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October 2, 2018

Contest Caution: Waldorf Publishing's Manuscript Contest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Another contest! I seem to be writing about these a lot lately.

This contest is from Waldorf Publishing, which is "is always seeking new talent to add to our extensive roster." I'm going to count the red flags that are evident just from the contest and Waldorf's website--plus the secret one that you'd never know was there because Waldorf actively conceals it.

Red flag number one: the contest rules. These don't look so bad, until you get to this:

Entrants retain copyright, but so does Waldorf? Say what? They can't both be true. If Waldorf is this confused about its rules--or, perhaps, about the difference between rights and copyright--it is not a good sign. (I suspect the latter: I've seen Waldorf contracts, and they don't claim copyright.)

Red flag number two: Here's what you can win. Reads like a self-publishing package rather than traditional publishing, doesn't it? Complete with junk marketing.

Red flag number three: the entrance fee is $49. This isn't as high as some profiteering contests, which can charge $100 or even more; but it's still high enough to suggest that Waldorf has an eye to making a bit of cash from this contest.

Waldorf's "focus is not only on producing unique, quality reading for a wide audience, but also to help our authors gain the recognition they deserve." Waldorf touts the many media opportunities it supposedly has assisted its authors to obtain--CNN, the BBC, NPR, The Guardian, and many more; however, there's nothing on Waldorf's website to confirm any of those claims. No links to articles. No author testimonials. Not even a Press page.

Unverifiable claims: that's red flag number four.

Red flag number five: the covers. A few are OK. Others are so obviously amateurish they must be author-created (or if not, Waldorf employs really bad illustrators). Many are actually inferior to the "custom" covers designed by assisted self-publishing services. Clearly there isn't a lot of quality control going on here.

Red flag number six: Waldorf has released 75 books so far in 2018. That's up from 49 in 2017, 23 in 2016, and just 14 in 2015. Not only is that a major ramp-up year to year, it's also a really big release schedule for 2018. Unless Waldorf maintains a large staff of editors, illustrators, and publicists, there's no way these books are going to receive careful production or publisher support....

...Which brings us to red flag number seven: who the heck is running the company? The only staff member discussed on Waldorf's About page is the owner, Barbara Terry, who appears to have had no professional book publishing or writing experience before establishing Waldorf in 2014 (her one book, How Athletes Roll, was issued by the now-defunct Comfort Publishing, which charged fees for services). She claims to be assisted by "a small team of talented individuals"--but who are these people? What are their qualifications? Do they exist? It's a mystery. A reputable publisher should provide this information.

I've gone into detail on all these red flags to demonstrate that, even without being aware of the most pertinent information about this company--information it keeps secret from the public--there is a lot to question about Waldorf Publishing and its contest. You really don't need this secret information at all to recognize that both are best avoided.

So what's the secret information? You've probably already guessed. Red flag number eight: Waldorf is pay-to-play, though authors won't discover this until they receive a contract offer (unless they contact me, of course). This is from the "Royalty Presentation" it sends to authors:
This is one of the sneakier examples of the lengths vanity publishers will go to in order to be able to claim that they're not vanities. The carrot of the higher royalties (which are paid on net, by the way) is intended to make the fees seem more palatable (and it's a very small carrot, given the absolutely dire Amazon sales rankings of most of Waldorf's recent books). Maybe some authors do choose the 10% "industry standard" (ha!) royalty and publish for free--but it's clear that Waldorf's business model is built on author fees, and a publisher that makes money before a book is even published has little incentive to cut into that up-front profit by providing high-quality production services and promotional support to the books it releases.

Red flag number nine:  by concealing the fact that it charges fees--which are not mentioned anywhere on its website or in its contest guidelines--Waldorf is deceptive.

All things considered, winning a free publishing package in a contest from a stealth vanity publisher is not much of a prize.

UPDATE 4/17/19: I'm hearing reports from Waldorf authors they they aren't getting paid royalties due, and also aren't receiving marketing services they paid for (such as Kirkus Indie reviews). Apparently Ms. Terry is claiming that she's having problems with her distributor.


Allen F said...

Thank you, one more clown car of doom that you've nails the doors shut on so those clowns will have trouble attracting others. ;-)

Vervain Vanity said...

The cover of that panda book in their store is the stuff of late night cheese snack induced nightmares... clown car is right!

Anonymous said...

Why don't you get in touch with some of the Waldorf authors and see what they have to say before you trash a new and growing publishing house? You'll find you are only making assumptions, and arrogant, misguided assumptions at that. First of all, if authors get 10% of the royalties, they publish for free. Why make a snarky comment about that? Second of all, Barbara Terry is actively promoting all of her books in every way she can possibly think of, including book fairs and book displays. And they are selling. Her publishing house is doing well and so are her authors, but all you are doing is scaring writers away from one of the more hard working and genuine publishers that are out there. Writers beware of Writer's Beware and their ridiculous witch hunts.

Victoria Strauss said...

Hello, Anonymous 12/04,

I stand by my assessment of Waldorf Publishing, including its sizeable fees, of which I have ample documentation. "Genuine" publishers don't charge fees.

Anonymous said...

