Friday, March 02, 2007

Victoria Strauss -- Writers' Conferences: When to be Wary

Attending writers' conferences can be a great way to learn about the publishing industry, network with colleagues and professionals, and meet new friends. Be careful, though. All writers' conferences are not created equal. Many are sponsored by established organizations and have highly qualified faculty--successful agents, working editors, commercially published authors. Others...not so much.

On my desk this morning: an announcement of the Third Annual San Antonio Round Table Writers Conference, sponsored by NF Publishing. There'll be workshops, panels, consultations with the faculty, readings, social occasions--the usual panoply of events you'd expect at a writers' conference. Dates: November 8-11, 2007. Cost for the full four days: $299 before March 10th, $369 thereafter (accommodations and meals not included). The conference hotel, the Crowne Plaza San Antonio Airport, seems to be offering a reasonable group rate.

Is this a conference worth paying for? Let's look first at the sponsor, NF Publishing. Founded by Nicole Moens, a.k.a. Nickie Fleming, a PublishAmerica author (uh oh), the company offers a variety of paid adjunct services (such as a self-publishing package for $700) in addition to "conventional" publishing (uh oh again) and boasts a staff that appears to be almost entirely devoid of professional publishing, editing, or writing experience (uh oh yet again). As for distribution, NF offers less than your average POD self-publishing service, with books orderable only through Baker & Taylor.

There is also this omninous phrase, on the Company Profile page: "We are not a vanity or self-publishing organization but you, the author retain full control of the content, design and layout." To date, Writer Beware hasn't gotten any reports of fees associated with NF Publishing--but in our experience, it's usually only vanity publishers that feel the need to deny being vanity publishers. We can't help wondering whether there's a cost attached to some aspect of publishing with NF (we especially wonder about the company's Writer's Consultants, nearly all of whom also appear to be NF authors) or whether authors are encouraged to buy their own books, a la PublishAmerica.

So what about the conference itself? Let's take a look at the faculty:

- Stacey Kohan, NF staff member and author of Five To Go
- Linda Daly, author of Sea Of Lies, which can't be found on Amazon, though I did find two other novels by her, Virtuous Dove and Rebel Dove
- Merlin Fraser, NF staff member and author of Inner Space
- Peter Leeds, author of Understanding Penny Stocks
- Toney Cowell
- Janelle Marks, author of Spades

Of the six authors above, four are current or forthcoming NF authors and/or staff members (Stacey Kohan, Merlin Fraser, Peter Leeds, and Janelle Marks); one is a PublishAmerica author, with another book forthcoming from a micropress about which Writer Beware has gotten questions (Linda Daly); and one I can't find any information on at all, except in association with the conference (Toney Cowell). To put it mildly, this is not a professional lineup. Not to mention, it's a bit incestuous to put on a conference and staff it entirely with your own people (although probably quite cost-effective, since you can presumably avoid paying honorariums).

The conference program does promise author-agent speed dating, so there may be additional faculty in the form of literary agents. But I wonder how likely it is that established agents will be interested in attending--especially if they are invited in the same way as one well-known agent of my acquaintance, who was urged to "Come share your unique voice and your passion for writing with us!" as a paying guest.

All this for just $299--or, if you don't get it together before March 10th, $369. If even 50 people sign up, that's a nice chunk of change for NF.

NF isn't the only dubious publisher that boosts its income by putting on conferences featuring its own staff and/or authors. PublishAmerica (on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publisher List) hosted a self-staffed writers' convention in 2003 (apparently, once was enough). Archebooks (also a Thumbs Down honoree) conducts an annual Professional Novelist Workshop run by publisher Robert Gelinas, which it actively encourages its authors to attend. Now-defunct publisher Gardenia Press hosted a yearly FirstNovelFest, and heavily pressured its authors to participate. And of course there was the notorious Melanie Mills, literary agent of a thousand aliases, who put on not one, but two, fake writers' conferences, and absconded with the proceeds.

