Monday, 18 May 2015

New Kid on the Block?

The newbie author entering the world of writing and publishing must feel like the new kid who's just arrived at a new school half way through the term, All around are people who know people,,cliques of friends and shared interests. Unlimited agendas, some up front and in your face, others tucked away hiding like dark secrets, revealed only by the results of action, never spoken.

A bewildering array assaulting the senses, and somehow, somewhere, the newbie has to start establishing themselves in the midst of this apparent chaos. Chaos it is, the dynamics of the relationships are spinning beyond the newbies reach, then after a few tentative steps the first contact is made.

Slowly the barriers drop and those who welcome open their circles, others will wrap the circles around the newbie ensnaring them, drawing the new kid into their ways.
This is why the sharing of information amongst the Independent community is vital, the open flow allows the newbie to integrate more easily and become aware of the potential pitfalls.

None of us know the rules of the school yard or the office until we are taken under someones wing and given the guidance we need to thrive.

Lack of experience can be a hindrance, but experience leading to overconfidence can lead to the same pitfalls. Thinking we have all the answers, can see around all the corners and the pitfalls and traps can blind the unwary to the new angle, to the change of name.

David Gaughran tweeted a couple of days ago about service providers especially Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (SPBRA) and its various other manifestations  promoted by Publisher's Weekly with links to reference pages at Writer's Beware, a link from that page within Writer Beware unfolds the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA) blogs dealings with the various elements of SPBRA and particularly it's founder Robert Fletcher. Including litigation against Writer Beware.

The shared history runs back to 2001 and Sydra-Techniques; and the hundreds of complaints received by Writer Beware. The complaints and the changes went on into 2005 when the Writer"s Literary Agency appeared, a couple of name changes down the road from Sydra-Techniques, the familiar path continued; complaints and name changes into 2009 and the WLA expanded into vanity publishing. The complaints passed on to Writer Beware included unsolicited invitations to publish.

February 2008, Robert Fletcher and The Literary Agency Group filed  against Writer Beware alleging defamation, loss of business and emotional distress.
The following March 18, 2009, The suit was dismissed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court due to LTAG/Fletcher's failure to respond to discovery or otherwise prosecute the suit.

2009 also saw the pretence that the various elements  that the presence of an advert in the publication should not be regarded as an endorsement of the production is worth taking notice of. It's there for our benefit; If we reply to an advert and get caught, we shouldn't go crying to the publication or it staff.

Check the advert, by all means, Google the company, and stick 'complaint' into the search, sit back and see what happens.

Do the research and make your own choice, that's what independence means, you make the call. Get it wrong, and you may take the fall.

Tread carefully, the landscape has all the characteristics of a minefield!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Target for tonight!

It's what you are aiming for, the target is to find a publisher, someone who will travel with you and share the journey from manuscript text to published novelist.

Sounds straightforward, and it should be, but as ever there are the unscrupulous, devious and downright nasty characters in the big bad world out there!

PT Barnum, the great showman is credited with the belief  there was one born every minute; a gullible fool, or a smart intellect that could be dazzled and charmed by smooth words and glittering acclaim, they were both the same to him and for the predatory publisher there really is no difference: either way the subject is a prospective source of revenue.

Setting aside the muddied waters of who may or not may be the good guys anymore, I want to look at the practical situation we've all faced as authors. The manuscript is finished, either as word doc. ODT, PDF or A4 double spaced times new roman on one side.

The search begins with the easiest tool available, the Internet search engine; Google, Bing, or whatever your choice may be, and the simple question; Find what I'm looking for!

The newbie writer, cloistered for months working on their opus suddenly emerges blinking into the daylight and onto the byways of the Internet.

Inspired by the surge of creativity that has brought the manuscript into being is not always the best driver for a reasoned step along the road. The question is asked by many, how and why do people still fall for the predators, and Indies Unlimited amongst others have recently given the matter considerable time and attention.

Now turn the problem around, we (the authors) are looking for a small target. The requirement is for a single publisher, and the target area is the Internet and straight ahead lies the bulls eye, the biggest target you have ever seen, so big, it is not possible to miss, no matter which way you turn.

