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 (Insert Court) 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.


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Here Be Monsters!

Old maps fascinate me, the elaborately decorated charts and drawings from the sixteenth and seventeenth century when the world, to European explorers, still possessed vast tracts of Terra Incognito and the empty spaces were embellished with fanciful designs and interpretations of fantastic creatures and the monsters of the deep.

Starting out as a published author, launching Iceline on Smashwords back in 2012  felt like heading out with such a chart. There were more gaps on my knowledge than anything as travelled a learning curve so steep it felt like the ascent of a rock face.

Little has changed, the curve is still steep and the landscape like the old maps appears to be changing as the blanks are filled in: and the monsters?

They are there, the slick marketeers and professional twisters eager to sell their version of your dream - where you do all the work and are relieved of hundreds or thousands of pounds/dollars for the privilege of seeing your book published.

Indies Unlimited's, March Madness continues and a couple of days ago RJ Crayton ponders why, despite the bad publicity writers still fall for the Vanities and authors cheerfully sing their praises, and comes up with an interesting answer; Stockholm Syndrome. Authors believe publishing a book is an expensive process, so the exorbitant fees are expected, what she finds puzzling is the enthusiasm.

How, why, do we fall for the same old story? The smooth patter, the glossy brochure and the baggage that goes with it? In the traditional publishing world, the publisher speaks with unquestioned authority.

The Traditional publishers never describe themselves as traditional, and the vanities never use the V word in describing their publishing activities. Both are simply identified as publishers, so they apparently 'speak' with the same authority.

Authority requires obedience, often unquestioning; do they actually get it?

Signing up with a publisher puts you on their side, and the subtle threads of authority and obedience tie the two parties together with a requirement to toe the line. The higher the cost the more compliant or enthusiastic the author may become; up to a point!

The point is not fixed, the tipping point varies from person to person and the circumstances of the arrangement, a relationship explored in the 1963 at Yale University by Stanley Milgram. The result of his experiments helped develop his Agency Theory regarding behaviour in a social situation. With the modifications on the original parameters (636 partiicipants in 18 variation studies) he identified different reactions and conditions of compliance.

The degree of obedience is supported by the moral or legal legitimacy of the authority figure, and many aspects of  our upbringing support this compliance; perhaps this suggests an explanation why authors taken by the Vanity Press enthuse about their situation when the overwhelming data suggests it's not a good place to be.

This may be a form of dissonance reduction, where the product continues to be sold after the purchase is made and the customer, (a favourite reference among the Vanities) sees the other brands which may be as good or even better. The sales patter continues to reinforce the original action and affirm the buyers choice, confirming the wisdom of their decision. Their enthusiastic support for the Vanity Press helps to support this belief and turning against this level of pressure calls for real courage, to admit that a costly mistake has been made does not come easy.

Writing involves everything, the head and the heart working as allies. The process comes out of the head, but the passion and the drive is from the heart and there lies the strength and the weakness.

No one wants to see the thing they have nurtured, cherished and loved bashed around and knocked up in the harsh world outside our imagination and we know that the route to publication can be a difficult one, almost impossible - I said almost - without the backing of the publishing house in not too distant past.

The changing landscape means that the ancient stranglehold is slowly being weakened and more routes to publication are available than have ever been possible. The landscape is changing rapidly but how the author is seen changes more slowly.

The stigma of the self-published author as lesser being is fading, not as quickly as it should, and a trawl of the Internet reveals literary greats who originally self-published, but the image has been tarnished beyond measure by the Vanity Press, a business model designed to produce a book at the author's expense and the company's benefit.

The reasons they succeed are complex, as involved as the personality and character of the people they target, and that is exactly what we are, targets. Everything about the market is designed to catch you out, sneak under your radar and suddenly they have you, caught on the hook and like an expert fisherman they know how to play you, and play you they will, for ever penny/cent they can, so what is the best protection?

Imagination, the power of the mind you used to write your story, use it to work out the angles of the deal you are being offered, if it sounds too good to be true, tell yourself that it is, and look at it closely. You may be a single click away from a shedload of trouble!

