Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reality Check on Aisle Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Writer Beware gets a ton of email. Reports of schemes, scams, and fee-charging, of course, but also questions about agents' and publishers' reputations, questions about the researching/querying/submitting/publishing process, requests for advice, requests for recommendations.

Requests to deny reality.

Say what? Well, a request to deny reality is when a writer sees something on this blog or on the Writer Beware website, doesn't wish to believe it, and wants to be told that in his or her case, it's just not true.

As in, "Your website says that agents shouldn't charge upfront fees, but this agent who wants me to pay $500 is so nice, are they maybe legit anyway?"

Or, "Agent X is on your Thumbs Down list, but they want to represent me and their website looks professional, are they really so bad?"

Or, "I found your Alert that says Publisher Y is being sued, but they have books on Amazon, so couldn't it all be a mistake?"

Or, "According to your blog there are lots of complaints about Publisher Z, but they've offered me a contract and they love my book, so maybe they'll do a good job for me?"

Um. Maybe not.

What this is all about, usually, is a head-on collision between reality and every writer's craving for validation and acceptance. Especially where the writer has been submitting for a long time without success, the faux validation provided by disreputable agents and publishers is as powerful as it is illusory. It can trump both good sense and actual facts, and it is very hard to relinquish. You don't want it to be true--so there must, there just must be the possibility that it isn't true, that just this once, and just for you, the rule doesn't apply. That the person you contact for advice--because in fact your gut is telling you something, even if your heart doesn't want to heed it--will eat their words and their warnings and give you their blessing.

I get it. I've been there; I think we all have. But facts are facts, and they don't change just because you wish they would. Sometimes my correspondents get angry when I can't tell them what they want to hear, and write back to challenge my expertise, or to demand that I give them the names of everyone who has complained (and to declare me non-credible when I refuse). Sometimes they thank me for saving them from a bad mistake. Most often, I never hear from them again, and can only wonder which impulse won out: the gut instinct that prompted them to contact me, or the hope and desire that made them want to believe the promises of a scammer.

Here's how to avoid putting yourself in that position.

Know the business before you start submitting. Publishing is a confusing and complicated field, but it is possible to acquire enough basic knowledge to protect you from the most obvious schemes and scams. Knowledge is your greatest ally and your best defense. For some suggestions on acquiring it, see my blog post, Learning the Ropes.

Be careful of your information sources. Google is not necessarily your friend. There's a lot of good information on the Internet, but even more bad, and unless you have a decent knowledge base, it's hard to filter the information you find. For a more detailed discussion of these dangers, see my blog posts, The Perils of Searching For Publishers on the Internet and Using Caution on the Internet.

Research before you query. You can save yourself a huge amount of angst--and temptation--if you check reputations before you submit--not after you've sent the query letter, or, worse, after you've gotten an offer. For the consequences of not doing so, see my blog post, Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Alert: MyFreeRead.com Is Spamming Again

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Have you recently received this spam?
Dear Friends,

Do you write?

We're looking for good-quality eBooks, eZines and self-published articles for our new website!

This is a FREE MARKETING TOOL for you, as we post all material absolutely free for our visitors to read. In return, you may be eligible for profit-sharing from our advertising revenue. Don't want to give it all away from free? No problem -- post a quality excerpt, and include a link for them to buy the full version!

Want to learn more? Check us out at http://www.myfreeread.com and click on Submit to tell us about yourself!

To your success!

Lisa Davies
MyFreeRead.com
406 Amapola Avenue #210
Torrance, CA 90501

If so, you might want to read my blog post from earlier this year.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Two Alerts

