book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing, scams

Your Publisher May Not Be A Publisher

computer-virus-rev-1-300x200 Each and every day brings an exciting pronouncement that so and so has been published. It’s a thrilling announcement, one which envisions a bright future for the impending literary scion, and one that is, so often the percentages died aborning, wrong.  I’m not going to slam self published authors – at least not today – rather I’m going to help clarify some terms. They are important ones to know if you’re serious about your craft. The word “publisher” dates back to the 1500’s. It originally meant “one who announces in public.” which makes complete sense even today. The more modern interpretation,  “one whose business is bringing out for sale books, periodicals, engravings, etc.” dates back to 1740. Whether or not a publishing company pays an advance to a writer they do, or are supposed to, provide certain services for a fee based on sales, or, to be clear, work on commission. No legitimate publisher charges an author up front monies for anything.

Those services, in a nutshell, are promotion of the work, marketing, licensing (when possible), and distribution. Included in that will be the arrangement of some interviews and other forms of personal publicity which are designed to sell the author just as much as the book.

Should sales, or projected sales, warrant it the publisher may suggest the author ascertain the services of an agent. That person will take over the job of selling you and all your intellectual properties to the unsuspecting world all while trying to get you a better publishing deal than that piece of shit you signed (every agent just laughed here, every author just whimpered).

Good news, no reputable agent will charge an author any upfront fees either. Bad news, like unicorns and South American hockey teams, they are difficult to wrangle. If, as noted in the previous paragraph, you find yourself in need of one many publishers will offer suggestions but no more than that. It’s in their best interest for you to succeed, not to interfere  or micromanage your life. They have other shit to do.

Consider all of the above bullet points to refer to when you’re talking to publishers.

Now, which companies aren’t publishers?

Amazon KDP
Book Baby
Create Space
Ingram Spark
Liberio (recently out of beta testing)

All of the above use the phrase “publish your book” but use it very carefully. They mean the phrase literally. They are all, with a variety of different options available to writers, print on demand services. They do not vet your writing in any manner, other than for formatting or decency standards (if they have those). If you write a book claiming that Iron Sky, my favorite movie series involving space Nazis, is a documentary, and that numerology proves it, no one stops you. You just hit send and off it goes to the Internet. Where it goes after that depends on how much money you want to spend. None of the companies listed above are going to have a single unpaid intern lift a finger on your behalf. That means all of the tasks I noted above are now yours.

Which means, and you need to understand this, you are the publisher. It is now on you, and nobody else, to present your work to the wider world.

Now, for some help. since the majority of writers reading this blog are involved in sci-fi or fantasy, I’m going to share a list of scams sited on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) website.

As you cringe through the many instances of fraud, all of which have been adjudicated, you’ll note some common themes.

  1. Film deals were based on getting talent signed first, all you need to do is provide a little “seed money.” Just FYI, there is no such animal in the film industry. It’s financing first and then that money attracts names. If an actor or actress likes the author they may “attach” their name to the presentation, but they are under no obligation go appear, support, or otherwise do a damn thing. At least not until they have a contract and money. Not “or” but “and.” That’s important to remember.
  2. Authors were charged fees for services unrelated to, in wildly in excess of, what they needed. Yes, editors charge fees. But agents and publishers are not editors. At least not exclusively. When you’re ready for editing hire someone who does that, and only that, and you’ll save yourself agita and money.
  3. Celebrity endorsements. Be extremely wary of these. The number of faux agents I’ve seen touting them is amazing and, always, a lie. Just last week I reached out to someone I know to ask if she was really “cheering on an amazing author.” Her response, edited for profanity, was “no.” Unless you have evidence, photographic is best, you could end up getting a wonderfully threatening “cease and desist” letter from a lawyer who makes in an hour what you earn in a year. That said, they do happen. I have gotten them from Rosario Dawson and John Fuglesang, for example, but even then I’ve been careful not to use them in advertising or any other commercial venue. You can post them on social media, as I have, but anything else requires a contract. Simply put, “don’t worry about it, they’re friends” is bullshit.
  4. Reading, evaluation, and/or marketing fees. These are where your money goes to die. The SWFA has a litany of reasons why you should run screaming from the room if they’re mentioned. Simply put, they are designed for people to make money no matter what happens to you. And, far more often than not, nothing happens that benefits you in any way.

As a point of reference, all of these publishers have been deemed scams.

  • American Book Publishing (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Archebooks Publishing (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Helm Publishing (Rockford, IL)
  • Hilliard and Harris (Boonsboro, MD)
  • Oak Tree Press (Taylorville, IL)
  • Park East Press (Dallas TX) (formerly Durban House, formerly Oakley Press)
  • PublishAmerica (Frederick, MD)
  • Royal Fireworks Press/Silk Label Books (Unionville, NY)
  • SterlingHouse Publisher (Pittsburgh, PA–imprints include, among others, Pemberton Mysteries, 8th Crow Books, Cambrian House Books, Blue Imp Books, Caroline House Books, Dove House Books, and PAJA Books)
  • SBPRA/Strategic Book Publishing/Eloquent Books (Boca Raton, FL–formerly known as The Literary Agency Group and AEG Publishing Group)
  • Tate Publishing (Mustang, OK)
  • Whitmore Publishing Company (Pittsburgh, PA)

The list of disreputable agents is too long to recreate here, so click on the list to see if the person who claims you’re the next J. K. Rowling is there.