The moral of this tale: don't take writers' conferences at face value. Always research the sponsor to assure yourself that it's a professional organization or established writers' group. Always research the faculty to make sure they're as professional as the conference claims they are--and to uncover any undisclosed connections or hidden conflicts of interest. Be wary of conferences that don't provide detailed faculty lists and bios, as well as a full description of conference activities and schedules--or, worse, don't mention these things at all. And if any pressure is associated with attendance, especially if it's coming from your own publisher or agent...beware.

28 comments:

Eric said...

Victoria-- any reputable writer's conferences you or others would recommend? Or places on the web to find lists of such? (And being totally selfish, any on the east coast in NY or Boston area?)

And do they all charge $300+ fees? Ouchie.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

The Backspace Writers Conference in NYC is reputable. I believe it takes place at the Algonquin Hotel, a lovely Manhattan hotel with a literary tradition dating back to the 1920s, when Dorothy Parker and the original New Yorker magazine staff used to meet there.

The Maui Writer's Conference is also very well-respected and tends to be attended by bestselling authors and big-time agents. It's outrageously expensive, of course (hey, it's Maui), but those I know who have gone say it's well worth it.

Linda Adams said...

There's one in Washington, DC called Washington Independent Writers http://www.washwriter.org

The focus is on non-fiction, though they will have agents there to pitch to.

Victoria, another possible topic is Writing Organizations: When to Be Wary. I ran across one that looked pretty good until I started looked at the member books. Many of them were published through POD, and some of the POD writers were actually giving workshops on how to get published! It didn't exactly give me a warm and fuzzy about the organization.

Dawno said...

When I hold the first annual Dawno writers' conference would you accept a comp? :-) Great info and advice, Victoria. Thank you for posting about this.

A. C. Crispin said...

Apparently Light Sword Publishing, founded by former PA author Linda Daly, is soliciting books heavily. I've received at least five requests for information about them just this past week.

Although they may be well-intentioned, they have few if any books out to date, and thus they're an unknown quantity. If they manage to get books into bookstores, I'll be very surprised.

My advice for those who have been solicited by them is to wait a year and see if they can do what they're saying they can do.

I know there is an urge to get in on the "ground floor" of a new publishing company, but anyone tempted to send off their manuscript should remember that 90% of these startup POD type publishers vanish without a trace in a year or two...or three.

And you can't find their books in bookstores.

So be cautious and resist the urge to jump into new and unproven publishig waters.

-Ann C. Crispin

Victoria Strauss said...

Oho. So Linda Daly's second book, Rebel Dove,, is actually self-published. Thanks for making this connection, Ann.

TypingHazard said...

I know there is an urge to get in on the "ground floor" of a new publishing company, but anyone tempted to send off their manuscript should remember that 90% of these startup POD type publishers vanish without a trace in a year or two...or three.

And you can't find their books in bookstores.
-----------------

Where did you get this information?
Certainly not from our authors. Kindly check your facts.

Margaret Woodruff
Senior Editor
Light Sword Publishing

Karen Dionne said...

"And do they all charge $300+ fees? Ouchie."

I sympathize, Eric. The Backspace conference I put on falls in the $300+ range. New York is so expensive!

But - because we've located our conference in publishing's backyard, we're able to get a terrific line-up of top agents and editors on the program, so it's a bit of a trade-off. Simon Lipskar, Dan Lazar, and Emily Saladino from Writers House; Jenny Bent and Alex Glass from Trident Media Group; Jeff Kleinman, Scott Hoffman, and Paige Wheeler from Folio Literary Management, Kristin Nelson, and a half-dozen more - plus a couple of editors from Random House, and a sprinkling of New York Times best-selling authors - all of which makes for a really high-quality program.

But back to Victoria's point. She's so right: If a conference can't attract recognizable industry names to its faculty, how good is the information they're presenting going to be?

Julia said...