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

More on "Iron" David Boyer

Writer Beware has learned about another David Boyer project in the works--a book called Vast Horizons, to be published in 2011 by Boyer's own Darkened Doorways Press. Like his Prodigies and Legends books, it features interviews, in this case with SF writers, including some who are very well-known. Here's the full list, taken directly from the Table of Contents:
Authoress Tessa B. Dick
Nebula Award winner Mike Resnick
Author Allen Steele
Greg Bear, author of Blood Music
Jeff Somers - Author of the Avery Cates series of Sci-FI noir novels and editor of The Inner Swine.
Warren Fahy, author of Fragment
David Gelber, author of the ITP series, Future Hope; Joshua & Aaron
Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War
Kevin Bohacz, author of Immortality
Jeremy Robinson, author of Pulse and Instinct
Terry Lloyd Vinson, author of Desolation Outpost
Todd A. Fonseca, author of The Time Cavern
Barry Longyear, award-winning author of Enemy Mine
Steve Alten, best-selling author of Meg and Grim Reaper: End of Days
Terry Bisson, author of Planet of Mystery
Jack Dann, multi-award winning author or editor of over seventy-five books, including The Man Who Melted and The Memory Cathedral
Ray Faraday Nelson
Stel Pavlou
David Brin
Robert J. Sawyer, author of WWW: Wake
Paul Witcover
John Eric Ellison
Jeffrey A. Carver
I should say that there's no evidence of malfeasance with the interviews, although the formatting of the manuscript is sloppy and amateurish. Also, given recent events, Vast Horizons' prospects of actual publication are probably much reduced (although Darkened Doorways, unlike many of Boyer's other magazines/websites, is still alive and kicking and soliciting submissions). However, you never know--and at least some writers might not want to have their names associated with this project.

More Troubles at Dorchester

Smart Bitches Trashy Books reports on apparent unauthorized sales of ebooks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cold Iron: David Boyer, Plagiarist

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I hear often from writers worried that their work will be stolen. Especially among new writers, it's a major fear. However, theft in the book and short fiction world is extremely rare. (Really. Reputable agents and editors will not risk their reputations by stealing, and disreputable ones aren't interested in your work at all, only in your money). Despite the hundreds of questions I've gotten about theft, I can count the actual incidents on one hand.

Which is why, when plagiarism does occur, it's especially noteworthy.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been getting complaints about "Iron" David Boyer (he also goes by numerous aliases--see below), publisher/editor of, among others, New Voices in Horror Magazine, NVH Books, and Darkened Doorways Magazine. Iron Dave has reportedly been soliciting submissions, and then publishing others' books and stories under one of his several names. He has also allegedly used cover art without the artists' permission, published stories under authors' own names without their permission, refused to pay royalties due, refused to provide promised contributor's copies, and failed to provide books to people (including authors) who ordered them. One writer, Ferrell Moore, is planning to take legal action.

Thanks to the blogosphere, word of Iron Dave's exploits has spread. His online footprint is considerably smaller than it was a couple of weeks ago--infringing material has been taken down, and many of his websites have been de-activated (though he still seems to have a substantial presence on MySpace). Even so, he's still out there soliciting submissions...so be careful.

Alleged Names/Aliases

- David Boyer
- Iron Dave Boyer
- Dan Boyer
- Doc Boyer
- David Byron
- Iron Dave Byron
- Dan Byron
- Doc Burton
- David Brookes
- Leo Wolfe
- Jack Burnett

Publications

- New Voices in Horror (ezine)
- New Voices in Films (ezine--formerly New Voices in Fiction)
- NVH Books (book publisher. Known anthology titles: Darc Karnivale, Deadly Dolls [as David Byron, also as Jack Burnett], Fright Flashes)
- Fiction Prodigies and Legends (ezine)
- Darkened Doorways Magazine (ezine and publisher--currently soliciting submissions for an anthology called Sweet Jayne)
- Horror Prodigies and Legends (book, published by--wait for it--Whitmore Publishing, one of Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers. Horror writers might want to check the table of contents.)
- He's also involved in film. Kind of.

Writers' Experiences/Warnings

- Warning from Aphelion
- Discussion and warnings at Shocklines
- Dave Boyer/Iron Dave/Dan Byron/Dave Byron-A Warning
- Beware David Byron and NVH
- He Can't Write So He Stole My Story
- The Sincerest Form of Flattery?
- A Comic Strip About Pirates
- A Plagiarist, a Thief, and Definitely NOT a Gentleman
- Electrocute This Clown
- Learning Hard Lessons
- A list of cover art allegedly used by Boyer without permission.

Some Commonsense Suggestions About Plagiarism

- Despite this blog post, don't fear it unduly. If you're a book or story writer, it truly is very rare.

- Thoroughly research publishers, magazines, etc. before you submit. Avoid startup publishers/magazines until they've put out a few books or issues and have demonstrated some stability (this also gives time for complaints, if any, to surface). Stay away from obviously amateur ventures, especially if you've never heard of the publishers or editors.

