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April 13, 2018

Publishers Weekly Includes Two Vanity Publishers in its List of Fast-Growing Independent Presses

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Once again, Publishers Weekly's annual overview of fast-growing independent publishers features not only innovative indies, but publishers whose business model is largely built on author fees: Morgan James Publishing and Austin Macauley. Seriously, PW? Why do you  keep doing this?

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Billing itself as "The Entrepreneurial Publisher", Morgan James Publishing requires its authors "to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2." (Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that writers are asked for a "deposit" of up to $5,000 on contract signing; we've also had reports that additional fees may be due for editing and PR.)

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP falsely claims on its "compare" page that "Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release", and that even with self-publishing, "[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public." (It also--again falsely--suggests that "old school traditional publishers" take possession of authors' copyrights.)

Despite all of the above, MJP declares that "No Publishing Fee [is] charged, hidden or otherwise."

MJP has made PW's fast-growing indie publisher list several times in addition to this year, including 20162015, 20142013, and 2008 (when another pay-to-play publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, was also featured). Of all those articles, only the 2016 one mentions MJP's book huge purchase requirement.

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I've written before about Austin Macauley--and I'm not the only one: others have called AM out on its business model as well.

AM bills itself as a "hybrid" publisher*, and does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts. However, it presents itself as an "innovative independent trade publisher" and states that "we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal." This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer. But Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for, while we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers. Obviously this represents just a fraction of those who've submitted to AM; still, the proportion of non-fee to fee-based offers certainly suggests that the bulk of AM's business is fee-based.

Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). In my (non-legal; I'm not a lawyer) opinion, the AM contracts I've reviewed are substandard; there's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher." In effect, this is a life-of-copyright grant, with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. (I've written before about the vital importance of having a good rights reversion clause in a life-of-copyright contract.)

I've also viewed a number of AM's acceptance letters. There are differences, depending on the rationale for offering "contributory" contracts (new author, can't take the risk; previously published author, not successful enough) but other than that it's clearly cut-and-paste, with whole passages used verbatim in multiple letters.

You can see manymanymanymany manymanyauthor reports of Austin Macauley's fees online. AM is on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers List, and the Alliance of Independent Authors gives AM a red-flag advisory. Glassdoor.com features multiple one-star reviews from current and former AM staff with headlines like "Exploitative and Irrational" and "Not a Real Publisher." Also check out AM's extremely professional response (snark) to my blog post about it, in which it claims that I should be disbelieved because I'm a liar and a bully, and also because "Writer Beware are [sic] part of an organisation littered with racism, sexism and child molestation."

Recognition by PW will give AM a serious PR boost, doubtless drawing in many more unsuspecting authors. Predictably, AM is already making hay with it. But given the very large amount of online information to counter Austin Macauley's sunny claims about itself, PW clearly didn't do its due diligence in including AM on its annual list.

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* In part to counter the wide abuse of the term "hybrid publisher" (which is extensively employed by vanity publishers in an attempt to sanitize their business practices), The Independent Book Publishers Association recently issued a set of professional standards for hybrid publishers. While these standards are urgently needed in the Wild West world of independent presses, they also illustrate how easily a dishonest vanity publisher can present itself as a legitimate hybrid just by making public claims about its business model. 

18 comments :

Desertphile said...

Shame on Publishers Weekly.

Vyrdolak said...

Publishers Weekly has been doing this for a while; Author Solutions advertises with them prominently, and a recent news email from them (PW Daily) included a prominent ad for L. Ron Hubbard's "Writers of the Future" contest. PW has been on this track ever since they jumped on the "author services" bandwagon and started up PW Select, the pay-to-play listing service for "indie" authors. It's all about the money.

But a much more salient question for me is, why are vanity press outfits like this among the fastest growing "publishers"? Who are all these writers being suckered in by them, and why, after so many years of warnings by you and many writers' groups and associations, are there so many writers dumb enough to pay thousands of dollars to scammers? It makes me feel like I'm in the wrong line of work. :(

Desertphile said...

