Oh, what a tangled web they weave … publishing predators are breeding with the surge of authors now by-passing traditional publishing. Over half of books published today are by the self and indie publishers. Traditional publishers are taking notice and are now gearing up to offer their own “self-publishing” opportunities. Some, like Simon & Schuster, Hay House and Penguin, have had a “vanity press” relationship for years in place via Author Solutions (ASI). Expect to see all of this push into a higher gear–after all … there is money in wannabe author’s pockets.
It’s a never-ending story … the emails, phone calls, postings within the Author U Group on LinkedIn and my personal group on Facebook: Publishing with The Book Shepherd (join it) … and I’ve worked with several private clients and fielded numerous phone calls/emails from authors who have issues with their “publishers.” In all cases, they’ve been duped. –Publishing Predators are growing like black mold–almost unstoppable!
When the hot Star Trek movie series kicked into gear, publishing took note. Under the umbrella of Simon & Schuster–Archway Publishing revived the Star Trek: Strange New World Writing Contest last year. Devotees of Star Trek were thrilled, writers discovered what they thought was a fun way to jump on the publishing bandwagon … after all, if Simon & Schuster is involved … it had to be legit. Right? What the majority didn’t know was that Archway Publishing is S&S partnering venture with Author Solutions, the kink of vanity presses and running the contest.
This gave the impression that S&S was less interested in recruiting new authors to publish than in finding new victims for Author Solutions’ high-pressure sales tactics, and that impression was reinforced last month by the form email sent to contest participants.
It was normal for those “who entered” to get the following email:
“Thank you for your recent submission in the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Writing Contest. We were honored to consider your short story. We received many imaginative tales that took us on different journeys through the Star Trek universe. After diligently considering each and every entry, we have selected the winners. Unfortunately, your submission was not included in the final group of stories.
If you enjoy writing, Archway Publishing can still help you share your personal or other sci-fi stories as a published book. And because you participated in this contest, you can save 20% on select packages.”
Authors who were wise not to take Archway up on its offer yet don’t be surprised to see it resurface–it’s a feeder for Author Solutions (ASI).
While Archway is actually a front company for ASI, a vanity press with more grumblings and complaints than Hogan has goats. In my experience in working with others, fielding zillions of phone calls and emails of complaints, I’ve concluded that ASI and all its offspring are out to exploit authors rather than help them sell books.
ASI operates under many imprints, including AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Archway (Simon & Schuster), Nook Press (Barnes & Noble), Partridge (Penguin), MeGustaEscribir, Book Country (Penguin), Westbow (Thomas Nelson), Trafford, Xlibris, and Balboa Press (Hay House).
Like S&S’s Archway, some of those imprints appear to be owned by an independent company, but they are actually front companies for ASI and are run by that vanity press. ASI partners include Barnes & Noble, Lulu, Penguin Random House Spain, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hay House, Penguin India, Penguin Singapore, and Penguin Africa. Jeeze, you need to really know who you are getting in bed with.
Their publishers are really not “publishers,” at least in the sense that they have the infrastructure to create and support a quality book and its author; that they have their internal team—from editing to some semblance of book design and publishing marketing and publicity; and that they are accountable in the critical accountability departments of actual book sales and responsibility.
I attended a national conference last month whose members were speakers. Many were well-established speakers—a majority was new to the industry, gobbling up information that would hopefully turn them into a star on the platform. Having a book helps. Within the Exhibit Hall, several booths proclaimed that they were publishers … they would publish your book for a small fee. What they were, vanity presses—nothing more, nothing less. The predators of the print world … and they were signing up people … their next victims, left and right.
Are you protected? Are there Red Flags that can help you spot the vanity press in sheep’s clothing?
Sure, start with:
#1: We publish your book for ONLY $___. This is called “pay-to-publish”—know it by the true name. When you are told that there is a fee to publish/print your book—that’s what is being done. Quality has zip to do with it; if you want editing, marketing, publicity, redoing mistakes found or their layout, etc., you will pay, and pay for it and anything else to fix, create at a very over-inflated cost. Just this past week I got an email from an author who signed up for one of these We publish your book for ONLY $____ … and he is $3,000 into his few hundred dollars lure and still NO Book … thanks to Author House.
