Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Writer Beware is taking time off for the holidays. Unless there's some especially major publishing news, look for us to be back after January 1.

Victoria will still be answering email. Contact her at beware [at] sfwa.org.

We wish all our readers peace, happiness, and excellent writing. Thanks so much for being here, for reading and commenting and sharing your experiences and spreading the word.

See you in 2014!

- Victoria Strauss
- Michael Capobianco
- Richard White

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

News of the Weird: Quill Shift Literary Agency

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

So...if you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I love the crazy stuff, the little nuggets of publishing weirdness that I run across from time to time. Like author reality shows. Or bidding for a literary agent. Or trying to auction your story idea on eBay for millions of dollars. Or the tale of the "literary agent" who faked her own death and turned out to be a wanted criminal.

So here's another snippet of weirdness for y'all. Introducing Quill Shift Literary Agency ("Re-imagining the role of the literary agency by creating an environment that finds and promotes great writers, invites readers to participate, and intrigues publishing houses to purchase those writers' works").

Founded by Ayanna Coleman, who claims publishing experience but provides no specifics (though she appears at one point to have worked for Serendipity Literary Agency), the premise of Quill Shift is a bizarre mashup of crowdsourcing (represented mss. are posted on the agency's website for "shifters" to read and judge), crowdfunding ("shifters" can "donate money to see it become a physical book"), and purported market testing (if a ms. achieves its financial goal "showing that the market will support it", it's then submitted to publishers).

Erm.

Quill Shift is also raising money for itself, via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign ("Where Harry Potter Magic Meets American Idol Power"). Funding will be used for...
Creation of online community for readers to connect and support Quill Shift Literary Agency author works

Updating and/or creating the chosen authors' personal websites

Cover design for each chosen manuscript to be uploaded on the Quill Shift Literary Agency Website

Professional ePub formatting for each chosen manuscript

Social media marketing and outreach
All, need I say, completely irrelevant to the process of marketing books to publishers.

Where to even start with this? A bunch of random people reading manuscript excerpts online and maybe donating money a) isn't an "online community," and b) doesn't demonstrate market support. I seriously doubt that publishers will be impressed. Nor is this a workable concept in the long term, unless you're constantly refreshing your pool of readers. How many times will the same readers want to throw money at manuscript excerpts?

Also, crowdfunding your business is not a business plan. Assuming your campaign is successful, there's not a lot of risk to you, since you're going to be playing with Other People's Money, but if things don't work out it will be bad news for your guinea pigs--sorry, I mean your clients. And what if your campaign isn't successful? What's your Plan B? Do you even have one?

There's also a potential conflict of interest here. Quill Shift clients' manuscripts are also crowdfunded, with readers viewing excerpts and donating to a month-long "pre-publication platform and buzz creation" campaign. According to Quill Shift's FAQ, proceeds are split 50/50 between author and agency. Since this is money in hand--as opposed to the uncertainties of publisher submission--how tempting will it be for the agency to extend "buzz creation," rather than promptly sending out the manuscript? Of course, that pre-supposes that readers will actually donate, which I think is by no means a foregone conclusion.

And what about the unfortunate authors whose "buzz creation" campaign doesn't reach its goal? After all the excitement of getting "the offer," do they get kicked to the curb?

I don't doubt that Quill Shift's founder is well-intentioned. But she's clearly inhabiting that strange alternate reality that drives so many people on the fringes of publishing to try and re-invent the wheel. Sure, there are problems in the publishing biz, but a crowdsourced crowdfunded literary agency is not a solution. It's a hamster wheel for writers.

Quill Shift's IndieGoGo campaign goal is $15,000. Amazingly, people are donating--$2,356 so far, with 17 days to go. Since, unlike Kickstarter, IndieGoGo campaigns get their money whether the campaigns are successful or not, donors will be on the hook for this crazy scheme no matter what.