Imagine a dart board made up entirely of the bull, no numbers, double rings or anything, I typed in find/search for my publisher and a couple of other variations and Author Solutions kept appearing.

The Google rating is so high it seemed impossible to miss, how could I avoid it. There's the rub, when does the resistance crumble and the author give in? "After struggling to find a publisher" is a phrase that prods my curiosity. When I read that line, or one similar to it I'm looking for the publisher's name in the article or press release to see who they are.

Good guys, bad guys; the words on the page may be black and white, but life never is, but bearing that in mind there are names we should consider carefully before moving ahead.  "Editors and Preditors"  has a very useful listing of publishers with advice on how to deal with them. Literary agents aren't immune to blurring the lines  either; Nicola Solomon of the Society of Authors in The, February 2014 suggest authors check out any connections between a literary agent and the publishing company that is recommended.

Author Solutions massive advertising budget, based on the necessity to capture new authors (an estimated 27000 in 2015) is roughly a $100 million a year and that gets an awful lot of Internet space; the snare is set further afield in conferences, book fairs and the printed media buying advertising space, which is then sold on to authors at a considerable mark-up.

Despairing of an alternative, worn down by the frequency of the name in every possible media, our newbie may well succumb and tumble into the ever open arms, bearing their cheque book or credit card.

Innocence and naivety may be charming traits in a social situation, but they may also be ignorance and vulnerability, and an open door to the unscrupulous and manipulative. Traits the Predators are looking for, the furrows they plough to fill their store with another's hard earned cash.

The antidote; knowledge and strength; strength from being part of a community, and strengthened by the shared knowledge of that community. Indies Unlimited have their knowledgebase; Writer Beware have links to information and resources, and both discuss developments in the publishing world on a regular basis/

Staring at the screen, looking for a way past a wall where every brick seems to have the same name chiselled on it may seem insurmountable, but patience and a little digging, (any wall can be tunnelled under) will get you where you want to be. Keep an eye on what writers and bloggers are commenting on and discussing. Gather what information you can and if you have a question, ask it.

There is only one stupid question; it's the one you didn't ask, and you went away without the answer that could have made the difference!

What is blindingly obvious to the time served Veteran may seem like the deepest intangible mystery to the newcomer, and we were all newcomers once.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Missed that one!

Wrapped up and put to bed, but with more to come, and for a moment I thought it might be while longer before I unwrapped the Author Solutions saga again, until I realised I had missed a couple and David Gaughran posted the Inside story of Author Solutions and Friends. Alongside a timely reminder of some of the practises listed in a blog by Emily Suess; the list below is by no means comprehensive;
  • Non-payment of royalties
  • Making out-of-print works available for sale without the author's consent
  • Excessive mark-up on advertising and review services
  • Failure to deliver marketing services as promised
  • Breach of Contract
  • Informing the customers that add-ons will cost hundreds of dollars and charging their credit cards thousands
  • Shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories
He brings the situation up to date regarding the recent class actions filed against the company and the lack of inclination by Penguin Random House to reform any of the questionable activities or practises. In spite of the legal challenges and  never ending stream of complaints from writer's organisations and customers there are those who still want to go into partnership, reaching into the realm of POD with Lulu and Nook Press Author Services.

Barnes and Noble have never openly disclosed the connection, but a screen shot of the agreement between Barnes and Noble reveals Nook Press Author Services' company address as 1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, Indiana; the same as Author Solutions.

The actions against Author Solutions moved on in March when documents relating to the first class action were released into the public domain as part of the discovery process here and here. The documents include extracts from depositions taken from staff at Author Solutions. Mick Rooney at The Independent Publishing Magazine takes up the story and unpacks the depositions in The Case Against Author Solutions, Part 2 and Part 3, working through a number of the exhibits in detail and highlighting the responses to questions in red. The action has completed the discovery stage and filed for class certification on 26 February 2015

The questioner in the depositions is Oren Giskan, of Giskan Solotaroff Anderson and Stewart on behalf of the plaintiffs and individual under oral deposition are identified at the beginning of each exhibit, including two of the plaintiff authors, Jodi Foster, who had bought publishing services from iUniverse, an ASI owned and operated imprint and Mary C. Simmons, who had obtained services from iUniverse and Xlibris, unaware they are both owned by Author Solutions. Their questioner is noted as Mr Karagheuzoff, acting counsel for Author Solutions.