#2: We list your book on Amazon.com. Think big freakin’ deal here. Anyone can list on Amazon—set aside 30 minutes, fill out the form and you are listed. Should you be listed on Amazon? Yes indeed. You can do it … anyone can do it. Vanity presses shot in the arm was Amazon—otherwise, their books never got any type of national/international presence for their authors.
But, and it’s a big BUT, if you dream of getting your book in a bookstore, wake up. The cheap workmanship, quality of what is usually produced will never make it there.
In a phone conversation with a key person at the Tattered Cover here in Denver, CO, he said, “We don’t purchase vanity press books—they usually fall apart … not to mention, they are so costly per unit and the return policy is usually not available—it’s a clear pass for us.”
#3: We have the solution for author success. So do I—it’s work your tush off, although that’s not what they will tell you. Their success will be to always buy all their add-on packages, driving your “investment” with this enterprise to many thousands of dollars. Success for them, mostly likely, not you.
#4: Publisher looking for authors. Yes, there is always the rare gem, break-through author that the media loves to profile …BUT here again, this is a rarity. Publishers have authors up the Ga-zoo … what they want is an author with a Platform and a Plan … that’s the part where you work your tush off.
#5: Author Beware notices from creditable sites. Start with a search on Google and put in the name of the publishing entity you are checking out. Follow it with the word: complaints, scam, con, lawsuits and problems and see what pops up. Make sure you read past page 1 of Google (90% don’t–and many pages are “loaded with ads” meaning that content, blogs, and comments are pushed way down and off the first few pages of your search). Websites, such as Rip-off Reports ,Writer Beware on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at and Reedsy will become your best friends. Ripoff Reports has a section dedicated to comments from former employees; Reedsy has an excellent blog to read; and Writer Beware includes case studies from authors sharing their ill-fated experience.
And know that these companies change their names–meaning you need to do digging. For example, Publish America–another that has created mountains of complaints recently changed its name to America Star Books. Same dog, different fur.
#6 Bait and Switch. Many of these companies pitch (after all, most have a boiler room type of operation—it’s about quotas) and you don’t realize that you have to pay them to publish your book. Not until you have submitted information—from your name, contact, book title, even the manuscript—do you realize you need to pony up funds to keep the process going.
#7 Partnering with a well-know name. Let’s face it, authors want their books published and when a vanity press partners, or purchases one that is well known, the assumption is that it’s a marriage made in publishing heaven. Not likely. With the rapid growth of the self-publishing world, both large and small presses are looking for avenues to carry them to the masses of self-published authors that came through the vanity press door. Get out of the book daze and stupor and do your homework before you head down the aisle. See #6 above.
Do “publishers” rip-off authors? And, if so, do they do it deliberately?
The answer is simply yes … and they do it every day. Your best defense: don’t get involved with anything that looks like, feels like, or acts like a vanity press. Companies like Author House/Solutions, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Palibris, Author House-UK, Word-clay and Balboa Press are to be avoided like the plague.
Publishing predators are the T-Rex of the industry—avoid, avoid, avoid.
Judith Briles is known as The Book Shepherd a book publishing expert and coach. She is the Founder of Author U, a membership organization created for the serious author who wants to be seriously successful. She’s been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the 80s. Judith is the author of 35 books including Author YOU: Creating and Building Your Author and Book Platforms, Snappy Sassy Salty: Wise Words for Authors and Writers and a speaker at publishing conferences. How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos has just been released.
Next year’s Judith Briles Book Publishing Unplugged will be held in Denver, CO June 22-24, 2017. The annual PublishingAtSea cruise is held each January. Become part of her inner circle by joining the Author’s Ark and exclusive monthly webinar and coaching event. Her audio and workbook series, Creating Your Book and Author Platform is now available. Join Judith live on Thursdays at 6 p.m. EST for Author U – Your Guide to Book Publishing on the Toginet Network at http://tinyurl.com/AuthorURadio . Follow @AuthorU and @MyBookShepherd on Twitter and do a “Like” at AuthorU and TheBookShepherd on Facebook. If you want to create a book that has no regrets, contact Judith at Judith@Briles.com.