don't know for sure, but I'll bet there aren't may Kickstarter anthologists who are as scrupulous as Steven), you can protect yourself by clarifying upfront with the anthology's editor what, if anything, will be expected of you in addition to your story.

Rights and payment.

With many anthology crowdfunding campaigns, the anthology doesn't yet exist. It may be an idea that will be pursued only if funding is raised, or it may have particular authors attached who've promised stories but haven't yet written them.

Other campaigns have already done all or most of the work: invited submissions, selected stories, even issued contracts. But is that ethical, if author payment is contingent on a successful campaign? If the campaign fails and the anthology is abandoned, authors have basically written a story for free. Sure, they can try to sell it elsewhere, but that may not be so easy if the anthology has a narrowly-defined theme.

And what happens to authors' rights if the campaign fails and the anthology is not abandoned? If contracts have been signed, authors' rights could be tied up for an indefinite period of time while the publisher or organizer tries to figure out what to do. Not to mention, whatever payment structure may initially have been promised may now not be possible.

If you're asked to sign a contract prior to completion of a campaign, make sure there's language covering what happens in the event of campaign failure: automatic rights reversion, for instance, or the option of terminating the contract on your own. Alternatively, the contract could allow the publisher or organizer to hold your rights only for a limited period--for instance, 12 months from contract signing.

Steven Saus suggests another possibility: solicit the stories, assemble the anthology, but don't issue contracts until after the campaign closes.
So yes, these authors wrote a story prior to the Kickstarter. Some of them have been waiting a few months now after acceptance. But the stories are still theirs. They haven’t actually sold me the story yet… because I haven’t paid them and they haven’t signed a contract. If the Kickstarter doesn’t fund, I will offer a different funding mechanism… and the authors can accept or reject it as they feel appropriate. Simple as that.
Becoming a backer for an anthology you may also want to submit to.

In some of the crowdfunding discussions I've seen, it's been proposed that campaigns should maintain a wall between backers and contributors: i.e., if you back the campaign you can't submit to the anthology, and if you want to submit to the anthology, you can't back the campaign.

At first glance, this seems like a pretty obvious way to avoid conflicts of interest. However, writers are also readers, and some people feel that such a policy could have a chilling effect on donations, or push publishers toward eliminating open submissions.

Once again, Steven Saus--who has been doing a lot of thinking about these issues, and, as far as I'm aware, is the only small press publisher to have crafted a detailed crowdfunding policy--offers an alternative:
In such instances that an open call occurs after the successful completion of a crowdfunding campaign, the submissions editor(s) will not have access to the lists of backers, nor will the organizer of the campaign have access to the lists of submitters.

Should a submitter refer to their level of backing of the crowdfunding campaign in the submission, cover letter, or correspondence with the submission editor(s) prior to story acceptance or rejection, the submission will be summarily rejected.
Preferential treatment.

It should go without saying that authors shouldn't be able to buy their way into a crowdfunded anthology, either by donating money or contributing prizes.

However, there are plenty of anecdotes about preferential treatment--anthologies that offer an early submission window to writers who back the campaign, or give priority to authors who commit to buying the anthology once it's published, or limit acceptance to authors with a history of vigorous self-promotion, even if their stories are inferior to non-promoters'. Or this campaign, which offered the following donor prize:
Pledge $300 or more
KAIJU CREATOR: Write your own Kaiju-inspired short story and submit it to Ragnarok Publications EIC, Tim Marquitz, for a thorough edit AND the potential—no guarantees, but likely—to have it included in the Kaiju Rising anthology! Yes, you have an inside shot at having your story in the book, but you MUST understand that Ragnarok Publications will have COMPLETE EDITORIAL DOMAIN over your story to assure it meets professional standards of quality and you will sign a contract giving Ragnarok publication rights for a limited period of time, however YOU will retain the copyright to your story and be credited as the story's author. You'll also get everything in the Kaiju Soldier tier. NOTE: The funds in this tier primarily go to cover the cost of editorial services.
Even if payments or donations aren't a requirement for submission, this give something/get something approach comes perilously close to vanity publishing. At the very least, it's a conflict of interest--plus, it has the potential to drag down the anthology's quality.

The problem is, such policies may not always be officially stated. Protect yourself by researching the anthology's publisher or organizer as thoroughly as you can.

Donations--whether money or services--as a requirement for submission.

I've seen two crowdfunded anthology projects with this requirement (unfortunately, neither is still online, so I can't provide links). This is vanity publishing, and it's completely unethical. Both authors and donors should avoid any crowdfunding campaign where a purchase or a donation is a requirement for submission.

In closing...

The crowdfunding universe is still new, and rapidly evolving. Will it continue to expand exponentially? Will backer fatigue eventually clip its growth? No one knows. In the meantime, one thing is certain: as with just about every aspect of writing and publishing, there's plenty of room for author exploitation. Be on your guard.

I'd like to eventually incorporate this information into the Writer Beware website, so I'm looking for input--thoughts, questions, suggestions for other issues of concern. Please comment here, or to contact me via email.

#sfwapro

December 5, 2013

Introduction: New Writer Beware Committee Member Michael Capobianco

My name is Michael Capobianco. Some of you may know who I am. I was President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for thee terms, 1996, 1997, and 2007. I’ve also served SFWA in a number of other capacities, including VP, Treasurer, and, currently, as one of SFWA’s representatives to the Authors Coalition of America.

In addition, I’ve worked with other SFWAns to oppose the Google Books Settlement, write SFWA’s Orphan Works white papers, and worked on various other copyright and contract related matters. I was married to Ann Crispin, and, while there’s no way I could replace her, with Victoria’s kind encouragement, I’ve decided to officially join Writer Beware.

I’ve already written a few blog posts for WB, mostly about legal copyright matters, but I’ve also helped with the April 1st posts from time to time. The Google Broccoli Kitten Settlement was my idea, for example.

My interests are somewhat more policy-oriented than WB tends to be, but WB has a very broad agenda, and I don’t believe I’ll be changing it much, if at all. My perspective is that of a non-lawyer author who is surrounded by technological and legal changes that call into question many of the ideas about copyright and authors’ rights that seemed to be fixed and immutable just a decade or two ago.

This is a time of tremendous upheaval, but it is only the beginning of a transition to a place we can only dimly perceive. Some of the changes over the last years are very good for authors, but others are eroding the underlying principles of copyright, and, in my opinion, that does not bode well for the future. I remember attending the "Electronic Book '99: The Next Chapter," sponsored the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September 1999. (Interestingly, Harlan Ellison was the keynote speaker, and I don’t remember much of his speech except that it didn’t have much to do with the topic of the conference.) Back then, a majority of the players were most interested in selling their new DRM schemes to publishers, because publishers were extremely fearful of the prospect of books that anyone could copy and “share.” Many publishers still feel that way, but I don’t think anyone at that conference could have predicted what the Internet has become, how the ebook marketplace functions, and the enormous changes created by a single corporation, Amazon. I don’t believe we can accurately predict what these things will look like in another fourteen years. But I think that, as in any chaotic system, a push in the right direction at the right time can affect the outcome in profound ways.