The final thoughts offered by Mick Rooney at the conclusion of Part 3 deserve careful study, whatever you may think about the standards and practises of this company, and there are authors who will sing the praises of Author Solutions and those who will decry their very existence from the rooftops. He is convinced the judge will grant certification, and with more actions likely in the future the story could rumble on for years, but proving deception may not be straightforward. The evidence pointing to the operation as a telemarketing company is not proof of deception; that is the task ahead for the plaintiff's legal team.

A serious issue is the cloaking of identity, there are companies who openly flaunt the connection where the respectability of Penguin Random House is emblazoned across the header, but other partners don't. The veneer of respectability is cracked and tarnished by Penguin's international expansion in the self-publishing market using Author Solutions as the service provider.

When an author begins searching for a publisher the questions are straightforward, even simple. What do I do next, where do I turn? The obvious first question is Find/search/choose my/ your publisher. So ask it, Google it, but before the itch to click takes you any further, read through the entries at the head of page one, and if you click and go further read the whole page, or if your patience is being eroded by your eagerness to find a way to make your book public, go straight to the bottom of the page, and read the footer - very carefully!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Wrapping up

Lynne Cantwell pulls together the loose ends and links in a resume post at Indies Unlimited, rounding off the #PublisherFoul series for the time being

The whole series generated a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of independent authorship and publishing in an ever changing world. Where the predators lurk behind the glossy adverts and enticing promises, sadly often without foundation, and grief and sorrow may be no more than a click away.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Saint or Skimmer, 2 - Black Hat White Hat!

Times change, the days when the good guy wore a pristine white hat are gone, today's hero is likely to be grey, muddy, washed out, and tired.

The last few weeks have seen Indies Unlimited exploring the experience of authors at the hands of the Vanity Presses, and the same familiar names crop up with an unnerving frequency. Part of the explanation is revealed in the list of subsidiary imprints under the umbrella of Author Solutions(see Saints and Skimmers). If any company has donned the black hat and cape of the villain of the piece it is this one.

There will be authors who have a had a good relationship with Author Solutions, the Bloomington, Indiana giant, but on the whole the response to the #PublisherFoul survey followed an expected pattern. Lynne Cantwell's resume of the results bore out the figures quoted by Author Solutions; 180,00 authors, and 250,000 books, - 78% of authors published one book with Author Solutions, an average of 1.3 books per author. (Lynne Cantwell quotes figures at the time of the Penguin takeover of 150,000 authors and 190,000 books which gives an almost identical publishing rate of 1.27 books per author).

The operating procedures of Author Solutions and their long term repeat rate remain unchanged. The reality is that another raft of authors have been bitten once, and are twice shy of the experience.

The major shift in self-publishing has come through choice and diversity, but the anonymity of the Internet also allows the skimmer to hide behind the saint.

Researching the subsidiaries of Author Solutions revealed the links between Traditional and Vanity publisher and the openness of the connection; and trumpeting it from the header of the web page is being pretty upfront. Whatever the legality of the relationship the reputation of one company in partnership taints another. The high ground cannot be claimed or occupied if your feet of clay are mired with the people you so  roundly and recently condemn. In short, you can't slag off the vanities if you are banking their profits, own the company, or in partnership.

Balboa Press , part of Hay House Publishing made the list in the International Partnerships in the previous post, They are not alone, any hope that Penguin would improve the reputation of Author Solutions disappeared when the three Partridge operations, Africa, India and Singapore were established, this was more of the same, and with the new parent's blessing.

