Friday, January 27, 2012

Guest Post: One Author's First Month in KDP Select

Last December, I blogged about Amazon's KDP Select program, which allows KDP authors to participate in Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library and be paid per borrow from a fund established by Amazon.

Two weeks ago, Amazon issued a press release charting KDP Select's performance during its first month. KDP Select books were borrowed 295,000 times in December, with authors earning $1.70 per borrow. Total earnings for the top ten authors exceeded $70,000. The press release features four authors who each earned four figures.

These are amazing numbers. But as Laura Hazard Owen of PaidContent notes, questions about KDP Select remain--such as, how much money did the average participating author make? Today's guest blog post from author Heather Wardell provides some insight into that question.

-------------------------------------

by Heather Wardell

Thanks to Victoria for allowing me to let you know how my first month in the KDP Select program turned out. I don't usually broadcast my sales numbers, since I try hard to focus more on the books than the bucks, but I think it's important to give my fellow authors the benefit of my experience.

But first, a brief summary of my career so far, so you can see where you are in relation to me.

My first book, Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, went up as a free download in December 2008 everywhere but Amazon (because I couldn't figure out how to make it free there) and has been free ever since. I listed my second book at Amazon for 99 cents in May 2010 and sold a grand total of 3 books that month. I continued on anyhow, releasing two more 99-cent books in 2010 and two more in early 2011. My sales were better than three a month, but not by much!

In June of 2011 Polar Bear finally went free on Amazon. It shot straight to the top and dragged my other books along with it, including the two books I released after it in 2011. I prefer not to give all my sales results but I will share the details of my KDP Select book and a comparative novel in this post.

When Amazon called to offer me access to the KDP Select program, I was interested, but the exclusivity clause (a KDP Select book must be available only on Amazon) gave me pause. While I sell easily ten times as many books on Amazon as I do at all other retailers combined, my Facebook fan page is almost evenly split between Kindle and Nook users. The idea of taking my books away from those people, many of whom have been loyal readers since the beginning, did not appeal.

But neither did missing out on KDP Select entirely, so I decided to enroll Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many (hereafter called Seven) in the program because it's my only pure stand-alone book. All the others are set in Toronto and feature returning places and people, so removing one of those from the other retailers didn't make sense to me. I felt this would be my best way of testing the program without unduly inconveniencing my readers.

I won't spell out the details of the KDP Select program since I know they've been well-covered elsewhere (such as right here at Writer Beware). Essentially, I would earn a share of the $500,000 pool for each borrow of Seven. I was hoping for additional exposure and possibly a huge payout from the program. Let's see how it turned out.

Seven's raw sales numbers don't tell much of a story, really, since any number of things could affect sales of a given book. Therefore, I'm going to compare its sales to those of my book Stir Until Thoroughly Confused (Stir for short). Both of these books have been out for a while (since June 2010 for Seven and January 2011 for Stir) and their sales are relatively close.

I usually only check my sales numbers once a month (which lets me see what's going on but also prevents me from obsessing over the numbers) but I took a snapshot each morning from December 8th to 31st. I won't bore you with all the numbers (although a graph below shows them if you're interested), but I will share three key dates with you and then tell you what I think those numbers say.

On December 8th, right after KDP Select was announced, Seven had sold 138 books in December (and already had 2 borrows) and Stir had sold 140. At this point, both books were 99 cents. I know all the arguments for raising prices for full novels, but I also know how many emails I get thanking me for keeping the price low because it makes it easier to buy all my books, so I hadn't planned to charge more.

Over the next week or so, borrows trickled in, a few a day, and by December 19th Seven had been borrowed a grand total of 14 times. While I didn't know how many borrows other people's books were receiving (one of the real oddities of the KDP Select program is the whole "I make less if others move more books" thing) I suspected it was more than 14.

I also suspected I knew the cause. Why would anyone borrow a 99 cent book when they could borrow a $9.99 one instead? Frankly, having 14 borrows surprised me. So I decided to try raising Seven's price to $2.99, both to see how it affected borrows and what it did to sales themselves.

