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.

July 26, 2018

How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you've completed a book and are looking for a publisher, you might think it makes sense to turn to Google. You aren't alone. "How to get published," "how to find a publisher," and "how to get a book published for the first time" are all popular internet search phrases.

This is not a great idea.

While such searches turn up excellent resources (such as Jane Friedman's Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published), a lot of what you'll see on the first couple of pages (which is as far as most people look), is useless or worse.

For instance, ads from vanity publishers, like Dorrance and Austin Macauley, and predatory author services companies, like Bookwhip and Readers Magnet.


A good rule of thumb: real publishers don't buy Google ads.

Another trap: listings for faux consumer guides like TopConsumerReviews.com, where overpriced author services companies like Xlibris and Outskirts Press pay for advertising, and misleading "Top 10" lists like this one or this one, which are really just a bunch of pay-per-click affiliate links. (There's a reason why so many of these sites list the same companies.) Be skeptical in general of any resource that claims to list the Top Anything--at best, this will be subjective and incomplete--or that presents itself as a consumer resource (unless you can verify that it is, in fact, a consumer resource).

Most insidious are the websites that purport to match you with appropriate publishers in exchange for information about yourself and your book. To name just a few: SearchForPublishers.com ("Designed specifically for budding authors"), NeedPublishingHelp.com ("We work to connect authors with the right people"), DiscoverPublishers.com ("Have publishers compete for your new book!"), and FindPublishingHelp.com and its UK cousin ("A free service that delivers the best publishing matches to writers and prospective authors").

The true purpose of these sites isn't to provide helpful guidance to writers, but to generate leads for author services companies and vanity publishers, which either pay for listings or buy the information gathered through the forms writers fill out. (FindPublishingHelp.com discloses this fact, kind of, but none of the others do.) That's why they want your phone number and mailing address, and why many of them ask how much you're willing to pay for publication. If you go through the process of filling out the forms, you'll either be promised direct contact from "interested publishers" (read: relentless phone solicitations from author services companies), or given a list of "personalized" recommendations--all of which are pay-to-play.

For instance, here's what you get from DiscoverPublishers.com:


And here are some familiar names, courtesy of FindPublishingHelp.com:


Many of these sites neglect to say who sponsors them, and have anonymized domain registrations. Some can be traced back to lead generation or affiliate marketing companies, such as JAG Offers, but figuring out their provenance can be very difficult.

Unless they're owned by the granddaddy of author services companies, Author Solutions.

Author Solutions is by far the largest sponsor of fake publisher matching sites, all designed to steer writers into the clutches of AS's many "imprints". Here are the ones I've found (so far):
AS does identify itself in tiny print at the bottom of the sites, or in the sites' privacy policies. But these mild disclosures can easily be missed by eager writers, who in any case may not be familiar with AS's reputation for high prices, aggressive solicitation, poor customer service, and junk marketing. (And seriously, who reads privacy policies?)

The internet is an invaluable resource. But it's also a tsunami of misinformation and a shark pit of scammers and opportunists, and to avoid falling victim to schemes and scams, you need to pop already know something about what you're looking for. That's why, if you're completely new to the publishing world, I suggest that you start with an old-fashioned book, and hold off on internet searches until you have enough basic knowledge to filter what you find.

For more suggestions for getting safely started on the publication search, see my updated blog post, Learning the Ropes.

July 12, 2018

Vanity Publisher Alert: Novum Publishing, United P.C. Publisher


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Novum Publishing is an Austria-based publisher that has expanded into several countries, including the UK and the USA. It also does business as United P.C. Publisher, and is incorporated in Florida as WSB Publishing Inc..

Novum describes itself as the "publisher for new authors," whose purpose is to provide newbies with "a fair chance" in a publishing market that's rigged against them. It touts its service, quality, innovation, and experience. It claims to be a European "market leader".

This is not the whole story, though the inexperienced authors who are Novum's target of choice might be hard-pressed to figure that out.

