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 27, 2015

Lost in Translation: In Which I Investigate a Translation Service, and They Are Not Amused

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, I got a question about the reputation of a service called Author Translation. I'd never heard of it before, so I paid a visit to its website.

Logically enough, given its name, AT offers "literary translations for authors, online and worldwide." The website doesn't say which languages are AT's specialty, but per its Twitter feed, that would appear to be Spanish only. Also not revealed: exactly who is doing the translations, and what qualifications they have. It's said only that they are "literary translators, proofreaders, bloggers and reviewers with English and Spanish literature studies."

The cost? $5 per translated page. This relatively low fee (good translations are expensive) was what attracted my correspondent, who would like to be able to sell her book into the Spanish-language market.

Unfortunately, I had to tell her that you tend to get what you pay for. AT raises a bunch of red flags. Not knowing who the translators are is the big one, because you have no way to investigate their qualifications and expertise--especially vital when you're hiring someone to render your work into a language you don't speak, and can't judge the finished product on your own. Also: there are unsubstantiated claims (AT says it works with publishing houses, but doesn't say which ones). Testimonials with stock images. And the website reads as if it were written by someone with an imperfect command of English--not really what you want to see in a translation service.

I decided to try and find out more about AT. So I emailed them, using my own name and my personal email address.
I'm interested in finding out more information about your company. Could you please tell me about your staff and their qualifications? Also, could you please let me know what publishing houses you've worked with, and provide me with some author references?

Thank you very much.

- Victoria
AT responded promptly (all errors are theirs):
Dear Victoria,

thanks for your interest. I think you can find some of that information on our webpage, for example which publishing houses or authors. We have a samples page for that, but at this time we only have one example because our startup is very new and under construction. We are based on Spain and We don't have staff but a group of freelance friends who are willing to lend a hand when it would be possible. As you may know the name of the translators rules are the same than the author's names: they can be published or not, depending on personal choice.

Kind regards

Author Translation Team
This seemed a tad vague to me--not to mention confusing; that last sentence is a bit of a syntax-twister. I wrote back:
Thanks for your quick response. So I gather from what you're saying that the people who do the translations are not professional translators? You can see the problem for the author, who wants their book translated into a language they can't speak or read themselves, and has no way of judging the quality of the finished product--so it's very important to know that they are working with qualified people.

I did look on your webpage, but I couldn't find the names of publishing houses or authors other than the one testimonial. Is that the only client you've worked with so far?

Thank you for answering my questions.

- Victoria
Well, it appears I went too far, because the tone of their next communication was very different.
You seem to gather what you want to gather. I told you the translators publish their names depending on personal choice (you can be published or anonymous), why do you gather from this sentence that "they are not professionals" ? Maybe you need psychological treatment if you understand so badly. In addition, why do you say that " a language they can't speak or read themselves " if I told you that we are Spanish? Are you crazy ? And why you say that "the author has no way of judging the quality of the finished product" if everybody can pass some few translated pages to any Spanish person in order to judge? Please, don't disturb us any more, I answered you and I didn't have any duty of doing that. I did it only because you seem to be part of a bigger organization, but your "watchdog" is the more stupid thing I have ever seen in my life. Go away you and your dog.
If I had a dog, I'm sure she would be crushed. Perhaps I should have let it go at that point, but I couldn't resist.
Thank you. You've now told me everything I need to know about your service.

- Victoria
Imagine my surprise to receive this:
I warn you that slander anybody on the Internet is a legal felony; and if we see any of your liars out there we will report that to the police and our lawyers.
So now, dear reader, I think that you, too, know all you need to know about Author Translation.

January 23, 2015

Two Red-Flag Sentences in Publishing Contracts

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A publishing contract just came across my desk for evaluation. From a publisher that sometimes charges fees (but didn't in this case), it's a pretty poor contract--just two pages long, because it's missing a lot of important language: nothing to indicate when the contract term starts to run (on publication? on signing?), no editing clause, a claim on subsidiary rights with no breakout of the rights claimed, no copyright notice requirement, the same royalty rate for all formats including ebooks...the list goes on.

As if that weren't bad enough, it also includes two provisions that, even in contracts that are more professional and complete than this one, can be red-flag warnings.
Promotion and publicity shall be at Publisher’s election and discretion as to the character, scope and extent thereof.
With this or similar language, the publisher may be trying to convince you that it actively promotes and publicizes its books (because of course you want that from a publisher), while ensuring that it can blow off your dissatisfaction when it turns out to do little or nothing. "It says right in the contract that publicity is at our discretion," it may tell you when you ask it to explain why its sole marketing strategy is a poorly-written press release sent to a list of people you provided. "We didn't promise anything else."

Now, this kind of language isn't always a sign of a deadbeat publisher. You can also find it in contracts from quite decent publishers, which simply want to emphasize that marketing is under their control. But many deadbeat publishers do use it as a get-out-of-jail-free card--so where you encounter it, you're well-advised to find out for yourself whether the publisher really does provide marketing support for its books.
It is further understood that Publisher has not guaranteed the sale of any specific number of copies of the said Work, or receipts from any source.
This is a sentence you will not find in the contract of a reputable, professional publisher. Quite simply, it's advance justification for failure--another way for the publisher to both justify and dismiss poor performance. It's an almost certain marker for little or no promotion and tiny sales. Vanity publishers frequently include it in their contracts, as do amateur publishers that have no clue what they're doing.