So what to do? This part is absurdly easy.

  1. Ask for, a minimum of five, references with direct contact information. Make sure you can reach every single one.
  2. If a celebrity is attached contact their management. All that info is listed on any authorized web site.
  3. Use this new fangled Google thing to search for whoever has made you this amazing offer, you need to act on now – NOW! DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!, and add the word “scam” after their name. You’ll be amazed how much time and money that little trick will save you.

Just like having a blind date at an S&M bar, caution is your friend. Be careful out there.


16 thoughts on “Your Publisher May Not Be A Publisher

  1. GD Deckard says:

    “No legitimate publisher charges an author up front monies for anything.”
    Amen to that.
    And, never pay a 3rd party provider of publisher services up front (think “marketing” & “book promotion.”) If they won’t work on commission, they know that they cannot deliver enough sales to earn you a return on your investment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly. A self-publisher author I know hates the whole book marketing and promotion aspect of the business, so he hired an experienced virtual assistant (based on word-of-mouth recommendations) to execute those tasks on his behalf. It seems to be working out for him so far, so that may be a reasonable alternative. However, it is not a commission structure but an hourly arrangement between him and his VA. If the ROI (return on investment) is sufficiently positive to keep the arrangement going, it’s worth doing.

      I suspect some authors go for predatory arrangements because they don’t want to tackle marketing and promotion…

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Perry Palin says:

    Good stuff in this article, and it makes me glad I am a hobbyist and not a pro at this.

    I do know of one company that sells publishing services and earns good marks from some authors. They are local, and we know where they live. But I have heard bad things about some of those “publishers” who charge for promised services and do not deliver.

    It makes me want to stick with small traditional publishers that don’t have a big voice in the industry, but don’t charge me any up front money and offer a clear royalty contract.

    Meanwhile, the best marketing is to get out there and sell your books yourself. I was at dinner last night and a guy walked up to me and asked me to sell him a copy of my second book. With my royalty deal, that paid for a stiff highball, a good burger, and a tip for the waitress.

    Liked by 3 people

    • billmcscifi says:

      It’s not so much that companies charge, it’s that they charge for stuff authors don’t need (like reading fees). I, too, went with a small publisher, and am well pleased. I’m glad things are working out for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. mimispeike says:

    I’m not sure what I can add here. Except that (apparently) some people (specifically, my next door neighbor) are happy to pay a vanity press to publish a book that they then do nothing to promote.

    My neighbor, no moneybags – a waitress! At a hot dog joint! – told me she’d published a children’s book. I’ve forgotten the name of the publisher, but I looked them up and the publishing package ran from about eight hundred dollars and up. I asked her, what are you doing to promote it? I got a blank look. I invited her to visit our site, and she said she wasn’t interested.

    I call this really strange.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      Even the successful authors who are published by the big houses (and I know a few) are responsible for marketing activities.

      My small traditional publisher expects me to do the marketing, but I knew that going in, and his royalty schedule makes it worthwhile.

      Children’s books are expensive if they are hardcovers with color pictures on heavy paper. My buddy paid a publishing service about $25k by the time he got the first press run of his children’s book, but he had a ready-made market and he worked it. He broke even in two months and after that he made good dough on the book and he made more money on spin offs, a coloring book and a stuffed dog. Most of us don’t have the $25k seed money, and most of us don’t have the ready market

      Liked by 2 people

      • billmcscifi says:

        I know a sci fi author who had a couple of books released by a major publishing house. He switched to self publishing since the ROI made more sense to him. and it has worked well. But, with the caveats noted above, an author really needs a solid base to make it work. And people with that kind of base aren’t likely to fall for the scams I mention.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Perry Palin says:

          Speaking of ROI, what do typical publishing/royalty contracts look like?

          I had a friend (now passed) who with a partner wrote a popular nonfiction book.They shared 10 percent of what the publisher got for the book. The book sold for $15. Borders bought the book from the publisher for half of that, and the authors shared 75 cents for each copy sold through the store.

          I think my publisher owns his own print shop, and makes some of his money that way. When the publisher sells a book my royalty is half of the price over his publishing cost. Also, I buy copies for about half of the retail price, selling some myself and placing some in local stores. I haven’t sold a ton of books, but my return runs $5.50 to $10 per copy, depending on who sells them and for what price.

          I’m thinking of diversifying my writing business to include beekeeping, yet another engaging and personally fulfilling way to lose money.

          Liked by 2 people

          • billmcscifi says:

            Don’t limit yourself, there are many expensive, and useless, hobbies. Himalayan rock collecting comes to mind. As to your friend I would have to assume there was a sizable marketing budget attached, along with an advance, to get the royalty down that low. Otherwise your friend needed a better lawyer.

            Liked by 2 people

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