Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Blue Ash Publishing: New Self-Publishing Service from Writer's Digest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


As many of you may know, earlier this year Writer's Digest terminated its involvement with Abbott Press, the white-label self-publishing imprint created and powered for it by Author Solutions, Inc. Although Abbott Press remains online, all reference to Writer's Digest and its parent, F&W Media, has been removed. (Interestingly, there's no reference to Author Solutions, either, unless you dig pretty deep into the Abbott Press website--deeper, probably, than many authors will go--and Abbott Press does not appear anywhere on AS's list of imprints.)

Now Writer's Digest has re-entered the self-publishing services space with the just-launched Blue Ash Publishing.

This time, WD is partnering with Bookbaby, a self-publishing service that, unlike Author Solutions, has a decent reputation. As with Bookbaby itself, the emphasis at Blue Ash is on ebooks rather than print--a change from print-centric Author Solutions. Also unlike Abbott Press, Blue Ash Publishing doesn't keep a commission; authors get 100% of net sales.

At $417 and $842, Blue Ash's two lowest-cost publishing packages are less expensive than the cheapest Abbott Press package. Sticker shock does start to set in with the Prime and Ultimate packages--$1,230 and $3,137 respectively (ouch). However, when I contacted Phil Sexton, Publisher of Writer's Digest, he emphasized that "all of the various components of each package are optional. There's a 'customizer' function that allows you to get only those things you want...so you can get a mix that meets your price vs. benefit requirements."

Marketing and promotion add-ons can be major profit generators for self-pub companies, because so many are cheap to provide and all can be sold at a premium. As a result, authors who sign on for publishing packages can expect to be subjected to relentless solicitations to buy services that are often overpriced, frequently ineffective, and sometimes downright exploitive (such as the Hollywood packages offered by some self-pub service providers).

Blue Ash does offer a modest suite of marketing tools, some of which involve extra expense if writers choose to pay vendors. The tools themselves, however, are included in the publishing packages rather than offered a la carte, so hopefully writers won't be subjected to upselling pressure. I do take issue with the inclusion of Reader's Favorite as a review source; Reader's Favorite is one of those high-entry fee "awards" programs where the principal aim is for the awards sponsor to make a profit, and the reviews it provides (and sells) are often not of professional quality. I've mentioned my concerns to the WD folks, and I'm hoping they'll take a second look.

Many in the self-publishing community believe that any fee-based self-publishing service is "vanity" and should be avoided. I believe that fee-based services have their place, as long as they're transparent, reliable, reasonably priced, and don't send writers to Spam Solicitation Hell. It's much too early to judge the reliability and value of Blue Ash Publishing--but what can be said is that it's a big improvement over Abbott Press.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How Not to Seek a Literary Agent: The Perils of "Middleman" Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


I know I've written about this before. But I'm seeing an increasing number of these kinds of "services," and they are all worthless.

What am I talking about? Agent middleman services--services that, for a fee, purport to contact agents on your behalf with the aim of snagging representation and, hopefully, a publishing contract.

A particularly egregious example: Bookmarq.net's Finding a Publisher service. (All errors courtesy of the original.)
Agents in New York or London receive thousands of query letters a year in the first stage of the book-beauty-contest that is traditional publishing....

Publishing a new author represents a significant investment for any publishing house which goes far beyond the amount of advance. To reach the promise land it is absolutely vital for an author have all the links in the chain in place or they will not be successful in securing a publishing contract.
What are those all-important links? Read on.
Step One: The Critique

We begin with an honest critique of your work which will aim to sort out any problems. Nobody buys a book on a query letter and if you are to make a sale (as opposed to becoming an expert at writing query letters) you need to have a saleable product.
Your cost for this assessment: 1.5 cents per word. And who will be doing your critique? You'll be glad to know that they are "professional editors." No names, no credentials--but you don't need those, right? All that stuff about the huge numbers of unqualified editors doing business online--surely that's an exaggeration. Bookmarq wouldn't ask you to pay for editing unless it had made sure the editors were competent, would it?
Step Two: The Presentation

We will ensure that you present the work to the right people through the appropriate bookmarq.net office (in New York or London) in the form that they would wish to receive it. That means we sort out the query letter, the manuscript and the synopsis and deliver them with a covering letter from one of our editors – whom they probably already know – along with a personal letter of recommendation.
"Indicative costs" for this service: $199 for 10 agents, and $10 per agent thereafter.

