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.

January 24, 2020

Junk Book Marketing: Pay-to-Play Magazines


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

On this blog and elsewhere, I spend a lot of time warning about junk book marketing services: so-called marketing and promotional services that are cheap to provide, but can be sold at a big markup, and for the most part are of little worth for book promotion or can more effectively be done by the author him/herself. Some examples: press releases, email blasts, book trailers, book fair display, social media setup, and social media advertising.

All these and more are hawked to writers at exorbitant prices by assisted self-publishing companies like the various Author Solutions imprints--and also, increasingly, by their scam imitators. Either way, they're a ripoff...but the scammers demand even bigger fees, tell even bigger lies, and deliver even more shoddy results. And that's when they're not just taking your money and running.

A few weeks ago, I focused on pay-to-play radio interviews--another junk marketing service--and why they're not worth the huge fees charged by providers. This week, I'm going to talk about pay-to-play magazines. (You'll note that all the companies discussed below are on my Big List of Publishing and Marketing Scams.)

Have you ever received a solicitation like this one?
Or this one?
Or this one?
Of course the books haven't undergone "extensive evaluation", or been "carefully chosen", or showed to "a team" that "really like[s] your vision". Such solicitations are just spam, blasted out to addresses scraped from the internet or stolen from self-publishing company customer lists.

Nor are these real magazines, in the sense of publications that are widely available to the public. Instead, they're collections of ads, interviews, and "feature articles" sold to writers at huge prices, sometimes interspersed with general interest pieces (often really badly written) or, in the case of New Reader Magazine, with fiction, poetry, and art. These "publications" are never circulated in any meaningful sense; they may be posted online, but their primary mode of distribution is from tables in company booths at book fairs...where many of the authors buying ad or interview space have already paid a premium for display.


The prices the faux magazines charge for placement can be enormous. For instance, here's the  "Executive Full-Spread Ad" from Paperclips Magazine, which is owned by (not "partnered with" as claimed in its solicitation email) publishing and marketing scammer Legaia Books:


A "Showcase" full-page ad costs $3,698 ($2,218.80 on sale), and a "Premier" half-page ad clocks in at $2,599 ($1,299.50 on sale). Paperclips' parent company, Legaia Books, also sells publishing and marketing services at high prices, using deceptive sales tactics to target small press- and self-published authors.

Here's one writer's not very satisfactory experience with Paperclips. I've gotten emails from many others.

New Reader Magazine--which looks quite legit if you don't know better--is owned by New Reader Media. Though the magazine actually appears to provide small payments for content acquired via general submission, it charges anywhere from $5,000 and up for the magazine feature and "partnership" mentioned in its solicitation email. Like Legaia, New Reader Media also sells publishing and marketing services at gigantic prices, as well as book-to-screen services (always a scam).

New Reader has accumulated some online complaints due to its aggressive solicitation and poor performance. It has also been caught making false claims, such as that it was responsible for Christopher Paolini's bestselling novel Eragon being made into a movie.

The Christmas magazine that's the subject of EC Publishing's solicitation can be seen here (if you're brave, you can also check out the Las Vegas Edition, produced for the Las Vegas Book Festival). Like most of the pay-to-play magazines, it's a compilation of author-purchased ads and features, laughably badly-written general interest articles, and a smattering of actual advertising. Prices for inclusion range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on how much space is purchased.

Thanks to its aggressive soliciting, EC Publishing is the subject of a warning from the Australian Society of Authors.

Authors Press's Authorial magazine has its own website (note the "notice of non-affiliation and disclaimer" that pops up if you linger on the home page: the scammers read Writer Beware). Writers can buy a spot in the magazine, starting at fees of a few hundred dollars; ad space or "features" are also included in some of the more expensive promotional packages Authors Press offers.

Authorial's BEA 2019 issue consists of more than 75 pages of author ads, interviews, and excerpts. Just imagine the thousands of dollars in revenue generated by all those pages, some of which include ten or more ads. Also have a peek at Authorial's gallery page, which features photos of  the dozens of books displayed in Authors Press's BEA booth. In 2019, writers were being charged anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 for presence in the booth, depending on what level of activity they chose. Now multiply all of this by the seven book fairs Authors Press attended in 2019. It's not chump change.

From URLink Print and Media comes Harbinger Post. Like the others, it's nearly all paid content, interspersed here and there with staff-written features. Here's an example of the caliber of that writing:


Other scammy publishing and marketing companies that sell space in proprietary magazines (I've received multiple complaints about all these companies):

Global Summit House: Global Summit House
Litfire Publishing: WayFairer
AuthorCentrix: AuthorCentrix Magazine
Stonewall Press (defunct): GoldCrest Magazine

Print advertising is expensive, and how useful it is for book marketing is an open question. But if it is to be effective at all, it must offer the possibility of being seen by a large audience of potentially interested readers and buyers.

That means circulation, subscriptions, and quality content beyond mere advertising--not ad-stuffed, error-ridden, proprietary publications whose only exposure to the public is a "free, take one" stack on a side table in a book fair booth. Even if the ad slots weren't insanely expensive--and even if writers didn't have to pay for what real magazines never charge for, such as interviews--buying space in these fake publications would be a waste of money.

Writer beware.

January 15, 2020

What You Need to Know About How California's New Law AB-5 Affects Writers


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Scroll down for updates

Last year, California passed a new law, AB-5, intended to make things better for gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, by forcing these companies to provide employee protections and benefits for their freelance workers.

However, the narrowly-written law, which went into effect on January 2, has created unintended consequences for freelance writers, most of whom are independent by preference. If they sell 35 or more pieces to the same company in a year (which can easily happen with short blog posts or  product reviews), the company must treat them as employees rather than freelancers and pay payroll taxes as well as unemployment and other insurances. Even before the law went into effect, companies were laying off California freelancers and seeking replacements in other states.

Book writers may be affected too, under certain specific circumstances.

The article below was originally published by the Authors Guild; I'm re-printing it with permission. This is an issue all writers need to be aware of, as similar laws are under consideration in other states, including New York and New Jersey.

******

We have been receiving inquiries about California’s new law AB-5 and similar pending legislation in other states that require companies hiring individuals on a freelance basis for labor or services to treat them as employees, unless the individual’s work falls within one of several exceptions. Laws like AB-5 (which goes into effect on January 2) are meant to aid gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, who work for a single company and have no employee protections. They are well-intentioned pieces of legislation, but unless they are narrowly written, they can go beyond protecting gig workers and disadvantage many traditional freelancers who wish to remain independent by overriding existing state agency law.