Between December 8th and the 21st when the price increase kicked in, Seven had sold 255 books, with 14 borrows on top of that, and Stir had sold 222. Reasonably neck-and-neck.

Between December 21st and 31st, the race changed. Seven at $2.99 sold 154 copies during that time, and had an additional 21 borrows for a total of 547 sales and 35 borrows during December. Stir sold 310 copies in that time for a total of 693 in December. The graph below shows that Seven was hit hard by its price increase. While Stir had a nice post-Christmas peak, and my other books showed a similar pattern, Seven didn't even reach its early December levels during that time.
Raising Seven's price certainly reduced the number of sales in the last ten days of December. However, earnings during that same time period are a different story. I earned about $2 on each copy of Seven at $2.99, so around $308, and only 35 cents on each Stir, for a total of $109. I think it's important for authors to decide whether they want to maximize copies sold or income; it seems to me that you can't go after both goals at once.

(For the record, I haven't yet decided whether to leave Seven at $2.99. I am firmly on the "as many readers as possible" side of the question and the lower sales for Seven don't sit well with me. However, I did put out a collection of four of my books for $2.99. I actually earn more from one sale of the collection than from selling each of the books individually, and the reader pays less. Win-win!)

Back to KDP Select. Raising the price to $2.99 did increase the borrowing as I'd expected, since Seven had 14 borrows from December 8-21 and 21 in the shorter time from December 21-31. Still, the total was only 35. On its own, though, the number meant nothing. Whether it was good, bad, or indifferent depended on how the other KDP authors had done.

If you've read the Amazon press release you know how the other authors did. If not, here's the scoop: there were 295,000 borrows in December, and each borrow therefore earned $1.70 of the $500,000 pool. I received 0.0119% of the borrows, and my 'huge payout' was $59.42.

In that same press release, Amazon stated that the average payout was 26% of what that particular book earned. Seven earned $549.60 on sales in December, so its payout was almost exactly 10%. This, of course, doesn't mean that the average isn't 26%, but it certainly wasn't in my case.

So, was I smart to sign up for KDP Select? I can give that a qualified maybe. The pool for January has been raised to $700,000, and as of January 24th Seven (still priced at $2.99) has already been borrowed 40 times. Financially, I'm not sure being in the program is doing me a huge amount of good but I also don't think it's damaging me too badly.

At this point I see the biggest benefit of the program, ironically, as the option to earn no money at all. A book in the program can be made available for free for up to five days every 90 days. I'm doing a blog tour January 23-27 and so made Seven free for the same time period. It's now been free for about 1.5 days, and it's currently ranked #6 on the free books list and has had over 25,000 downloads. Granted, I make no money from those downloads, but I'm certain I've reached new readers and some of those readers will buy my other books.

Do I regret joining KDP Select? Definitely not. I wanted to know what would happen and I suspect I have reached a few people who wouldn't otherwise have heard of me. Will I register all of my books? Also definitely not. I don't like the exclusivity clause; even though financially I wouldn't be that affected I hate the idea of cutting out potential readers who chose not to buy a Kindle, and I'm also not a fan of putting all my electronic eggs in Amazon's basket. While I do get most of my sales there, I am reluctant to cut off the other avenues. It's obviously good for Amazon to have exclusivity, but I'm not sure it's good for anyone else.

I hope this has been informative for my fellow authors. Please feel welcome to pick up my always-free Life, Love, and a Polar Tattoo for any ebook format, and Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many is free on Kindle until January 27th.

Heather Wardell writes women's fiction with depth, humor, and heart. Visit her at www.HeatherWardell.com.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Delmont-Ross Writing Contest: The Saga of a Fake Literary Competition

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


A little while back, I stumbled on a news story about Mitchell Gross, a Georgia man who was recently indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly luring a woman into investing millions of dollars in a phony company.

Authorities said Gross began a romantic relationship with a woman identified in court documents as "R.J." They met on a site around June 2006 and [he] told her he made a lot of money by investing with a broker named "Michael Johnson" who was employed by "The Merrill Company," the records show.

