Monday, November 20, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- The Identity of Author Identity

I've been getting a lot of questions recently about Author Identity Publishing, a publisher of short story compilations that has been emailing writers with invitations to submit. To avoid the appearance of a spam campaign, the solicitations are personalized with the writer’s name and the title of the story; in true junk mail style, however, they urge writers to act right away: “Please realize if you are interested in having your story published for the December 2006 compilation, this will put us under a severe time constraint, so please submit your short story within the next week.”

Let’s ignore the spamming for the moment, as well as the fact that reputable publishers don't generally direct-solicit contributions from strangers. Is Author Identity Publishing a worthwhile market?

On the opening page of AIP’s website, we find the following mission statement:

In the past the demand for quality short stories was high, and authors were more than willing to submit their work to publishers. Unfortunately, today the demand has diminished with the high cost of publishing. Large publishers have shied away from this art form. This has left fewer and fewer people the opportunity these days to read short stories. This is unfortunate so few will ever experience the joy reading such fine work can give. The goal of our company is to give a nice cross section of short stories in the hope these short stories will excite readers into rediscovering this excellent source of entertainment.

This is not encouraging. Apart from the silliness about publishing costs and sadly neglected art forms, it’s poorly written. Your publisher doesn't need to be Hemingway, but s/he should at least have a command of basic grammar.

According to its FAQ page, AIP is looking for stories "in the genres of suspense, horror, humor, legal thriller, literature, juvenile, romance and chick lit." (Hmmm. All in one anthology?). There will be twenty stories per compilation; it's claimed, without offering any specifics, that well-known authors as well as newer ones will be participating. Payment will be a 10% royalty divided among the authors of the compilation, which will be priced at $17.95. AIP must be hoping that potential contributors won’t do the math: 10% of $17.95 is $1.79, and $1.79 divided by 20 authors works out to about 9 cents apiece.

(Just in case someone does do the math, AIP has a rationalization ready (again from the FAQ page): "[R]emember that being a short story writer will not make you rich. Author Identity will publish your story and you will have a tangible book with your story in it. The money, depending upon how many books are sold, is just an added bonus so [sic] get your story off the shelf or out of a dusty file and submit it." Gosh.)

How will the compilations be marketed? On the Policies page, there’s a list of the usual suspects--Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, Booksamillion.com. (Can you say POD?) Read down the page, though, and you’ll discover AIP’s master plan. In addition to asking bookstores to stock the book and providing the names of local newspapers for press releases, authors "must also demonstrate [they] have the ability to sell 25 copies prior to the books [sic] release."

Bingo! AIP is a vanity publisher.

No, the authors aren't required to pay upfront. And they (theoretically) don't have to buy the books themselves. However, it’s clear that the company's main source of sales will be its own authors--and that's a vanity publisher as far as Writer Beware is concerned. 20 authors guaranteeing sales of 25 copies each works out to 500 copies--not bad for a POD book, certainly enough to offset any expenses (which could be zero if a service like Lulu is used) and yield a bit of profit (AIP says it will invest "thousands" of dollars in each compilation, but I think it's exaggerating just a bit). All of which leaves little incentive for AIP to make any real effort to get the book into the hands of readers.

One more thing. The company’s solicitations instruct would-be contributors to provide this statement along with their story: "I, ________, agree to Author Identity's Policies." No doubt many people will suppose that they are binding themselves only to the terms that appear on the company's Policies page--but what about other terms? There's nothing on the website about what rights you will be giving up, or whether you'll have a say in editing. Are you agreeing in advance to whatever the company decides?

Who's behind this vanity venture? According to its home page, AIP is "a division of West Publishing." I'm quite sure that's not this West Publishing, but no other publisher by that name can be found. A domain name search reveals that AIP's URL is registered to Corporate Roots, Inc.--a company with a mostly blank website whose snail mail address is that of a business entity formation service . In other words, this is all but a phantom company; potential contributors have no way to investigate whether or not the person or people running it have experience that would qualify them to acquire, edit, publish, and market short story compilations. I know I've said this before, but it can't be said too often: researching the qualifications of a new agent or publisher is an essential step that should not be skipped, no matter how tedious you may find it. If, as in this case, you can't do that, it's the publisher that should be skipped.

So. Spammer. Vanity publisher. Unknown rights situation. Unresearchable owner. 'Nuff said (I hope).

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

"In the past the demand for quality short stories was high, and authors were more than willing to submit their work to publishers. Unfortunately, today the demand has diminished with the high cost of publishing. Large publishers have shied away from this art form."

Yes, there's no denying many large publishers don't do short story collections, but the demand hasn't diminished at all. There's still thousands of magazines publishing short stories around and with the ever increasing speed of life, people are ready to devour shorts (some magazines even cater specifically to this group). In other words: the first line of their mission statement is bull shit, which doesn't bode well for the rest they say....

Bernita said...

My thought too, Anon.
Thank you.

James Macdonald said...

The first thing that struck me was the timing. If they're looking for stories to publish in an anthology coming out in December, 2006, they're about a year too late.

James Macdonald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MaryAnnTheRest said...

Hey, I work for that West Publishing! Funny, nobody asks for my short stories. They just want me to edit legal textbooks. Sniff.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I remember this bunch. I received an email from them some time ago. Always read the fine print, folks. It's clear from their contract that they're just a different form of vanity press.

Anonymous said...

YOU DUMB CUNT.....INCASE YOU DIDN'T SEE. AIP JUST PUBLISHED A BOOK THAT HIT #89 ON AMAZON FOR THE CATEGORY THEY ARE WORKING WITH IN.

Enid Schantz said...

Interesting. A person using the name Michael Evers, who is a character in a Publish America novel by Kevin Fabiano, who is also a contributor to SHORT CUT, AIP's current offering, has placed phantom orders with at least two mystery bookstores for this book, giving a disconnected phone number and a phony credit card with the order. The book, which is available from Ingram on a non-returnable basis, does contain stories by well-known authors--Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne--all in the public domain, as well as unknowns. The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association is looking into the matter. Fabiano is also a lawyer who lives in Pennsylvania and whose address & phone number are listed. It would be interesting to know if he not only is a contributor to the book but perhaps the owner of AIP. If you compare websites, their writing is quite similar.

Victoria Strauss said...

A person using the name Michael Evers, who is a character in a Publish America novel by Kevin Fabiano, who is also a contributor to SHORT CUT, AIP's current offering, has placed phantom orders with at least two mystery bookstores for this book, giving a disconnected phone number and a phony credit card with the order.

Oh dear. That's a ploy that PA writers were advising one another to use at one point.

The use of public domain writers appears to be how AIP is satisfying its promise to include "well-known" authors in its collections.

I share your suspicions about Kevin Fabiano. There's some discussion of him in the thread at AW devoted to AIP.

SeattleTammy said...

Hi Victoria,
We've posted an about yesterday and today's events.

PW Daily also covered the
Shortcut Scam.

We're very glad for the research you had done back here in November. You are now in all our "favorite bookmarks" Thanks again!

Jack Payne said...

How about the "legal" crime element in all of this. Never discussed. Overdue.

--Jack Payne
www.sixhrs.com