To be clear, the Authors Guild fully supports employment protections for freelance journalists and authors, and will be lobbying for collective bargaining rights in 2020. Like Uber drivers, writers have no benefits and are often paid less than minimum wage. But forcing writers to work as employees, especially on a state-by-state basis, is not the way to go about it. The situation in California speaks to the importance of deliberation, careful drafting, and getting buy-ins from the various industry groups. Similar “gig worker” bills are in the works in New York and New Jersey. The new draft NJ bill includes a strict, sweeping version of the ABC test. Those working closely on the bill are concerned that freelance journalists will in many cases be treated as employees. We will watch the bill and do our best to ensure that the necessary protections for freelance journalists are added.

* The NY bill attempts to exclude freelance journalists, and we have provided comments to the drafters to make it clearer.* (correction 12.30.19)

AB-5’s 35-Submission Cap

As many of you are aware by now, much of the debate surrounding AB-5 comes down to its 35-submission cap applying to the contributions of freelance journalists, editors, and photographers. When the bill was being negotiated, a coalition of writer and photographer groups, including the Authors Guild, was able to get an exception for freelance writers. Unfortunately, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who sponsored the bill, added a cap of 35 pieces per company—meaning that once a freelance journalist or editor submits 36 articles or jobs for the same company in one year, the freelancer must be treated as an employee and the employer must pay California State unemployment and employee insurances.

Many full-time writers today patch together a living from different sources—and they want to keep it that way. Because of AB-5, California freelance journalists writing 35 or more pieces for a single company fear losing clients to writers in states with laxer laws. Indeed, some publications have already stated that they will not hire California freelance writers because of the new law. 35 articles might seem like a lot, but there are plenty of writers who write more than that. Writing a short weekly blog piece for a client could easily put a writer over this limit.

Another problem with treating writers as employees and not freelancers is that employee-writers do not own the copyright in their work; instead, the employer is considered the “author” under copyright law and automatically owns the copyright in its creation. Of course, as most major publications today insist on an assignment of copyright anyway, the practical effect, unfortunately, is the same: the writer gives up copyright. Still, freelance writers who assign copyright can reclaim it after 35–40 years, which is a benefit that employee-writers lack.

Does AB-5 Apply to Book Contracts?

Authors have raised alarm that AB-5 will apply to book writers as well. The Authors Guild has been reviewing the bill from that perspective since it was first introduced. We were assured by those working on the bill that trade book authors are not covered, and we do not see a basis for disagreeing since the bill clearly states that AB-5 applies only to “persons providing labor or services” and authors provide neither “labor” nor “services” under standard book contracts—they instead grant copyright licenses or assignments. Additionally, royalties—even in the form of advance payments—are not considered wages. It is difficult to imagine how a court would conclude that a typical book contract is for labor or services.

Writers with Service-Like Obligations Should Get a Legal Opinion

There are, however, some book-writing agreements that could be considered service agreements and arguably would fall under AB-5, such as work-made-for-hire agreements and contracts where the author has ongoing obligations and the publisher has greater editing ability or control over the content. Authors and writers working under multi-book contracts are most likely to encounter such a situation. These authors’ contracts should be reviewed by an attorney to determine whether they are subject to AB-5. Publishers and authors who want to be certain to retain a freelancer relationship should be careful to make sure the contracts are written as simple license grants and not as services agreements. For instance, the agreement should be written as a copyright grant of a defined work without interim or ongoing obligations, and remuneration should be in the form of royalties and advances against royalties. The writer should also have full control over their work and use their own workspace and tools. As a general rule, it is also recommended that freelance editors and journalists have written contracts that allow them to work when and where they want with no oversight other than approval of the finished work product.

If you have such a contract and are an Authors Guild member, remember that we do review members’ contracts for free. You can send us the agreement using our online form, and our legal team will get you comments and let you know if you need to revise the agreement.

UPDATE 1/16/20: Washington (State, not DC) is contemplating a bill like this as well. From the comments, below:
WA should be on your watchlist, too. An AB5-like bill was just re-introduced in the Senate there, even though it had been defeated last year. It, too, requires writers and other freelancers and independent contractors be hired as employees when their works contribute to the normal business of their clients. The bill ignores a study of independent contractors that was prepared by the Dept of Commerce after the bill's defeat. The study documents that 3/4 of the independent contractors in WA don't need or want the employee benefits touted by the bill's advocates. Between their own efforts and those of their families and friends, they're doing fine. Read the study yourself then write to Sen. Karen Keiser about your opposition to being made employees against your will.

The study: https://app.leg.wa.gov/committeeschedules/Home/Documents/26113?//20902
Senator Keiser: karen.keiser@leg.wa.gov
A similar law may be in the works in Illinois.

UPDATE 1/20/20: This article from Digiday explores the negative impact that AB-5 is already having on freelancers and publishers in California.

January 8, 2020

Writer Beware: 2019 in Review

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Happy New Year! It's that time again--time for a look back at the schemes, scams, and issues Writer Beware covered in 2019.

PUBLISHER TROUBLES

Sadly, there's never a shortage of stories like these.

Scandal Engulfs Independent Publisher ChiZine PublicationsArguably the biggest small press story of the year, the spectacular collapse of Canadian indie ChiZine Publications--amid allegations of non-payment, financial mismanagement, and a horrifically toxic work culture rife with bullying, sexual harassment, racism, and more--posed thorny questions for the small press community about cultures of silence, the treatment of whistleblowers, and the tacit enabling of unprofessional behavior.

Authors' Concern Grows Over Late Royalty Payments At Dreamspinner Press: Multiple author complaints of nonpayment and other problems, for which Dreamspinner has provided confusing and conflicting explanations. (Dreamspinner has become part of the implosion of Romance Writers of America, with RWA accused of failing to assist Dreamspinner authors who requested help.)

Fireside Press Cancels Multiple Contracts: Mass contract cancellations don't generally bode well for publisher health.

Complaints At Month9Books, Nonstandard Business Practices at Black Rose Writing: Long-standing issues, including late payments and bullying, appear to be ongoing at Month9. As for Black Rose, it presents as a "traditional" publisher but, vanity publisher-style, sells a large menu of marketing services to its authors.

Trouble at Dog Ear Publishing: Multiple, long-standing author complaints of nonpayment by this assisted self-publishing company (this publishing model is in trouble generally).

AWARDS TO AVOID

If you've been reading here for a while, you'll know that I'm no fan of contests and awards--not just because they often involve big entry fees (even the legit ones), but because they so often have author-unfriendly rules and guidelines. Here are a few I encountered in 2019.

Can We Get a Do-Over? What do you do when you get caught with predatory language in your contest guidelines? You hastily switch it out, of course. That's what Harper's Bazaar did when the copyright grab in its annual short story competition was outed on Twitter.

Rights Grabs by the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award: Another prestigious (and rich: the winner gets £30,000) contest with a predatory rights grab.