#sfwapro

Friday, December 13, 2013

Crowdfunded Anthologies: Concerns For Writers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Anthologies, once a staple of genre publishing, have become a rarity at major publishing houses over the past couple of decades.

Small presses still embrace the anthology format, however, as do genre readers--at least, judging by the number of small press or one-off genre anthology projects on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. While most of these campaigns are completely above-board, some are less so, and their growing popularity makes it vital for writers to be aware of several areas of concern. (Donors, too. Do you really want to give money to an anthology that doesn't treat its writers fairly?)

Donating backer prizes.

Many crowdfunded anthologies ask or expect their authors to donate prizes for campaign backers--a story critique, a Tuckerization, an illustration, an item of the author's choice.

From the perspective of the anthology's publisher or organizer, the benefits are obvious: more (and more tempting) backer incentives increase the chances of a successful campaign. For authors, though, things are not so clear-cut, and I've seen quite a bit of discussion of the ethics of being asked or expected to donate freebies. Some writers don't mind, especially where there's no pressure, but others worry about what seems to be a growing assumption that authors owe extra support to crowdfunded anthologies that include their work.

Small press publisher Steven Saus, who has conducted a number of Kickstarter campaigns, addresses this issue in an interesting post on how to manage backer rewards in an ethical fashion. This includes providing a written document or contract specifically addressing rewards.
The important features of such a contract will be:
  • Who is involved (organizer, author)
  • That ONLY if the crowdfunding succeeds, the author will offer a backer reward.
  • A clear explanation of the Reward
  • A timetable of delivery/fulfillment of the Reward
  • Any costs or reimbursement involved, as needed
  • That the offering of the Reward is independent of the contract for the story in the anthology
Short of that (and I don't know for sure, but I'll bet there aren't may Kickstarter anthologists who are as scrupulous as Steven), you can protect yourself by clarifying upfront with the anthology's editor what, if anything, will be expected of you in addition to your story.

Rights and payment.

With many anthology crowdfunding campaigns, the anthology doesn't yet exist. It may be an idea that will be pursued only if funding is raised, or it may have particular authors attached who've promised stories but haven't yet written them.

Other campaigns have already done all or most of the work: invited submissions, selected stories, even issued contracts. But is that ethical, if author payment is contingent on a successful campaign? If the campaign fails and the anthology is abandoned, authors have basically written a story for free. Sure, they can try to sell it elsewhere, but that may not be so easy if the anthology has a narrowly-defined theme.

And what happens to authors' rights if the campaign fails and the anthology is not abandoned? If contracts have been signed, authors' rights could be tied up for an indefinite period of time while the publisher or organizer tries to figure out what to do. Not to mention, whatever payment structure may initially have been promised may now not be possible.

If you're asked to sign a contract prior to completion of a campaign, make sure there's language covering what happens in the event of campaign failure: automatic rights reversion, for instance, or the option of terminating the contract on your own. Alternatively, the contract could allow the publisher or organizer to hold your rights only for a limited period--for instance, 12 months from contract signing.

Steven Saus suggests another possibility: solicit the stories, assemble the anthology, but don't issue contracts until after the campaign closes.
So yes, these authors wrote a story prior to the Kickstarter. Some of them have been waiting a few months now after acceptance. But the stories are still theirs. They haven’t actually sold me the story yet… because I haven’t paid them and they haven’t signed a contract. If the Kickstarter doesn’t fund, I will offer a different funding mechanism… and the authors can accept or reject it as they feel appropriate. Simple as that.
Becoming a backer for an anthology you may also want to submit to.

In some of the crowdfunding discussions I've seen, it's been proposed that campaigns should maintain a wall between backers and contributors: i.e., if you back the campaign you can't submit to the anthology, and if you want to submit to the anthology, you can't back the campaign.

At first glance, this seems like a pretty obvious way to avoid conflicts of interest. However, writers are also readers, and some people feel that such a policy could have a chilling effect on donations, or push publishers toward eliminating open submissions.