"... included a prominent ad for L. Ron Hubbard's 'Writers of the Future' contest."

The $cientology crime syndicate's "contest" was created by the mob's Sea Org, under the Guardian's Office (now called "The Office of Special Affairs") to "safe point" the mob with unwary writers. "Author Services Inc." and "Bridge Publications" are the crime syndicate's in-house vanity presses with which Hubbard printed and bought his own books by the tens of thousands. Hubbard fled the USA before the FBI raided his offices, and Hubbard let his prostitute wife Mary Sue (whom he met during a Thelemite ritual with rocket scientist Jack Parsons) and his staff go to prison for him.

The most recent "winners" of the "contest" include Sea Org members who work for the mob all day every day for about $12 a week if they are "in good standing."

Lisa McPherson was one of the people who laundered funds via "Bridge Publications" up until the day she was locked in the basement and starved / thirst to death by her "friends."

I am saddened that Writers Digest promotes the crime syndicate and its "contest."

Tony Geinzer said...

I feel like too many willies want to see work out without any awareness of quality of research. And, I feel the terrible habit of the meat on the grill without knowing what it is like I am 6 has me grizzled.

We can't pretend where influence and charisma has gone hand in hand like we delinneated actual crisis management and problem solving, but, surely it is a terrible habit we can't seem to shake and we have so many self publishers who don't know the difference between 6 Time Customers and throwing copies in the machine.

Anonymous said...

The answer to why they keep doing it is in their name: 'Publishers' Weekly

What better way to show their hatred of indie/self publishing than trying to trick as many of them as possible into paying for vanity press?

Victoria Strauss said...

I think it's more a matter of sloppy research than a grand conspiracy.

I'd be really curious to see what kind of documentation Austin Macauley provided to support its claim of 330% sales growth. My hunch is that it has a lot more to do with author recruitment than with per-book sales.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I keep getting review requests from Austin Macauley. I may have said no the first time, then I just started to delete them. The web site was unclear to me, but I have made it clear on my guidelines that I don’t review books published by vanity presses and I’m not interested in hearing from marketing companies. Now I know for sure!

Patsy said...

I'm probably really old fashioned and greedy, but when I sell my writing, I think I should be getting paid, not paying out.

Inkling said...

Quote from Vyrodolak: "But a much more salient question for me is, why are vanity press outfits like this among the fastest growing "publishers"?"

I suspect it is for much the same reason that sleazy, for-profit "college" are able to attract students who then discover, after going deeply into debt, that their degrees are almost worthless at getting a job. Like for-profit colleges, these vanity publishers aggressively seek out authors. That makes them those approached feel "wanted," when they are simply wanted for exploitation. Also, many of those students or authors come from backgrounds where there's no one knowledgable to tell them, "Stay away. It's a scam."

One result is that the weakest and most vulnerable are also the most likely to be exploited and then left burned out and angry.

I've posted my comments to the PW webpage. You might want to do the same.

--Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books



Desertphile said...

"One result is that the weakest and most vulnerable are also the most likely to be exploited and then left burned out and angry."

One of the major problems I have seen at writer's meetings is that writers are likely to be impatient with the publishing process. A fine manuscript still takes more than one year to be published, and that is after a year or more of finding a literary agent, and after the time span of the agent finding a publisher. A good manuscript can take years to become a book, and writers want to skip those necessary steps--- so they fall prey to vanity presses and scams. Even excellent manuscripts may never find a publisher, and writers need to understand that fact and accept it.

If writers' expectations were reasonable, and matched the real world, they would be far less likely to fall victim to scams and vanity (I call them "ego stroking") services.

Thomas Barrett said...