Topics I want to cover in future blog posts include the recent verdict in the Google Books case, why orphan works legislation needs to be tailored to the needs of authors, what to do in case your (small or medium-sized) publisher violates your contract, and some stuff about writers' organization such as SFWA.

I’d like to beef up Writer Beware’s sections that are directed at what is currently being called “hybrid authors” – authors who had some success in the world of traditional publishing, but whose books are now mostly out of print and who have not been able to figure out how to self-publish, or have self-published but gotten nowhere. Since I am an explorer in that realm myself, I hope to bring some specificity to the discussion.

And finally, I hope to act to some degree as one of WB’s faces, appearing at conventions and conferences to help spread the word about literary scammers of all stripes.

I do understand that there are scammers and trolls out there who actively oppose Writer Beware, and I suspect I’m due for my share of the libel and innuendo. While I in no way want to engage in useless public diatribes with these people, I do intend to do something about them.

So, Victoria and Rich, thanks for letting me come aboard, and I hope I can help fulfill the mission of Writer Beware. I look forward to hitting the ground running.

December 2, 2013

All Classic Books: The Scam Continues

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you've read my two previous posts about All Classic Books, you already know this story. If you haven't, here's the gist.

Cheryl Lee Nunn of notorious vanity publisher American Book Publishing (one of Writer Beware's Thumbs Down publishers, also featured in an alert at Writer Beware) attempts to expand her author-fleecing operation with a network of bogus organizations and publishers. Outed on this blog, she cuts her losses and folds the scheme--but, eager to make money on the back end, she holds authors' rights for ransom, threatening to give their contracts to a "transfer agent" unless they pony up a buyout fee of $695.

Authors with All Classic Books (the only one of the bogus publishers to issue contracts) have just received another email demanding even more money (all errors courtesy of the original). 
From: Rebecca Reece Winslow
Date: Fri, Nov 29, 2013 at 1:06 PM
Subject: [Name redacted] Your Author Legal Notice Your Book Contract Transfer Agent Instructions
To: [Name redacted]
Cc: "legal @ allclassicbooks.com"

Per terms of our book contract with you we are in the process of exercising our option to assign your book contract to another book publisher effective December 4, 2013. The transfer agent that is working on our publishing company merge or sale and book contract assignments is The Names Company, a publishing industry business broker specialist.

The Names Company will oversee that all our book contract obligations are performed on. For example books remain in print and production and royalties are paid by required contract dates so that we are in full and complete legal compliance. This to make sure that our book contracts remain legally binding to all parties.

The Names Company will not however be providing a publisher staff to answer your book publishing and book selling questions and other book marketing assistance as we have provided you. They will only be responding about questions related to book contract company assignment or your book rights buyouts.

It is important to be aware that just listing a book title for sale today with ten million other book titles that book sales almost always occur because of an author interview, book review or other author promotional activity. If the author is not professionally promoting their title effectively, then it is highly unlikely the author will earn any royalties during the period either with The Names Company or a subsequent publisher assignment.

Instead we have been recommending and helping our authors doing buyouts upload their book files to Amazon's book publishing companies Creative Space (printed books) and Kindle Direct Publishing (e-books) for free.

[Redacted: several paragraphs extolling the virtues of "Creative Space" and KDP.]

We have instructed The Names Company to continue our full book rights buyout offer with our permission and and files for authors to use our edited content and book covers.

However, because of the added expense of the transfer agent, beginning on the first of each month the Full Book Rights Buyout will increase $100 per month. Therefore, buyout offers will be raised from $695.00 to December 3, 2013 with us and can use their credit cards until but after December 4, 2013 the buyout will increase to $795 and $895 on January 1, 2014 and so on. Their website is at http://thenamescompany.com/ and e-mail contact address is info @ thenamescompany.com

Only wired funds will be authorized for those authors doing buyouts after December 4, 2013 through The Names Company will be accepted from that point, instructions are below.

Once fund wires are confirmed, The Names Company will provide authors their book content and cover files, letters of full rights return and authorization to use our editing and design. Then they will remove any current sales listings.

Authors then can legally re publish their book titles with another publisher or self publish it.

[Redacted: wire routing information.]

Warning- Beware of anyone giving false legal advice. We are aware that there has been some false information about us rumored by a fantasy fiction volunteer writer giving our authors bad legal advice that would actually cause them expensive legal damages if they followed it. She does not disclose that she is not an attorney while providing legal advice, and that she is not a professional or unbiased journalist. She is simply a writer we rejected for employment and a book publishing contract about a decade ago, seeking to damage us and our authors with a smear campaign and false information.

Rebecca Reece Winslow
Acquisitions Editor, All Classic Books
info @ allclassicbooks.com
Taking this in order:

* I have several copies of All Classic Books' contract. Nowhere in any of them is there any language giving the publisher an "option to assign your book contract to another book publisher". Not that that's even relevant, because...

* The Names Company isn't a publisher. It also doesn't exist. Have a look at its website. Is it me, or does it seem a little odd that there's zero information on the company or its staff? Or that the only properties shown "for sale" are Nunn's bogus companies? Or that Googling "The Names Company" brings up nothing? Or that, just a few weeks ago, its website looked like this?


Not quite what you'd expect from a "a publishing industry business broker specialist" (if there were such a thing, which there isn't). The Names Company, in other words, is fake--a Nunn fiction in aid of her scheme to extract cash from her authors.

* As of November 5, when I wrote my last post about All Classic Books, it had published only a handful of public domain titles. But when I checked today, I found that it has begun pushing out original titles, all with pub dates of November 20 and later (five days beyond its announced November 15 closing date). It looks as if Nunn is punishing writers who don't fall for her buyout demand by exercising the rights she holds, even though the publisher that contracted them is supposedly defunct.

If your book is or becomes one of these, don't send money to Nunn. Instead, use that cash to seek legal advice on how to get the books taken down and your rights returned to you. (There's a Legal Resources page on the Writer Beware website that may help.) Draw your lawyer's attention to Paragraph 21 of your contract,which provides for automatic termination and return of rights "in the event of the Publisher’s insolvency, bankruptcy, or assignment of assets for the benefit of creditors." Cite the first email you received from "Rebecca Reese Winslow," which clearly states that All Classic is closing down because it's losing money--i.e., insolvent.

* If you haven't guessed, the "fantasy fiction volunteer writer" mentioned in the final paragraph is me. Nunn has been telling that lie about me being a disgruntled would-be employee for years, ever since she trumped it up for a lawsuit she threatened Ann and me with in 2003 (we called her bluff and the suit was never filed). If I needed any further proof that "Rebecca Reese Winslow" is Cheryl Lee Nunn, that would do it.