If I may, The Write Stuff, http://www.glvwg.org/conference/2007index.htm in Allentown, PA; The Philadelphia Writers' Conference, http://www.pwcwriters.org/ and the Montgomery County Community College conference, http://www.mc3.edu/sa/stact/clubs/writers/conference/index.html are three that I've attended and loved. The Montgomery one isn't until November, so they still have last year's con on the web.

Victoria Strauss said...

Thanks, everyone, for the conference recommendations--I'm not much of a conference maven (I mainly know about SF/fantasy cons), so I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I am quite sorry if you do not approve of the CONFERENCE, my goal was to help writers. I do not see you out there putting on a conference. Maybe you should just keep your information to yourself!

bjh said...

Geez, CONFERENCE Anonymous, next time leave a name. I want to ensure I don't accidentally attend a conference where a presenter may flounce off in a childish snit.

BTW, you have, um, read some of this blog, haven't you? Victoria and Ann do in fact do this to help writers. They do it without charge. If your conference is similarly to help writers without charge, perhaps you should leave a name.

Sorry if I sound snitty in turn, but you're telling someone on a writers' blog to keep their information -and presumably their opinions - to themselves. Does this make sense to you, or did you want to rephrase?

Anonymous said...

Comments like those from Ms. Woodruff and anonymous 3/07/2007 9:50 AM are what you get when people can't separate the professional from the personal: "You have criticized my business endeavor, therefore you have criticized me." What results is an unprofessional, inappropriately emotion-laden response.

If a professional wants to correct an error of fact, they calmly present evidence to the contrary. They do not have a public snit-fit, fly into ad hominem attacks, and protest that they meant well, so that should count for something. Dignity and grace make a much better showing.

Aconite

Elizabeth Montijo V.P. L.S.P. said...

To those whom it may concern:

It has come to my attention that a rumor has begun concerning Light Sword Publishing. The rumor came to my attention in the form of an author who considered withdrawing a submission from Light Sword. The reason this submission's author considered retracting it was due to an unfounded concern raised by this blog and its writers.

After careful consideration and pending yet another unfounded concern by a different author, I thought it would be beneficial to take a look at the source of the rumor.

Responsible journalism begins with the presentation of provable facts. Apparently blogging has a different set of rules that exempt the author(s) from having to represent facts, allowing the blogging authors to hide behind the guise of expressing opinions and unlike any reporting done by professional journalists, doesn't require blogging authors to present facts to substantiate any claims made to the detriment of an organization. In fact this method of blogging places the burden of proof squarely upon the shoulders of the organization.

In a country where litigation has become the norm and due process is understood by kindergartners, I find it very difficult to digest the fact that blogging is allowed to remove the precepts of the country in which it was written.

At this time I would like to gracefully remind the writers of this blog and its readers that Light Sword Publishing is a traditional, royalty paying publisher.

The very young reputation of this publisher is sterling and can be investigated through the ordinary channels and with the authors already published and those who are in the process of publication.

It grieves me deeply to have to take the time to address this blog and the unfounded issues concerning Light Sword Publishing when the time spent doing this could have been better spent marketing our authors' books, working with our graphics department on a new cover or consulting with the editing department on an upcoming new book.

I urge and welcome you to look into the facts represented in this blog that pertain to any organization, not just that of Light Sword Publishing. I would also like to invite you to view our website for more information. You may also contact us at any time with questions or concerns.

Deepest wishes of success to all of you,

Elizabeth Montijo, Vice President of Light Sword Publishing
Emontijo@Lightswordpublishing.com
http://www.lightswordpublishing.com

Victoria Strauss said...

Elizabeth, thanks for your post.

Writer Beware doesn't doubt that Light Sword Publishing is well-intentioned. Ann said as much in her comment above. However, our cautions stand. POD-based micropresses are rarely able to do much in the way of marketing and distribution, and their books rarely make it into physical bookstores. And writers are well advised to take a "wait and see" approach with ANY brand-new publisher, at least until it has been around for a year or so, and proved itself capable of producing and marketing books. There's a high rate of attrition among startup publishers, which can be bad news for writers, whose time is wasted and whose rights may wind up in limbo. This is an important issue, and I'll be talking more about it my next post.