Waldorf does the same thing as a traditional publisher, with free publishing and 10% royalties (as you pointed out yourself in your blog) for those who choose to not do the other options. If another option (completely up to the author to take it or leave it) is to give an author 40% of royalties I'd imagine there would be a need to offset the costs in some way in order for the publisher to stay afloat? Many large, traditional publishers don't do enough to promote their authors' books (and this is in addition to only offering 10% of royalties). I have one friend who has been discouraged after publishing with one to the point of giving up on writing as a career. I realize there are a lot of vanity presses out there (and worse) and if you're a serious writer you don't want to waste your time on any of those and hurt your integrity. But what I'm saying is maybe try to be more open-minded to the small, independent presses- like Waldorf- that are dedicated to their authors and dedicated to the success of their publishing house. The ones that think outside the box and find creative ways to promote and sell books (ie book fairs, book displays, getting educational books into school curricula), well above and beyond just Amazon/Barnes and Noble. Waldorf has been an excellent guide and has strongly encouraged me to get reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and has also (at no cost to me) gotten my book reviewed through NetGalley and Amazon Vine. I have received extensive lists of e-mail addresses and contact information from Waldorf (at no cost to me) so I could reach out to libraries and bookstores, and this has helped tremendously with book promotion. My books have received positive Kirkus reviews and other editorial reviews and nominations to "best of" lists on Goodreads. In addition to me, I'm sure you could reach out to another 50 or so Waldorf authors (at least) who are happy with Waldorf as their publisher. I sincerely hope you post this because there are good opportunities out there that people are being dissuaded from pursuing because of misinformation and biases. Thank you.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 12/6,

Waldorf does _not_ do the same thing as a traditional publisher, because traditional publishers don't charge fees. Yes, Waldorf offers a "free" option with measly net royalties (per Waldorf's contract, it's 10% of net on _all_ editions, which is unacceptably low for ebooks)--but it's really just a loss leader for the higher royalty options, which require four-figure fees. This is not how traditional publishers operate.

A publisher that charges an upfront fee has made a profit before the book is ever published. This substantially diminishes (if not entirely eliminates) their incentive to spend effort and money getting books into the hands of readers--so they really don't need to worry about "offsetting" higher royalties, because any book sales are gravy. As a corollary, they don't have an incentive to invest in high-quality editing, design, marketing, and distribution (the many substandard covers on display at Waldorf's website testify to that)--not only because they don't want to cut into that initial profit by spending a lot of money on the actual publishing of the book, but because readers' opinions don't much matter.

Many of the things you cite as pluses with Waldorf--NetGalley listing, email lists, book fair display--are identical to what you could get through many self-publishing platforms that might cost you less and give you a better share of your book's income. Did you pay for the Kirkus review through the Kirkus Indie program? If Waldorf were a traditional publisher, it might have gotten you that review at no cost to you. Also, on the Royalty Presentations I've seen from Waldorf, they pledge to print "at a minimum of 1000 copies of the book as the first order from the printer." Have you ever attempted to verify that this was actually done?

I'm sorry to be blunt. You're happy with Waldorf now--that's great. I hope you do well, and that you're as happy a year from now. Please come back and let us know.

Anonymous said...

Profit or no profit, incentive or no incentive, Waldorf is highly motivated and is doing all of the things I mentioned. I can't speak for other Waldorf authors but I know Waldorf submitted my title to Kirkus. I'm not interested in self-publishing since despite all the perks you claim that are identical to what Waldorf offers, I'd have to promote the book completely on my own (which thanks to Waldorf is not something I need to do). Sorry you don't like the cover quality of the books, but numerous libraries I have been in touch with have given me good feedback. I don't know exactly how many copies of my book have been printed but the book has been selling on Amazon and I have yet to see it go out of print.

Thanks for the invitation to revisit in a year. So far it's been a couple of years and I'm still very happy with Waldorf Publishing. Thank you as well for posting my comments and let me say what I needed to say.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion in general, not just regarding Waldorf. I would say that, regarding incentive, that is entirely dependent on the personality of the publisher and, as in many aspects of life, probably shouldn't be generalized. I would also say that there are many negatives associated with larger, "genuine" (your word) publishers. A big one: it can be very, very difficult to be published by such places. As to self publishing, this is, unfortunately pretty stigmatizing. Hopefully small but legitimate publishers that use a variety of tools to help their cash flow (and therefore their authors potentially as well), will not likewise be stigmatized by unfounded and harsh reviews.

Claire G. Coleman said...

As Victoria said: ""Genuine" publishers don't charge fees.".

I will go one step further than that. Genuine publishers pay advances to Authors.

Anonymous said...

As someone who worked at Waldorf Publishing, I will say that the company as a whole is downright messy. Their marketing team is years behind on the promotion of books, and needed someone to help with the promotion of books published in 2017. It's currently 2019. Not only that, but by promotion, all they wanted was a single post on social media with whatever information they can gather from the book jacket. There's no social media campaign for any of their titles, and they wanted 5 posts a day. Given that their social media following is relatively low and the fact that they have very little brand loyalty, if any, writers are better off finding another publishing company.

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