When Writer Beware was founded in 1998, it was vanishingly rare for publishers (or agents) to contact aspiring writers to express interest in their work--so rare, in fact, that any sort of unsolicited publisher or agent contact was almost certain to be a scam or a pay-to-play arrangement. For instance, Dorrance Publishing Company--a venerable vanity publisher--regularly solicited writers using copyright registration information (a practice it still follows).
The march of technology has changed things to some degree. With blogs and online writing venues and social media, it's no longer so unlikely that a reputable editor or agent might get a glimpse of an aspiring writer's work and contact them directly. However, while you can no longer automatically dismiss such a contact, it's still not the norm--and there are still plenty of not-necessarily-desirable enterprises that rely on spam-style solicitation to maintain their businesses. Direct contact from a publisher or agent should always be treated with caution, until research can determine whether the company or individual is reputable.
Two cases in point have come across my desk over the past few weeks.
A couple of weeks ago I started getting a rash of questions from writers who'd received out-of-the-blue emails from a company called JustFiction! Edition, offering to publish their books.
Dear [writer's name redacted],In this case, you don't have to look far for the tipoff: it's right in the sig line. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing also does business as VDM Verlag Dr. Mueller, a.k.a. VDM Publishing and a number of others. I blogged about these companies a couple of years ago. They are author mills that acquire enormous numbers of books without editorial oversight, make them available via POD, and distribute them on the Internet with no meaningful marketing or promotional support.
I am writing on behalf of a brand new international publishing house, JustFiction! Edition. In the course of a web-research I came across a reference of your manuscript [ms. name redacted] and it has caught my attention.
We are a publisher recognized worldwide, whose aim it is to help talented but international yet unknown authors to publish their manuscripts supported by our experience of publishing and to make their writing available to a wider audience.
JustFiction! Edition would be especially interested in publishing your manuscript as an e-book and in the form of a printed book and all this at no cost to you, of course.
If you are interested in a co-operation I would be glad to send you an e-mail with further information in an attachment.
I am looking forward to hearing from you.
Just Fiction! Edition is a trademark of:
LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing GmbH & Co. KG
Dudweiler Landstr. 99
66123 Saarbrücken, Germany
There are no publishing fees, but the VDM contracts I saw had nonstandard terms (including a life-of-copyright rights grant with no provision for rights reversion) and an unfavorable payment policy (with royalties paid just once a year and vouchers in lieu of payments if royalties average 10 euros or less per month); and the books' cover prices are head-spinningly high. All the VDM-related companies are notorious for their prolific cold-call solicitations.
Till now, the VDM-related companies have concentrated on students and academics. With JustFiction! Edition, they seem to be branching out into general fiction and nonfiction (and also jumping on the epublishing bandwagon). There's no reason to suppose, however, that JustFiction! Edition's acquisition, marketing, or payment policies will be significantly different from its parent company's (according to its FAQ, JustFiction! Edition pays just 10% of the publisher's net for both print and ebook--not a terrific print royalty, but a truly awful ebook royalty).
If you're looking for traditional publishing, this definitely isn't it--and if you want to self-publish, you can likely get a better deal elsewhere.
DIP Publishing House
I've also been hearing from from writers and writers' forum moderators who report unsolicited spam-style messages from DIP Publishing House:
Greetings to you,To make a long story short, writers who respond receive a "Partnership Guide" laying out a complicated and bizarre "partnership-publishing" procedure, a.k.a. the P.O.W.E.R. project ("Partnering - Organizing - Writing - Expanding - Resourcing"):
My name is Sophia and I represent DIP Publishing House. I would like to discuss a potential publishing opportunity with you. This opportunity is not for Self-Publishing, although our company currently offers those services.
We are in search of a select group of Authors for a newly approved project called P.O.W.E.R... DIP Publishing has recently introduced a new and innovated way to publish called “Partnership-Publishing.” This traditional style of publishing was designed to give Authors with “potential” the opportunity to publish traditionally and receive the full backing of a publisher.
Authors selected are to complete a list of PBRs (Pre-Block Requirements) and shall be published over the next 3 to 6 months. Marketing and promotions will be handled under a budget set specifically for this program. For more information, feel free to respond to my email here or email my boss Argus at: email@example.com
I hope to hear back from you soon!
DIP Publishing House
Partners are published in blocks of (5) to (20) Authors. Each block is assigned a budget for use of marketing, promotions, registrations, and other related expenses approved under the P.O.W.E.R. project. Blocks are run by Block Coordinators (Agents) whose primary objective is to develop Authors and obtain books sales. Coordinators work closely with Sales and Marketing to establish the most relevant approach to the market in order to obtain optimal results.Despite the Partnership Guide's assurance that "the P.O.W.E.R. program falls within the Traditional Publishing category," authors must commit to providing nearly $200 in funding, either from others' pockets or their own (with reimbursement possible for authors who achieve "exceptional sales"--whatever that means--within the first publishing quarter):
At the conclusion of quarter (1) – (6 months following publishing) Authors are reevaluated according to book sales and current momentum of project(s). Authors deemed as high-potential shall receive their own budget for the following quarter, independent of block budget. On the other hand, Authors not considered high-potential by the end of quarter (1) shall once again share a promotional budget with block.
In support of assigned Block and project requirements, Authors must identify (10) supporters and complete (10) exchanges (Authors may also satisfy Pre-Block exchanges on their own). Exchange funds are used in conjunction with overall block budget to offset miscellaneous setup fees and reduce risks ($19.99 *USD per exchange – this cost does not represent the actual book price).I've also seen DIP's contract, which, among other things, pays royalties on net profit (the publisher's net less printing costs), includes an editing clause enabling the publisher to edit at will without the author's consent, and employs vague and confusing grant-of-rights language.
DIP is owned by businessman Argus Milton, whose resume does not appear to include any prior professional publishing or book authoring experience (apart from the titles he has published wth DIP, Mr. Milton has self-published one book through AuthorHouse). DIP has published a small number of books through its self-publishing programs, but self-publishing and publishing are two very different things, and expertise in the former doesn't necessarily qualify you to undertake the latter.
I have no reason to doubt that DIP's P.O.W.E.R. program is entirely well-intentioned--but its owner's lack of relevant experience, the company's strange and complicated publishing plan, the ill-advised solicitation policy, the contractual issues, and the financial commitment required of authors all combine to make this one a "beware."