November 26, 2013

Don't Fall For Vanity Radio

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Writers, don't fall for this offer from Global Talk Radio that's currently doing the spam circuit.
Here's a new and FUN way to promote your book, business or website!

Talk about it "on the air" in your own words... reach a highly-targeted audience and you might open doors to new opportunities! A RADIO INTERVIEW CAN SET YOU APART FROM EVERYONE ELSE!

Global Talk Radio produces 5-minute and 10-minute professional interviews with authors and entrepreneurs for our top-rated "In The News" program. Interviews are pre-recorded by telephone, and you supply "talking points" to help focus the conversation on what is most important. Recent guests included Emmy-nominated writer/producer Dr. Kenneth Atchity, authors Nick Quintanilla and James Conaway, Ben Bluml (Senior VP at the American Pharmacists Association Foundation) and entrepreneur Jenny Ta of Sqeeqee.com. You could be next!

Your promotional interview includes:

A professional interview, recorded by phone
Your interview is posted on our station's site indefinitely
Your archive is fed into Google and other search engines via keywords
You will also receive "honorable mention" on our home page
GTR will hyperlink your archive to a website or web page of your choice
You can download a FREE MP3 copy of the interview
THIS WEEK ONLY!! Send us your picture or graphic, and we'll post it with a link back to your website!

Hurry! Only 5 guest spots are available! (Interviews are available first-come, first-served, but you have until December 15th to record the interview.)

Sign-up is easy. Please visit us at http://www.globaltalkradio.com/publicityworks.htm for details and to book a guest spot.
I'm sure you've already guessed what this breathless pitch omits: these spiffy "professional interviews" involve a fee. TV-infomercial-style, you're urged not to stop to consider--OFFER ENDS NOVEMBER 29!--because you really, really have to hurry--ONLY 5 INTERVIEWS AVAILABLE! Plus, the interviews are on sale! You can get a a 5-minute interview (regularly $200) for $97, or a 10-minute interview (regularly $300) for just $147!

Global Talk Radio touts its "highly targeted audience," but the reality is a little different. On GTR's front page, there's a screenshot of its traffic ranking from Ranking.com, under the headline "Global Talk Radio's traffic surges!" The screenshot appears to show a big jump--from the 180,000 range into the 100,000 range over the course of a few months. However, if you look closely, you'll see that these figures are from 2009 and early 2010. So they're not exactly current.

More recent is this info from Quantcast, which measures actual visitors. Between October 26 and November 24, 2013, Global Talk Radio's website received 752 visitors. Not exactly a mass audience. Global Talk Radio's Alexa rank is similarly unimpressive.

Don't fall for vanity radio. If you want an interview to post on your website, consider creating your own podcast. Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn offers good advice on how to do this (there are helpful suggestions in the comments as well).

November 23, 2013

Horror Writers Association Adds Its Support to Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


If you're a regular visitor here, you may have noticed a change in our masthead.

I'm delighted to announce that the Horror Writers Association has joined the Mystery Writers of America in providing additional support for Writer Beware (our main sponsor, of course, is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).

We're thrilled to be collaborating with another professional genre writers' group to further Writer Beware's mission of educating and empowering writers--all writers, new or established, regardless of subject, style, genre, or nationality. Together, we'll continue to work to make the publishing world a safer place.

Thanks, HWA!

November 19, 2013

Masterpiece: A Reality Show For Authors (Plus a Short, Sad, History of Similar Shows That Failed)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Literary feuds are entertaining: famous and not-so-famous authors holding grudges, slinging insults, or sabotaging one another with bad reviews (both anonymous and not).

But what about author feuding in real time? Can the spectacle of writers racing one another to finish a story, or competing to make the best elevator pitch, hold an audience riveted? Will viewers mourn as authortestants fall by the wayside, and cheer for the last author standing?

A new Italian reality show, Masterpiece, aims to find out. At stake: a deal with Italian publisher Bompiani, and an eye-popping first print run of 100,000. Here's how it works.
Prospective contestants submit a manuscript of an unpublished novel – nearly 5,000 flooded the offices of “Masterpiece” when the call went out, according to the NYT. Readers select a dozen contestants for each of six episodes, which judges then winnow down to four hopefuls per show.

Each of the four contestants participates in some sort of event that is designed to inform his or her writing (for example, watching a wedding or spending a day with the blind), then return to the studio for the main event: a tension-fraught writing assignment. Writers sit at keyboards facing judges and tap out prose with their words projected on screens for the audience to see as a clock counts down. Time allotted for this assignment? A pressure-filled 30 minutes.

They then read their written assignments aloud to judges, who deliberate and dismiss two writers. The final competition is a 59-second elevator pitch to literary celebrities. A winner is chosen from each of six episodes, then finalists are gathered together for a final competition to determine who wins a book deal – and a good deal of celebrity.
Sounds like a major yawnfest to me. But then, I'm a writer, with an intimate personal knowledge of how boring writers are when they're composing. (They're actually much more interesting when they're procrastinating--how about a show about that?) I'm thinking fancy sets and big screens and breathless show-host commentary are not going to be enough to generate audience enthusiasm for 30 minutes of writers writing.

Believe it or not, "Masterpiece" is not a new concept. Author reality shows have been tried several times, and every single one has failed. I've written about a bunch of them (I admit to a minor obsession!):

- Book Millionaire. The brainchild of Lori Prokop, owner of her very own vanity press, this show was to feature "Eight people with dreams of seeing their book ideas become published and being the next author launched to best selling and celebrity status." It never got beyond the video audition stage.

- The Ultimate Author. Created by journalist and author Lauren Spicer, this show promised contestants "go[ing] toe-to-toe in a writing competition that tests their ability to develop attention-grabbing content." At least one show was taped, but there's no sign it was ever broadcast.

- American Book Factory. Four books were to be co-written by teams of authors "competing for what could turn into a major book deal." This one never got beyond the announcement stage.

- Healeth Publisher. In connection with an Internet TV company, Healeth promised a reality show competition "that will change the publishing game forever." It never materialized.

- Publish My Book! Proposed by Tony Cowell, Simon Cowell's brother, this American Idol-style author reality show looked to have all the goods, but it fared no better than the rest. Announced for the summer of 2007, it never appeared.

- The WRITE Stuff. Run by producer and events organizer Cyrus A. Webb, this show promised to feature 14 authors in "a contest that will challenge not only their creativity but their drive and determination to make it in the business." Despite multi-city auditions, not a single episode ever aired.

Admittedly, except for Tony Cowell and Publish My Book!, none of these groups was very credible. Still, even though Masterpiece has the money and the logistics and the publisher participation that the dead shows lacked, it shares the same challenge: writers are really only interesting when they're not writing.

EDITED 11/22 TO ADD: Here's a review of Masterpiece's first episode: it's mixed, but generally positive. I'm still not convinced; even glitzed up for TV, who but another writer is really interested in writers writing? There's a reason there are so few books (and films) about authors.

