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.

March 31, 2011

Karma's a Bitch: Robin Price, David William Caswell

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Two individuals who exploited writers got their comeuppances recently.

Robin Price of Avalon Associates, Media Arts International, and Prospero Films

Robin Price, a fake literary agent and film producer accused of bilking writers out of more than £500,000 over a number of years, admitted in a UK court on Wednesday to six counts of theft. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Price, who changed the name of his company several times to dodge complaints on the Internet, started out by setting himself up as a literary agent and charging relatively modest reading fees. Later, he presented himself as a film producer, convincing clients to hand over enormous sums of money to invest in non-existent film and publishing deals. He claimed extensive experience and contacts within the entertainment industry--this was a complete fabrication, but apparently Price was persuasive. One client paid him nearly £300,000, while others paid fees ranging from several hundred to many thousands of pounds.

I blogged about Price in January 2010, just after his first court appearance; my post contains a lot more detail about his various activities, including his use of well-known writers' names (without their knowledge) to further his schemes. Writer Beware was very familiar with him by the time he was arrested, having received a sizeable number of complaints. The court case identified 30 victims--but there are surely many more.

The Daily Mail has coverage of Price's sentencing, as does the BBC.

David William Caswell, New Century Publishing

In August 2010, the Indiana Attorney General filed suit against David William Caswell, CEO of US-based pay-to-play publisher New Century Publishing, for multiple violations of Indiana's Deceptive Consumer Act. In early March 2011, Caswell was ordered by an Indiana court to pay fines and restitution of more than $343,000 to 43 writers.

New Century charged anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 to publish. However, it was one of those fee-based publishers that didn't reveal its fees on its website, and many writers approached it in the belief that it was a "real" publisher. As if that weren't bad enough, writers alleged that Caswell took their money and failed to produce books, or produced fewer books than promised and then failed to market them.

Although only $81,874 of the amount Caswell has been ordered to pay is restitution (the rest is fines), the judgment is a vindication for the victims named in the suit (there are doubtless many more). But writers may have to wait a while for their money. Amazingly, Caswell has been the focus of two previous suits by the Indiana Attorney General (for deceptive acts connected with his job placement businesses), which resulted in judgments of nearly $100,000...of which, according to state records, he has paid just $600 to date.

I blogged about Caswell and New Century in August 2010, with much more detail about his activities, his legal history, and the complaints Writer Beware received about the publisher.

March 29, 2011

Why Your Self-Publishing Service Probably Didn't Cheat You

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I often hear from writers who are convinced that they're being cheated by their self-publishing services because they've been vigorously promoting their books, and yet their royalty checks are tiny. Often, these angry authors offer evidence: changing Amazon rankings, listings of their books with multiple online sellers, used copies for sale, friends' reports of purchases.

There's always the possibility that some kind of skullduggery or error is involved--especially if you've used one of the many small self-publishing services set up by not-necessarily-qualified individuals. The larger self-publishing services have pretty efficient setups for record-keeping and payment--but even so, mistakes can occur, and customer service may be inadequate, making problems hard to resolve.

However, in many cases, the trouble is not malfeasance or bad record-keeping, but authors' unrealistic expectations and assumptions. They may not be fully aware of the marketing and distribution challenges that go with self-publishing, or the dire sales statistics for the average self-published book. Or they may have spent too much time at Joe Konrath's blog, or read one too many articles about Amanda Hocking, and decided that they should be able to achieve a similar level of self-publishing success. In reality, self-publishing is a tough way to go--and getting tougher every day as more and more writers rush into the field--and the successes that are currently being made much of in the media--while impressive--are not a representative sample.

Writers may also be misinterpreting the information about their books that they find online. Here are a few of the arguments I'm seeing, and why they may not hold up.

- My book was #2 in the Spiritual Vampire Novels for Teens category on Amazon! These Amazon categories don't mean much. Not only do the more esoteric ones contain a limited number of books, the rankings are comparative, and therefore don't say much about actual sales. If you're #2 in a category where the other books are selling poorly, your book is also selling poorly--just, maybe, a bit less poorly.