Once again, Steven Saus--who has been doing a lot of thinking about these issues, and, as far as I'm aware, is the only small press publisher to have crafted a detailed crowdfunding policy--offers an alternative:
In such instances that an open call occurs after the successful completion of a crowdfunding campaign, the submissions editor(s) will not have access to the lists of backers, nor will the organizer of the campaign have access to the lists of submitters.

Should a submitter refer to their level of backing of the crowdfunding campaign in the submission, cover letter, or correspondence with the submission editor(s) prior to story acceptance or rejection, the submission will be summarily rejected.
Preferential treatment.

It should go without saying that authors shouldn't be able to buy their way into a crowdfunded anthology, either by donating money or contributing prizes.

However, there are plenty of anecdotes about preferential treatment--anthologies that offer an early submission window to writers who back the campaign, or give priority to authors who commit to buying the anthology once it's published, or limit acceptance to authors with a history of vigorous self-promotion, even if their stories are inferior to non-promoters'. Or this campaign, which offered the following donor prize:
Pledge $300 or more
KAIJU CREATOR: Write your own Kaiju-inspired short story and submit it to Ragnarok Publications EIC, Tim Marquitz, for a thorough edit AND the potential—no guarantees, but likely—to have it included in the Kaiju Rising anthology! Yes, you have an inside shot at having your story in the book, but you MUST understand that Ragnarok Publications will have COMPLETE EDITORIAL DOMAIN over your story to assure it meets professional standards of quality and you will sign a contract giving Ragnarok publication rights for a limited period of time, however YOU will retain the copyright to your story and be credited as the story's author. You'll also get everything in the Kaiju Soldier tier. NOTE: The funds in this tier primarily go to cover the cost of editorial services.
Even if payments or donations aren't a requirement for submission, this give something/get something approach comes perilously close to vanity publishing. At the very least, it's a conflict of interest--plus, it has the potential to drag down the anthology's quality.

The problem is, such policies may not always be officially stated. Protect yourself by researching the anthology's publisher or organizer as thoroughly as you can.

Donations--whether money or services--as a requirement for submission.

I've seen two crowdfunded anthology projects with this requirement (unfortunately, neither is still online, so I can't provide links). This is vanity publishing, and it's completely unethical. Both authors and donors should avoid any crowdfunding campaign where a purchase or a donation is a requirement for submission.

In closing...

The crowdfunding universe is still new, and rapidly evolving. Will it continue to expand exponentially? Will backer fatigue eventually clip its growth? No one knows. In the meantime, one thing is certain: as with just about every aspect of writing and publishing, there's plenty of room for author exploitation. Be on your guard.

I'd like to eventually incorporate this information into the Writer Beware website, so I'm looking for input--thoughts, questions, suggestions for other issues of concern. Please comment here, or to contact me via email.

#sfwapro

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Introduction: New Writer Beware Committee Member Michael Capobianco

My name is Michael Capobianco. Some of you may know who I am. I was President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for thee terms, 1996, 1997, and 2007. I’ve also served SFWA in a number of other capacities, including VP, Treasurer, and, currently, as one of SFWA’s representatives to the Authors Coalition of America.

In addition, I’ve worked with other SFWAns to oppose the Google Books Settlement, write SFWA’s Orphan Works white papers, and worked on various other copyright and contract related matters. I was married to Ann Crispin, and, while there’s no way I could replace her, with Victoria’s kind encouragement, I’ve decided to officially join Writer Beware.

I’ve already written a few blog posts for WB, mostly about legal copyright matters, but I’ve also helped with the April 1st posts from time to time. The Google Broccoli Kitten Settlement was my idea, for example.

My interests are somewhat more policy-oriented than WB tends to be, but WB has a very broad agenda, and I don’t believe I’ll be changing it much, if at all. My perspective is that of a non-lawyer author who is surrounded by technological and legal changes that call into question many of the ideas about copyright and authors’ rights that seemed to be fixed and immutable just a decade or two ago.