EDITED 5/6/14 TO ADD: Masterpiece has concluded and crowned a winner. Apparently the show garnered few viewers and was even suspended for several months mid-contest. Here's a wrapup: Italy’s TV Reality Show Ignored Psychology of Authors.

November 15, 2013

Awards Profiteering: The Book Festival Empire of JM Northern Media

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you're a writer, I'll bet you've been spammed by JM Northern Media.

Don't recognize the name? Maybe these will ring a bell. The Los Angeles Book Festival. The Hollywood Book Festival. The Paris Book Festival. The Beach Book Festival. The Halloween Book Festival. Animals, Animals, Animals Book Festival. And at least nine other annual festivals, all owned and operated by JM Northern Media (click the Properties tab).

Why, you might ask, would one company own so many book festivals? To make money, of course. JM Northern's "festivals" aren't really festivals at all, but textbook examples of a moneymaking awards program. Here's the M.O.

- Solicitation. To maximize entries, moneymaking awards programs do email blasts. JM Northern is no exception--if you get on its list you'll be relentlessly spammed with calls for entry to any or all of its fifteen "festivals."

- High entry fees. For all but the Hollywood Book Festival, which charges $75, entrants must pay "a non-refundable entry fee of $50 in the form of a check, money order or PayPal online payment in U.S. dollars for each submission."

- Lots of entry categories. To maximize income, moneymaking awards programs create as many entry categories as possible, and encourage multiple entries. JM Northern's festivals all have 15 or more entry categories--actually rather modest for such programs, but that's offset by how many of them there are. Plus, you can get 10% off by entering more than one festival at a time!

- Opportunities to spend more money. Moneymaking awards programs' profits don't just come from entry fees. They also hawk award stickers, certificates, critiques, and more.

On its festivals' entry forms, JM Northern asks writers to indicate whether they'll be willing to buy "promotional items" or critiques--to be provided, I'm guessing, by JM Northern's own Modern Media Publicity, which sells said promotional items ("Nothing says free advertising like a quality t-shirt or coffee mug") as well as "Regular" ($150) and "Deluxe" ($350) critiques by "by our staff of authors, publishers, festival judges, filmmakers and agents" (unnamed, of course). JM Northern also maintains a "book marketing portal" called Table of Honor, where festival winners and honorees can pay $75 per title to list their books.

Let's do the math. According to this article, the Hollywood Book Festival received 2,740 entries in 2012. At $75 per entry, that's a gross of $205,500. Let's assume that the other 14 festivals, with a lower fee, also get a lower number of entries--say, 1,500 (I'm lowballing to demonstrate how insanely lucrative this scheme is). Altogether, that's over $1.25 million just in entry fees. A year. When you add in revenue from the critiques, the merchandise, and the marketing, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that JM Northern's annual festival gross is $2 million or more.

- Anonymous judging. JM Northern's festivals promise judging by "a panel of industry experts," but don't reveal who those experts are. This is typical of moneymaking awards programs, where the judges are usually not the experienced professionals promised in the publicity material, but rather the program's staff, who may simply pick winners out of a hat.

- Negligible prizes. To avoid cutting into their profits, moneymaking awards programs typically offer prizes that cost them little or nothing: press releases, media announcements, printed certificates, website listings, features on satellite websites they themselves own, donated items, and, of course, the supposed prestige that comes from being able to claim that you're an "award-winning author."

Here's where JM Northern differs a little from the norm. Winners and placers in the various entry categories get (at least according to pictorial evidence) nothing but a framed certificate. But JM Northern does sponsor actual awards ceremonies, and the grand prize winner for each festival receives an "appearance fee"--between $500 and $1,500, depending on which festival--plus a plane ticket to whatever city is hosting the ceremony.

The festivals' websites name winners, so I emailed several of the grand prize recipients to verify that they'd received their prizes. I heard back from three. All reported that they did receive a check (in one case, after a delay), along with a plaque. Only one accepted the plane ticket and attended the ceremony--a relatively bare-bones snack-and-cocktails affair at which he gave an acceptance speech and category winners and honorees received certificates. He also confirmed that there was no actual book festival, in the sense of an event with speakers, exhibitors, and a variety of events--just the ceremony, along with a display of the honorees' books 

What about prestige? Moneymaking awards don't typically command a lot of name recognition (two of the grand prize winners I spoke with told me that even their publishers, which had submitted their books, had never heard of the festivals before)--but if you win or place, you'll be able to tag your book as an "award-winning book" and yourself as an "award-winning author." How much readers care about such designations, though, is an open question. With all the fake review scandals, as well as readers' increasing disillusion with authorial self-promotion, I think book buyers have become more cynical in general about what authors say about themselves.

Moneymaking awards, which overwhelmingly target and ensnare small press and self-published authors, are a cynical play on authors' hunger for recognition and exposure in an increasingly crowded marketplace. JM Northern is by far the most prolific of these schemes, but there are many others. In my opinion, they are never a worthwhile use of writers' (or publishers') money.

JM Northern Media's empire includes several other moneymaking properties, including the DIY Convention and the YPE International Summit. It's run by journalist and author Bruce Haring.

November 11, 2013

Solicitation Alert: Bloggingbooks

 Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Have you recently been solicited by a company called Bloggingbooks that wants to publish your blog in book form?
Millions of people share their point of view with the world in real time – This is how blogs have become part of our everyday lives. Blogs focus on the present and thereby provide continuous commentary on daily happenings.

Events and content, that are presented in a chronological order on the internet, get a new dimension through books. By turning blogs into books we create a systematic snapshots through collecting, compiling, categorizing and commenting.
The eccentric English is no accident: Bloggingbooks is a German company--and not just any German company, either. As its domain registration information shows, it's part of what's probably the biggest author mill in the world (that's right, it's got PublishAmerica beat): VDM (Verlag Dr. Mueller).

I've written several blog posts about VDM and its multitudinous tentacles:

VDM Verlag Dr. Mueller
JustFiction! Edition
Blessed Hope Publishing

Briefly, these companies provide bare-bones POD and electronic publication, a life-of-copyright contract with no provision for termination or rights reversion, and a royalty structure that all but guarantees that VDM will never actually have to pay anything (if your royalties "average" less than 50 euros per month--a safe bet, given the books' ridiculous prices and complete lack of marketing--you get vouchers to buy other VDM books in lieu of money). VDM and its satellite ventures are notorious for direct solicitation and spamming, and for creating "books" cobbled together from Wikipedia articles.

If you want to turn your blog into a book, there are many much better options, including just about any good self-publishing platform.

November 8, 2013

2 Moon Press--Update

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last summer, I wrote about a police investigation of Michigan-based pay-to-play publisher 2 Moon Press, which closed its doors in May amid competing claims of wrongdoing by its former and current owners. In the process, it left large numbers of authors in the lurch--many of whom had paid thousands of dollars and never seen a single book.