- Do occasional websearches on your book or story titles, character names if they're distinctive, sample sentences, and the like. Google Alerts can be very handy here. Plagiarists are not usually very smart (or they wouldn't plagiarize)--for instance, Boyer didn't bother to change the titles of some of the stories he stole.

- If you post your work online, embed your name and a link in the post. If the plagiarist is simply re-posting, he or she may be too stupid to strip this out. I've found a number of improperly reproduced posts from this blog that way.

- If you do find that your work has been stolen, and if it has been published online, try directly approaching the plagiarist, or, if that's not possible, whoever owns the venue where your work was posted. Plagiarists don't expect to get caught; just the fact that you sussed them out may be enough to scare them into taking the work down. And if they have any vestige of professionalism, publishers, magazines, and websites understand that their reputation suffers if it's proven that they've published stolen work.

- If the plagiarist refuses to back down, or the venue isn't helpful, a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice sent to the hosting ISP may do the trick. DMCA notices must follow a very specific form (there are instructions here), and need to be sent to the proper recipient (you can usually find that information in an ISP's Terms and Conditions or Copyright Policy. Or Google "ISP's name" + abuse).

- Writers whose work has been stolen can pursue legal action for copyright infringement (note to US writers: you must previously have registered your copyright to be able to do this), especially where the infringed work hasn't been placed online and the DMCA remedy isn't possible. However, the costs can be prohibitive, so this is not an option to be undertaken lightly.

- Last but not least: contact Writer Beware! If someone has ripped you off, we want to know.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New Century Publishing: Update

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In August, I wrote a post about Indiana-based vanity press New Century Publishing, whose owner, David Caswell, was being investigated by the Indiana Attorney General for taking authors' money and failing to publish their books.

I'm a bit late with this follow-up, but a lawsuit against Caswell and New Century was filed by the AG's Office in Marion County Circuit Court on August 17. Caswell is accused of multiple violations of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, as well as interchanging corporate and fictitious names in order to mislead and confuse customers, commingling corporate and personal funds, and the use of customer funds for other than their designated purposes. Sixteen writers are named in the complaint, and thousands of dollars in fees for publishing, finished books (most never delivered), and other services (such as a table at a book signing event) are detailed.

The AG is requesting both injunctive relief (all of it consumer-focused, since Caswell is being charged under the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, and none of it specifically to do with publishing), and financial relief, including customer restitution "in an amount to be determined at trial" and penalties of $5,500 per violation.

The full text of the complaint can be seen here.

Caswell has been sued twice before by the Indiana Attorney General, once in 1990 and once in 2005, both times for consumer fraud. Of a total of nearly $100,000 in fines, he has allegedly paid just $600.

Will the AG manage to make him pay up this time, if the requested penalties are assessed? Stay tuned.

Edited to add: As reported in this news article, 24 additional complaints were added on Thursday to the original complaint, bringing the number of authors up to 40.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Wholesale vs. Agency: Sales Models in Conflict

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

One of the big publishing headlines this week (here, for instance) was that e-books from some popular authors were selling on Amazon for higher prices than the hardcover versions. For instance, the hardcover of Ken Follet's Fall of Giants was priced at $19.39, while the digital version cost $19.99. James Patterson's and Howard Roughan's Don’t Blink was going for $14.00 in hardcover, and $14.99 in digital.

Predictably, Kindle-maniacs flipped out, slamming the books with one-star reviews and angry comments. "The publisher expects more for the Kindle electronic version than the hardback. It is unfortunate the publishing industry continues to live in the past...Take advantage of your customers and feel their wrath," wrote one commenter. "It is ridiculous that the publisher is charging more for the Kindle version than the hardcover," wrote another. "The price for this eBook is outrageous (more than the hardcover edition!) Send a message to the publisher that we consumers will not be bilked out of our money to satisfy their greed," wrote a third.

I won't argue that $19.99 or even $14.99 is too much to pay for an e-book--especially since, if you use an e-book reader such as the Kindle, you are buying a license, not a book. And I do believe that consumer pressure will ultimately force prices down (though many consumers who demand low-priced e-books don't seem to grasp that publishers have fixed costs that must be recouped across all versions of a book, even the versions that are cheaper to produce). But it's wrong to punish authors by giving one-star reviews, or claiming that publishers and authors are in cahoots. Authors have no control over the prices at which their books are sold.

