Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

February 19, 2016

Kickbacks, Opportunism, and Fake Awards, Oh My: Three Solicitation Alerts

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Bookfuel

You may or may not have heard of Bookfuel, a self-publishing services provider with a unique (as far as I know, anyway) twist: you don't pay upfront, but over time, with a monthly fee. Your fee gets you a basic suite of services; there are additional services you can buy a la carte. There's nothing unique about any of them, and Bookfuel is definitely on the high end, costwise: between $2,500 and $4,100, all told, depending on which package you choose.

Like any self-pub service provider, Bookfuel wants customers, and one of the way it apparently hopes to get them is by referral. To sweeten the deal, it's offering something many people find hard to resist: a kickback. A freelance editor forwarded me this solicitation she received:


Do I need to say that it's unethical for an editor (or any other professional) to refer a client to a paying service in exchange for money? Especially if she doesn't disclose the fee?

10% of $4,100 is not chump change. I wonder how many editors will say "yes."

Encircle Publications

Recently, Five Star Publications, a division of Gale/Cengage Learning, decided to discontinue its mystery fiction line. This week, some Five Star mystery authors received a solicitation from Encircle Publications, a publishing services provider:
We’re contacting you because we were recently informed of the upcoming demise of the Five Star Mystery line. You might be wondering who Encircle Publications are. If you look on the back covers of the books you’ve had published with Five Star, you’ll notice that the cover design credit reads: ENC Graphic Services. That’s us! So yes, we are also affected by your publisher’s (our client’s) move to end this genre line. Yet, when one door closes it's time to open another...

We wanted to reach out to you to let you know that we can be a valuable resource to you as you consider your next steps. Many authors (perhaps you or your Five Star Mystery peers) are choosing to go independent and become their own publishers, and why not? The advantages are obvious: greater control over the finished product, and 100% ownership and rights, which also means 100% of the profits from sales of your books. But how do you make it happen? Without the expertise of editing, book layout/pagination, eBook conversions, cover design, and marketing, how are you supposed to make yourself stand out and look as good as the traditional publishers do?

That’s where we come in. We’ve been publishing journals and books for over 20 years as Encircle Publications. In 2014 we re-branded to bring ENC Graphic Services under the full umbrella of Encircle Publications and began offering publishing services to independent authors and small publishing houses. Should you choose to go the self-publishing route you can feel confident in looking to us for the same kind of professional design and layout services you've enjoyed with the traditional model. What’s more is that we can up your game and your marketing profile even higher by offering services such as website development and marketing materials.
I don't see anything red flag-ish at Encircle's website, and, compared to similar service providers, its costs are in the midrange. However, one wonders how Encircle got all these writers' email addresses. If Five Star enabled this solicitation, I think it's pretty poor form.

Five Star authors who are considering going the self-pub route should be aware that they have a plethora of options, and that careful research is in order. Writer Beware's Self-Publishing page provides a full discussion, plus links to helpful resources.

Book Excellence Awards

I've heard from several authors who have been solicited by an apparently brand-new awards program: the Book Excellence Awards (BEA for short--get it?), which bills itself as "a global celebration of literary excellence".

All the markers are present for an awards profiteer (an awards program that's intended not to honor writers, but to make money for the sponsor): a hefty entry fee ($65 for one category, more if you want to enter multiple categories), an absurd number of entry categories (over 130), unnamed judges ("a librarian, bookseller, publisher and an author"), unnamed sponsors ("The awards were started by executives who have valuable experience in the publishing industry"), non-prize prizes (a "commemorative certificate", website and social media listings, and unspecified "marketing and promotional opportunities"), and the option--no doubt heavily promoted--to buy more stuff (stickers for your book cover).

There are many of these profiteering awards programs (I've written about a number of them), which prey on writers' hunger for recognition and exposure but offer little or no benefit despite their grand promises and high fees. Don't fall for these cynical attempts to make an easy buck.  

February 16, 2016

Solicitation Alert: RPI Publications, a.k.a. Raider Publishing International

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


Raider Publishing International, the focus of numerous author complaints over the past few years and one of the companies on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers List, is trolling for victims under a sort-of new name: RPI Publications.