Author Solutions do not always disclose the imprints they are partnered with making it difficult, even impossible for an author to make an informed choice. Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan makes no mention of the connection with Author Solutions, who trumpet the link from their own site, alongside Simon & Schuster's Archway and Reader's Digest LifeRich. The partnership between Abbott Press and Writer's Digest was broken up in June 2014, and the connection with Author Solutions: Abbott Press operates out of the same Liberty drive, Bloomington, address as Author Solutions.

The complaint lodged at the U.S. District Court, District of Southern Indiana against Author Solutions cites the company's main source of revenues as the authors themselves and the claims made for commercial success in publishing with them as lacking any foundation, because the relevant analysis required to support and justify the claims have never been carried out. The PDF of the complaint available from the website of Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart ( the link is in 3/25/2015 update towards the bottom of the page, Author Solutions deceptive practices) lists; Unjust Enrichment, Fraud and additional counts under the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act; the Indiana Senior Consumer Protection Act; The California Business And Professions Code; The California Unfair Competition Law, (Unfair Business Acts and Practices) and The California Unfair Competition Law (Fraudulent Business Acts and Practices).

The details behind these counts are listed within the complaint, and makes sobering reading. Promise after promise lifting the hopes and dreams of the authors are left broken and mangled as the marketing consultants work to extract larger and larger sums on the basis of unfounded and unsupportable claims,

Their are only two plaintiffs named on the second class action against Author Solutions. However, the size of the class is staggering, in 2011 27,500 publishing packages were sold, each one a potential class member. The class period is cited from April 26 2007 to the present day, with two sub classes, California residents who bought a package and or services  whose services have not been fulfilled since April 26 2009, and Senior Authors, at least sixty years of age who made purchases and the services have not been fulfilled since July 1, 2009.

Whether you are looking at the numbers represented by the class action or the figures involved in the claim itself, the numbers are huge, and this story is going to run! There is definitely more to come.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Saint or Skimmer?

Every good story has a villain, the fouler and blacker the better, for a dramatic narrative, and the easier it is to identify the black hats the better, it helps the story unfold and the underlying moral to be revealed through the words and action.

In the not too distant past the giants of publishing held sway over the road to print and the way forward lay through the Gatekeepers of tradition, the literary agent.
Theirs was the only way and any other option was left to the desperate and deranged. That somehow failing to acquire the support of a traditional outlet was to be deemed unworthy, or sub standard.

There are frequent comments made about the changing landscape of modern publishing, primarily brought about by the revolution in self-publishing made possible by the spread of the Internet and the ebook. A landscape changing so quickly it has led to partnerships and alliances that would have been unheard of fifteen, or even ten years.

From the apparently lofty heights of traditional publishing some great names have plunged into the mire of the Vanity press. David Gaughran has explored this on a number of his blogs, and the word of caution to all who seek to put their words out into the great wide literary world is buyer beware. The saints are found among those who will skim the money from your bank account to maintain their business model. If I may quote David from the linked blog; "it’s much harder to tell the scammers from the legitimate organizations when they are owned by the same people. (emphasis is mine).

Penguin Random House are widely known as the owner of Author Solutions, (the footer on the Author Solutions webpage bears the stamp "Author Solutions, A Penguin Random House Company) who have acquired the role of black caped villainy in the self publishing world, and with some justification. Lynne Cantwell left a comment on the post "Weathering the storms" ; the new class-action suit against Author Solutions was filed in U.S. District Court in southern Indiana, where Author Solutions is located. The complaint is harrowing reading. The two named plaintiffs are both elderly, and they both gave these scammers thousands of dollars to "promote" their books. The complaint can be downloaded and is worth reading. The best cautionary tale is often the one heard first, or as close to first hand as is humanly possible.

Goskan Solotaroff describe Author Solutions as "more like a telemarketing company whose customer base is the Authors themselves." Where a traditional publisher makes money for its authors;  Author Solutions make their money by selling books back to the Authors, (not publishing to a general readership,) and expensive publishing, editing, and marketing services (“Services”) that are effectively worthless.