- My Amazon ranking jumped 200,000 points in one day! That could mean one sale. Or it could mean no sale--Amazon rankings are comparative, and a slow day for top-selling books can boost the rankings of lower-selling or even non-selling books. Amazon rankings are irresistibly obsession-making, but they are not a reliable way of judging sales. (For a fairly helpful elucidation of the perpetually mysterious issue of Amazon sales rankings, see this explanation of print rankings and this explanation of Kindle rankings from Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books.) 

- Independent sellers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling my book used, so it must have been bought new! No. Many of these sellers simply list any book with an ISBN, figuring that if someone places an order they can then try to get hold of a copy. Seeing your book listed for sale "used" by independent sellers does not mean they ever had it in stock, or ever will.

- My book is listed by online retailers the world over! That means hundreds of copies must have been bought ! Sorry, but no again. The same principle applies here as with independent sellers. These listings are listings only--they don't involve physical copies.

- Hundreds of people are visiting my book's page on my website and clicking through to Amazon! Clicks don't correlate to sales. People often click through because they're interested in getting more info on the book, or seeing reviews--but that doesn't mean they actually buy. (And a large number of people who click through on any link click out within a few seconds.)

- All my friends and/or relatives told me they bought my book! This is a tricky one. Friends and relatives may not always tell the truth about book buying (they may actually have expected you to give them a free copy). Do you want to doubt your friends? Do you want to demand evidence of purchase from them? However, this is the one area where you may be able to collect and marshal proof of royalty discrepancies. So you may have to bite the bullet.

- My book is everywhere! Just Google it! My self-publishing service is selling hundreds of copies and keeping the profits! The bottom line is that most of the listings of your book are phantom listings. Online presence in no way correlates to sales. One can never rule out the possibility of bookkeeping errors--but even if your self-publishing service has made a mistake, the small sales that are typical of self-published books make it likely that any discrepancies will be minor.

[I inadvertently got Morris Rosenthal's name wrong, for which I apologize, and have edited this post to correct it.]

March 25, 2011

Submission Guidelines to Beware of: Midwest Literary Magazine

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Midwest Literary Magazine (MLM) bills itself as "the quiet press." Its online magazine publishes poetry, articles, and short fiction. Its mission: to "find and publish excellent authors of poetry, fiction and non-fiction."

So far so good. However,
Our vision does not include any self-promotion. We strive toward one simple integrity, “keep the focus on the writers and their work.” We do not list the real names of our staff members. This has been our tradition for years.
So writers who are interested in submitting to MLM must do so with no knowledge of who is actually running the publication. This is problematic in two respects: first, authors must take it on faith that the people involved are qualified to acquire, edit, and publish--not, in these days of easy electronic media, a safe assumption; and second, with anonymous staff there's no accountability. Of course, there may be no accountability with known staff either--Writer Beware's files are full of such complaints--but at least if you know the names of the people you're dealing with, you have a place to start.

So already, there are questions here that should make a savvy writer cautious. The real problem, though, is MLM's submission guidelines.
By submitting to MLM, you grant permission for MLM to publish your submission electronically, in print or through affiliated anthologies; now and in the future.

You may reprint your work, sell it, or otherwise continue to benefit from your work however, you must include an acknowledgement.
Submission, in other words, constitutes a grant of rights--kind of like those computer licenses where merely opening the package constitutes agreement to the licensing terms.

Just as bad: neither the rights you must surrender, nor the term for which you must surrender them, are precisely defined. "Now and in the future" implies that the grant is life-of-copyright, and "you may reprint your work" implies that the grant is nonexclusive, but that's far from an adequate explanation and it's open to a variety of interpretations. Also, MLM isn't a paying market--not uncommon with online magazines--but if your work is anthologized, you not only get no compensation, you don't even get a contributor's copy (though if you want to buy one, MLM will generously give you a coupon).

So, to recap: Merely by submitting to MLM--an anonymous publisher with no staff accountability--authors grant it the right to publish their work in multiple formats, presumably for the life of copyright, without further permission, notification, or payment. This actually is what happened to the writer who alerted me about MLM--they submitted (I suspect without carefully reading the guidelines), then decided to withdraw their submission because they hadn't heard from MLM, only to discover that their story had been published months earlier.

Writer beware, indeed.

MLM is just one example of this kind of submission guideline "gotcha"--I've seen others. Yet another reason to always read the fine print.

(MLM also has a book publishing program. It's free, though apparently if you want editing and other "extras" you have to pay.)