"R.J." called the broker to talk over the investments, but it was actually Gross speaking in a disguised voice on the other line, prosecutors said. "R.J." wired close to $3 million to an account she believed belong[ed] to the company but actually did not exist, prosecutors said. Gross concealed the scheme by sending her phony tax forms and account statements, they added.

Then investigators said they discovered he was using the woman's funds to repay an ex-girlfriend, identified as "J.S." She was duped into investing $1.4 million with the phony firm, prosecutors said.
The US Attorney's Office's press release is here.

What interested me about this incident: Mitchell Gross is an author. Under the name Mitchell Graham, he published a fantasy trilogy with HarperCollins, as well as mystery novels with Tor and Forge. What interested me even more: Writer Beware has a file on him.

In November 2001, I received an email from Gross, who said he was afraid he'd been rooked by one of the scam literary agents featured in the Case Studies section of the Writer Beware website. The agent, he claimed, had taken money from him to enter his fantasy manuscript in a literary contest; he'd later been told he'd won the contest plus a substantial cash prize, but had never received a check. He was especially worried because he'd gotten nice blurbs from several well-known authors as part of the contest, and had used those blurbs in submitting his manuscript to major publishers. He now feared the blurbs, along with the contest, weren't legit.

I responded, giving Gross a capsule version of the large amount of data we'd gathered on the scammer, and asking for documentation to add to my files. But Gross, who had initially been very friendly and forthright, suddenly turned cagy, telling me he wanted to consult with his attorney before providing any material or any more specifics.

OK, I thought. Scam victims don't always want to share everything at the outset; hopefully Gross would change his mind. We emailed back and forth a few more times--and then, all at once, good news: Gross and his attorney had confirmed with one of the sponsors, "the trustees from Merrill Lynch," that the contest was real and he had really won it! Yippee! Oh, and by the way, would I please share Tad Williams' email address (I'd interviewed Williams a few months earlier) so he could confirm directly that Williams had really been a contest judge, and that the blurb he'd gotten from Williams was genuine?

At this point, my scamdar started pinging. Merrill Lynch? Not exactly known for running literary contests. And why, after all the emails Gross and I had exchanged, did I still have so little concrete information? Gross hadn't even told me the name of the contest. Had the whole thing been an elaborate windup to get access to Tad Williams?

I wrote back, referring Gross to Mr. Williams' website, and asking again for the name of the contest, the names of the other judges, and documentation of his experience. I wasn't entirely surprised when I didn't hear back. In fact, I never heard from Gross again.

I did hear of him, though. In March 2002, I spied an announcement in Locus magazine, which covers the world of speculative fiction (the announcement doesn't survive online, but it's memorialized in Locus's March 2002 Table of Contents). The grand prize in the prestigious third annual Delmont-Ross Writing Contest, sponsored by the Delmont-Ross Foundation, Merrill Lynch Trustees, and Borders Books, had been awarded to Mitchell Gross, writing as Mitchell Graham, for his fantasy novel The Fifth Ring, which had subsequently been picked up by major SF/fantasy publisher Eos in a three-book deal. Gross, described as "a practicing trial lawyer and neuropsychologist, a former member of the men's US Olympic Fencing Team," reportedly received "the highest scores in the contest's history" from a ten-member jury panel headed by renowned SF writer Ben Bova.

Hmmm, I thought. Really? I knew the book deal was real--it had been announced in December--but given my previous contacts with Gross, the rest sounded kind of fishy, especially when a websearch on the Delmont-Ross Writing Contest turned up nothing but the announcement mentioning Gross. For a contest in its third year, especially a "prestigious" one, you'd think there'd be rather more Web presence. Nevertheless, various press releases confirmed the award (here's an example, which survives only as HTML, but if you scroll down you can see the text), so I didn't follow up.

A few months later, Writer Beware got a flurry of of questions about Delmont-Ross from writers who'd seen publicity materials for Gross's book, or had read some of the interviews he was doing to promote himself (in which, by the way, he provided conflicting details about the contest). This time, Ann and I decided to investigate.