As for the word "traditional," as in the phrase "traditional, royalty-paying publisher"--writers often assume this means "just like Random House, only smaller." In fact, the only thing you can be sure it means is that the publisher won't ask for money on contract signing. (And remember, even that most famous of "traditional" publishers, PublishAmerica, pays royalties.) Other components of the commercial publishing model are often missing (rigorous selectivity, standard discounts, a returns policy, competitive book pricing, effective marketing), and elements absent from the commercial model are often present (nonstandard contract terms and peculiar business practices).

bjh said...

Ms. Montijo - I have no knowledge of Light Sword and feel Victoria answered well already. I would like to add, should the situation rise at some later time, that it would be better to leave off hints of litigation.

Threats of litigation are common among scammers, and they are a group with which you, from your message, don't wish to be associated.

It would also be wise to reword so there are no hints that bloggers should be censored. Censorship is a dirty thought with the majority of writers.

Nothing against Light Sword Publishing, just advice you may take or leave as you wish.

Anonymous said...

I read the information about NF. NF picked up one of my books. They put it on Amazon.com, B&N, and BookSense.com, and never charged me anything. And it's selling - and it's not a cookbook. By the way, you misspelled some of the names associated with the conference - you might want to Google them again. Try wikipedia, Library of Congress. Correct spelling of names being bashed about???

Anonymous said...

anonymous 3/19/2007 12:33 PM: Your claims would carry more weight if you gave verifiable facts, like titles and names, to support them.

Aconite

Anonymous said...

A good friend of mine is a very talented writer. He also has a fear of success. I have spoken with him and felt that he may be taken advantaged by NF Publishing and a year later, he has been fighting with Stacey Kohan to honor the contract. She has kept changing dates on him and when he finally received six books from her, he was disappointed with the supposed editing work they had done. They never provided him with what he called proofs, he only received a pdf file and was asked to read it and ensure that it was corrected. When the final product was sent to him, he had to go through and reformat the entire manuscript send it back to the publisher for a reprint and asked that the books she had ordered not be sold. She has sold those misprinted books anyway. My friend, Timothy Berman, is still fighting to have his work published through NF Publishing. He keeps getting the feeling that they are pushing him off to the side and giving him the "it is being printed". He doesn't have the money for legal action but it looks like that is what he is going to have to do, any suggestions, how will he be able to get that book back into his possession and get it over to a more reputable literary agent (as from what I understand, Stacey Kohan was his literary agent) for potential publication. Or, is his work and devotion to this going to be something he has to let go and work on something else?

Anonymous said...

anonymous 3/27/2007 2:29 AM, your friend may decide the best course of action is to write another, better book, let the previous one go, and see this as a painful learning experience. On the other hand, he may may want to do a bit of research on Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

Aconite

Anonymous said...

Did Mr. Berman also state that they had a personal relationship, and he uses that againest her? Did he also tell you that he did not send his edited version of the manuscript until Jan? To my knowledge, it takes 4 weeks to get redone by the printer. Isn't that correct?

Megan Lynn said...

I'm the photographer/artist that hasn't received payment from NF Publishing. The original artwork they created was, to be honest, a POS. Then Ms. Fleming decided to bitch about the fact that the author hated the cover that her sister had created. Well, boo. It was crap. I've been working with photoshop for nearly a decade, and photography for 6 years. I know art.

I sent them 3 files; a PSD file, a TIFF file, and a JPEG file. And yet they said they had problems with the image? This is total crap. I made SURE that the images were big enough and had a high enough DPI that they could be shrunk to fit the book jacket. They just had no idea what they were doing. I still have the original files on my computer, and have not received anything from the publisher. I don't even know if I was credited with the artwork on the book.

I know Timothy Berman pretty well, and he's been having a hell of a time with them.

Anonymous said...