I know this thanks to an alert Writer Beware reader, who forwarded Raider/RPI's solicitation email:


Note the email address. Further evidence of the connection: while RPI's website never mentions Raider or its owner, Adam Salviani, the packages it offers are basically identical to those offered by Raider. Ditto for the two companies' "Why Work With Us?" pages. Here I have to laugh at Salviani's unintentional honesty in predicting the wretched sales that authors who use his services can expect:


This isn't the first time Salviani has attempted to dodge widespread online complaints about his companies (Raider currently has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau) by creating alternate names and websites. Other names he has used include Purehaven Press, Parmenides Publishing, and, most recently, the UK-based Green Shore Publishing, which was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for false advertising.

Salviani filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2014. There is a long (long) discussion thread about him and his various businesses at Absolute Write. Beware!

February 12, 2016

Termination Fees in Publishing Contracts: Why They're Not Just Bad for Authors

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In the course of my work with Writer Beware, I see a lot of publishing contracts (for the most part, these are from small presses). One of the red flags I'm encountering more often these days is early termination fees: a penalty that must paid by the author if s/he wants to get out of a contract early.

A few examples of early termination clauses, taken from contracts in my possession:
The Author may terminate this agreement before the end of the term by means of a contract buyout....The Author will pay to the Publisher the sum of $500.00 (five hundred dollars) to exercise this contract buyout option. This fee must be paid to the Publisher by the Author at notification of intent to exercise the buyout option. The Author will be responsible for full payment of damages and customary legal fees as a result of legal action stemming from failure to pay this buyout clause.
The Author may petition the Publisher to terminate the Publishing Agreement at any time during the term of the Publishing Agreement, but it will cost the Author $350 fee for editing services and $100 fee for cover art services, formatting time and publishing costs, making the total fee Four Hundred Fifty dollars ($450.00).
Once a work has gone into editing and forward and the Author wishes to terminate this contract prematurely, a penalty shall be charged to the Author to cover costs of staff and artists for work already performed. This fee shall be at a minimum of $50.00 to a maximum of $1000.00 to be determined by the time spent on preparing the work for publication and money recovered from sales of the work.
Why are termination fees a red flag? Obviously they are onerous for authors, who might have good reason to want to end a contract early, and can't do so without opening up their wallets.

Of more concern is the fact that publishers may employ them abusively, holding them over the heads of unhappy writers, attempting to use them as an extra income source by offering to jettison dissatisfied authors at the slightest provocation (one publisher I know of even provides an annual "get out of jail free" period where writers can request an invoice), or terminating the contracts of writers who've pissed them off and demanding the fee even though termination wasn't the writer's decision.

I've gotten complaints about all of these. For instance, last year I heard from an author who was quoted an early release fee in the low four figures, described as a reimbursement for production costs--despite the fact that the book had been in circulation for some time and the publisher had likely made back its investment.

EPIC, an association for epublished authors, identifies termination or kill fees as a red flag contract clause--one that authors should absolutely avoid:
Most of these clauses refer to pulling a book during the middle of the contract, but some even require a kill fee paid to the publisher by the author for failing to renew the contract at its natural end. This last requirement isn't acceptable.
But termination fees aren't just bad for authors. They're bad for publishers, too.

Sure, from an honest small publisher's perspective--a publisher that isn't planning on browbeating its authors with termination fees, or using the fees to try and make an extra buck--a termination fee may seem to make good business sense. "We don't want to hold onto an unhappy author," the publisher might reason. "But we invest a lot of work in editing, designing, marketing, etc. So if we can't maximize our investment by selling the author's book for the full contract term, it's only fair that we should get some reimbursement if she decides to leave early."

Problem is, if the unhappy author can't afford the fee, the publisher is stuck with her anyway--along with, possibly, the extra resentment produced by the author's knowledge that she could have escaped if only she'd had the cash. (I've gotten many, many complaints from writers in exactly this situation.) Alternatively, if the author can afford the fee, he may see it as an easy exit, and jump ship without giving the publisher the chance to address whatever problems the author has identified--thus losing the publisher a book it might have retained if it had been able to work things out.

For publishers willing to let their unhappy authors go, it's far easier--and far more author-friendly--simply to allow authors to terminate the contract at will, without the potential complications and bad feelings of a termination fee. To protect its investment, the publisher can require a waiting period, such as one or two years, before the termination option can be invoked.

Even better, for publishers that are willing to try and resolve any problems that may arise: don't include an early termination provision at all. Impose a reasonable contract term, and stick to it. This allows the publisher the best chance of recovering its investment in a book (and hopefully making a profit), while ensuring that the author can eventually regain their rights without opening up their wallet. (Though authors take note: if the contract is life-of-copyright and not limited-term, you should always be able to revert your rights once sales fall below a stated minimum).
 
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