The Pressfuls Short Story Contest: Why not to enter a contest that doesn't post rules and guidelines: you may discover, as writers who entered this contest did, that your work has been published without your permission.

SAVE YOUR CASH

The shady underbelly of the publishing world is chock-a-block with those who scheme to take authors' money, by fair means or foul. Here are some especially foul examples.

Seven Prolific Vanity Publishers: A look at the vanity publishers about which I get the most questions, including Austin Macauley, Page Publishing, and Christian Faith Publishing.

Anatomy of a Book-To-Screen Scam: One of the most unlikely outcomes of publishing a book is selling film rights. Book-to-screen scammers--who purport to turn your book into a screenplay, shop it to Hollywood, and more--don't want you to know that.

Vanity Radio: Why You Should Think Twice: Should you ever pay for a radio interview? Like paid book reviews, this is an iffy proposition--even if you're not being solicited by a scammer.

A Pack of Scammer Lies: Dissecting the highly deceptive pitch by one especially egregious publishing and marketing ripoff.

ADVICE YOU CAN USE

When a Publisher Claims Copyright on Edits: This predatory practice is a big publishing contract red flag.

How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search: Among other sneaky techniques: fake publisher matching sites that purport to guide you to appropriate publishers but steer you to vanities and self-publishing companies; deceptive use of Google ads to do the same thing; fake facts and statistics about traditional publishing designed to make the vanity model seem preferable.

Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize Them and Why They Should be Avoided: Profiteering awards programs have a secret agenda: making money for the sponsor with huge entry fees. They're not about honoring writers.

GENERAL BEWARES

Be careful out there!

From the Philippines, Not With Love: A Plague of Publishing and Marketing Scams: This is one of the biggest new scam trends threatening self-pubbed and small press authors. Some background on how the scams came to be, plus a list of the nearly 70 scammers I've discovered so far.

Issues at Audible's ACX: Including attempted rights fraud and inexplicably withdrawn promo codes.

Caution: Turkish Publisher Mavifil Publishing (Mavifil Yayinlari): Old scammers never die; they just change their names. A non-paying publisher that stalked writers in 2011 returns to stalk them in 2019.

AMS Literary Agency: Approach With Caution: Old scammers never die; they just change their names. Whoops, didn't I just say that? The owner of one of the most notorious vanity publisher scams ever returns in the guise of a literary agent.

Beware: Wid Bastian aka Widtsoe T. Bastian/Genius Media Inc./Kairos Phoenix Company: A convicted felon, an ebook promo and box set scheme. What could go wrong?

Publishizer: Do Authors Really Need a Crowdfunding Literary Agency? Yet another of those reinvent-the-wheel attempts that are so common in publishing: a crowdfunding site for writers that claims to represent manuscripts to publishers, but is mostly used by vanities and other fee-chargers (some of them seriously questionable).

December 30, 2019

Beware: Wid Bastian a.k.a. Widtsoe T. Bastian / Genius Media Inc. / Kairos Phoenix Company


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Early in 2019, seventeen writers were recruited to participate in a box set of medical thrillers, called (with unforeseen irony) Do No Harm.

The buy-in: $750, with net income from sales going to two designated charities, and participating writers receiving a pro-rated share of any net income above those contributions. The goal: through cooperative marketing efforts, to get the set on the USA Today bestseller list.

Here's how the opportunity was presented to potential participants (this is from an email that was shared with me):


In other words, right off the bat, authors were being primed not to expect to make money.

Helming the endeavor was a five-year-old PR company called Genius Media Inc., owned by a man called Wid Bastian (full name: Widtsoe T. Bastian). Per this long 2017 discussion on KBoards, one of Genius Media's not-so-genius MOs was to cold-contact writers by form email and offer glowingly-described Kindle Unlimited promotions. "For you, my estimate on an eBook promo is 10,000 plus downloads and 700 plus sales, positive ROI right out of the gate and huge page read income."

The cost: $2,000.

KBoards members urged caution, especially after expert analysis of Genius's claims indicated that its promotions weren't as successful as it advertised, and information offered by a writer who'd paid for a promo suggested that Genius was violating the TOS of the advertising platforms it used. Also noteworthy: this post from a writer who bought two promos from Genius, and lost money on each one. "That is what Genius Media told me to expect, that the first promo would not show a profit, but that by the second or third promo, they would show a profit." (The writer bought a third promo.)

As it turns out, these concerns were a sign of things to come.

Do No Harm was published, as promised, and made the USA Today bestseller list, also as promised. On October 3 (or possibly October 4), it was unpublished--three (or possibly four) days after the contractually-stipulated end date of September 30.

Per the contract (which you can see here), final reporting and payment was due to authors "no later than December 1". December 1 came...and went. Bastian promised anxious authors they'd get everything by December 15.

One day past that deadline, they did receive a report...but not from Genius Media. Between early December and December 16, with no notice or warning, a company called Kairos Phoenix had purportedly acquired Genius. Other than its business registration--in Wyoming, just like Genius's--and hometown--Logan, Utah, again just like Genius's--Kairos was a black box, with zero web presence. It had incorporated less than a month earlier, on November 22. (You can see the report here.)

That wasn't all that was suspicious. Here's Kairos's financial breakdown:


In other words, USA Today bestselling box set Do No Harm hadn't just failed to make a profit, it had lost money. But...where was the revenue from the $750 buy-in fees--which, with 17 authors, totaled $12,750? (Kairos's explanation: it wasn't included because it was "ordinary income" for Genius Media. "As stated in the contract, the fee was paid to 'participate' in DNH Collab by the author and for no other purpose".) Where were revenues for the days the set had been on sale past the unpublish deadline? (Kairos: "The contractual period for DNH Collab was strictly defined in the contract" as September 30, so any revenue past that date was "irrelevant".)

Equally troubling, why were there more than $15,000 in expenses--three-quarters of which were for "labor"--when the contract stipulated that expenses were not to exceed the total of the buy-in fees? According to Kairos, this wasn't really an expense cap: "This provision was specifically and intentionally included in the contract language to avoid the possibility of a 'cash call' – Genius Media asking authors to contribute more to DNH Collab to achieve the goal of making USA Today Bestseller status. No 'cash call' was ever made in the DNH Collab."

Here's the actual contract wording, though (my bolding):
For the purposes of the USA Today Bestseller Medical Thriller Author Publishing Collaborative Boxed Set program, Genius Media shall not incur any publication and promotion expenses of any nature in excess of the fees paid under the terms of its author agreements and shall have no power to obligate [redacted] or any other author for any publication and promotion expense above author fees paid whatsoever.
There's a "cash call" prohibition and an expense cap. But Kairos wanted writers to believe otherwise, so it could inflate expenses and ensure a loss.