This is a time of tremendous upheaval, but it is only the beginning of a transition to a place we can only dimly perceive. Some of the changes over the last years are very good for authors, but others are eroding the underlying principles of copyright, and, in my opinion, that does not bode well for the future. I remember attending the "Electronic Book '99: The Next Chapter," sponsored the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September 1999. (Interestingly, Harlan Ellison was the keynote speaker, and I don’t remember much of his speech except that it didn’t have much to do with the topic of the conference.) Back then, a majority of the players were most interested in selling their new DRM schemes to publishers, because publishers were extremely fearful of the prospect of books that anyone could copy and “share.” Many publishers still feel that way, but I don’t think anyone at that conference could have predicted what the Internet has become, how the ebook marketplace functions, and the enormous changes created by a single corporation, Amazon. I don’t believe we can accurately predict what these things will look like in another fourteen years. But I think that, as in any chaotic system, a push in the right direction at the right time can affect the outcome in profound ways.

Topics I want to cover in future blog posts include the recent verdict in the Google Books case, why orphan works legislation needs to be tailored to the needs of authors, what to do in case your (small or medium-sized) publisher violates your contract, and some stuff about writers' organization such as SFWA.

I’d like to beef up Writer Beware’s sections that are directed at what is currently being called “hybrid authors” – authors who had some success in the world of traditional publishing, but whose books are now mostly out of print and who have not been able to figure out how to self-publish, or have self-published but gotten nowhere. Since I am an explorer in that realm myself, I hope to bring some specificity to the discussion.

And finally, I hope to act to some degree as one of WB’s faces, appearing at conventions and conferences to help spread the word about literary scammers of all stripes.

I do understand that there are scammers and trolls out there who actively oppose Writer Beware, and I suspect I’m due for my share of the libel and innuendo. While I in no way want to engage in useless public diatribes with these people, I do intend to do something about them.

So, Victoria and Rich, thanks for letting me come aboard, and I hope I can help fulfill the mission of Writer Beware. I look forward to hitting the ground running.

Monday, December 02, 2013

All Classic Books: The Scam Continues

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you've read my two previous posts about All Classic Books, you already know this story. If you haven't, here's the gist.

Cheryl Lee Nunn of notorious vanity publisher American Book Publishing (one of Writer Beware's Thumbs Down publishers, also featured in an alert at Writer Beware) attempts to expand her author-fleecing operation with a network of bogus organizations and publishers. Outed on this blog, she cuts her losses and folds the scheme--but, eager to make money on the back end, she holds authors' rights for ransom, threatening to give their contracts to a "transfer agent" unless they pony up a buyout fee of $695.

Authors with All Classic Books (the only one of the bogus publishers to issue contracts) have just received another email demanding even more money (all errors courtesy of the original). 
From: Rebecca Reece Winslow
Date: Fri, Nov 29, 2013 at 1:06 PM
Subject: [Name redacted] Your Author Legal Notice Your Book Contract Transfer Agent Instructions
To: [Name redacted]
Cc: "legal @ allclassicbooks.com"

Per terms of our book contract with you we are in the process of exercising our option to assign your book contract to another book publisher effective December 4, 2013. The transfer agent that is working on our publishing company merge or sale and book contract assignments is The Names Company, a publishing industry business broker specialist.

The Names Company will oversee that all our book contract obligations are performed on. For example books remain in print and production and royalties are paid by required contract dates so that we are in full and complete legal compliance. This to make sure that our book contracts remain legally binding to all parties.

The Names Company will not however be providing a publisher staff to answer your book publishing and book selling questions and other book marketing assistance as we have provided you. They will only be responding about questions related to book contract company assignment or your book rights buyouts.