Despite the police investigation, dozens of author complaints, an F rating from the BBB (click the Complaints tab to see the kinds of troubles authors encountered), and a lawsuit by at least one author, prosecutors declined to bring charges against former owner Don Semora--even though he has a prior history of fraudulent activity, and has served time in prison--or current owner Melinda Lundy.

Sadly, this isn't an unusual outcome. Even where the fraud is egregious and tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars are involved, a combination of bias (it's vanity publishing; authors have only themselves to blame), lack of understanding (it's often difficult for people outside of publishing to understand where the fraud lies; also, cases that involve dozens of people, multiple states, and a variety of different complaints can seem dauntingly complex to pursue), and the lower priority that's often given to smaller white-collar crimes overwhelmingly keeps law enforcement from pursuing literary fraud. There've been some successes (see Writer Beware's Case Studies page), but most literary fraud goes unpunished--and often, since authors are ashamed of falling for a scam, unreported.

Enter local Michigan news channel WWMT, whose Investigations Team broadcast this damning report on November 1.
Over the last few months, the Newschannel 3 I-Team worked on behalf of dozens of authors who say they lost money or lost services from the now-defunct book publisher 2 Moon Press.

Many authors asked us to investigate what happened to the company. The company shut down earlier this year and many of the authors we are profiling in this story say they paid for books they never received. The leaders at the company purchased billboards across West Michigan, advertising that they were "Michigan's most trusted publisher."

In police reports we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, people in 26 cities in Michigan and in 10 states across the country reported to the Marshall Police Department they didn't get what they were promised from the folks who were running 2 Moon Press.

The police officers in Marshall say they've never handled a case of this magnitude.
There's much more in the accompanying video, including denials of wrongdoing by Don Semora and protestations of innocence by Melinda Lundy. Semora filed a civil case against Lundy a few months ago for fraud and breach of contract; Lundy--who'd earlier sent Semora a desperate plea for help, claiming that "I have went through all the money"--responded by alleging that Semora defrauded her by inducing her to agree to a fraudulent contract. The case was tossed when Semora failed to appear in court.

Don't miss the confrontation outside the Double Nickel Party Store, where Melinda's son Matthew (who has a criminal history of his own) smashes the reporter's camera and physically threatens him (at 06.30); or the image of 2 Moon's huge highway billboard sign--which, months after the company's demise, has only just been taken down--advertising itself as "Michigan's Most Trusted Publisher" (at 07.35).

As a result of WWMT's expose, the Calhoun County prosecutor has re-opened the case and is actively pursuing it. Restitution is unlikely--even if granted, there's probably no money left--but let's hope there are some convictions.

November 5, 2013

Going Out of Business, Nigerian Spam-Scam Style

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Back in August, I blogged about the latest effort by Cheryl Lee Nunn, owner of vanity publisher American Book Publishing Inc., to expand her author-fleecing efforts with a network of new publishers, bogus publishing organizations, and triple-barrelled aliases.

Following my expose, Nunn slapped ludicrous "for sale" notifications on the websites of the fake orgs and two of the new publishers, Alexis Press and Atlantic National Books. The one that brought her scheme to my attention, however--All Classic Books--remained active, possibly because it was the only one that had actually recruited authors.

Now it appears that Nunn, who runs All Classic Books under the name Rebecca Reece Winslow, is throwing in the towel on All Classic as well. But when you've put a lot of effort into a scheme, it's tough to let it go without at least some return on your investment, right? In a move reminiscent of those Nigerian spam-scams where recipients are threatened with FBI investigation if they don't hand over money pronto, Nunn, a.k.a. Winslow, is attempting to soak her authors before the door slams closed with a long, bullshit-stuffed email designed to scare them into paying to get their rights back.

Take a look. All typos and emphases courtesy of the original. (How many falsehoods and logical inconsistencies can you spot?)
From: Rebecca Reece Winslow
Date: Sat, Nov 2, 2013 at 7:22 PM
Subject: URGENT 10 Day Legal Notice
To: [name and email redacted]
Cc: legal@allclassicbooks.com

Dear [name redacted],

Please respond today so we know you are getting this e-mail ASAP and let us know what you plan to do.

Some authors have delayed responding because they think that they may have a better opportunity if All Classic Books is sold or merged with another publisher someday. It is NOT likely, as it has been for sale for a few years without any serious buyers.

Most likely our book contracts will go to a transfer agent that will hold it for a long time before it is merged or resolved. This is why we are offering to help our authors do their full rights buyouts before they get caught in the middle a legal limbo with their titles tied up in red tape for possibly a very long time.

I advise you not to hesitate to do the buyout, your book's sales opportunities are not going to get better if you merely let it stay as is here.

The board of directors of American Book Inc. that owns and operates All Classic Books have voted to sell our assets and book contracts to another publisher and close this month.

The directors have been financing our operations with additional investment since the company has not been earning a profit. After reviewing author responses to our marketing campaigns and their own marketing and promotional plans the directors believe this was not a viable business model in selecting talented, but non professional authors. We had hoped with the right selection, and planned marketing campaigns we could overcome the unknown author issues. But without the level of cooperation from the authors needed in building their author platforms and other tasks, it is not possible for this new publishing company business model to succeed.

We have been losing money as have many other publishers over the last few years and so All Classic Books is also not likely to be an attractive company to purchase.

We want to ease any problems this creates for you and the listings and sales of your book.

Therefore it is critical you respond to this e-mail without delay and and act quickly to move your title to another publisher now before it gets tied up with a transfer agent.


Management has instructed me to offer you a full rights buyout where we can provide you our edited book files and full rights to publish them with other publishers that you may want to submit them too for possible cash advances or to now self publish them.

[Redacted: a bunch of unintentionally true propaganda about how much better the released authors can do by self-publishing with Amazon.]

Therefore we are offering you a finial full book rights buyout opportunity on your title (per book title) for $695.00 until November 12, 2013 that will prevent your title from being tied up in the sales or closing transition or with a transfer agent over a few years.

We will provide you a formal letter stating that all book rights have been returned to you in full on your title and permission to use all our editing work and copy our book cover (if it has been completed, the buyout is "as is" to whatever production stage your book is currently in). Then we will send you the book files and information about setting it up for free with amazon.com's book publishing program (for both in print and e-book editions), or you can use them to submit to other publishers.

I have received my notice or pink slip as have many of our staff this week that our services will no longer be needed as of November 15th, 2013.

Time is of the essence we are quite busy wrapping things up here and the sooner you respond the better because we want to make sure you have everything you need and are set up with your new publisher before the company transfers.


[Redacted: a long, long list of ways in which authors can pay.]

Please let me know you received this e-mail and your plan for your title and how we can assist you no later than November 5, 2013.

WARNING, please keep in mind those who do not do the buyout will have their book contracts and production or distribution work transferred to another company or new owner which means that all your book rights and our editing work will remain with them and they will have legal rights to sue for any use of the your title content without their permission.


[Redacted: a bunch of links to scary articles about how publishers are in trouble and the publishing industry is dying.]

