The Shiny New Devil You Know, Part 2:

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Damned If You Do…

As I’ve mentioned before, a number of independent pay-to-play publishing start-ups have cropped up in my area over the past several months.

Two of these companies (or three, one of the sites is mostly empty as of this writing but it is registered as a business in Michigan) are being run by the same individual; said individual is funded at least in part by another person.

Two people. Two, maybe three, companies.

These are not imprints under the same company, but two (or three, or more…I may not have found them all yet) separate companies run by the same two people, offering similar services for wildly different prices. Let’s call them Company A, B, and C(?).

After Part 1 of TSNDYK, the web address for Company A (we’ll say it was companya.com) was redirected to Facebook. Company A now has a second, secret-ish website (it’s kind of hard to find; let’s call it randomwords.com). This site is an exact copy of their messy former site; it just has a shiny new address.  It lists their prices (which, by the way, were substantially reworked after Part 1).

Prices for publishing packages through Company A rival or exceed those of infamous scammer Xlibris: the bare-bones tier for Company A is just under $800, while the closest equivalent tier through Xlibris is just under $700 (and you get postcards with that). Company B has never listed their prices (again, you have to call for information), and back in its half-hour heyday Company C(?) would have charged you exactly 50% of what Company A did for each service or package.

Let’s take a look at a couple of books offered through Company A.

Book 1

  • The author is not Company A’s owner, so she paid for publication.
  • Publication date: December, 2012.
  • Available through Amazon (POD & Kindle) and B&N (POD only…wait. Oh, the $800 package doesn’t include conversion to .epub. Wait…what?).
  • ISBN: Yes.
  • Not available through Apple, Kobo, Sony or Smashwords (with the ISBN – which costs real dollars, so it should be fully utilized –  Smashwords would have automatically distributed through Apple, Kobo and Sony). Book 1’s author bought the bare bones package, which doesn’t allow for the extra hour it would take to format the book for .epub.  That only comes with the package which costs $500 more.
  • I’m gonna stay on the bare bones (and the second-tier) package only offering digital conversion to .mobi. That’s just lazy, especially since B&N’s .epub format is readable by more devices than Amazon’s .mobi. I would run away from this company on that point alone.
  • Company A did allow the book to go to print through B&N. That isn’t listed in any of their packages so maybe it was a freebie.
  • Amazon’s Look Inside feature has been enabled.  That’s cool.
  • Amazon’s Look Inside feature shows only the front and back covers of the book. Wait…what?
  • Amazon ranking: 4.2M+ after almost six months. Well, it happens to the best of us…and look! There’s a five-star review. How nice.
  • Let’s check it out…
  • …this review is obviously by a sock puppet. The book isn’t about socks, or puppets. Boo.
  • The book is listed on Company A’s Facebook page.
  • By “listed on”, I mean you have to scroll halfway down the page to find the publication announcement.  It isn’t even highlighted (that’s where the page Admin makes the post extend across your screen so it stands out).
  • I would be getting seriously pissed off about now.
  • Hold on, there’s a link to purchase it. Okay, that’s something…let me just…
  • …404 error?!  Are you fucking kidding me?

This author paid at least $800 to have her book published by Company A. Even if she got Company C(?) prices, she likely spent around $400 to get a 30-page book up for sale. I’m very sad for Author 1.

Book 2

  • An anthology put out by Company A, so at least no one had to pay to play and their authors get exposure. That’s nice, I guess.
  • Publication date: January, 2013.
  • Available on Amazon (POD only) and B&N (POD only). Not available through Apple, Kobo, Sony or Smashwords.
  • Are you honestly not offering this in electronic format anywhere? Not even as a .pdf on your Facebook page?
  • Seriously, no one is getting exposure this way.
  • Sigh.
  • ISBN: Yes.
  • Again: with the ISBN – which costs cash money, so it should be fully utilized –  and conversion to .epub, Smashwords would have automatically distributed through Apple, Kobo and Sony. Not only are they not trying to make money for the authors, Company A doesn’t seem to want to make money for themselves.
  • Two five-star reviews on Amazon? That’s cool. Let’s just….
  • …um. Both reviews are written by contributors.  You, my friends, fail at Sock Puppetry.
  • Amazon ranking: 2.5M after five months, which is just about where it would be if half of the contributors bought one copy and our two Five Star Reviewers each bought five copies, one for each star.
  • Company A’s shiny (nope) new (uh-uh) website lists Book 2 as “coming soon”. It was published five months ago.
  • The book is mentioned on Company A’s Facebook page.
  • By “mentioned on”, I mean: mentioned on. No links for purchase, no table of contents, they didn’t even tag the contributors. Just: hey, this book exists.
  • I don’t know anything meaningful about book publishing – I mean, I know approximately five percent of what it would take to be successful at this – and yet I am staggered by how much less this company (which has the balls to charge people actual money during the country’s second worst economic crisis ever) seems to know or care.
  • It’s like they’re actively courting bankruptcy.
  • Does anyone know if Company A’s funder is spending down his assets in anticipation of a nasty divorce?
  • I’m really asking here.