It was obvious to Do No Harm participants that Kairos was taking the money and running--avoiding the substantial payouts it would otherwise have to make by retroactively interpreting contract language, and also enabling Bastian himself to claim he was blameless because of Genius's supposed takeover by an unrelated company. (No one was under any illusion that Kairos Phoenix was anything other than Bastian in a different guise.)

Authors were furious. On December 22, two of them, Christoph Fischer and Dan Alatorre, went public with their experience. Others posted warnings on Kairos's corporate business listing.

Do No Harm isn't the first time Bastian has run this scheme, either.


The box set in question appears to be Tales From Big Country, which was published around the same time as Do No Harm. A third set, Galaxia, was pubbed in September, with profits supposedly going to the Well Aware clean water charity. I've been told that Bastian is recruiting for other sets, including a collection of thrillers.

So who is Wid Bastian, a.k.a. Widtsoe T. Bastian?

His LinkedIn profile ("EXPOSE your new book to develop your author brand and sell more books!") identifies him as the owner of Genius Media, and also of an ebook promotion program called Book Dynamite. In an earlier profile on a freelancers' job site, he describes himself as a "published novelist and screenwriter" (more on that below) who "makes most of my daily bread as a ghostwriter." He also has an IMDB profile, presumably because of his efforts to make a film of the life of Greek Orthodox priest Fr. Themi Adamopoulos.

Genius Media's website has been taken offline, but traces remain in the form of cached pages, and here's how it looked in January 2016, courtesy of the Internet Archive (more recent versions haven't been archived). The company has a D+ rating from the BBB. Bastian also owned or was an officer with at least three other companies during the early to mid-1990s: Off & Flying, Prospex Interntaional [sic] (yes, it really was registered with a typo in the name), and Nevada Pension Investment Fund. Both Off & Flying and Prospex had their statuses "permanently revoked" a few years after incorporating. All three are long dead.

There is also a Widtsoe T. Bastian who pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts including embezzlement, money laundering, and bankruptcy fraud in US District Court in North Carolina, and in 2005 was sentenced to one hundred and forty-four months in prison and restitution of more than $3,000,000. Nothing I can find online directly connects Widtsoe T. Bastian of Genius Media to Widtsoe T. Bastian of North Carolina, so it may be a different person. But Widtsoe T. Bastian is quite an unusual name, as a websearch will make clear.

Finally...I can't say "what goes around comes around", since this pre-dates the ripoff that's the subject of this post, but it certainly seems like a case of advance karma: Bastian's own 2010 novel, Solomon's Porch, was published by none other than Tate Publishing & Enterprises, a notorious vanity publisher that scammed thousands of authors and a multitude of staff, and whose owners pleaded guilty in 2017 to an array of felony charges very similar to the ones described in the previous paragraph.

Tate authors suffered terribly at the hands of their unscrupulous publisher, but Wid Bastian is one Tate author I can't feel all that sorry for.

UPDATE 12/31/19: PACER was down yesterday, so I wasn't able to do a case search. I did so this morning, and here's what's there for Widtsoe T. Bastian:


Some of the listings are redundant, and several cite court documents without any links to those documents. But there's enough available to paint a tangled picture of a 1995 Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Nevada involving several companies in addition to the three mentioned above (the case was finally closed in 2002); a 1999 indictment in Nevada "on charges related to the operation of [Bastian's] venture capital firm"; failure to appear in a Nevada court in 2001; and a 2002 arrest in North Carolina, leading to the plea of guilty on 13 felony counts referenced above.

In 2012, Bastian was placed on probation or supervised release, and jurisdiction over his case was transferred to US District Court for Utah. His probation ended on May 4, 2015.

December 23, 2019

Writing Contest Beware: Pressfuls


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

On Sunday morning, I woke up (late, I admit) to a flurry of emails about an website I'd never heard of before: Pressfuls.

The writers who contacted me reported that they'd entered a free short story contest this past September.


As you can see, pretty minimal information. At the end of October, they received a mass email (which, curiously, cc'd all the recipients instead of bcc'ing them, so that all email addresses were visible to everyone), announcing the winner:


Although the contest entry info hadn't mentioned that the winner would be published, the writers thought they were done and moved on. Some submitted their contest stories elsewhere. Some of those stories got accepted.

Then, just a few days ago, on December 19--surprise!


Writers were shocked. As far as they knew, they had never granted permission for their stories to be published or turned into audio versions--much less made part of some sort of pay-per-view subscription service. As for the request for PayPal information, that sounded really scammy. Writers who emailed Pressfuls to ask questions or emphasize that they hadn't granted publication rights received a non-responsive response reiterating that their story was going to be published, and that "We will give you more details about it in short time [sic]."

So what is Pressfuls? With a web domain registered just six months ago, its current website (which writers tell me has been overhauled since the contest) presents as a short fiction subscription service, with a bizarrely large variety of paid subscription plans. There is no information whatever about staff, owners, the company, or, on the submission page, payment structure and publishing rights.

There's also a couple of new short story contests with 2020 entry deadlines. And that brings me to my main reason for writing this post. Beyond the questionable happenings in this particular case, Pressfuls is like an archetypal object lesson on the kinds of contests you want to avoid.

Count the red flags:

- No rules or guidelines. The page for the September contest is gone, but writers who contacted me say that there were no posted rules or guidelines--and certainly there are none for the current contests. Bad contest rules are a red flag...but no rules at all is a giant, klaxon-blaring, run-away-now warning sign. Pressfuls' attempt to monetize entries it was never authorized to publish in the first place illustrates why.

Never, never, NEVER enter a contest if you can't find, read, and/or understand the rules.

- No information about rights or payment. Plenty of contests have unfriendly rights demands. For instance, you may have to grant publication rights simply by entering, and the contest sponsor may never release them. At least when that info is present on the sponsor's website, you can't say you weren't warned. But if there's no rights or payment information whatsoever, you are really setting yourself up for the possibility of a nasty surprise...like finding out your entry has been included in a subscription service with a sketchy payment plan.

- No information about the company. Do you seriously want to enter a contest whose organizers or sponsors you know absolutely nothing about--not even where they're located or how long they've been around? I'll give you a hint: No. If you can't confirm who's running the contest, don't enter.

- No information about judges. Part of the prestige of a contest (if it has any--and most contests don't) depends on who is doing the judging. Reputable contests disclose their judges.Otherwise, you have no guarantee the contest isn't just pulling names out of a hat.

