Don’t Take Candy off of Strangers

Author Jerry Jenkins announced an “Innovative Publishing Firm.” According to Victoria Strauss, innovative in publishing press release speak means charges a whopping fee. But writers might be willing to trust Jerry and his company more readily, believing they’re dealing with good Christian folks. Well, let’s see about that.

Jenkins established Christian Guild Writers Publishing, a self-publishing company targeted toward Christian writers. CGWP offers a six-month writing course, basic stuff for beginning writers. The writers are paired with mentors, that is, published authors who walk them through the process. Only one of the seven members is a fiction writer. At the end, CGWP will edit, proof, design, cover, and produce a book. You’ll get copy-editing, proofing, and basic services like ISBN. Cost to the author: $9,995. There are several caveats. CGWP doesn’t provide distribution; you’re on your own. If your book runs longer than 75K words, there’s a surcharge. Content editing raises the price. Custom design for the interior and cover cost extra, too. CGWP offers the option of hardback, but for print runs of 1,000 copies. Methinks I smell a scam.

Now there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing. If that’s the way you choose to go, then you become a consumer evaluating a company that’s providing a service. You can publish your work on Smashwords and Kindle for free. Mind you, you’ll need an editor and someone to design your cover, but CreateSpace will provide such services for less than $2000 if you decide to use these services at all.

Speaking of distributing companies, let’s look at Autharium, a new British site. According to The Passive Voice, Autharium has made it easy for authors to upload, publish, and distribute their work. Out of curiosity I took a look at the site. At first glance, Autharium looks a lot like Lulu and CreateSpace. They’ve got a dashboard that enables you to upload files and directions on how to do it. You set your price the way you do with Lulu and CreateSpace, and they do a quality check before the book is approved for distribution. “At first glance” are the operative words. Things get ugly when you read Autharium’s terms and conditions. I posted some below.

 

  • “By submitting your Work to Autharium and accepting these Terms & Conditions, you grant to Autharium the exclusive right and license to produce, publish, promote, market and sell your Work in any Digital Form (as defined in paragraph 1.4 below) in all languages throughout the world for the entire legal term of copyright (and any and all extensions, renewals and revivals of the term of copyright).” That’s the author’s life plus 70 years under British copyright law.
  • “Please note that your removal of your Work from sale in accordance with paragraph 13.1 above will not terminate this Agreement nor cause the exclusive digital publishing rights that you have granted to Autharium pursuant to paragraph 1 above to revert to you. You maintain copyright of the Work at all times.”
  • “If you wish to sell your Work in any Digital Form through any other publisher, distributor or means then you will need to contact Autharium at support@autharium.com to agree transfer of the digital publishing rights to your Work.”

Let’s look at Starship Invasions, published by me and Tom Johnson through the Night to Dawn imprint. The contract runs three years, and then the rights revert to the author. I distributed the book through Lulu and CreateSpace, using different ISBN numbers. Suppose I decided to use Autharium, too? At the end of three years, Tom and I would have to get written permission from Autharium to continue publishing and submitting our stories. Let’s say a publisher comes by, offering a generous advance for our book. We’d still have to request permission and likely pony up a lot of money to get it.

Another scam, only this one acts as a distributor, enticing new authors who are anxious to see their books in print. My mother once told me never to take candy off of strangers. I think she had it right.

I’ve got to thank Mitzi Flyte for sending me the URL for Passive Voice. I’m also blessed to belong to a forum like The Writers Coffeehouse where I can find information like this. Jonathan Maberry originally recommended Preditors & Editors. If you’re testing an unfamiliar market, I recommend visiting as many watchdog sites as possible. If the candy the new publisher is offering really tempts you, these following watchdog agencies can advise you whether or not that company is legit.