We snail mailed requests for information to Delmont-Ross (with SASEs), using the street address in the Locus announcement. Both came back marked as undeliverable. We then got in touch with Delmont-Ross's purported sponsors, Borders and Merrill Lynch, where our contacts could find no record of any corporate relationship with or sponsorship of the contest. We even wrote to the US Fencing Association, which sent us the names of the members of the Men's US Olympic Fencing Teams for 1984 and 1988, the years Gross claimed to have participated. By now, you probably won't be surprised to learn that Gross's name wasn't on either roster. (Gross is an accomplished competitive fencer, though. That much is true.)

The final nail in Delmont-Ross's coffin came from Ben Bova himself. Mr. Bova told us that he had indeed been hired as a contest judge--the only one, so far as he was aware. He was a bit surprised to discover that there was also only one finalist, but went ahead and did as he was asked--to read the manuscript and judge if it was fit to win. He said yes, and--hey presto--The Fifth Ring got the prize.

So there was never any such thing as the Delmont-Ross Writing Contest. Gross made the whole thing up in order to promote his debut novel. (We have a hunch that his later, similarly detailed claim of a film deal with Stephen Spielberg was an equally fictitious effort to promote his subsequent books.)

I think he probably made up the story about his encounter with the scammer, too; he wanted to con me in some way, or maybe just pick my brain (he asked me a lot of questions about publishing) and knew he could get to me by pretending to have been scammed. Bad move. Gross went to extraordinary lengths to give his fake contest a gloss of authenticity, and it probably would have held up to casual scrutiny--but it couldn't withstand close investigation, which it might not have received if Gross hadn't written to me. As a result, an Alert about Delmont-Ross was posted on the Writer Beware website in late 2003 (the Alert was removed several years ago, after Gross stopped mentioning the contest in his publicity materials, but you can still see it here).

Interestingly enough, "The Merrill Company" (the phony company Gross is accused of using to steal money) existed well before 2006, when Gross allegedly met the victim he is accused of defrauding. The 2002 press release about Delmont-Ross linked in above provided an address and phone number for "Merrill Lynch Trust Department," one of the contest's supposed sponsors--but when I called the number as part of Ann's and my investigation, the woman who answered told me that I'd reached "The Merrill Company," not Merrill Lynch, and hung up on me when I tried to find out more. Checking business records, I was entirely unsurprised to discover that The Merrill Company was a business registered in January 2002 by Mitchell Gross in Cobb County, Georgia.

A tangled web indeed.

According to the US Attorney's Office's press release, Gross has been charged with seven counts of wire fraud and seven counts of money laundering, each of which carries a maximum possible sentences of 10-20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

EDITED 2/23/12 TO ADD: On Feb. 21 in an Atlanta court, Gross pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money-laundering charges, as well as an additional scam, in which he posed as a lawyer and took millions in legal fees from a couple who believed he was representing them in a real estate lawsuit. He'll be sentenced in May.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Fine Print of iBooks Author

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Yesterday, with great fanfare, Apple rolled out two new applications iBooks 2, with new features aimed at students; and iBooks Author, which allows individuals to create iPad-optimized ebooks. Both applications are targeted to the textbook market, and Apple is billing iBooks Author as a textbook-creation utility--but essentially it's a free self-publishing platform that can be used by anyone (as long as they have a Mac).

With one-click and drag and drop utility, accessibility features that let you accomodate people with disabilities, and the ability to include photo galleries, video, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and more, iBooks Author looks like a pretty cool app. But the devil is in the details--in this case, the End User License Agreement that users of the app agree to when they download the software.

Because I'm not a Mac user, I have to depend on other people's analysis--such as this, from Mac developer Dan Wineman. According to Wineman, the EULA requires content creators who decide to sell the books they create with iBooks Author (as opposed to offering them for free, which imposes no restrictions) to give Apple a cut of the proceeds, and to sell exclusively via the iPad. As long as you're OK with exclusivity (and a proprietary format that enforces it), that doesn't sound bad, right?