- English-language errors. Sure, anyone can make mistakes or typos (although you have to wonder about the professionalism of a contest sponsor that isn't capable of proofing its own website). But if it's an English-language contest, and you see errors or odd syntax that suggest the website has been created by people whose first language is not English, be wary. A lot of scams these days are coming from overseas. The Pressfuls website isn't as bad as many I've seen, but there are enough lapses (dropped plurals, missing articles, mis-spellings--for instance, in several locations "Fantasy" is spelled "Fanstasy") to prompt caution. (Pressfuls' emails provide much clearer examples.)

So what is Pressfuls, really? A phishing scheme? A sleazy way to acquire and monetize content? A clueless would-be publisher with no idea how things should be done? I really can't tell. But none of these possibilities are good ones.

A couple of the writers who contacted me told me that Pressfuls complied (though without any acknowledgment) when they demanded that their stories be taken down. However, another writer said that they tried several times and their story is still online.

Since Pressfuls has no real "contact us" option on its website, my suggestion is to send a DMCA takedown notice to its email address (shortstorycontest@pressfuls.com) or, if that yields no response, to the email address of its web host (abuse@in2net.com). You can find out more about DMCA notices (which are legal notices demanding removal of infringed material from the internet) here. SFWA offers a handy DMCA notice generator.

For more information and cautions about contests, see Writer Beware's Contests and Awards page. I've also written a blog post that covers some of the same ground: Some Tips on Evaluating Writing Contests.

UPDATE 12/24/19: Since I put this post online yesterday, Pressfuls has amended the descriptions on its contests. Originally they looked like the description for the original contest (see above). Now they look like this:


This is not an improvement, since there's still nothing about publication or rights. Also, the copyright info is ignorant on multiple levels. WGA and WGC registrations (which are primarily for screenwriters) are not legally equivalent to US copyright registration--and they don't prove anything anyway, since the author already owns copyright, by law, as soon as the words are written down.

I shouldn't need to say that you really want your publisher to have an accurate understanding of copyright.

Writers tell me that Pressfuls sent out another mass email with instructions on how to have content removed, so it seems they're paying attention. We shall see.

December 20, 2019

How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search, Part 3


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

In my first post about the ways that predatory companies attempt to ensnare unwary writers who are searching for publishers, I discussed fake publisher-matching websites. In my second, I exposed the scammy Google ad tactics of vanity publisher Austin Macauley.

In this third post, I'll talk about an equally insidious practice: providing misinformation or even outright lies about traditional publishing, in order to make self- or vanity publishing appear superior.

Yesterday on Twitter, someone tweeted this chart, which purportedly compares traditional publishing and self-publishing.


If you're even slightly savvy about publishing, the inaccuracies are easy to spot. Trad pubs often pay royalties on retail price (not "net sales"), or pay a higher percentage (higher royalties are especially common in the small press world). Trad pubs that pay advances don't withhold them from less popular authors, and they don't require authors to make "certain minimum orders" or to buy thousands of copies of their own books. And while it's often true that smaller traditional publishers don't provide much in the way of PR or marketing support, and larger houses invest more marketing in more popular books and authors, they don't simply ignore 95% of their output (this makes no sense; what business markets only 5% of its products?)

As for author rights...trad pubs do license exclusive rights from authors, sometimes for a period of years, sometimes for the life of copyright (with reversion usually happening well before then). But they don't gain ownership of them (as "all rights are with the publisher" implies), because the author retains copyright--plus, authors can often negotiate to keep some of their subsidiary rights. And although self-publishing is typically non-exclusive, allowing authors to publish on multiple platforms if they wish, they do still have to license publishing and distribution rights to whichever platform or service provider they choose--otherwise, the platform couldn't legally produce and sell their books.

The chart comes from this how-to-self-publish article, which is really just a long ad for PublishEdge, which is (surprise!) a paid publishing services provider.


PublishEdge is a "division" of Zaang Entertainment Pvt Ltd, which, unlike the Philippines-based scams I've been covering so much lately, is based in India. The range of services it sells aren't priced as high as some of the scammers', but there are still plenty of warning signs: no information about who is providing the services on offer (so you have no idea who they are or if they're qualified); no cover or website design samples (so you have no idea what you'd be getting for your money); and this pitch for ghostwriting services, which invites you to "Discover the simple secret to how celebrities and busy professionals get their books published without actually writing", courtesy of "our book writing experts", who (judging from the description of the service) basically type up a Skype interview into a chapter book. Most likely these unnamed "experts" are hired on Upwork or Fiverr or a similar jobs site (holy plagiarism scandal, Batman!).

PublishEdge isn't alone in misrepresenting traditional publishing in order to make itself look more attractive. Among other alternative facts, this chart from Morgan James, a vanity publisher with an author purchase requirement, claims that "many major houses" require authors to buy 5,000 copies or more of their own books (doesn't that make MJ's 2,500 purchase requirement seem appealing?), and that trad pubs provide no PR or marketing support for 94% of their books and authors. (Hmmm. Could PublishEdge have borrowed a little something there?)

Here's another misleading comparison, from Union Square Publishing, a self-styled hybrid (read: vanity) publisher. It too borrows heavily from Morgan James's chart, with several of the same dubious claims. Here's another one--this time from Success Publishing, which sells Chicken Soup-style anthology slots.

This one, from "custom" publisher Momosa Publishing (packages start at $5,900), doesn't tell quite so many fibs, but encourages you to believe that trad pubs cap their royalties at 6%, and don't market their books to libraries. And then there's this from Atmosphere Press, another so-called hybrid, which wants to convince writers that a $5,000 publishing fee will save them from the "raw end of the deal" they'd get from a trad pub, "losing not just their royalties but also the rights to their material and to their control over their art." Not addressed: the likelihood of ever making that $5,000 back.

These are just a few examples; there are many more. If you use the internet as part of your publisher search, you're very likely to encounter them (in some cases, disseminated by self-styled experts who ought to know better). It's a great argument for a step that many writers skip: learning about publishing before diving into the quest for publication. As with all aspects of publishing, knowledge is your greatest ally and your best defense: the more you know about the way things really work, the better protected you will be against the disinformation described above.

Final note: I know that many writers have had bad experiences with traditional publishers--I've had some myself. Especially in the small press world, many traditional (at least in the sense that they don't charge fees) publishers engage in nonstandard and author-unfriendly business practices. There's plenty of discussion of that on this blog. I'm not trying to paint trad pub as perfect, or argue that it's necessarily a better choice for any given writer.

But deliberate distortions like those described above don't help anyone, even if you don't take into account their obvious self-serving agenda. Tarring an entire segment of the publishing market with a broad negative brush--especially where some of the supposed negatives are demonstrably false--is as irresponsible as arguing (as some people still do) that only traditional publishing is a worthwhile path. 