Leaving aside the whole anonymous editor thing (and believe me, a freelance editor accomplished enough for her name to be recognizable to a reputable agent is not going to be doing this sort of work), let me remind you of the reaction of two real literary agents to this kind of approach:
Not only that, you have no way of knowing whether the Bookmarq folks are knowledgeable enough to screen out marginal and disreputable agents.
Step Three: The Negotiation

Subject to the level of interest we will liaise with the agent or publisher on your behalf and negotiate the best terms available. It remains for your agent to negotiate the best price for your book but we will negotiate the best terms possible with your agent.
Let's assume that the moon is blue and pigs are flapping overhead and steps One and Two actually bagged you an agent. Here's what Step Three boils down to: some outfit you found on the Internet will horn in on negotiations your agent expects to carry out on his/her own, unaided by third parties. It's hard to say who would be more annoyed: your agent or your potential publisher.
Step Four: The Contract

Our specialist legal team will comb through any details in any publishing contacts to eliminate unpleasant surprises or future pitfalls.
Bookmarq will once again interfere with your agent as s/he tries to do her/his job--an unwelcome prospect even if Bookmarq actually has a "specialist legal team." (On the other hand, if it's really just publishing "contacts" Bookmarq will be combing through, the effect might not be so deleterious.)

The fees for Steps Three and Four are speculative, since they're "related to value of contract and subject to negotiation." They're also imaginary, since Bookmarq will never get you past Step Two. But you'll still have thrown away whatever you paid for a critique of questionable value and some (probably) junk-style mailings to (possibly) not-very-well-screened agents.

Writers: don't fall for services like this. The only recognized middlemen in the publishing industry are literary agents, and they expect to hear directly from writers--not proxies. Do not pay a person or service to query agents for you (especially if that person or service wants to have a hand in how your agent does his/her job).

There's plenty more to debunk on the Bookmarq website. Author and self-publishing expert David Gaughran does an excellent job of that here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Writer Beware's Self-Publishing Page Renovated and Updated

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've completely re-worked the Self-Publishing page of Writer Beware, to better reflect the rapid changes in the self-publishing marketplace.

New features include an introduction that provides an overview of how technology has transformed self-publishing, pointers on making the decision to self-publish (or not), an expanded list of cautions for self-publishers (including common scams), and many new links to articles, experts, and statistics.

Comments and suggestions are welcome. Please post them here, or email me.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Marketing Pitch from Author Solutions

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've written before about Author Solutions' relentless efforts to get authors to buy the company's "marketing" services. Here's an example that was recently passed on to me (with the author's name and other identifying information redacted).

Note the poor quality of the English (a lot of AS's staff are in the Philippines; English is a second language), the implied specialness of the offer (50% management discount, just for you!), the "hurry up and buy" pressure (supposedly only eight books will be able to get in on the deal; first come, first served!), and the...um...optimistic way the service that's being sold is presented ("endorsement" implies something tailored to the product, but in fact all it means in this case is a listing in Ingram's print and online magazines). It's all directly out of the junk mail marketing handbook.

Note, finally, the tiny-print disclaimer at the very, very bottom, under "Paul's" signature: "This email is an advertisement."

Bottom line: the author is being asked to shell out over $2,000 for a couple of magazine advertisements and returnability for a book no brick-and-mortar establishment is ever likely to order.

_______________________

From: Paul Wellshyr 
To: [author's name redacted]
Sent: Sat, Jul 26, 2014 4:38 pm
Subject: [title redacted] - marketing it directly to owners of bookstores, retailers, and libraries

Mr. [author's name redacted],

Good day!

This is Paul Wellshyr, a Marketing Consultant from iUniverse.  As I had mentioned earlier, I would like to see where and how far this book of yours, [title redacted], can take you.  You may have published newer books than this one, but that doesn’t make this book any less than those newer ones.

And since I’m only asking you to give this book at least one chance to be promoted, then I want to make sure that I don’t get to waste such an opportunity by making sure that we would be able to penetrate the best market for this book… and that would be to get this book be carried and picked up by different bookstores, retailers, and libraries.

I had also been able to get the approval from my manager for an additional 1 year of the insurance/buy back program for this book.

Kindly review the information below.

Physical bookstores and retailers are the two establishments that had generated a good number of sales for those authors that had their books be carried by some establishments. Thus, we are aiming to have more retailers and bookstores to start investing on our books this year. To achieve this, we have made some changes that would make our books even more attractive and easy to invest on for bookstores and retailers.

Before, retailers and bookstores need to purchase around 500 to 1000 copies to be able to take advantage of a 40% retail discount from the distributor. The smaller the volume of copies they are purchasing, the smaller the retail discount gets. This had disabled most establishments, especially the smaller scale investors, to invest on the books. Now, while under the Ingram +BRP campaign, bookstores and retailers will be able to enjoy a 48% retail discount (instead of just 40%) and with NO minimum purchase required. This would allow even the smaller stores and retailers to be able to test the waters out with the book. Still, they would be able to return and get refunded for unsold copies.

With this opportunity I am offering you right now, we would be able to have your book be one (1) of the eight (8) books that would be endorsed directly to owners and decision makers of around 38,500 establishments across the globe. These establishments are composed of bookstores, retailers, public and school libraries.