Author Solutions is the tip of a very large iceberg with their US based imprints, 
Trafford Publihsing
and XLibris.

International imprints;
Authorhouse UK
and the UK, Australia and New Zealand imprints of XLibris

International partnerships with 
Balboa Press AU;
Partridge, Africa, India and Singapore (Partridge is a Penguin Group Author Solutions development since the takeover by Penguin in 2012 - so any ideas that Penguin's acquisition would clean up the stables were  ill founded, they simply added to the pile)

The links between the big publishers and Author Solutions are there in open view; Simon & Schuster's self-publishing arm, Archway Publishing, declares from the head of the page "Operated by Author Solutions."

There is more to come, the information is out there, and it may take some finding, but the due diligence is worth the effort, and the question. The Question! How, why, do we still manage to fall for the patter and the slick marketing.

David Gaughran sums it up beautifully, he asks can you remember when you were new to all this, how naive, and badly you wanted your book published, and every avenue towards that goal seemed impossible. 

When you feel that everything is working against you, you start to get desperate, crazy, and on top of all that - you don't know who the good guys are anymore!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Weathering the storms!

March is traditionally supposed to come in like a Lion, roaring with the wintry weather blasting out of February and slowly slip into April, quiet as a lamb.

Indies Unlimited kicked off March Madness with a roar and the storm continued; pain, disappointment and anger has run with the thread through the month and shows no sign of abating, either at Indies Unlimited or further afield as the month draws to a close.

Lynne Cantwell posted about suing the Scammy Publisher and linked in the comments to a mention on David Gaughran's facebook page of a second class action being filed against Author Solutions, the post at Writer's Beware  gives an introduction and a brief summary of a 39 page complaint filed at Distict Court of Southern Indiana that can be downloaded. The summary is damnation enough, the detail may be worse. (I have downloaded the document but not yet had time to read it!)

The referee on the right hand sidebar takes you to the posts directly linked to #PulbisherFoul and posted since the madness began.

Two particular threads emerged from the catalogue of misadventures and mayhem wreaked by the Vanity Press; one positive and the other quite puzzling.

The positive; an author who had turned to Indies Unlimited for help and advice commented. You don't know me, why are you helping me?
Lynne Cantwell's response, It's what Indies do?

The second thread is why? I thought about the same point in my post Here Be Monsters, and RJ Crayton similarly considered it in Do Some Vanity Authors suffer From Stockholm Syndrome . Whatever the whys and wherefores of signing up and promoting the predators, I have yet to come across a more apposite descriptionof how many of the Vanity Presses work than in the summary of the complaint at Writer's Beware (see the link above).

The Law firm of Giskan Solotaroff Anderson and Stewart filed the first action against Author Solutions in April 2013  at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York and survived various motions to dismiss (Penguin was dismissed from involvement in the complaint) and in February 2015 completed the process of Discovery and filed for Class Certification.

Author Solutions is now a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, Penguin was discharged from any involvement in the complaint, but the historic tendencies of the Vanity Press have not been restrained by the Penguin acquisition, rather the contrary. Expansion in the "self-publishing" area has been the order of the day.

Girkan Solotaroff  have a contact form on their website. The website explains the claim filed against Author Solutions and revealingly comments on the Editorial Services Manager at Author Solutions, who has published seven books through the company, but without buying a single marketing service from them! Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence is it?

Whatever the endorsement or lack of it, that might suggest; the stories kept coming into the site at Indies Unlimited, and the referee can be seen on the blog on the 2nd of April when Lynne Cantwell discussed the results of the #PublishingFoul author survey, her post runs through some of the results. An colourful set of pie charts illuminate the proceedings and the results make interesting reading,

Not all the stories involved crashing and burning, some recalled burnt fingers as Jacqueline Hopkins tells her story, a spot of due diligence and timely advice sought from another author. An Anonymous contributor offers caution from an ongoing dispute with a publisher and the hope that one day the story can be told with the real names included.

The March Madness is over, but the #PublishingFoul hashtag will continue and the intention is to keep an eye on the scammers, and see where it goes from here.