March 22, 2011

Judge Chin Denies Google Book Settlement

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Breaking news: Judge Denny Chin has denied the Google Book Settlement.

From Judge Chin's opinion:
The question presented is whether the ASA [Amended Settlement Agreement] is fair, adequate, and reasonable. I conclude that it is not.

While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA would simply go too far. It would permit this class action -- which was brought against defendant Google Inc. to challenge its scanning of books and display of "snippets" for on-line searching -- to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners. Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.

Accordingly, and for the reasons more fully discussed below, the motion for final approval of the ASA is denied.
Judge Chin also notes that "many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the ASA were converted from an 'opt-out' settlement to an 'opt-in' settlement."

The denial is without prejudice, which leaves Google and the Authors Guild free to go back to the drawing board and re-negotiate a revised settlement.

The full text of the opinion is here.

How Not to Market Your Book

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

How not to promote your book: make up a faux publicity company (at whose supposedly professional website you are the only listed client), whip up a badly-written press release (don't bother with grammarcheck), and spam everyone you can think of (including, unfortunately, Writer Beware).

That, apparently, is the strategy behind the email that landed in my Inbox the other day. It's just so awful I had to share it (it's exactly as written, though I've redacted the author's name, the title of the book, and the name of the faux publicity company.) Writers: don't do this.
Great Publication vs Successfully Commercial Stories - What's the difference?

Some questions have such clear answers that you know your answer the moment you hear or read it. These are of the "Who was the better James Bond: Connery or Dalton?" sort. You might even blink a few times to make sure you read the question correctly.

Any book publication that sells in excess of say 20 to 30 million copies in today's world must therefore be considered as somewhat "Great" no matter what or who happens with the work next?

Three examples come to mind... We know that J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings became the gold standard of fantasy novels almost immediately upon its publication in the mid-1950s and it's hard to know what to say about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books that hasn't been said a million times already, it being translated into 67 languages or that [author name redacted] [book title redacted] spectacularly illustrated book format has become a cult, all of which had differing physic affect on most of the any age reading public. No doubt, more copy-cat trilogies will be churned out in the future but not, true story telling masterpieces like the three above and for differing reasons, will always lead the way. So, vastly different stories they may all be, but the comparison between imagination, uniqueness, true story telling and reader enthusiasm is yet very valid.

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books have had phenomenal "Box-Office" commercial success through being converted into film without even using overpriced actors, while [author name redacted] [book title redacted] still has yet to achieve that accolade that sometime no doubtedly it will; once the studio moguls take it on and decide its eventual fate.

The point being made is that all three works were firstly publication successes before 'commercial barons' laid siege to mind blowing and sometimes difficult author's interpretational renderings. The simple conclusion is that 'true storytellers' are few and far between but, when the dose of commercial flair is injected to the mix it provides astounding financial results mainly because the proper passage of time and attention to publication detail have been connected to the box-office commerciality of proper work and not just some special effects demand.

"Its ALL about the Story Telling!"

Ask James Cameron about 'Avatar' and today he will now readily admit that it was just an astronomically expensive current fad, it will never stand the test of time as have the three publications mentioned above. Yet a well written publication. simple and not very expensive film like "The King's Speech" took the world by storm in 2011.

So People, with accountants of major studios failing to understand this concept, they will continue going down however, one day they will learn that its not about luck or even the money or names thrown into the film; its about creating a great story as a starting point and then developing that product base.

Should it be of any interest to you, please feel free to contact us directly at:-

[faux publicity company name redacted]

March 18, 2011

Another Book Giveaway: The Garden of the Stone

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I'm running another book giveaway this month, this time for my recently re-published fantasy novel, The Garden of the Stone (the sequel to The Arm of the Stone, both books now available in trade paperback and ebook format).

Here's the blurb:
At the heart of the Fortress lay the Garden.

At the heart of the Garden lay the Stone.

It was a living entity of power beyond understanding--not even by the men who had used its energies to control the unGifted masses, ever since the wrenching cataclysm that shattered the union of Hand and Mind and split the world centuries ago. Then came Bron, his arrival long foretold as the one destined to restore the balance between Hand and Mind. But Bron had other plans. He stole the Stone...and vanished.