December 11, 2019

Vanity Radio: Why You Should Think Twice Before Paying For an Interview


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

In a super-crowded, hyper-competitive marketplace, one of the main challenges for book authors is to stand out. And where there's a need, there are always unscrupulous operators waiting to take advantage. The internet is awash in worthless schemes and outright scams designed to profit from authors' hunger for publicity and exposure.

I've written about a number of these--Hollywood book-to-screen packages, the hugely marked-up PR options offered by Author Solutions, the plague of marketing scams originating in the Philippines. Others to watch out for include book fair display packages (publishing industry expert Jane Friedman has a good article on why these are not worth your money), pay-to-play book review services, and what I'm going to talk about in this post: vanity radio.

What's vanity radio? In the "writer beware" context, it's radio air time that you, the program guest, have to pay for. Such schemes have been around forever in various forms, aimed at experts and creatives of all kinds, from services that explicitly sell pay-to-play interviews, to show hosts that charge interview fees to defray the fees they themselves have to pay their platforms.

The main selling point is the promise that your interview will be heard by a large and eager audience, giving wide exposure to you and your book (see the pitches that I've pasted in below). But vanity radio is primarily online radio, delivered via platforms like Blog Talk Radio and Spreaker, and streaming services like iTunes, iHeart Radio, and SoundCloud. Online radio listenership is steadily rising, but unless there are subscriber lists (as on YouTube, for instance), there's usually no way to determine the audience for any given host or show--or to authenticate any listenership claims the show may make. Lots of people may be tuning in...or no one at all.

As a result, the only verifiable benefit authors may receive for their money is an audio or audio-and-video clip that they can post to their websites and social media accounts. Whether that's worth it when it costs $99 or $150 or $200 is debatable enough. But when the price tag is four figures?

As always in the realm of junk marketing aimed at writers, Author Solutions has been both the pioneer and the primary practitioner. All its imprints sell vanity radio in some form: here's AuthorHouse's offering, for instance (just $1,099!). iUniverse's is identical. Xlibris and Trafford currently sell teasers rather than interviews (for significantly more money), but through 2017 they too hawked interviews.

Recently, however, AS's leadership in the realm of predatory marketing services has been challenged by a flood of scammy imitators. These copycat ripoff factories have adopted vanity radio in a big way, and they aggressively hawk it to authors, both on its own and as part of costly publishing and marketing packages. Here, for instance, is an offer from Book Vine Press (cost: $1,500):

From Author Reputation Press (cost: £1,500):


From Parchment Global Publishing (cost: $1,499):


The copycats re-sell the services of a number of show hosts (there's a list below), but the three personalities noted above--Kate Delaney with America Tonight Radio, Ric Bratton with This Week in America, and Al Cole with People of Distinction--make the most frequent appearances on the copycats' websites and in their email solicitations. Delaney and Bratton have substantial, legit resumes in TV and radio; Cole is a bit harder to research, but he too seems to have a sizeable track record as a talk show host.

What, if anything, do they know of the reputation and tactics of the copycats that are re-selling their services? I contacted all three for comment last week. Cole's assistant responded in email that "Al Cole knew nothing about this....Our office will certainly look into this." As of this writing, I haven't heard back from Delaney or Bratton.

Given that the copycats routinely charge an enormous markup on products they re-sell (see, for instance, this warning from the Combined Book Exhibit, whose book fair exhibit packages many of the copycats re-sell for hugely inflated prices; the copycats also seriously jack up the fees for paid book reviews such as Kirkus Indie and BlueInk Reviews), it seems a fair bet that the interviews' hefty price tags are substantially inflated as well.

Apart from the question of such interviews' value for book promotion, that seems like reason enough to avoid them.

******

Author Solutions copycats that sell interviews from the individuals mentioned above:

BookVenture, ReadersMagnet, Maple Leaf Publishing, Parchment Global Publishing, Rustic Haws, Branding Nemo, Creative Titles Media, Paradigm Print, Stampa Global, Books Scribe, Matchstick Literary, PageTurner Press, EC Publishing, WestPoint Print and Media: Ric Bratton

LitFire Publishing, Author Reputation Press, ReadersMagnet, BookTrail Agency, Book-Art Press, Box Office Media Creatives, IdeoPage Press, Book Agency Plus: Kate Delaney


ReadersMagnetAuthor Reputation Press, Rustik Haws, URLink Print & Media, Workbook PressParchment Global Publishing: Al Cole


BookTrail Agency: David Serero

BookTrail Agency, Book Agency Plus: Angela Chester


UPDATE 1/9/19: Parchment Global has added the disclaimer in red to its solicitations for Al Cole interviews (it might want to do some proofreading):


I don't know if this was at Mr. Cole's behest (remember, he's the only vanity radio host who responded--if not very expansively--to my request for comment) or is just CYA by Parchment Global itself, but hey--it lets me know that the scammers are still reading my blog.

Do I believe Parchment Global has stopped taking a cut? What do you think?

November 25, 2019

Publisher Alerts: Complaints at Month9 Books, Nonstandard Business Practices at Black Rose Writing


In mid-2016, I wrote about YA publisher Month9 Books' abrupt decision to scale back its list, reverting rights to as many as 50 authors across all its imprints. Explaining the culling, Month9 founder and CEO Georgia McBride cited her own health problems, along with staffing issues and the company's "substantial growing pains" over the past six to nine months.

McBride's announcement triggered a surge of complaints from Month9 authors, who described a host of serious problems at the company, including late or missing payments (for staff as well as authors), problems with royalty accounting, delayed pub dates, broken marketing promises, overcrowded publication schedules, communications breakdowns, and harsh treatment and bullying by McBride.

According to authors and staff, these problems were not new or even recent, but had been ongoing for a long time. Why had authors kept silent? Almost every writer who contacted me mentioned their fear of retaliation--along with the draconian NDA included in Month9's contracts. I've rarely encountered a situation where authors seemed so fearful of their publisher.

Things quieted down after the initial flood of revelations, as they often do. Month9 survived and kept on publishing, though its list continued to shrink: between a high point in 2016 and now, the number of titles appears to have fallen about 50%. Apart from a handful of additional complaints in late 2016 and early 2017 (similar to this one), I didn't hear much about Month9 in the years following.

Until now. Over the past few weeks, I've been contacted by multiple writers who say they are still suffering from the same problems that surfaced in 2016: primarily, late (sometimes very late) royalty and subrights advance payments and statements (in many cases received only after persistent prodding by authors and their agents), and allegations of irregularities in royalty reporting.

The intimidation level, too, seems not to have changed. Most of the authors told me that they feared reprisal for coming forward, and asked me specifically not to mention their names or book titles. (Writer Beware never reveals names or other unique identifying information, unless we receive specific permission from the individual. That disclaimer is included on our website and in our correspondence.)