Account Holder
:

[Author name redacted]
Pen Name/Pen Name
:

[Author pen name redacted]
Project/Book ID
:

[redacted
Book Title
:

[Title redacted]
Genre
:

Body, Mind & Spirit / Supernatural / Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs




Proposed Project/s
:

Ingram Endorsement Project
Components/services involved
:

Ingram Print and Online Marketing
:

Book Returnability Program (12 months)
Recipients
:

Subscription Based - Total of 38,500
• Bookstore Owners
• Retail store owners
• Library Directors
Total Investment required
:

$4,548
3 Payment Installment option
:

Initial Payment
$1,516 + $30 surcharge fee


2nd Payment
$1,516


3rd Payment
$1,516




Book US List Price
:

$10.95
Retailers, Bookstores, and Libraries Retail Sales Discount Rate
:

48%
Retailers, Bookstores, and Libraries Retail Sales Discounted Price


$5.69

Minimum Purchase


NONE. This would allow smaller stores to test the waters out with the book.
Store - Distributor contract required?
:

NONE. This would allow the stores to invest on the book without any hassle of being tied up to a contract and permits them to ask for refunds on any given day while the book is under the Buy Back Program.
Royalty
:

20% of net sales
Royalty Refund
:

NONE. Refunds in line with returned copies will not be charged against author's royalty.





Management Approved Offer for
[Author name redacted]
Assistance/Discount
:

$2,274.00
New Total Price
:

$2,274.00
3 Payment Installment option
:

Initial Payment
$758 + $30 installment fee
:

2nd Payment
$758.00
:

3rd Payment
$758.00

Ingram Endorsement Project:

Endorser: INGRAM – world largest and biggest Book Distributor. www.ingramcontent.com
- #1 Global Book Distributor

Services involved in the project :
- INGRAM Print and Online Marketing
  • Ingram has now given us the opportunity to have a set of 8 books this year to avail of their service wherein these books will be endorsed directly to decision makers and owners of bookstores and libraries across the globe.
  • Note: This will serve as highly recommended books along with other traditionally published books.
- Booksellers Return Program

  • - Bookstore Owners
  • - Library Directors
  • - Decision Makers of chain bookstores, multiple branched libraries, and resellers
  • · Note: These recipients are actually paying Ingram, the endorser, for them to receive this endorsement
Endorsement Format:
- Printed Form of the endorsement
  • The Advance Magazine has an established circulation of more than 13,500 chain bookstore owners, booksellers, and library directors across the globe over the past twenty years. It is a trusted and in-fact a paid reference for new books because of its comprehensive title listing. This is being paid for by these subscribers since this is where they get the information of which and what books to place on their shelves.
- Online Form of the endorsement
  • The Independent Voice Catalog (formerly The Fine Print) is an online catalog that allows over 25,000 subscribers to view titles, make selections, and place an order on iPage®—Ingram’s online search, order, and account management site. This is being paid by the subscribers who prefer to receive the endorsement using the internet especially those who are located in different countries
Additional Service:
- Single Slot Ad in ForeWord Magazine
  • ForeWord magazine is the premier review magazine for independent publishers. With a 23,000 bimonthly circulation, this publication and review services affect the choices of booksellers and librarians across the country who influence the buying decisions of millions of readers.
Pre-requisite:
- Booksellers Return Program (for at least a year)
  • This program will attract booksellers (bookstores, retailers, libraries) to stock your book by allowing them to return unsold titles. The Bookseller's Return Program increases your chances that a bookstore will be willing to stock your book. If a book does not sell well, bookstores want the ability to return unsold books to publishers for a complete refund. Because traditional publishers always take returns, iUniverse has developed the Booksellers Return Program so that bookstores are able to return unsold books to the wholesaler. The best part is, iUniverse authors receive their retail royalty for every book sold in the Booksellers Return Program, whether the book is returned or not. When a book is returnable, the bookstore has no risk of losing money on unsold inventory and will be more likely to stock the book than if you don’t enroll in the program.
- Benefits of Booksellers Return Program
  • Encourages bookstores to invest more copies of the book
  • Improves chances of scheduling book signings and appearances, especially with hometown bookstores
  • Allows book returns yet will NOT reduce author’s royalties
Note:
  • · Book Returnability Program Turn-around-time (TAT): 30-45 days after full payment
  • · Catalogs TAT: next available issue
  • · $30 installment surcharge fee is non-refundable
  • · This project goes under a set of eight books and will be a first come first serve basis.
Please feel free to call me at 877-820-5395 ext 8552 for any inquiries.

All the best,

Paul Wellshyr
Marketing Consultant
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
Phone: 877-820-5395, ext 8552
Fax: 812-961-3133

Author Solutions, the parent company of iUniverse, is a member of the Penguin Group.
This email is an advertisement.