I am sorry to say that I found your website a little too late.I only put down a portion of the amount requested by Book Arts Press and was promise a refund if dissatisfied.
I called the office one day and was told by the person that answered the phone th account person handling my book was no longer with the company.
Five minutes later the new person handling my account called and she told me that the previous person had been transferred.I asked that since she had been transferred please have her call me. That was a month ago and I have asked many times.Someone is not telling the truth and do not why they would lie about a firing.If they cannot tell the truth about such a simple matter what else is not true.
Also requested they have an author who was satisfied with their service call me at the same time and never heard from anyone.
I am sure that I have lost initial payment but it could have been worse if I had not found you when I did.
Thanks

Victoria Strauss said...

Thomas Barrett,

You aren't alone. I've written a post about Book-Art Press and its identical twin, Window Press Club, and their unscrupulous business practices: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2018/01/solicitation-alert-book-art-press.html.

My advice, if you paid by credit card or PayPal, would be to dispute the charges. These companies take disputes seriously, and will investigate.

Desertphile said...

"I am sure that I have lost initial payment but it could have been worse if I had not found you when I did."

You can help out other writers by sharing your experience. If you can find forums where reviews of businesses are welcome, perhaps you can write a review for "Book Arts Press."

Brenda Hiatt said...

I contacted Brown Books Press based on this article and contacted them via their website. Last night I received their "proposal" for the first book in my YA series (which has done nicely in ebook, but I'd like to get more print distribution) and it reads like a typical vanity press "deal." Very disappointed that PW didn't do more due diligence...or was seduced by dollar signs from doing so.

Desertphile said...

"... Brown Books Press...."


https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/2012/january/milli-brown-will-publish-your-book-if-you-can-afford-it/

Ignorance is the default, so one cannot fault people for being scammed (based only on that article, I use the word "scam" with no qualifiers). However, the abusers know damn well they will never see any time in jail, let alone prison, for defrauding their victims: their terms of service are so wildly broad and open to vastly different interpretations that writers end up agreeing to utterly insane contracts that fall just short of telling writers that signing up means they will be robbed.

When I was a wee tot of about 11 years old I wanted to be a professional writer and earn my living writing. I read a fun book by Robert Fontaine titled THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. In this book he emphasized the fact that writers are paid to write: they do not pay to write.

It utterly baffles me when I see writers being defrauded and/or otherwise taken advantage of because of their ignorance. Being ignorant is one thing, and not something to be ashamed of; yet there comes a point when ignorance does not explain the odd behavior of some writers when they assume forking over many tens of thousands of dollars to buy their own books is somehow how the business works.

Average fiction manuscripts are worth about $6,300 these days (i.e., advance has been earned at around US$6,300). Yet some fiction writers pay many tens of thousands of dollars for useless "services" and some never see even one copy of their manuscript turned into a book.

A friend of mine paid $3,000 for professional editing of his latest non-fiction book. His "big five" publisher's advance was likely in the US$100,000 range, and his book stayed on the New York _Times_ best-selling list for a few weeks, and also on the Wall Street Journal's best-selling list. That's the only reason I can think of for a writer to send a few thousand dollars on her or his manuscript: after a publishing deal has been agreed to, worked out by an agent. My friend knew it was a fantastic manuscript, so he paid the $3,000 editing fee and had the manuscript professionally edited before his agent sent it to the publisher. He has had more than a dozen NYT best-sellers.

If you are paying someone else for your own work, you're doing it wrong. I have no idea why this is not obvious to everyone.

Victoria Strauss said...

I'm aware that Brown Books charges fees. I didn't highlight it in my post because I've never gotten any complaints about it (unlike Morgan James and Austin Macauley).

Brenda Hiatt said...

Victoria, I didn't find the printing and warehousing fees too out of line at Brown Books, or even the promotion fees, since they apparently do have access to actual distribution channels and have their people pitch to distributors to carry the books. But their "creative services" fees were hugely inflated and, in my case, mostly unnecessary. Some other fees were also clearly inflated. I'll keep looking for a viable avenue to give my YA books wider print distribution.

Desertphile said...

"... since they apparently do have access to actual distribution channels and have their people pitch to distributors to carry the books...."

Smashwords does that for writers for free, though they get a tiny percentage of sales.

https://www.smashwords.com/distribution

 
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