This is just my $0.02... Stay away from this Conference and NF Publishing!!!

Save your money and stress level. They have no idea what they are doing. They lie. I believe there are lawsuits of theft and fraud pending...

Stacey Kohan should be banned from doing business. I do not believe she has uttered one honest word, ever.... to her staff, authors or anyone else for that matter.

Everything she has said to me since the inception of our meeting has turned out to be a lie.

AL, Mari's Husband said...

My wife was one of Light Sword Publishing's authors for all of twenty-two whole days, and if this isn't the shortest print run in history, I'm fairly certain it's close. I'm not going to go into any details (yet) about the absurdity of the way they do business, but rather, on the so-called Royalty Statement that we received in the mail last week. The statement claims that all of 28 books were sold by LSP, when I know for a fact that the number is close to double that just from what I have in confirmed receipts from people that have purchased the books from LSP, then goes further in stating that although Amazon purchased 89 books, they have no intention of paying royalties on these books since they expect the majority of them to be returned due to my wife's alleged "unethical" business practices. This is poor practice, to say the least, but isn't the worst of it. The total monies that LSP is willing to pay royalties on, according to this statement, are $376.81, and this was all that was going to be acknowledged as worthy of being paid royalties at 8%. The statement was accompanied by a check for $11.35. Let's accept this nonsense as if it were fact for the moment, and multiply $376.81 by 8% and see what we get. I'm going to pretend that I do not have the same skill as an elementary school child with a rudimentary knowledge of how a multiplication table works, so I'll use a tool that comes with any computer, the calculator. Even using the skewed figures furnished by LSP, we still come up with a check that should have been $30.14 instead of $11.35, yet a check for $11.35 was what was enclosed with the Royalty Statement. It's probably needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, we have no intention of cashing this check, for reasons which I believe are obvious. It is my personal belief that if you have signed a contract with Light Sword Publishing you are in trouble, and if you have not signed a contract with Light Sword Publishing but are thinking about it, you may want to reconsider before it's too late.

Althea said...

Hi Everyone,

I hope your day is going well. There is a lot of rumors and half truths going on right now, about Light Sword Publishing. Mari's husband is not telling the whole truth about the whole situation with Mari's book. Also, yes Light Sword Publishing is a new publishing company but they are not POD. They actually print books and hold them in a warehouse. LSP are working on contract and the steps to get their author's books into bookstores. They are with Ingrams and Baker & Taylor.

As with all new companies they are having their ups and downs. I have talked to them and I have contacted their marketing rep. They have graciously answered all of my questions. Thank you for setting aside this blog to inform other writers. Please keep it up.

Everyone have a wonderful day.

Mari's Husband said...

You are correct. I've been lax in my reporting duries. I didn't mention that Linda Daly sent my wife a check for $112 and some small change claiming that now that she sent her the money that SHE CLAIMED MARI OWED HER, she should stop bothering her. She never sent a Royalty Statement, and we STILL have no clarification as to what this payment is supposed to signify.

You'd better have facts to present before you accuse me of posting half-truths. I have a file folder full of documentation to back up ANYTHING I STATE, and I do not post anything even remotely resembling conjecture.

Would you like me to post it online to prove it? Dare me.

BeaufortFALLS@aol.com said...

I'll bet there are rumors and half-truths being circulated about the publishing of the first edition (the Light Sword Publishing edition) of my book, Beaufort Falls, but it is not myself or my husband who have been spreading them. When I have been asked my opinion of LSP, I invariably advise the person to purchase one of Light Sword Publishing's published books, any of them, and form their own opinion. A book in hand is worth dozens yet to be printed, so to speak. I will say that I was disappointed in their presentation of my manuscript, and I am very happy to see it being republished in the manner it could have been published from the first. It's coming back out this month with every part of it redone except the story. Once the book is back in print, I welcome comparision of the two and comments are always welcome.
Mari Sloan, author of Beaufort Falls

Kat said...

The defense of LSP is all so funny now...