It is important to be aware that just listing a book title for sale today with ten million other book titles that book sales almost always occur because of an author interview, book review or other author promotional activity. If the author is not professionally promoting their title effectively, then it is highly unlikely the author will earn any royalties during the period either with The Names Company or a subsequent publisher assignment.

Instead we have been recommending and helping our authors doing buyouts upload their book files to Amazon's book publishing companies Creative Space (printed books) and Kindle Direct Publishing (e-books) for free.

[Redacted: several paragraphs extolling the virtues of "Creative Space" and KDP.]

We have instructed The Names Company to continue our full book rights buyout offer with our permission and and files for authors to use our edited content and book covers.

However, because of the added expense of the transfer agent, beginning on the first of each month the Full Book Rights Buyout will increase $100 per month. Therefore, buyout offers will be raised from $695.00 to December 3, 2013 with us and can use their credit cards until but after December 4, 2013 the buyout will increase to $795 and $895 on January 1, 2014 and so on. Their website is at http://thenamescompany.com/ and e-mail contact address is info @ thenamescompany.com

Only wired funds will be authorized for those authors doing buyouts after December 4, 2013 through The Names Company will be accepted from that point, instructions are below.

Once fund wires are confirmed, The Names Company will provide authors their book content and cover files, letters of full rights return and authorization to use our editing and design. Then they will remove any current sales listings.

Authors then can legally re publish their book titles with another publisher or self publish it.

[Redacted: wire routing information.]

Warning- Beware of anyone giving false legal advice. We are aware that there has been some false information about us rumored by a fantasy fiction volunteer writer giving our authors bad legal advice that would actually cause them expensive legal damages if they followed it. She does not disclose that she is not an attorney while providing legal advice, and that she is not a professional or unbiased journalist. She is simply a writer we rejected for employment and a book publishing contract about a decade ago, seeking to damage us and our authors with a smear campaign and false information.

Rebecca Reece Winslow
Acquisitions Editor, All Classic Books
info @ allclassicbooks.com
Taking this in order:

* I have several copies of All Classic Books' contract. Nowhere in any of them is there any language giving the publisher an "option to assign your book contract to another book publisher". Not that that's even relevant, because...

* The Names Company isn't a publisher. It also doesn't exist. Have a look at its website. Is it me, or does it seem a little odd that there's zero information on the company or its staff? Or that the only properties shown "for sale" are Nunn's bogus companies? Or that Googling "The Names Company" brings up nothing? Or that, just a few weeks ago, its website looked like this?


Not quite what you'd expect from a "a publishing industry business broker specialist" (if there were such a thing, which there isn't). The Names Company, in other words, is fake--a Nunn fiction in aid of her scheme to extract cash from her authors.

* As of November 5, when I wrote my last post about All Classic Books, it had published only a handful of public domain titles. But when I checked today, I found that it has begun pushing out original titles, all with pub dates of November 20 and later (five days beyond its announced November 15 closing date). It looks as if Nunn is punishing writers who don't fall for her buyout demand by exercising the rights she holds, even though the publisher that contracted them is supposedly defunct.

If your book is or becomes one of these, don't send money to Nunn. Instead, use that cash to seek legal advice on how to get the books taken down and your rights returned to you. (There's a Legal Resources page on the Writer Beware website that may help.) Draw your lawyer's attention to Paragraph 21 of your contract,which provides for automatic termination and return of rights "in the event of the Publisher’s insolvency, bankruptcy, or assignment of assets for the benefit of creditors." Cite the first email you received from "Rebecca Reese Winslow," which clearly states that All Classic is closing down because it's losing money--i.e., insolvent.

* If you haven't guessed, the "fantasy fiction volunteer writer" mentioned in the final paragraph is me. Nunn has been telling that lie about me being a disgruntled would-be employee for years, ever since she trumped it up for a lawsuit she threatened Ann and me with in 2003 (we called her bluff and the suit was never filed). If I needed any further proof that "Rebecca Reese Winslow" is Cheryl Lee Nunn, that would do it.