For more on assessing publishing contracts, see my recent post: Evaluating Publishing Contracts: Six Ways You May Be Sabotaging Yourself.

January 21, 2015

New Look for Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you're a regular here, you'll have noticed our new look!

It's courtesy of the talented Tiana Smith of The Blog Decorator, who offered to donate a custom blog template just because she thinks Writer Beware is awesome. We're grateful for her generosity, and thrilled to finally have a design that lives up to our new logo. We hope you like it, too.

Thanks, Tiana!

January 6, 2015

2014 in Review: The Best of Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Welcome to 2015! It's time again for our annual look back at the year just past, to remind you of our most important, helpful, or amusing posts.

Here goes.


Scribd's Ebook Subscription Service: A look at Scribd's ebook subscription service--which in January 2014 was brand-new--and the related concerns raised by the rampant piracy on the site. Says Writer Beware's Michael Capobianco: "[B]eneath all the new things, the old Scribd--offering not-necessarily-legal user uploads of copyrighted works--is still there."(Scribd later responded, stating that it's concerned about illegal uploads and working to prevent them.)


Questions to Ask Your Prospective Literary Agent: What are the right questions to ask when you receive The Call? How can you be sure if the agent is really right for you--if his plan for your manuscript matches your goals, if her style is a good fit for your needs? This post provides a big list of resources to help you formulate the right questions--and to assess the answers you receive.

PublishAmerica Is Now America Star Books: A name change does not a new company make--but it can sometimes create the appearance of one. Notorious PublishAmerica took the name change plunge in early 2014, re-christening itself America Star Books.

Alert: Jane Dowary Agency: I love the weird stories, and this is one of the weirdest--an "agent" who appeared under three different aliases, and then cluelessly outed herself while adopting a fourth.


The Short Life and Strange Death of Entranced Publishing: The cautionary tale of a small press that started too big, got into trouble, and went bust in less than a year. A good example of why it's smart to avoid new publishers for at least a year post-startup.

Rights Concerns: The Amtrak Residency Program: This new program from Amtrak promised "to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel" to write while experiencing round-trip train journeys along Amtrak's most scenic routes. The response from writers was huge--but so were concerns about the Grant of Rights to which authors had to agree.


Take the Money and Run: the saga of Kerry Jacobson, faux book publicist, who solicited thousands of dollars from self-published authors for publicity campaigns that never happened.


Robert Fletcher of SBPRA Required to Pay Author Resititution: At long last, the Florida Attorney General's civil lawsuit against Robert Fletcher and his companies (see Writer Beware's Alert for a full catalog of the many names under which this business has operated) drew to a close, with a settlement that did not require Fletcher to admit guilt but did require him to submit to a number of conditions and to pay $125,000 in author restitution (an amount that increased to $135,000 when Fletcher missed the payment deadline).


Bait and Switch for Self-Published Authors: In which apparently helpful feedback from readers turns into a sales pitch.


Self-Publishing and Author-Agent Agreements: The Need for Change: You don't sign with an agent unless you're planning to pursue traditional publishing--but even so, your author-agent agreement should include language addressing self-publishing. Unfortunately, most don't. This post explores why that can become a problem, and suggests questions about self-publishing that your new agent should be willing to answer.

Time to Bury the Hachette: Michael Capobianco takes a look at what was maybe last year's biggest publishing news--the standoff between Amazon and Hachette over sales terms--and suggests a role for author advocacy groups in resolving such disputes.


Haters Gonna Hate: The Smear Campaign Against Absolute Write: A look at the ugly troll campaign to discredit one of the Internet's better writers' resources. The post that got me doxxed.

Writer Beware's Self-Publishing Page Renovated and Updated: Our completely overhauled Self-Publishing page includes an overview of how technology has transformed self-publishing, pointers on making the decision to self-publish (or not), an expanded list of cautions for self-publishers (including common scams), and many new links to articles, experts, and statistics.


Author-Editor Compatibility: If you're thinking of hiring an independent editor, don't miss this excellent guest post from editor Katherine Pickett on a crucial, but often overlooked, element of the author-editor relationship.


How to Request Rights Reversion From Your Publisher: A primer on requesting your rights back from your publisher--even in difficult or adversarial circumstances.

Kindle Scout: The Pros and Cons: A detailed look at Amazon's new crowdsourced publishing venture, which I feel occupies an uneasy middle ground between publishing and self-publishing, embracing characteristics of both while offering the benefits of neither.


Scam Warnings for Freelancers: Two scams--one common, one not--against which freelance writers should be on their guard. 


Wrong Ways to Try and Escape Your Deadbeat Publisher:  If your deadbeat publisher won't let you go (and I hear almost daily from writers who are in this situation), you may be considering ways to get around your contract and re-publish on your own. This post details some common ideas on how to do this--and why they won't work.

Evaluating Publishing Contracts: Six Ways You May be Sabotaging Yourself: Should you believe your publisher if it promises that a nasty contract clause will never be enforced? Or trust it if it tells you that contract language doesn't mean what you think it means? This post explores how these and other assumptions could come back to bite you. Never forget that in the author-publisher relationship, the exact wording of the contract--not the publisher's assurances--is the bottom line.
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