Book 3

  • There is no Book Three.
  • Oh, thank God.

I began this series to warn people against paying companies with no track record in publishing for the “privilege” of turning the manuscript the author had worked so hard to polish into a hastily-produced mess. This particular company is proving to be terrible at selling their services to writers, and for that I am thankful.

Before this series began, however, I received emails and phone calls from several friends and acquaintances asking about Companies A-C(?). The companies were just gearing up at that time, and the writers were excited because they all knew the owner and thought she was a lovely person. “If I’m going to pay to publish my book, I’d rather give her the money than Xlibris,” they’d say, “and although Author Solutions’ website looks good I really just want to go with someone I know.”

Urban legend has it that one’s hair can instantly turn white from fear. I don’t know about that, but every time I saw or heard sentences like these my hair would fall out from the stress of seeing another person jump on the Oh So Wrong Bandwagon. I’d take a few deep breaths and sweep the floor, and then I’d begin to type or to talk.

Don’t fall prey to pay-to-publish scams, especially if the company:

  • …charges a fee for conversion to electronic formats and also wants a percentage of the royalties on your ebooks.
  • …offers to build you a website for two, three, or heaven help me nine hundred fucking dollars. Psst: you are on WordPress right now. Scroll down and click on “Blog on WordPress.com” and create your own website for $25 if you don’t want wordpress.com as part of the domain or for fucking free if you’re okay with it. For $200 and up, you should at least get something more than you can learn to do on your own in an afternoon.
  • …charges extra for conversion to multiple electronic formats. It is not that big of a deal.
  • …doesn’t mention Kindle Select to you if you have more than one book.
  • …is run by anyone you think of as a lovable fuckup in real life. That person’s inability to get his own life together will mean very sad things for your book and maybe (depending on the contract) for your entire writing career.
  • …is a pay-to-publish independent publisher. Seriously: don’t use ’em.

People whose own writing careers are floundering are starting these companies with no experience, no business plan, and worst of all no market research. Writers who’ve been shot down by or are afraid to approach traditional publishers and don’t want to be bothered with self-publishing (it is a bother, but doesn’t have to be a big one) are flocking to these companies, especially if they are run by people they know and like in real life.

“I know he’s never written a thing in his life, has a seventy-hour-a-week day job and a family and is an asshole to boot, but he just bought a computer and he says he’ll take my book.”

“She went bankrupt after her second vanity press book flopped, but she’s really nice and she said she’ll take my book.”

“Experience? Well, they took their kids’ after school club cookbook to Staples that one time and it was mostly okay. Besides, they have me over for dinner a couple of times a month and they really want my book.”

People have actually said these things to me.

I am having to hold my hair in with one hand as I type this.

Your lovely acquaintance who wants to charge you $800 to not do quality control on your book is probably not Satan. However, I would direct the reader to Doctor Faustus, in which a charming demon offers a struggling craftsman his heart’s desire at a price which is, ultimately, far too dear.

What is a writer who’s been shot down by, or is afraid to approach, traditional publishing to do?  Check in next week and we’ll get started.

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One comment

  1. This’ll teach me to write a post before catching up on my reading…although, to be fair, a lot of writers are discussing this topic just now and heaven knows this blog was already late enough.

    Gaughran’s one of the best, though, and his articles on publishing trends should never be overlooked. Here’s his latest on Big Six publishers bedding down with the vanity presses.

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