 

  • The Passive Voice – the Passive Guy (David P. Vandagriff) is a contract lawyer. He does not offer legal advice on his blog, but he discusses the trends in publishing. He also points out potential minefields for the writer, such as bad formatting or scam distributors.
  • Writer Beware – Victoria Strauss will dig through the underworld of literary scams, schemes, and minefields. She’ll also welcome guest bloggers for Writer Beware. Most of the guest blogs are related to writing advice or perhaps a current problem in the industry.
  • Absolute Write Water Cooler will give you the full disclosure on most agents and publishing houses. In addition, they post basic writing advice, how to handle rejection, “ask the agent,” and other good topics.
  • Piers Anthony is a well-known author, having had a lot of his books published by Tor. If you click on his link “Publish on web,” you’ll get his evaluation of eBook publishers in alphabetical order. Pay attention to the red print – that’s his latest update on the given publisher.
  • Preditors & Editors, an oldie but goodie, will give you the low down on publishers, agents, bookstores, editors, software (yes, writing software), magazines, workshops, game publishers, and so forth.

When you go through the watchdog sites, consider the date of the evaluation. A complaint written in 2008 won’t tell you much because that was then, and this is 2013. New management may have taken care of the problem. Sometimes you’ll get conflicting stories. If you do, I recommend my Balloon Rule. If one person says you’re a balloon, ignore them. If two people tell you you’re a balloon, listen. If three people call you a balloon, get a ribbon and float.

I wanted to include the watchdog sites because I’m a firm believer in writers covering for each other. Are there any sites I haven’t mentioned? What has your publishing experiences been like? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

 

Barbara Custer never takes candy off of strangers.

This candy looks delicious, but I wouldn’t accept it from a stranger.

 

Writer Bewares and Watchdogs

Over the last year, I’m seeing a lot of small press book companies set up shop, accept work for publication, and then close without communicating with the authors / artists, let alone paying royalties. In June, 2007, Triskelion Publishing Company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy. And sometime in 2011, Aspen Mountain Press folded after five years of publishing. Operations formally suspended in April, 2012, but the breakdown in communications and payments happened way before that. Other names have come up; the list runs long, including Dorchester Publishing, and self-publishing companies like Publish America (aka AmErica House).

Do these publishers open up their company with the intention of cheating authors? I doubt it in the majority of cases. Generally, the company is headed by one person who develops serious health problems. Perhaps the publisher began without adequate knowledge of formatting or distribution. Perhaps he took on too many projects too soon. No doubt the economy had a lot to do with it, especially if the publisher worked a day job that provided the capital for his venue. Mostly I contemplate Night to Dawn and conclude, there by the grace of God go I.

In the end, the authors / artists are left stranded. Folks, your works are important. You’re sharing part of you on the printed page. Whether you sketch or write about soldiers, monsters, priests, families, a part of you will show, and that’s priceless. You owe it to yourself to research your company before submitting, reading the contract carefully before nodding your okay, and promoting the book once it goes to press. With that in mind, I’m happy to list several watchdog sites that will give you the skinny on your prospective company. Keep in mind as you visit these sites that the bad boy companies have a way of changing their names to cover tracks.

Preditors & Editors:  an oldie but goodie company, P&E will list most companies and will give a thumbs up or down. You won’t get much detail, but you’ll have a ballpark idea of where your company stands.

Piers Anthony gives a concrete explanation for his opinion on given publishers. He focuses on e-publishers, and that’s a great thing since eBooks are now outdoing print books. To get his ratings, click on the “publish on web” link.

Absolute Write gives a thorough rundown on recommended sites, bewares, and advice to the newbie writer. That also includes advice on what to do if your publisher goes incommunicado. They discuss agents who charge fees (a no-no), and recommend publishers (yeah!).

Victoria Strauss works with a watchdog group, Writer Beware, a service mark of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. When it comes to publishers who change their names, she doesn’t miss a trick, and she will edit her blog accordingly. However, her blog can be used by anyone, regardless of genre. She will also refer you to other sites that might make the submission process go smoother.

The alternative is self-publishing, which means you do your own editing, art, formatting, distributing, and marketing, or pay to get these services. The upside is that if you get a generous royalty per sale, especially with CreateSpace and Smashwords. The downside is that some reviewers and bookstores shy away from self-published books. A lot more authors are turning toward self-publishing.

 

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