THE DARK SIDE OF PUBLISHING
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
ABOUT PUBLISHING SCAMS
The first thing an author does once he or she has finished the final draft of their manuscript is start sending it to publishers. For most they send out query letters and follow submission guidelines to the letter. If what they have written catches the eye of a publisher, then they are sent a contract. However, there is a dark side to publishing and it is called the Vanity Press. What is a vanity press, you ask. It is any publisher who charges to publish books and written materials. Not sure there’s a problem with that? Well there is a huge problem when you take a publisher like America Star Books also known as Publish America who has been notorious for its false claims, scams, and not paying authors. I know this because I was once one of their authors when they were under the name Publish America.
In 2009, I wrote my first novel. I labored over it and even involved the help of a very good friend of mine who happened to be my Creative Writing teacher from college. She helped me to edit it and then I had the task of sending it to publishers. I sent copies to all the big names and of course I either got “Sorry, we cannot accept it at this time” or “Sorry not interested” and “We only take submissions via a literary agent”. Most of them didn’t reply at all which left me in limbo. I was green; I knew ZERO about the publishing game and that was how I found Publish America. I sent in my manuscript and within a week I got a phone call stating that they wanted my manuscript and they would send me a contract. Sure enough, I got that and a $1 check in the mail which I didn’t cash-who wants to cash something that small? Anyhow I was ecstatic. I looked over the contract not really knowing much but it seemed pretty clear. I would get 10% of sales from each book and would receive a royalty check as soon as I sold $500 worth of books. That meant, my commission had to get to $500. I thought, “Okay, I just have to work really hard.” At the time, we still had a local bookstore; Walden Books. I couldn’t wait to schedule book signings and see my book on the local author shelf and get the local library to carry my book. That is where the dream stopped.
First off, no book store (and I called them all within my state-both big chains and local mom and pop book stores) would carry it because Publish America offered no return policy, the book price points were set too high, and the only way I could do book signings were if I consigned copies (meaning I buy the books and then reimburse myself with the copies that might sell). Publish America never gave me a press release which they had collected information for and promised me. Instead what I got was E-Mail after E-Mail of offers to buy my own book and to have my book reviewed by big name authors, and services that most publishing companies already do that they do not charge the author for. The biggest heart ache was when I at last got my author’s copy. I began looking through each page and was horrified to see sentences cut off and my book basically chopped up more than a Chef’s Salad. It was like they had just copied and pasted and did a poor job at that. The price point for my book was $35.99 for a book that was barely 300 pages long and in soft cover at that. That being said, I did sell copies. I sold over sixty books. I should have been happy about that but according to the Royalty Statement I was only counted royalties for 10 copies of my book due to “intended promotional copies”. I still didn’t want to believe I had been had.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the E-Mail I received that for $400 my book would be shown and represented at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. I almost fell for it. We had gotten a pretty nice tax check, and I was nearly to the point of getting my husband to invest in me. Something just kept nagging at me though so I looked up the book fair. Indeed there is a book fair. I ran up my phone bill calling the international number all the way in Frankfurt, Germany and after several calls I finally got an English speaking person to help me. I asked them if Publish America was scheduled to be there to vend books. I was told that they didn’t even know who that company was. I gave them the Maryland address. They still had no clue. I immediately contacted Publish America and asked very nicely why they were not listed and I was E-Mailed with a response that made me feel an inch tall and madder than a wet cat. I was accused of lying and getting wrong information. Then I was told that Publish America has invested in me as an author and I should be grateful. The next offers came-“Pay X amount of money to have your book at the NY Times Book Fair, UCLA Book Festival, and AARP Book Fair” All these places I called and they all had never heard of Publish America. I even got E-Mails that I forwarded to Publish America and they still accused me of false information. Then they began with the book reviews for x amount of dollars from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and J K Rowling. J K Rowling was to review books at the Edinburgh Book Fair in Scotland. She came out swinging and was even on the world wide news claiming she had no such dealings with Publish America nor was she contracted to review ANY books. Her lawyer immediately sent a cease and desist order, to Publish America.
I had at this point begun to just save E-Mails from Publish America rather than read them. They were frauds and the BBB and the Maryland State’s Attorney General found no wrong with them because they had their loop holes. I still had never bought a single copy of my book. The only copy I had was the author’s copy they sent me.