If you've been following the recent ChiZine scandal, you may be feeling some deja vu--notably, in the alleged existence of a toxic culture within the publisher that makes authors fearful and and helps to keep them silent. It's disappointing to learn that even if the issues that thrust Month9 into the spotlight three years ago have gone quiet, they don't seem to have eased. Writers be warned.

******

I wrote about Black Rose Writing in 2009, in connection with its requirement that authors buy their own books. Writers who submitted were asked how many of their own books they planned to buy; their response was then written into their contracts. (Book purchase requirements are back-end vanity publishing: even if writers aren't being asked to pay for production and distribution, they still must hand over money in order to see their work in print.)

Black Rose got rid of the book purchase requirement a few years later, and claimed to be a completely fee-free publisher. I had my suspicions that money might still somehow be involved, though...and as it turns out, I wasn't wrong.

I've recently learned that new Black Rose authors receive a Cooperative Marketing Catalog that sells a range of pay-to-play marketing and promotional services, with costs ranging from a few hundred dollars to four figures. For instance:


It's true that purchase is optional (though I would guess that authors are heavily solicited to buy). But reputable publishers don't sell marketing services to their authors--and in any case, much of what's on offer are things that other publishers, even very small ones, do for their authors free of charge, as part of the publication process.

That's not the only way in which Black Rose authors are encouraged to pay their publisher. Owner Reagan Rothe is a self-described "financial partner" in two additional businesses: the Maxy Awards, a high entry fee book competition that donates "a large part of every entry" to a charity (how large? No idea; that information is not provided); and Sublime Book Review, a paid review service.

Though Mr. Rothe's financial interest in these businesses is not disclosed on the business's websites, both businesses are clearly energetically promoted to Black Rose authors. On Sublime's website, nineteen of the first 20 book reviews are for Black Rose books. There's also this, from the marketing catalog (note the lack of disclaimer):


As for the Maxys, thirteen of the 17 winners and runners-up for 2019 are Black Rose books.

Mr. Rothe does admit his relationship with the businesses in this recent email to Black Rose authors--though only to afford them yet another opportunity to give him money:


November 22, 2019

Issues at Audible's ACX: Attempted Rights Fraud, Withdrawn Promotional Codes


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Two issues involving Audible's ACX have come across my desk recently.

Rights Fraud

I've heard from several self- and small press-pubbed authors who report that they've found their books listed on ACX as open to narrator auditions...except that they, or their publishers, didn't put them there. This appears to be an attempt to steal authors' audio rights.

Below is one listing. Here's another and another and another. (All of these listings have been invalidated by ACX.)


See "Comments from the Rights Holder" at the bottom. The purported company, Publishing D LLC, does not show up on any searches.

The fraud seems pretty elaborate. Here's what one of the authors who contacted me told me:


These comments from a freelance audiobook narrator illustrate that "Publishing D" is not an isolated incidence.

Promotional Code Shenanigans

Multiple authors have contacted me to report that they've received an email from ACX withdrawing their promotional codes. The cited reason: "unusual activity," with no explanation of what that means.

The authors say that they have not used the codes improperly or violated ACX guidelines; in some cases, they've used the codes only a handful of times or not at all. See, for instance, blog posts by authors G. Michael Vasey and Adam Piggott. Per discussions on the KBoards and Reddit, a lot of authors seem to be affected.

Is this one of Amazon's (Audible's parent company) periodic crackdowns on misuse or fraud that has inadvertently ensnared innocent authors? According to author and self-publishing expert David Gaughran, ACX promo code scamming is a major problem, and Amazon's anti-abuse sweeps often involve a lot of collateral damage. Or could it be an error--a glitch or rogue algorithm?

So far, authors' efforts to get a fuller explanation have run up against the black box that is Amazon:


If I hear anything further, I'll update this post.

UPDATE 11/27/19: One of the authors who alerted me to the promo code withdrawal has received a notice saying that their codes are reinstated--however, they say that the promo code tab has yet to appear in their dashboard.

November 15, 2019

Scandal Engulfs Independent Publisher ChiZine Publications


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

If you're not part of the horror or speculative fiction community, you may not be aware of the scandal that over the past two weeks has engulfed ChiZine Publications, a (previously) highly-regarded Canadian independent publisher.

In September of last year, several authors, including Ed Kurtz, made a complaint to the Horror Writers Association about long-overdue royalties at ChiZine. On November 5 of this year, after the complaint became public knowledge, CZP posted a statement on its Facebook page, claiming that Kurtz's royalties were "currently paid in full" and that "Any other monies he might be due will be paid on his next royalty statement". Kurtz's response, posted by his partner on Facebook a day later, was blistering:
The statement from Chizine neglects a number of salient facts, such as the moment in July 2018, at Necon, when I explained to Brett Savory that my partner was facing a layoff, our cat was ill, we were in severe financial distress, and I had *never* been paid a single cent of royalties in what was at that time almost two years for a moderately successful book. He actually grinned and said, "Things are hard for everyone right now" before walking away. The following morning it was reported to me that Sandra was loudly complaining in the dealer room about me having asked about my royalties, and of course the two of them went on a whirlwind trip around the world a few weeks after that, showing us all that things weren't so rough for them, after all.

In fact, I'd asked after my royalties several times and was rebuffed or given excuses every single time (usually something wrong with their accounting software or something similar, which I later learned they’d been saying to authors for years). I only went to the HWA after several other frustrated CZP authors (one of whom hadn't been paid in five years!) strongly encouraged me to do so. I expressed fear of bullying and/or retaliation, and some of these authors promised me they'd have my back (they didn't). And yes, a lot of us got paid through my efforts, though it is untrue I'm paid in full. I was never paid royalties for the months of my first year of publication, 2016, though CZP continues to claim I was. I just gave up on this.
Kurtz's experience was not isolated.

******

Between 2010 and 2015, Writer Beware received a handful of complaints (fewer than five) about ChiZine from authors who cited months-late royalty payments or long waits for contracts. Because the complaints were so few, and also because the authors all did eventually receive their payments or their contracts (though in most cases only after persistent prodding), it wasn't clear to me whether the tardiness indicated a pattern of problems, or was the kind of occasional glitch that can afflict otherwise reputable small presses with small staff and tight finances.

As it turns out, those few complaints were just the tiniest bubbles drifting up from what appears to be a roiling ocean of dysfunction.

Following Kurtz's public response, CZP authors and staff began to come forward with their own experiences--a tsunami of serious allegations including non-payment (some staff say they were never paid for years of work), extremely late or missing royalty payments (years in arrears in some cases; many authors report having to fight for what payment was received), erratically-produced royalty statements (CZP breached at least some of its own contracts by sending out royalties once a year instead of bi-annually--more on that below), missed pub dates, broken marketing promises, and financial mismanagement--especially concerning, since a big chunk of CZP's budget comes from grants and subsidies. (Former CZP staff member Michael Matheson has written a pair of illuminating posts on CZP's finances, including its treatment of grant money and habitual financial distress.)