Here's the problem, though: because this requirement appears in the EULA, rather than as a separate agreement you can consider post-download, you are binding yourself to Apple's terms simply by downloading the software, even though you may not have known the terms were there before you clicked the download button. Wineman says,
Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.

Apple also doesn't guarantee to accept the books created with iBooks Author--which, as ZDNet's Ed Bott points out, creates another issue:
The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You create a great work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it.

Under this license agreement, you are out of luck. They won’t sell it, and you can’t legally sell it elsewhere. You can give it away, but you can’t sell it.
To be clear, Apple is not claiming rights to your content--only to the product you create by using its software. You don't lose your copyrights when you use iBooks Author; your text, and any other content you yourself create, remains yours, and you can use it however you wish--including selling it on another self-publishing platform (as long as all Apple formatting is stripped out).  Some commenters seem to feel that's not so bad. As Frederic Lardinois of SiliconFilter writes:
Apple clearly defines 'work' as "any book or other work you generate using this software." It's the book Apple cares about – the final product the program generates, not the content you put into it.

iBooks Author is, in the end, just a tool for laying out your content so it looks nice on the iPad. Nobody is stopping any author or publisher from using another tool to sell the same content on another platform.
This seems at least somewhat analogous to regular publishing, where the publisher owns the rights to the book's design and typesetting, and authors can't re-use them--or the cover art--if they revert rights and publish elsewhere. On the other hand, publishers don't claim rights to the editing that helped get the book ready for publication (unless you signed with a lousy publisher).

I usually conclude posts like this by saying something like "As always, the important thing is to read and understand the fine print." That's the case here too--the difference being that you can't view the fine print of iBooks Author until after you've committed to the software. Even if you're OK with that, authors need to carefully consider the ramifications of creating a work in a proprietary format that, if offered for sale, is limited to a single platform that currently lags far behind Amazon and Barnes & Noble in ebook market share.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Digital Rights Showdown: HarperCollins v. Open Road

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

One of the effects of the phenomenal growth of ebooks over the past few years has been to bring new value to the backlist--both for publishers who hold the contracts for backlist books, and authors who want the freedom to exploit a new range of rights. Since many of the most valuable backlist books were published long before ebooks existed, the issue of who controls electronic rights is a pressing one, for authors and publishers alike. Is it the authors, who granted only print rights at a time when print rights were all there were? Or is it the publishers, which bought the exclusive right to publish a book, regardless of the form in which that book appears?

This question may soon be tested in court. Just before Christmas, HarperCollins filed suit against Open Road Integrated Media over Open Road's 2011 publication, in ebook form, of Jean Craighead George's Newbery Award-winning children’s book Julie of the Wolves. (The complaint can be found here.)

The claim: copyright infringement. According to Harper, its circa-1970 contract with Ms. George, which gives it the exclusive right to publish "in book form" as well as the right to exploit future technologies "now known or hereafter invented," implicitly includes a grant of electronic rights--even though those rights did not exist when the contract was signed. Ms. George, therefore, did not have the right to enter into an ebook agreement with Open Road.

This isn't the first time that disputes over digital rights have arisen from pre-digital contracts. In 2001, a number of Random House authors signed ebook contracts with epublishing startup Rosetta Books, reasoning that, since their contracts pre-dated the existence of ebooks, they could dispose of e-rights as they chose. Random House filed suit, with a claim similar to the one Harper is making now: that the right to publish "in book form" includes not just print, but digital, and Rosetta was therefore committing copyright infringement.

Random's request for a preliminary injunction was denied by a federal judge, who ruled, on the basis of Random's own contract language, that "the right 'to print, publish, and sell the work[s] in book form'...does not include the right to publish in the format that has come to be known as the 'ebook.'" (An analysis of that decision can be found here.) An appellate court, to which the decision was appealed, agreed. The parties eventually settled, with Rosetta agreeing to pay licensing fees to Random.