Sincerely,
Becky
All Classic Books authors, take note: This email is bogus. There is no American Book Publishing Inc. "board of directors." There is no "Rebecca Reese Winslow." It's all Cheryl Lee Nunn, and the only financial "investment" that would ever have been made in All Classic Books would have come from its authors, who'd have been pressured to buy hundreds of their own books.

As for the supposed sale--no one is going to buy a money-losing publisher, even if it were a real publisher and not a phantom operation, and even if Nunn were really contemplating finding a buyer. Nor is there any such thing as a "transfer agent" for publishing contracts. If a publisher goes bankrupt, contracts do indeed get tied up in the mess, and may be frozen until the court decides to sell or release them--but that's not what's happening here. All Classic isn't going bankrupt. It's doing a bunk.

DO NOT PAY TO GET YOUR RIGHTS BACK! Don't put money into a scammer's pocket, and don't dignify this disgraceful extortion attempt with a response.

If your book hasn't yet been published or put on sale, you can wait out your contract's 18-month publish-or-revert period. Or, if you don't want to wait 18 months, you can send a termination notice to All Classic's most recent snail mail and email addresses, addressed to whichever staff name is on your contract. State that since the publisher is ceasing operations, you're terminating your contract immediately, and reverting all rights to your work. If you like, you can cite Paragraph 21 of your contract, which provides for automatic termination and return of rights "in the event of the Publisher’s insolvency, bankruptcy, or assignment of assets for the benefit of creditors." The email above clearly states that All Classic is closing down because it's losing money--i.e., insolvent.

EDITED 11/13/13 TO ADD: All Classic Books' website now has a big "For Sale" sign on it. 
As of November  29, 2013 All Classic Books will be available for purchase. Serious company purchase offers may be made to Becky at info@allclassicbooks.com
Don't hold your breath, folks.

EDITED 11/19/13 TO ADD: All Classic authors have received this final demand for cash from "Rebecca":
I'm about to leave my employment at All Classic Books and need to know if you are planning on accepting our book full rights buyout offer since it expires in 2 days on the November 20, 2013.

Most of our authors are doing their book buyouts except for a few that are mislead or confused by some erroneous false information they read about it. Without your full book rights buyout your book will still be listed with some stores, and our book contracts will be assigned and managed by a transfer agent that will be managing the sale or merge of our company with another. Since it is unclear how long that will take, we are strongly recommending authors do the buyout to avoid long delays and red tape as you will not have the administrative and book marketing e-mail support you have had with us.
Again, there's no such thing as a "transfer agent." Nunn just wants to wring whatever money she can out of the scheme before she folds it.

October 17, 2013

Thoughts on the Great Erotica Panic of 2013

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware  

If you're a self-published erotica author, you're probably aware of the crazy events of the past few days, including the wholesale deletion of erotica ebooks and the shutdown of entire retail operations. If you're not, here's how things went down.

An expose in The Kernel that found numerous self-published rape and incest porn ebooks for sale at major ebook retailers precipitated a media frenzy in the UK. Amazon and Barnes & Noble began pulling titles from their stores. Other ebook retailers went farther: WH Smith shut down its entire website, and Kobo, which initially just deleted selected titles, suspended the sale of all self-published ebooks on its UK website--a shutdown that has since spread to Australia and New Zealand--in order to inventory its catalog and purge ebooks that violate its content guidelines.

As the story unfolded, authors who don't write erotica saw their titles removed, as did authors whose erotica books don't appear to violate retailers' content guidelines. In response, readers and others have launched a petition asking retailers to "leave our self-published and/or indie authors alone."

Beyond all the other issues raised by this incident--free speech, censorship (though IMO this isn't censorship; these are businesses, which have the right to sell what they choose), where the lines for objectionable content should be drawn, the slippery slope of book banning--there's one that I'm not seeing much discussed: the degree to which the apparently free market of self-publishing is vulnerable to Big Brother control.

I've gotten some shit for my dislike of the term "independent author" (as a substitute for "self-publisher"). I get that it's supposed to denote an author's independence from the traditional publishing establishment--an entrepreneurial new world in which authors aren't subject to restrictive rights grants and can control both the process and the proceeds of publication.

But I think the term also encourages the inaccurate notion that today's DIY self-publishing empowers authors to become fully independent operators, in complete control of their own destinies. As the Great Erotica Panic of 2013 demonstrates, that's not entirely true.

Like it or not, your access to the tools of self-publishing--and, more crucially, to your published books--are controlled by your publishing platform's Terms and Conditions. These typically allow the platform to yank books, close accounts, and enforce content policies at will, often without notification or explanation. When the platforms choose to exercise this power--appropriately or inappropriately--authors often have little recourse. A common theme of such situations is the difficulty of getting removed books restored, or of penetrating the bureaucracy and finding someone who can provide real answers and/or real help.

Fortunately events like this are rare. But if you're going to self-publish, it's absolutely vital that you read and understand the Terms and Conditions of any platform you decide to use (a step that authors often gloss over), so you'll know right from the start the degree to which you're subject to your platform's power to make you disappear. It's also a good reason to avoid exclusivity and publish to as many platforms as possible, so that if one decides to torpedo your account, your books won't completely disappear.

Some have speculated that increased screening and enforcement of content guidelines mark a sea-change for the self-publishing industry and will exert a chilling effect that could end self-publishing as we know it today. I don't think so. This incident should, however, be a reality check for self-publishers who think they're launching their work into a sphere of unlimited freedom. You're only as independent as your publishing platform will let you be.

October 15, 2013

Early Termination Fees in Publishing Contracts: A Cautionary Tale

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware 

A few years ago, I blogged about early termination fees, a.k.a. kill fees, in publishing contracts, and why they are not a good thing.
For obvious reasons, kill fee clauses are onerous for authors, who in some circumstances might have good reason to want to end a contract early, and can't do so without opening up their wallets. Plus, many publishers employ kill fee clauses abusively, holding them over the heads of unhappy authors, or attempting to use them as an income source by offering to jettison dissatisfied writers at the slightest provocation, or terminating the contracts of writers who've pissed them off and demanding the fee even though termination wasn't the writer's decision.
Here's an actual example of this kind of abuse.

Problem publisher No Boundaries Press, which apparently stopped paying its authors sometime in 2012, closed its doors at the end of this summer. According to reports received by Writer Beware, NBP's owner--who allegedly goes by several aliases, including Kharisma Rhayne, Denise Caroline, Mystee Blackwood, and Denise Blackwood--has absconded to Indiana, leaving sizeable debts and many angry authors behind. Some didn't even know about the closing until they read about it online.