The available resources are the greatest limitation to any course of action. Working with the traditional/trade publishers doesn't cost the writer, your obvious talent has been recognised, snapped up and acknowledged and the cost to you is minimal. the publisher puts their money into the project.

Without the backing of a traditional or the burden of a vanity publisher; how close to that figure can we get?

Friday, 20 March 2015

Boot and Other Foot?

The madness continues at Indies Unlimited, the #PublishingFoul features reached the halfway point in the month with an update on the story so far.

A quick way to catch up with the information gleaned from the four corners of the Indies world is to click on the referee image on the right hand sidebar. The link takes you to the #PublishingFoul index page and posts directly related to the March Madness.

It doesn't make for easier reading, but highlights the frequently asked question, why do we, (writer's) fall for the scams? The simple truth maybe that they are better at the dark practises of scamming and fleecing than we are at spotting the same. Knowledge is the answer, and the greatest defence, and one of the strongest elements I've discovered among Independent authors is a willingness to share information. This month's features on Indies Unlimited supports this. 

We all want to sell our books, of course, but that doesn't mean we have to compete with each other when it comes to steering away from trouble. Any one of us may have narrowly avoided the pitfalls by  way of another author sharing their experience.

The update offers a review and links to a couple of useful pages; How to avoid a scam and  Resources for Authors, for legal advice and tips on where and how to research the useful details for avoiding the scammers.

The stakes are high! David Gaughran's posts at Let"s Get Digital, and his research on AuthorSolutions, reveals some of the figures involved. A new piece in the story appeared today with an appeal from David to spread the word to writers everywhere:  AuthorSolutions are sponsoring the Bay Area Book Festival; a very profitable ground for their activities, to the cost of many authors!.

Victoria Strauss offers more information at Writer Beware and one particular link discussing Vanity/Subsidy Publishers caught my attention. A lengthy piece worth taking the time to study, especially the case histories and the custodial  jail sentences given to publishers. The owner of Northwest Publishing, a Vanity Press based in Utah, received thirty years for cheating authors out of millions of dollars. (Some of the details may seem dated, but the page has been checked recently - Dec 2014.)

Labyrinthine, yes it may be, chasing the links between the sites offering information, but and it's a big but; taking the time to work your way through the links may save you a lot of money and of heartache.

Following the links proffered by the Vanities may drag you along at the same pace; however the end result may be very different to the one you wanted or expected to find.

Tread carefully, there are plenty of people out there who will trample your dreams without finding that we've been doing the same, to our own dreams!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Still treading on dreams!

Earlier this week ago I posted about Indies Unlimited March Madness, the feature of the month being experiences - usually bad - of independent authors at the hands of predatory publishers, Predominantly the vanity presses and new material has been posted on the site since my piece was published here.

The big player in the field is Author Solutions, but they are not alone and the predators aren't always the size of the proverbial Great White. Some are smaller, akin to the Piranha but the methods and principles are the same.

The series is continuing apace, with  three or four more posts in the last couple of days, and a rough and ready survey of author's experiences. The idea is to give a general overview of the situation, and the survey is accompanied by the experiences of authors who have travelled the road. Melinda Clayton offers some hard won advice on how to protect yourself from the predators. Daniel Peyton reveals his experience of  dealing with PublishAmerica and Melissa Bowersock unfolds the story of how she extracted herself from a similar situation.

I take my hat off to all of them for sharing their experiences and wish them every success with their endeavours. Putting your hand up among friends in the same room and admitting a mistake can be daunting;  raising the same hand before the world must take real nerve.

Another name crops up here, PublishAmerica, I would recommend checking out the blogs and website of the people who have shared their story and any others you come across chasing the links in this post. They are a talented bunch, worth following and reading, and if you are thinking of stepping out along the publishing road yourself, start with Indies Unlimited, David Gaughran at Let's Get Digital and Writer Beware, From these you can start to build a valuable knowledge base and spread the word about the changes happening in the publishing industry - traditional and independent.

There's more to come as the month progresses, and if you haven't done so already, add them to your follow list and keep up to date.