Now Bron's daughter Cariad, a skilled empath and assassin, must follow the footsteps of a father she's never known, into the depths of the same Fortress. Waiting there is Jolyon, her father's greatest enemy, a man whose thirst for domination is matched only by his taste for blood...and who possesses the power to satisfy both appetites. Cariad must learn the secret of Jolyon's strength before it is too late. For just as her father's arrival was prophesied, so too is his return. And this time Jolyon is ready--for Bron to die.
I'm giving away 3 signed copies in a random drawing. To enter, send me an email at victoria [at], with "March Contest" in the subject line. Please include your mailing address. Your information won't be shared, and you will not be added to any lists.

The giveaway runs from now through March 31. Good luck!

March 15, 2011


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The tragedy in Japan makes things like coming up with new blog posts seem pretty trivial. Nevertheless, here are a few items of publishing news that have intrigued me over the past week or so.

Whoops, they did it again

Another traditional publisher has contracted with Author Solutions Inc. to run a self-publishing division. Berrett-Kohler, an independent nonfiction publisher, announced the launch of Open Book Editions, which it describes as a service for "aspiring authors who can't be sustainably published through our traditional publication program."

Unlike other ASI/publisher collaborations, Open Book Editions doesn't seem to have a dedicated website, but rather a page on the iUniverse website. Its packages are pricey, compared to some of the other collaborations--there are no options under $1,600. Copy editing is mandatory, and requires an additional fee. And as usual, there's the snake oil: "Open Book Edition titles will be reviewed on a regular basis by Berrett-Koehler to determine if any publications warrant consideration as a core BK publication."

For the record, I can understand why, in an increasingly difficult publication environment, publishers would want to shore up their bottom lines with a lucrative self-publishing division. But authors should not assume (and should not be encouraged to assume) that these divisions are a kind of farm team or test case. These collaborations are about making money for the publisher, not finding overlooked literary gems.

In related news, Thomas Nelson has just picked up for traditional publication a title first published by its self-pub division, WestBow Press. Note the extraordinary circumstance attending this acquisition: the title had already sold over 30,000 copies.

I paid a big entry fee, and all I got was this lousy sticker

The moneymaking (for the sponsor) awards scheme has come to ebooks. For a fee of $59 (or $49, if you enter more than 3 titles), ebook authors can enter Dan Poynter's Global eBook Awards in any one of 75 categories, to win...a sticker (a virtual one, that is). Oh, and a certificate.

As with other high-entry-fee, kitchen-sink-category awards (examples, for print books, include the National Indie Excellence Book Awards and the USA Book News Best Books Award, both of which actually charge extra for stickers and certificates), the judges aren't named, and--despite the Poynter name--the credibility is dubious.

Be careful what you sue for

A judge has dismissed the case of an author who launched a criminal libel suit against a journal editor who published a bad review of her book, and the author has been ordered to pay punitive damages to the defendant.

The moral of this story: bad reviews happen. Don't make a fool of yourself by whining about it.

This is far from the first time an author has lost his or her head over a bad review.

Ebooks: death of print or new market category?

Over at the always-interesting Idea Logical blog, Mike Shatzkin gives a persuasive argument for something I've been saying for some time: there's a lot of similarity between the revolution created by the growth of cheap mass market paperbacks in the 1940s, and the ebook revolution underway today.

In both cases, a new, cheap book format with an alternative method of distribution created a brand-new book marketplace, capturing a large audience and creating careers for writers who previously could not get a foothold in the world of trade publishing. In both cases, there's a high level of suspicion and resentment between the new market and the established one, and a good deal of fear that the new format will render the old one obsolete. There's also an initial absolute separation (in the beginning, publishers did mass market only or hardcover only, and the two did not mix; pre-Kindle, the same was largely true for epublishers and print publishers) followed by increasing assimilation.

The mass market paperback distribution system eventually broke down, and the mass market format--and its audience--is now fully integrated into the trade system. Will the same thing eventually happen to ebooks? Also, we live in digital time now, and the ebook revolution is overtaking us much more quickly than the mass market revolution did. Shatzkin points out some other differences:
There are a slew of differences between the transitions; ebook publishing has a title glut to deal with just like mass-market did, but the challenges are not the same when you don’t have printed books to manufacture and ship around and your distribution isn’t limited by shelf space or pockets to display them. And authors couldn’t do it themselves in the mass-market era the way they can today.
But, he concludes,
...there is a very basic lesson I think publishers better take on board from this history.