Author Erica Pike has blogged about the whole ugly experience (what she reports is very similar to the reports I've received). As the problems at NBP mounted, she became more and more frustrated--and here's where early termination fees come in:
By now, you're probably wondering why the hell I didn't just send a "breach of contract - give me my shit back" message. The problem was that I couldn't. All the contracts had an early termination clause stating that I'd have to pay NBP money to get my rights back (all the authors were chained by this clause). The new contracts I'd signed had an increased early termination amount, so I was looking at impossible penalty fees if I pulled my books.
Then, abruptly, NBP announced that it was closing.
On June 5th..."Heather" (who had been assigned to handle everything because Kharisma could no longer work due to poor health) sent a message saying that NBP was closing. We would all get our rights back (yay!), but had to pay her for covers and edits if we wanted to continue using them.
So not only did NBP hold its unhappy authors hostage with the threat of huge termination fees if they pulled their books early, it attempted to use the termination clause to make a quick buck on the back end--even though the clause was meant to cover early termination by authors, not premature termination by the publisher. (And notwithstanding the fact that it owed its authors substantial amounts of money.)

Erica Pike offers some sensible advice:
If your contract has an early termination clause, challenge it. Speaking of, when signing contracts that have early termination clauses and there's no way the publisher will remove them, make sure you negotiate into the clause that if the publisher is in breach of contract you don't have to pay the fee to get your rights back.
I'd go farther. If your contract includes an early termination clause that imposes a fee and the publisher won't remove it, consider walking away. It's not just that early termination clauses have the potential for abuse--it's what the clause says about the publisher's attitude toward its authors, and its willingness (or lack of willingness) to shoulder the risks of publishing in exchange for the privilege of making money from its authors' intellectual property.

If you do choose to go forward with a contract that includes an early termination clause, be aware that the clause may come back to bite you, in ways you may not expect.

October 11, 2013

Writers' & Artists New Self-Publishing Comparison Service Leaves Much to be Desired

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware 

Writers & Artists--the Bloomsbury Publishing-owned writers' handbook that's the UK equivalent to the USA's Writers Market--has just launched a free self-publishing provider comparison service.

Here's how it works. Detailed questionnaires cover a variety of areas: editing, ebooks, design and formatting, marketing, and printing. Writers can fill out any or all of these. At the end of the process, they're presented with a list of self-publishing service providers selected from W&A's database, ranked in order of relevance. From this list, they can request up to a maximum of five "personalized quotes."

To test the service, I filled out the questionnaire for ebooks. My assumptions: I wanted ebook conversion and distribution to multiple platforms in Europe and North America, in ePUB and Mobi formats, for a manuscript of 100,000 words. I was willing to accept a distributor cut of up to 45%, and wanted control of pricing and regular sales reports. My budget was $500 (to my surprise, the questionnaire did not ask me how much I was willing to pay).

I was presented with 88 self-publishing companies, each with a little writeup about its services (according to W&A's FAQ, this data is provided by the companies themselves). Some of the companies I'd heard of--many of the Author Solutions imprints were represented, for instance, including the jaw-droppingly expensive Archway Publishing--but other names were unfamiliar.

Bewilderingly, top-rated for relevance was New Generation Publishing, which offers ebook publishing only as an add-on to its print self-publishing packages (a fact not mentioned in the company's writeup--you have to visit New Generation's website to discover this). Also, while New Generation's services include a menu of price-fixed publishing packages and marketing services, it doesn't seem to offer anything resembling the personalized quote promised by W&A.

Next in line: Memoirs Publishing and Matador. Neither company appears to provide ebook publication as a stand-alone option, and Memoirs doesn't show costs on its website, suggesting that it's pricey. Not until number four on the list did a stand-alone ebook option appear: Bookbaby, which also has the virtue of being relatively inexpensive.

I also filled out the questionnaires for Editing and Marketing, with similarly confusing results. For instance, Palibrio was included in my editing list, with no mention of the fact that it specializes in Spanish-language books; but the only dedicated editing company in W&A's database, Bear and Black Dog Books, was not. Marketing gave me AuthorHive, a company spun off from Author Solutions in order to hawk AS's huge collection of overpriced and dubiously useful "marketing" services; it also gave me Schiel & Denver and Llumina Press, about both of which Writer Beware has gotten serious complaints of unprofessional business practice.

Certainly it's helpful for authors to be able to access a big list of self-publishing service providers. There are scores of these, and the smaller or more specialized ones don't always rank high in search engine results. But Writers & Artists is billing their new service as a comparison service, designed to help authors make better choices. And based on what I've seen, that's not what authors are getting here.

I'm not the only one who is voicing concerns. Writes Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine,
Yes, authors want some kind of guidance on reputable self-publishing services, and a way to avoid any pitfalls. I just don't see that here. This is a case of matching ticked boxes against a database. The information is as good as you indicate you want, without the proviso of any guarantee of quality or reputation of a company. Is it better than surfing Google looking for an editorial service, printer or self-publishing service? -- maybe. Is it a complete solution? No.
Members of the Alliance for Independent Authors (which worked with Writers & Artists on compiling a list of service providers and establishing a ratings system, but ultimately withdrew from the project due to disagreements over methodology) are also critical. Here's Ben Galley on why he's not happy with the new service. And ALLi founder Orna Ross provides this warning:
- The suppliers on this comparison site pay to have the author's contact details passed onto them as a "lead". ALLi asked that this would be made clear to authors using this service. As far as we can see, this key information does not appear anywhere on the W&A website.

- Good services like Silverwood books, Matador, Ingram, Amazon, Kobo, Mill City Press, ebook Partnership and many others -- including a number of our partner members -- appear beside some companies who are the worst in the business, without any way for an author to differentiate between those who serve writers well, and those who exploit.
Self-publishing expert David Gaughran also provides a blistering critique, calling W&A's plan to sell leads "unconscionable," and especially flagging the inclusion of Author Solutions imprints. "Author Solutions companies," he says, "have no place on a website which claims to provide authors with good advice."

W&A has responded to some of the criticism, admitting that companies that have agreed to "receive data" (i.e., authors' contact information) are charged "a flat fee" (this information does appear on W&A's website, though it's notably absent from this blog post from one of W&A's providers), and promising that a user review function will eventually be added so that authors will have "the opportunity to filter results by both ‘Best Match’ and ‘User Reviews’."

In my opinion, however, much more is needed to make this a truly useful service. Some suggestions:

- Refine the comparison engine so that it produces reliably appropriate results.

- Winnow the list of providers to remove dubious companies--or at least amend their writeups to note known issues and/or serious complaints (as with Author Solutions). Writer Beware stands ready to help, if requested.

- Provide real writeups on the companies--not just the companies' own not-necessarily-complete-or-transparent PR.

- For convenience, add links to the companies' websites.

- Include prices in the comparison chart. Cost is often one of the main considerations in choosing a self-pub service, and it's impossible to meaningfully evaluate any company without knowing how much it charges.

- Last, and vitally important: the questionnaires need to be amended to take writers' finances into account, so that comparison engine will select for how much authors are willing to pay. If I'm looking for low-cost self-publishing, for instance, I shouldn't see Archway Publishing on my comparison list.

