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).