Much-less-expensive editions, combined with access to audiences for authors that couldn’t get past the gatekeepers in the established houses, can create millions of new readers that weren’t available to the legacy products at the legacy prices.

And that can lead to economic power that can ultimately swallow up large chunks of the legacy publishing establishment.

That last sentence reflects Shatzkin's belief that the mass market paperback houses "won," by buying or merging with the hardcover houses. I think that's a point that could be debated. But the bottom line is that while the mass market paperback may have cannibalized the hardcover to some degree, it did not supplant it. Instead, it created an entirely new market, and enormously expanded book readership in the process.

Perhaps the death-of-printers should hold off on the victory dance for a little while.

March 9, 2011

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? Internet Book Promotion

Posted by Ann C. Crispin for Writer Beware

Ask anyone – in these days of a less-than-thriving economy, and reduced budgets for book promotion, publishers increasingly count on authors to do much of the promotion for their own books.

For the past three years, I’ve been working on an enormous, “epic” project – a prequel to the popular Disney film series, Pirates of the Caribbean. My novel, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom, will be released May 17 of this year, and tells the story of how Jack Sparrow first became a pirate captain. For most of the time I was writing it, I was uncomfortably conscious of the fact that when I finished the actual writing of the book, my work would by no means be finished. I knew that, for the first time in my life, I’d really have to work at promoting a book.

It used to be that authors could concentrate on writing, and that their publishers would do most of the promotion for their books. Authors like SFWA Grand Master Andre Norton, who rarely traveled and who did few public appearances even on their home turf, could have successful careers and see their books sell very well.

I fear those days have gone the way of the dodo.

A bit of background: I’ve been writing novels as a profession for twenty-eight years. Except for teaching writing workshops from time to time, writing has been my sole livelihood. I’m hardly wealthy, but I paid the mortgage, put food on the table, and managed to travel a bit. Up until now, each time I had a novel released, I’d do a bit of promotion…I’d call up a few local bookstores and let the managers know that I was available for a book signing. Sometimes I’d call my local paper and tell them about the release, and, because Southern Maryland isn’t exactly crawling with science fiction and fantasy authors, and The Maryland Independent focuses on items of local interest in its Arts and Entertainment section, they’d send a reporter out to snap my picture and interview me. I also attended two or three science fiction conventions each year, often because the conventions invited me to come and teach their writing workshops.

This novel has been different. As soon as Disney told me it was okay to “go public” with it, in November 2010, I knew I had to dig in and start promoting the book. It remains to be seen whether my efforts will pay off – The Price of Freedom won’t be released for another two and a half months. But I thought I’d share my experiences with you so far.

From the get-go, I knew I couldn’t spend a lot of money on promotion. For one thing, I still don’t know exactly what Disney plans. I’ve only recently been assigned my publicist with Disney, and she’s still working out what the company plans to do. I have more time than money to spend on promotion (though I’m starting a new novel, of course) so I decided to concentrate my efforts on the internet.

The first step in promoting was, obviously, to update my website ( which was sadly in need of attention. I’d basically ignored it for the three years it took to write The Price of Freedom. I began sending updates to my webmaster: a new photo I’d had taken, the book’s cover, and, each month, I’ve selected an excerpt to post from the book. I chose excepts that wouldn’t reveal too much about the book, but would give readers who recalled the films fondly a glimpse into the “questions” my novel would answer – things like, how did Jack Sparrow first meet Hector Barbossa, and Cutler Beckett? Most of the excerpts have featured Jack as the POV character, but not all. I selected scenes that didn’t give away too much plot, but let potential readers know the book was full of humor, and had magic and treasure – in other words, it had the same components that they’d seen and enjoyed in the films. (Actually, the book has a serious side – the slave trade in Africa in the early 18th century, but in the excerpts I’m keeping it light, adventurous and funny,)

While I was working on the website, I also become active on Facebook. Facebook was easy to learn, and I was gratified to find that a surprising number of my readers asking to “friend” me. In addition to the typical Facebook chit-chat, I’ve written brief commentary about the book, and posted pictures of the finalized cover. Facebook aficionados adore pictures, so I’ve included several relating to the book – for example, a picture of me standing beside the enormous movie skull “standup” at a local theater, and a picture of me about to enter the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disney World. (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth “pirates” film, will be released May 20th, the same week as my novel. I’m really lucky the studio selected that date for the book’s release…it’s just about the best “promo” an author could hope to get!)