October 4, 2013

New Publisher House and the State of Independence 2014 Report: Grain of Salt Required

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

So a week ago, I stumbled on this news item in a generally reliable venue:
The [growth of ] self-publishing has created a new publishing market that totals $52 billion in revenues, according to a new report from media technology firm New Publisher House. According to the report, this is twice as much money as the traditional book publishing industry in the U.S. brings in in its current total annual sales revenue.

The State of Independence 2014 report looked at insights gathered from publishing executives, Amazon, Google and industry data to come up with its conclusions. The report also revealed that the number of aspiring self-published authors that have completed manuscripts is more than 100x the number of actual published authors. In addition, according to the report, self-published titles are 8x the number of mainstream published new titles.
Wow, I thought, interesting news! There's so little solid data on self-publishing--how great to have an authoritative industry report to shed more light on this exploding new market! So of course I tweeted it.

But then I got to thinking. $52 billion? Seems like an awfully big figure, even if you assume that the lion's share of it is money made from self-publishers by service providers, rather than money made by self-publishers from book sales. Plus, Amazon and Google aren't known for freely sharing numbers.

So I did what I should have done to begin with: I took a look at the actual report. Except that this isn't the report at all, only an "Executive Summary," without any description of research methodology or any source material references to support the big numbers quoted above. Nor, when I accessed the Executive Summary last week, was there any indication of who authored the report or who was commissioned to create it--or even where the report itself could be found.

There's no contact information on New Publisher House's website, and to email CEO James O'Toole via his LinkedIn profile I'd have to pay to upgrade my LinkedIn membership (not gonna happen). So I tracked down New Publisher House's Twitterfeed and sent a tweet asking if I could pose some questions. After a few days and some link confusion, I was directed to this article on New Publisher House's website (the article, which wasn't present the first time I visited the website, is now included in the Executive Summary, where it also wasn't present the first time I visited).

In addition to my questions, I'm guessing that O'Toole saw some of the skeptical coverage of State of Independence 2014 (the exception in the largely unquestioning dissemination of the report's claims) and decided to address it--with, unfortunately, less than illuminating results.
[The report] took a great deal of work. Unlike other industries, reliable data is scarce and a company like Amazon doesn’t provide detailed breakdowns in its financial filings or even earnings calls. So how was I able to do it? I’ve produced business cases and market reports for major corporations across a range of industries. I also co-managed the Rich 200 list for Australia’s leading business magazine, BRW – Australia’s equivalent to the Forbes 400. This required establishing valuations on assets for which there was little public data and required lateral approaches (I had wondered about those valuations until one of Australia’s richest people asked me how I was able to so accurately calculate their net worth).

I decided to put the research into a report I’ve called State of Independence 2014 and share it because of the startling information I uncovered. Unlike most industry reports, I’ve actually gone into detail about the methodology so people understand the data and can assess for themselves their validity. This is the Executive Summary. It gives the key findings and table of contents. For those interested, the full report (which has sources and methodology) will be released with our crowdfunding campaign.
We now know that the author of the report is O'Toole himself, but we still have no idea of how he compiled his figures and findings, or why we should trust them. (Nor do most of those "key findings" seem so very startling--for instance, from the Conclusion: "The very technologies which are driving the eBook revolution have the potential to disintermediate and undermine established publishers." No kidding.) Being able to look at the actual report might put such concerns to rest--but we can't look at it, because its release has been delayed to some unspecified date.

I suspect it's no coincidence that New Publisher House is just about to launch "a revolutionary new indie publishing platform connecting authors, publishing professionals, designers & readers". Maybe when that happens, we'll be able to get our hands on the corroborating data. Until then, I at least am taking State of Independence 2014 with a massive grain of salt.

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October 1, 2013

Swoon Reads: New "Crowdsourced" Teen Romance Imprint

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

As reported by a number of sources, including USA Today, Macmillan is launching Swoon Reads, a new teen romance imprint, under its existing Feiwel and Friends imprint. It's looking for submissions of previously unpublished manuscripts.

The twist: Swoon Reads is a "crowdsourced" imprint, with readers commenting on and rating the posted manuscripts. Highly-ranked manuscripts will be considered by Swoon Reads' publishing board, and those selected for publication will be offered a standard Macmillan publishing contract plus a $15,000 advance. Books will be published in both print and electronic format.

Here's what Swoon Reads is looking for.

I don't find any major pitfalls on the website or in the Terms and Conditions (the Terms and Conditions for manuscript submission are separate from the general Terms and Conditions, and are available only to those who sign up for Swoon Reads). But there are some things that writers should carefully consider.

- You'll be making your FULL manuscript available online. Will this create difficulties if Swoon Reads doesn't select it and you want to submit it elsewhere? Personally, I think that's unlikely. The mss. are not publicly available (only members can access them), and they're not for sale. Still, it's something to be aware of.

As for copyright concerns, Swoon Reads addresses those in its FAQ:
Is my work protected?
We are doing our best to protect your work from theft and plagiarism. We will not allow cutting, pasting, or copying from any Swoon Reads submission. We also require all members of the Swoon Reads community to agree to a set of Terms and Conditions that legally prohibit anyone from stealing and reposting any content from Swoon Reads. And you must be a member of Swoon Reads to access any of the submissions.
- Your submission is exclusive for six months. This means that you can't submit it, or publish it, anywhere else during the six months following submission (with the exception of making excerpts available on your own website or blog). It also can't already be under consideration for sale by anyone else. Per the FAQ, you can be agented (though if you have a savvy agent, I doubt they'd be enthusiastic about tying your ms. up with a six-month exclusive submission).

- Swoon Reads may take user comments and ratings into account in considering submitted manuscripts for publication, but it doesn't have to. So the crowdsourcing aspect of Swoon Reads isn't the be-all and end-all. Lots of positive reviews and ratings won't necessarily make you a shoo-in.

- The contract, if offered, includes a grant of exclusive, worldwide rights in all languages, plus an option on your next work, and is likely not negotiable. According to the submission Terms and Conditions, "reasonable" changes in contract terms "may be requested," though Swoon Reads "shall not be obligated to agree to any such changes". The FAQ indicates even less flexibility: "the Swoon Reads contract terms are standard and not up for negotiation."

I'm presuming, since this is described as Macmillan's standard contract, that the grant is life-of-copyright, in which case all the cautions about reversion clauses apply. But I haven't seen a Macmillan contract recently, so I can't comment on the specific terms.

Last but not least, the problem (well, one of the problems) with crowdsourcing is people trying to game the system (i.e., creating multiple accounts to pad the rankings). I contacted Swoon Reads to ask what steps they're taking to keep this from happening. They told me,
It's very important to us that no one takes advantage of the ratings system and that all manuscripts uploaded to Swoon Reads are rated according to the quality of the manuscript. Every story should have a fair shot! We built provisions into the site usage rules and the site technology itself so that we're able to track if one person has opened multiple accounts or is in any way violating the terms of use. We also encourage any users who notice suspicious activity to use the 'Report this Manuscript' function to call attention to any strange ratings or other activity.
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