This could have had a sad end because so many of their authors are still under contract with them and still not making a dime. I found a cloud with a silver lining. My dear friend, fellow author, and mentor, Denyse Bridger, found a law office here in the states that were doing a class action suit against Publish America and I immediately contacted them. I sent them all 1200 E-Mails I had including the one that pertained to J K Rowling, the author of Harry Potter. Last year, I got my rights back as an author to my book and Publish America had to remove my book from their site and vendors. To this day, Amazon is the only one who still hasn’t gotten with the program even though I sent them everything from the law office who handled the class action suit. Today Publish America is still in business with their promises but under a new name, America Star Books. How can they do that? I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine. They are predators on authors and will virtually publish anything. They give false promises, condescending responses, and know NOTHING about publishing.
What to look for with a publisher or even a self publisher
First off, read your contracts. Read them and even have an actual lawyer look at them. If they are not clear and to your understanding, then run far and run fast from them. A good publishing company has a clear and concise contract with no small print or hidden agenda. The standard percentage for royalties is about 6% give or take. Most publishing companies whether they are self-publishing pay by the quarter. If sales are very low, they might ask that the writer combine it with the next quarter but you get paid and paid what you are owed. Next, the standard contract usually expires within 2-3 years not 7 or even 10. Publish America had me for 7 long years with my book. A reputable publisher also will outline what they intend and what you will have to do for the marketing of your book. Be ready to do a lot of work yourself because most publishers unless it’s one of the big names, will require you to blog, use word of mouth, use of social networks, and do the leg work with book stores. However, they will give your book an ISBN number and list it with online vendors, have a return policy, and do not over price the price points so that book stores and online vendors can move your book to consumers. Publishing companies want you to sell books because that is how THEY make money and everyone wants to make money. They might clue you in to book fairs and what not but most of that is on you, the author to do. If your books are physical books, then you might need to consign copies or the publisher might send a few promo copies and E Book publishers may offer discounts to consumers that they may push with their online vendors but again, marketing is up to the author. Publishers-especially small presses cannot afford to just mass produce books and send them so they don’t advertise that and they do not charge you the author for that service since well they can’t afford to mass produce books.
Publishers like Publish America do not want to push your book to the consumer they want to get as much money out of you as they can that is why they offer the world practically. A reputable publisher will let you know exactly what they are able to do, willing to do, and what you must do yourself. Blogging and making use of social networks are tools as word of mouth is. Reputable publishers will list your books with every online vendor they possibly can but again marketing and promotion is up to you. The reward is that you will draw people’s interest and they may choose to buy your book which means money in your pocket not out of it. Steer clear of vanity presses. Go to websites like: http://www.writersbeware.com and http://www.authorsden.com. Talk to other authors and publisher and follow submission guidelines to the LETTER! Failure to follow guidelines will ensure no one ever sees your manuscript. Any publisher that seems too good to be true usually is. Go with your gut and if you’re still not sure-ask other authors and publishers. Network! Do not be prey to a predator Vanity Press like America Star aka Publish America.
Right now the US laws on this kind of pyramid scheme and fraud are pretty vague. I got lucky that there was a class action suit pending with Publish America but that was luck. If you find yourself a victim, keep right on the publisher asking for your rights back. Sometimes you might even have to pay money to be released from your contract but it could prove very profitable to invest in getting your rights back and your work free and clear of them. Once they have their claws stuck in, it is near impossible to get them out. If you can afford an attorney, you will invest more money but that is another avenue to getting out of a vanity press predator. You can also rewrite your work and use a different title but beware because if a publisher even gets a slight hint that you’ve been previously signed with one of these kinds of publishers and it can even slightly be considered copyright infringement they will drop you like a hot potato and you will find yourself black balled. The best advice is to educate yourself before you sign on that dotted line or sign an electronic contract. Read, Read, Read and do some detective work. Once you sign, you are playing Russian roulette and you’re going to lose. Most publishers if they know you have something published by these kinds of presses will NOT do business with you just because of the stigma and black mark these places give off. They are a scam; a fraud that so far very few laws to fight them with. They are slippery and know their loop holes well. Steer clear and pass this along. The best defense against these scum bags is a great offense and the more word that gets out about them the less people they will prey upon and the less people they will rob.
PUBLISHERS TO BEWARE OF
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 aka America Star Books (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)