In this particular case, it's also wrong to blame publishers, since the pricing discrepancies that have stirred up so much bad feeling are Amazon's doing. What we have here isn't nefarious price-fixing by greedy, backward-looking publishers determined to cripple e-book adoption, but a conflict between two fundamentally different models of book selling.

Under the wholesale model that has defined book selling until very recently, publishers set the list price of books and sell them to retailers at a substantial discount. The retailers then sell the books to consumers at whatever prices they choose, and keep the profit--or swallow the loss. Retailers like Amazon often sell popular books at deep discount, accepting a loss as a way to bring in customers. For instance, Fall of Giants, which at nearly 1,000 pages is a true doorstopper, has a list price of $36.00, but Amazon is selling it for just $19.39. Don't Blink has a list price of $27.99, but on Amazon it costs $14.00.

By contrast, under the recently-introduced agency model that has come to dominate the selling of e-books, retailers become "agents" through which publishers sell books directly to consumers. The agency model doesn't allow for discounting; retailers simply pass books to consumers at the price set by publishers, and receive a commission on sales.

So Amazon can do whatever it wants with print prices--but for e-books, it is locked into the publisher's price. The occasional result: hardcovers that cost less to buy than e-books, even though the list prices for the hardcovers are considerably higher than the list prices for the e-books (a point apparently completely missed by the Follett and Patterson one-star brigade).

In other words, there is a mismatch between Amazon the retailer and Amazon the agent. While I'm sure that the current surge of customer outrage doesn't make Amazon too unhappy, given that it doesn't like the agency model and has been actively encouraging its customers to target publishers by slapping scarlet letters on agency model e-books in the form of disclaimers ("This price was set by the publisher"), the competition between these different book selling models does no one any good. It benefits neither publishers nor retailers to have sales policies that conflict. This is something that will urgently need to be worked out in the future.

(And by the way, for Kindle owners who wax nostalgic for the $9.99 ebooks of yore: that low price point was selectively applied. Ebooks from popular authors sold for $9.99, but ebooks from midlist and obscure authors sold for list price, which was often quite a bit higher.)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Barnes & Noble Launches PubIt! Self-Publishing Service

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Yesterday, Barnes & Noble announced the launch of PubIt!, a free self-publishing service for its Nook e-reading device. With PubIt!, B&N joins Amazon and Apple in offering direct-to-device self-publishing (though Apple allows this only if you have a Mac; if you don't, you must use an Apple-approved aggregator like Smashwords).

Like Apple, B&N uses the EPUB open ebook standard (Amazon, by contrast, imposes a proprietary format). There's a free tool to convert your manuscript, and an ISBN is not required (Amazon also doesn't require an ISBN, but Apple does.) You must own your electronic rights, which means you can't simultaneously publish elsewhere unless those agreements are nonexclusive. Unlike other devices, the Nook allows users to lend and share ebooks, and all books from PubIt (I refuse to keep typing in that stupid exclamation point) will be lendable.

Books can be priced anywhere from $.99 to $199.99. If you stick between $2.99 and $9.99, you'll receive a 65% royalty--slightly more than Apple's 60%, slightly less than the 70% option Amazon offers to US self-publishers (but with fewer conditions). Books priced higher or lower receive 40%. Like Amazon and Apple, B&N imposes some restrictions: if you sell your ebook via other retailers, your PubIt price can't be higher, and it also can't exceed the price for a print version, if there is one.

Titles uploaded to PubIt become available for sale within 24 to 72 hours.

What's the advantage of using PubIt, rather than making your ebook available at Barnes & Noble via an ebook distributor? Better pay. B&N pays royalties on your book's retail price, while distributors pay on net (retail less whatever discount B&N demands).

It wouldn't be Writer Beware without a cautionary note. There's a lot of hype about ebooks right now (frequently coupled with dire predictions of the imminent death of print). Indeed, ebooks seem to have finally reached a tipping point, and are experiencing explosive growth. Writers should remember, though, that whatever the electronic future may ultimately hold, the ebook market is still tiny (a little less than 9% of US trade book sales as of June 2010, according to the Association of American Publishers). And electronic self-publishers face all the challenges of exposure and respect that print self-publishers do.

The full PubIt publishing agreement is here (read it carefully).

The pricing agreement is here.

The content policy is here (there are some restrictions on what can be published).