In addition to the above, I used Google to find Pirates of the Caribbean fan groups, and Johnny Depp fan groups. I joined the groups, and regularly post links to the new excerpts. The two Johnny Depp groups I joined have proved particularly welcoming, and I’m scheduled to be interviewed by both The Depp Zone and Johnny Depp Reads within a month after the book’s release.

Since events in my novel are considered POTC “canon” (at least until countered by events or dialogue in any of the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean films) I also hunted up the Wikipedia pages written about Jack Sparrow, the other characters in POTC, and The Black Pearl, and edited them to conform to the events as described in my novel. This brought me to the attention of the POTC “Wikia” folks and they’ve been pouncing on each excerpt from the book as I post it, analyzing it for new material about the universe they love. They’re determined to get every snippet of information possible about it…and, of course my book is cited as a source each time they make a new entry.

Next arrow in my promo quiver will be signing on to Twitter and learning to tweet. I figure I have amassed enough snippets of writing and publishing lore that my tweets will help aspiring writers, in addition to getting my name more recognized. I’m taking Victoria as my model – she has amassed a large following with her Writer Beware tweets, because she has something worthwhile to share with writers.

As we draw closer to release date, I’ll begin doing “pre-pub” interviews with some of the internet groups I’ve joined. Leaders of such groups, plus reviewers, can request an ARC of The Price of Freedom, and Disney publicity will send them one. The ARC isn’t the final version, of course. But it’s about 75% the same as the published novel, and I’m hoping it will intrigue those who read it, and make them want to read the actual book.

When the novel is released, I plan to set up an internet “blog tour.” I know lots of writers, and many have excellent, well-read blogs.

Speaking of blogs, I am toying with the idea of starting one of my own – a personal one. I’d like to either have it on my website, or link it to my website. I’m not very computer literate, so I’ll need to research more on how this can actually work. Before I became active on Facebook, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to handle a personal blog. I am not very good at talking about myself. I’d rather write half a chapter in a novel than a brief bio for the dustcover flap! But with the FB experience under my belt, I feel more capable of tackling one.

When the book is released, I will, of course, do my usual thing of contacting bookstores and my local newspaper. That’s an easy and inexpensive way to get a bit of exposure. New authors dream of store book signings – but, realistically speaking, they’re a drop in the bucket for sales. I’ll also do twice as many science fiction and fantasy conventions this year as usual. I’m already scheduled for Shore Leave and Dragoncon, but I’ve already touched base with Balticon, and am considering Renovation and the San Diego Comicon.

I’ll also probably go to the Book Expo America in Manhattan at the end of May. (Lately Writer Beware has noticed that one of the big money-making vanity publishing ventures is inducing their writers to come to BEA and other book fairs all over the world, and charging them hefty fees to do so. These folks sell their authors on the idea of attending by claiming it will boost book sales and get them international marketing and exposure. The reality of BEA is that it really isn’t a good venue for author promotion, unless the author has a new book coming out that the publisher is putting money and time into promoting – which of course doesn’t hold true for vanity publishers. There, the authors are the only ones writing checks.)

So, in summary, my promotion strategy is:

1. Before the book is released, concentrate on (free) internet venues to get the word out about it, in the hope that news of the book will “go viral” as they say. I’m still exploring venues for promoting the book. For example, at Farpoint last weekend, I discovered the world of “pirate re-enactors” and plan to check them out and see what online message boards they have that I could join.

2. As the book gets nearer to being released, coordinate my efforts with anything Disney comes up with, making myself available for any radio interviews, podcasts, cable shows (NOT the ones where you pay!!!!) etc., that present themselves to me, or that my publicist suggests.

3. When the book is released, do the usual booksignings, etc., but also try to attend “pirate gatherings” (yes, they have them!), more science fiction and fantasy conventions, etc. Have “blog tour” arranged and do it.

4. Continue promoting throughout the summer and fall, leaving no (especially free) stone unturned in promotional opportunities. Be very organized, keep a good calendar and records, since events where I have to travel, etc., will be tax deductible.