Then in 2009, Random decided to try again. It sent a letter to dozens of literary agents, warning them that the company’s older contracts gave it the exclusive right to publish in ebook form, even where the contracts pre-dated the existence of digital formats.

The letter was likely triggered by the ramping up of Random's efforts to digitize its backlist, but possibly also by the fact that Open Road--which was then, like Rosetta Books before it, a startup--had signed agreements with the estate of Random author William Styron to issue e-versions of some of his print books. As in the Rosetta case, Open Road and Random eventually reached an agreement, with Random dropping its opposition to Open Road's publication of the Styron works.

There's no way to know whether the current suit by Harper will go all the way through the courts. Open Road has hired legal representation, and indicated that it intends to fight Harper's claim. But if the parties don't wind up settling, the outcome--whichever way it goes--will be a game-changer. As IP attorney Lloyd Jassin puts it,
Depending upon how the case brought by HarperCollins is decided, or resolved, the big six multinational, New York-based, publishers (and their cousin to the north, Harlequin) could either score a copyright and unfair competition protection windfall, or meet their digital Waterloo. Only time will tell.
For analysis of the case, see Jassin's post--especially interesting because it places Harper's suit in the context of the entertainment industry's ongoing effort to argue that old contracts cover new uses--as well as this post from Passive Voice, which examines Harper's complaint in detail.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BookStoreMarketing.net: Beware Spam PR Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Recently I've gotten a number of questions about BookStoreMarketing.net, a service that promises to promote authors' books to bookstores via a printed catalog, a promotional email, or both. Alternatively, you can buy a bookstore mailing list, and spam--er, contact stores yourself. Costs run from $99 to $350, depending on which option you choose.

Writers: such services are not a good use of your money. Bookstores (or libraries, or newspapers, or book reviewers, or whatever demographic the service claims to access for you) do not pay attention to spam solicitations. The catalog (assuming it's actually mailed) or email (assuming it gets past the recipient's spam filter) will probably be trashed. At most it may be glanced at. The odds of anyone paying any attention to your book as a result of mass-mail-style promotions are vanishingly small.

Unfortunately, the past decade's explosion of self-publishing and small press publishing options has created a similar explosion of opportunistic enterprises designed to exploit  writers' struggle for discoverability in an increasingly crowded and chaotic market. One of the challenges of vetting PR services these days is figuring out whether they are real services, or just cynical attempts to cash in on a trend.

Take BookStoreMarketing.net, for example. Its URL is registered to a company called CK Marketing, located in Rome, Georgia. CK Marketing (which has no website of its own) runs a slew of similar "services:" GetBookReviews.com, which sells book reviews for $150; SpeakerMarketingKit.net, which sells media contacts for $150;  BookBuzz.net, which offers book promotion services for $99 to $299, depending on how much spam you want them to pump out for you; AuthorMarketingKit.com, which sells a "media database" for $99; and AuthorReviews.net, which sells book reviews for as much as $500.

These live websites are only part of the story. Like spammers who switch servers to avoid detection, CK periodically changes names and URLs. Its past ventures include BookAnnouncements.com, BookStorePromotion.com, Book-blitz.net, LibraryPromotion.com, OnlineBookTours.net, and SellMoreBooks.net (though the sites are dead, discussion of them survives, here and here).

Bottom line: unlike real PR companies, BookStoreMarketing.net and its brothers and sisters exist not to make money by providing useful services, but to grab a quick buck by selling cheap crap to exposure-starved authors. Many writers are attracted to such services because they seem inexpensive (at least, compared to more reputable PR options), and promise a wide reach. But cheaper isn't always better--in PR, you get what you pay for, and cut rate services are no bargain. Also, effective PR needs to be targeted and personalized, not tossed at the wall, spam-style, in hopes it sticks. "One size fits all" is a size that fits no one.

How to vet a PR service you find online?

- Do a websearch. If you find discussion from authors who report being solicited by the service out of the blue (or if you yourself have been solicited out of the blue), it's probably a spam service.

- Look for specific information on staff, so you can check bona fides (and skill--a good PR service should be staffed by experienced people). If you can't find this information on the service's website, move on.