Staff and authors also--in multiple, strikingly similar posts and complaints, including some received by Writer Beware--cite a toxic work culture that featured bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment, racism, gaslighting, and more. Several of those who contacted me told me that they felt CZP operated "like a cult," with charismatic leaders at the top who were admired and feared in equal measure, and whom many dared not defy.

This account only scratches the surface. For much more:
On November 11, CZP's founders, Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, posted a statement on the CZP blog and Facebook page indicating that they have decided to "step down." Although the statement mentions financial issues ("we have taken a short-term personal loan to bring payments up to date"), it doesn't address the many other complaints that have been leveled against the company--and, notably, does not include an apology.

The response has not been kind.

******

Despite all of the above, there are still those who continue to defend CZP, and to brush off the statements by writers and staff. For example, this, from editor Stephen Jones (Jones's post has been removed; this is a screenshot posted to Twitter):

What stands out for me here is not just the skepticism that whistleblowers always have to face (and which, even when the publisher doesn't try to intimidate or engage in reprisals, makes it so much harder for whistleblowers to come forward), but the defense of unprofessional business practice--not just by CZP but, apparently, by small press publishers in general. Small presses are doing something great for writers and readers, so we should "cut them some slack" when they fail to pay, or don't fill book orders, or miss a pub date, or engage in some other kind of behavior that has a negative impact on staff and authors. That's "simply the nature of small press publishing." Deal with it!

It's a really common argument. I can't tell you how often I've seen some version of it--not just from toxic or troubled publishers, but from the writers they are screwing over. But it is bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.

No matter how "worthy" a publisher may be, that does not give it the right to abuse its writers or its staff--whether by accident or design. Publishers function in the realm of art, but they also need to function like businesses--not like cults of personality, not like sinecures, not like kitchen-table hobby projects where it doesn't really matter that they know little about publishing and have never run a business as long as they've got good intentions. You don't get a pass because you've got a noble goal. You don't get a pass because independent publishers are struggling and we need more of them. You don't even get a pass because you're putting out good books from disenfranchised authors. You need to run your business right, and treat your writers and your staff right, or you have no business calling yourself a publisher.

Which brings me to my next point. The scope and range of what has apparently been happening at ChiZine is bigger than usual (and having seen as many small press implosions as I have over the years, it's amazing to me that it took so long for the scandal to break). But it's important to emphasize that it is not an isolated occurrence. Contract breaches, financial malfeasance, even the kind of harassment and gaslighting and dictatorial behavior that CZP authors and staff describe--all are rampant in the small press world. Just go back through a few years of the entries on this blog, and you'll see plenty of examples.

I don't mean to tar all small presses with the same brush. There are, it's important to acknowledge, many small and indie publishers that operate with complete professionalism and do all they can to treat their authors right. But there is a huge, huge problem in the small press segment of the publishing industry, and we don't do writers--or readers--any favors in dismissing or downplaying or making excuses for it.

I'm not the only one who is making this point. Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who had payment issues with CZP and also has experience running a micro-press, addresses the issue in a Twitter thread:


In a blog post, former CZP staffer Michael Matheson responds to those who would like to see publishers like CZP dealt with more kindly:

And, commenting on the Chizine situation, writer and reviewer Gabino Iglesias points out:


I agree 100%. But I'm not holding my breath.

******

The scandal has unfolded very quickly but there've already been consequences. High Fever Books reports "a mass exodus" from CZP, with authors requesting rights reversions for their books, and withdrawing stories from CZP's forthcoming Christmas anthology. The Ontario Arts Council, one of CZP's funders, has recently removed CZP from its list of grant recommenders. And SFWA has issued a statement:


******

Finally, some semi-wonky publishing stuff.

There's been some discussion of irregularities with CZP's royalty statements. I've seen a number of these, kindly shared with me by CZP authors, and while they're somewhat of a chore to figure out and are missing some information that ideally should be present, the numbers do add up. However, a few things are sub-optimal.

- CZP's contract boilerplate empowers the publisher to set a "reasonable" reserve against returns. There are no specifics, so it's basically up to the publisher to decide what "reasonable" is.

For CZP, "reasonable" seems to mean 50%. This seemed high to me, so I did a mini-canvass of literary agents on Twitter. Most agreed that smaller is better--maybe 25-30%, though some felt that 50% was justifiable depending on the circumstances. They also pointed out that the reserve percentage should fall in subsequent reporting periods (CZP's remains at 50%, unless boilerplate has been negotiated otherwise), and that publishers should not hold reserves beyond two or three years, or four or five accounting periods (CZP has held reserves for some authors for much longer).

(If you're unclear on what a reserve against returns is, here's an explanation.)

- Per CZP's contract, royalties are paid "by the first royalty period falling one year after publication." What this means in practice (based on the royalty statements I saw) is that if your pub date is (hypothetically) April of 2016, you are not eligible for payment until the first royalty period that follows your one-year anniversary--which, since CZP pays royalties just once a year on a January-December schedule, would be the royalty period ending December 2017. Since publishers often take months to issue royalty statements and payments following the end of a royalty period, you'd get no royalty check until sometime in 2018--close to, or possibly more than, two full years after publication.

In effect, CZP is setting a 100% reserve against returns for at least a year following publication, and often much more. This gives it the use of the author's money for far too long, not to mention a financial cushion that lets it write smaller checks, since it doesn't have to pay anything out until after returns have come in (most sales and most returns occur during the first year of release).

I shouldn't need to say that this is non-standard. It's also, in my opinion, seriously exploitative.

- And...about that annual payment. It too is non-standard--even the big houses pay twice a year, and most small publishers pay quarterly or even more often. It's also extra-contractual--at least for the contracts I saw. According to CZP's boilerplate, payments are supposed to be bi-annual after that initial year-or-more embargo. The switch to annual payment appears to have been a unilateral decision by CZP owners for logistical and cost reasons, actual contract language be damned (I've seen documentation of this).

- A final wonky contract point: CZP's contract boilerplate mentions royalty payments (as in, they're bi-annual)--but does not, anywhere, mention royalty statements.

A publishing contract absolutely needs to bind a publisher not just to pay, but to account royalties on a regular basis (whether or not payments are due). If there's no contractual obligation for the publisher to provide royalty accounting, it may decline to do so--and that's not theoretical, I've gotten more than a few complaints about exactly this. Just one more reason to get knowledgeable advice on any publishing contract you're thinking of signing.
 
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