Most of us are familiar with inspirational series like Chicken Soup for the Soul, A Cup of Comfort, and Chocolate. Along with articles by celebrities and established writers, many of these series actively solicit articles and stories by unknowns.
Take, for instance, the Wake Up...Live the Life You Love series, compiled by Steven E. and Lee Beard. According to Amazon, there are currently eleven books in the series, the most recent of which came out this summer. They cover subjects like Giving Gratitude, Finding Personal Freedom, and A Search for Purpose, and include contributions from such luminaries as Dr. Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins, and Deepak Chopra. Unknown writers are also encouraged to submit and become "co-authors." Proclaims the website: "You have a story to tell and here is your chance to get your message to the world!"
There are a few jarring notes, however.
For one thing, many of the Wake Up books have Amazon sales rankings of 1 million and higher...not really what you'd expect for a series touted on its covers as "Best-Selling." For another, there's a peculiar proliferation of websites for the series. In addition to the one I've already mentioned, there's this one, this one, this one, and this one, all with similar URLs, and also this one, which appears to be an earlier version. These websites seem less oriented to finding readers than to soliciting writers, in language distressingly reminiscent of late-night infomercials. "For the first time ever you can get the Insider Secrets of How to Get Fame and Fortune as a Published Author!" one of the websites exclaims. According to another, "With Wake Up Live's Team Publishing Concept, you can achieve the ultimate credential that will propel your life and business to new heights by being a best selling co-author in this amazing program!" Enthuses yet another, "Wouldn’t it be great to get Instant Credibility™ with your clients and customers as a co-author?"
So what's the deal?
As most of our readers will have figured out, it involves money. You send in your 1,000-1,200 word story or article (don't worry if you can't write--"expert editors" are on hand to help you, for a fee, of course). Once your story is complete and submitted, the Wake Up Live team "does the publishing in record time" and "promotes your book to the best seller list making you a best-selling co-author." All you have to do is agree to buy 200 books for $2,697 ("When you sell your books," the website assures you, "you will receive $2,990.00 in sales, not to mention the benefit to your business or career"). That's the Gold Program. If you're feeling flush, you can spring for the VIP Platinum Program, and buy 500 books for $5,497 ($7,475.00 in sales). For the extra bucks, you get your name on the cover.
(This makes me think of those vanity anthology schemes where the anthology is customized for each purchaser by binding his or her poem or story into the front--often in different type or on different paper from the rest of the volume. For the amount the Wake Up people are getting, one hopes they do things a bit more professionally.)
The Wake Up folks don't just take writers' money--they also give them the chance to earn, via an Ambassador Affiliate Program. Affiliates invite their friends and acquaintances to submit to the series. For successful referrals, they get a commission--and it's a fat commission, too. Persuade up to four people to buy into the scheme, and you'll receive $250 or $500 per person (I'm guessing the amount depends on which plan the person chooses). Talk five or more people into laying down their cash, and you'll get $500 or $1,000 apiece.
This surely explains why the writer who alerted me to the Wake Up scheme got this out of the blue solicitation to submit to the series. He can probably expect to receive two more solicitations in short order. Affiliates are given three different email templates, which, "for best results," they're advised to send within a one-week period.
Oh, and the emails don't mention the commissions.
So now I guess we know how the Wake Up books became bestsellers. (Check out the weasel wording here, "Over 12 million stories in print," which overeager writers might misread or misremember as "Over 12 million books in print.") We've also learned a new euphemism for vanity publishing (as if we needed one): Team Publishing.