What Novum goes out of its way to obfuscate is that it is pay-to-play. Its website includes just a single phrase acknowledging this fact. Its brochure is more forthcoming--but only in aid of encouraging writers to believe that because "[n]ew authors are ignored for the most part" by large publishers, and smaller publishers are "inundated with manuscripts," newbies' only chance "is in the form of publishers with cost sharing for the author."

First of all, this isn't true. Finding a publisher is hard, but that doesn't mean you're doomed to pay. Secondly, whether it's "cost-sharing" or "partner-publishing" or some other label meant to imply that your fees are only part of the cost, it's far more likely that what you're being asked to pay has been carefully crafted to cover not just the entire expense, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.

And Novum's fees are substantial, running from just over $2,000 (for a "pocket-size" book) to more than $8,000 (for a "premium" package with a hardcover book). Novum does promise a full refund once 750 books are sold (not, of course, including copies that authors buy themselves)--but as with most vanity publishers that promise refunds, this number has likely been chosen because it's comfortably above the lifetime sales of the average Novum book.

Novum's contract, which is printed in a tiny font that's a strain to read, is terrible. It demands an exclusive grant of rights (even the much-maligned assisted self-publishing services offered by the Author Solutions imprints have non-exclusive contracts), and claims a huge swath of ancillary rights (I could find zero evidence that Novum is capable of either exploiting or licensing such rights). There's also a "cancellation fee" for early termination (always a warning sign, because publishers can and do abuse such provisions).

The summary page included with Novum's contract indicates that royalties are paid on retail price--but if you read the (very) fine print, it's clear that they're actually paid on net income.  Novum also doesn't have to pay royalties at all until 500 books have sold (as with the refund benchmark, there's probably a good reason why they picked this number).


Also, royalties are issued just once a year--and though the language isn't clear, it looks to me as if authors have to invoice Novum in order to get them.


How many authors will read this miniscule print carefully enough to understand all of this? Certainly some of the unhappy Novum authors I've heard from didn't.

Unlike Novum, United P.C. Publisher (it's not clear to me whether this is a subsidiary or a d.b.a.) claims to provide its services "free of charge." United P.C. appears to be Novum's fallback position: authors who've balked at Novum's fees report that they are told their book will be "recommended" to another publisher, after which they hear from United P.C. with a free publishing offer--"free" being a relative term given that the United PC contract has the same 500 sales exclusion on royalties, and involves the offer of many high-priced extras.

In 2013, the free publishing claim got United P.C. in trouble with the UK's Advertising Standards Agency (my bolding):
The ASA noted that [United P.C.'s] ad used the terms "publish" and "publishes" and stated that that service would be free of charge. We noted that the complainant reported being asked to pay for corrections, designing the front and back covers and the additional cost of publishing an e-book. We asked United Publisher to comment on that and for details of the proportion of respondents who kept to the free of charge contract and the proportion that chose to pay for additional services, but that information was not forthcoming....Because United Publisher had not supplied information that showed other respondents had not incurred similar costs, we concluded that the claims that United Publisher published books free of charge were misleading.
Online complaints that post-date the ASA's finding suggest that United P.C. hasn't changed its ways.

Novum's moneymaking efforts aren't limited to publishing books. It also publishes anthologies that charge by the page.



 And at one point, it was attempting to sell franchises, at a cost of between €75,000-125,000.


Writer Beware, indeed.

UPDATE 10/11/18: I've heard from a number of authors who balked at paying Novum's fees and then were offered a "free" contract from United PC Publisher. I would guess that even if the basic contract is free, you'll be offered (and possibly pressured to use) add-on services for a fee; I would also imagine that the contract will include the same or similar problematic language that I've identified above.

Just as important--Novum and United PC are the same company, and vanity publishers--which make their profits from author fees and self-purchases, rather than from book sales to the public--are not set up to provide high-quality editing, design, marketing, or promotion (because that would cut into their up-front profit). At best, you'll get a service equivalent to self-publishing, only with a much more restrictive contract.
 
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