5. Hold my breath the day my first royalty statement arrives, to see how well my efforts have paid off.

Of course, the best promotion an author can get is simply having a book available in as many venues as possible, including on the shelves in brick and mortar bookstores. Electronic sales are increasing by leaps and bounds, no doubt about it, but many potential readers still like to browse bookstores, pick up books (at 235,000 words, they’ll need to exert some effort to pick up The Price of Freedom!) and page through them. This is where self-publishing services have problems. They can’t get nationwide in-store book distribution. I’m fortunate to have that.

A final comment, my friends. Brace yourself. This kind of work may not be as difficult as actually writing, but it’s very time-consuming, and it is work. So polish up your websites, put your best words forward, and leave no legit promotional stone unturned. When an opportunity to promote your book presents itself, grab it. For example, I wrote this post for two reasons: in the hope that my experience might be helpful to other authors with books coming out and also for…

Well, yeah. You guessed it.

-Ann C. Crispin
Chair, Writer Beware
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Price of Freedom
Publisher: Disney Editions
Release Date: May 17, 2011

March 4, 2011

Contest Alert:

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've been getting some questions about a new competition:
In May 2011, the publishers of many of the world's most famous authors - including Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer - join to support The Next Big Author: a new initiative which encourages budding authors to write the opening to a novel in May.
All you have to do, according to the Competition Rules, is write your opening chapters (any genre, between 5,000 and 7,000 words), upload them between May 17 and May 21 to writers' critique community/POD publishing service (this requires joining YouWriteOn, which is free), and exchange reviews with other contestants and YouWriteOn members (for every review you do, you receive a review of your own chapters). On July 1, the five highest-ranked contestants will be announced. Each of these winners will receive a critique from someone at Random House, Bloomsbury, Orion, Little, Brown, or Hodder & Stoughton.

Hang on, you may be thinking at this point. YouWriteOn. Doesn't that ring a bell?

Why, yes, it does. YouWriteOn is the originator of the ill-conceived 5,000 writers publishing initiative, which in 2008 aimed to recruit 5,000 writers in slightly over a month, and publish their books (via a bare-bones basic POD service) just two months later. Not surprisingly, this did not go well. At most, a few hundred books were released, and many writers experienced significant problems, including substantial delays, poor production quality, and difficulty communicating with YWO. The dissatisfaction generated thereby was energetically displayed on the YWO message board--leading to the message board's abrupt closure in mid-December 2008.

Despite these problems, YWO continued its publishing service--though it parted ways with its original partner in the venture, Legend Press. Last September, possibly looking to boost its business, YWO issued another call for writers--though this time, it was wise enough to hold the number down to 200.

Apart from facilitating the competition, what exactly is YWO's relationship to TheNextBigAuthor? YouWriteOn's website and the press release it's sending out state only that YWO is "supporting" the competition. TNBA itself offers no information at all about its organizers (who are referred to only as "the organizers"), and the wording of its website could encourage people to assume that the competition is being helmed by the publishers involved. But given that entering the competition forces you to join YWO and follow its critique rules, that the prize is basically the same thing YWO offers monthly to its top-rated members, that apart from brief mentions by two of the participating publishers YWO appears to be the only group that's actively promoting the competition, and that the competition will likely substantially boost YWO's membership--I'm guessing (and this is just a guess, mind) that "supporting" is something of an understatement. (There are also various telltale similarities of expression--for instance, TNBA displays YWO's odd quirk of identifying publishers by their most famous authors.)

(Interestingly, when I was researching this post yesterday, the competition announcement on the YWO message board had generated a number of questions about the rules and a couple of skeptical comments to the effect of, "How is this different from what YWO does anyway?" Today, magically, those comments are gone.)

There's no question that this is a real competition, and  that the publishers' participation is also real--as noted above, a couple of the publishers have acknowledged the competition, and the book covers, author quotes, and excerpts that appear on TheNextBigAuthor are clearly by permission of the publishers. There are no "gotchas" in the guidelines, and assuming you're willing to fulfill the entry requirements, the prize is worthwhile--who wouldn't want a critique from a publishing professional?

Nevertheless, if YWO is indeed the nameless organizer, it's kind of sneaky not to make that clear. Either way, the lack of information about who's running the competition is something of a red flag. When entering a competition, you should always know exactly with whom you're dealing.
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