- If the service identifies a parent company, research it. You may discover that it runs a bunch of similar services under different names, a la CK Marketing. A genuine PR service has no need to disguise itself in this way.

- Is the service largely or entirely focused on press release dissemination, mass mailed or emailed catalogs or newsletters, or email blasts? Think twice before buying. These are among the least effective of all book promotion strategies.

- If it sounds too good, or too cheap, to be true--it probably is.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2011: A Writer Beware Retrospective

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware



As we begin the new year (Writer Beware's fourteenth!), here's a look back at some of Writer Beware's most notable posts and warnings from 2011. 

JANUARY

First One Publishing's Writing Contest: This contest was intended to promote a brand-new publishing venture, and it accomplished its goal--in the wrong way--by requiring entrants to surrender all rights to their material.

MARCH

Karma's a Bitch (For Scammers): Two notable scammers--Robin Price, whose Media Arts International conned aspiring book and screenplay authors out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and David William Caswell, whose New Century Publishing took thousands of dollars from writers but never published their books--got their comeuppance.

Why Your Self-Publishing Service Probably Didn't Cheat You: Writer Beware often hears from self-publishers who are convinced they're being scammed by their self-publishing services--but it's more likely that their expectations were unrealistic.

APRIL

The Interminable Agency Clause: This clause in an author-agency agreement gives the agency the right to represent a sold property not just for the duration of any publishing contracts, but for the life of copyright. Writers' organizations warn against such clauses--for good reason.

Book Fair Bewares: There are many reasons for writers to attend book fairs. Unfortunately, there are just as many ways for unscrupulous people to take advantage of that.

MAY

Net Profit Royalty Clauses: Net profit royalty clauses--which calculate royalties not on the list price of your book, or on the publisher's net income, but on net income less a menu of additional expenses--can reduce your royalties to a pittance.

JUNE

Literary Agencies as Publishers: a Trend and a Problem: In 2011, partly as a result of the growing popularity of ebooks, literary agencies began transitioning into publishing. These initiatives pose a raft of conflicts of interest, as well as some serious potential pitfalls for writers.

Getting Out of Your Book Contract--Maybe: Some practical suggestions for (maybe) escaping a bad book contract.

Clark, Mendelson and Scott: New Name for a Fee-Charging Agency: A fee-charging agency by another name smells just as nasty.

JULY

The Cruelest Hoax: An aspiring writer punk'd by a jerk posing as a reputable agent: the true story of one of the meanest tricks I've ever encountered.

Farrah Gray Publishing: This tale of a publisher that tried to force a pair of authors to pay more than $100,000 in marketing fees after the contract was signed illustrates a hard truth of publishing: even with every possible precaution, what looks like a duck will sometimes turn out to be a turkey.

AUGUST

Taking Famous Names in Vain: In which PublishAmerica tries to extract money from its authors by pretending to have connections with J.K. Rowling, and gets a spanking.

OCTOBER

The Agenda of The Write Agenda: In which Writer Beware exposes the smear campaign being waged against anti-scam activists by an anonymous group calling itself "The Write Agenda," and considers whether some familiar faces may actually be behind it.

A Small Press Implodes: The Inside Story of Aspen Mountain Press: The ugly demise of a once-promising small publisher has some lessons to teach about the precariousness of the small press world.

NOVEMBER

The Brit Writers Awards: Questions and Threats: The questions surrounding this new awards program, and the dubious methods it has used to cope with criticism.

Introducing Writer Beware's Small Presses Page: A new section of the Writer Beware website that provides an overview of issues to consider when submitting to small presses, as well as tips to evaluate publishers and warnings about unsavory practices.

DECEMBER

The Fine Print of Amazon's New KDP Select Program: Amazon has opened its Kindle Lending Library to self-published authors--but some troubling language lurks in the Terms and Conditions.

Publisher Alert: Arvo Basim Yayin: This Turkish publisher, which has been actively soliciting writers on the Internet, has breached contracts by missing publication dates and not paying monies due.