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 31, 2019

Alert: Trouble at Dog Ear Publishing


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Founded in 2004, Dog Ear Publishing is part of the surge of Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing companies--many of them now defunct--that entered the market in the early aughts.

Headquartered, like AS, in Indiana, Dog Ear presents itself--with more than a smidge of exaggeration--as "The best of traditional publishing, re-imagined for the modern author". Its publishing and marketing packages are typical for this type of company, and while they're not among the most expensive, they aren't cheap, either.

Unlike the various Author Solutions imprints, Writer Beware never received any complaints about Dog Ear, which appears to have been reasonably trouble-free for most of its existence.

Not so now.

I first became aware of problems at Dog Ear in March of this year, via a Watchdog Report from the Alliance of Independent Authors' John Doppler.
The Watchdog Desk has received multiple reports of problems at Dog Ear Publishing, an Indianapolis-based self-publishing service. After careful investigation, in our opinion there is indeed cause for concern.

We have heard from several authors who allege they have been waiting months for payments on royalties due. Emails and phone calls to the company reportedly go unanswered. In at least two of these cases, the authors sent legal notices via certified mail, demanding immediate payment of overdue royalties and an accurate accounting of sales.

Although receipt of the demands was confirmed by the U.S. Post Office, Dog Ear Publishing has so far failed to respond.
A large number of similar complaints appear at the Better Business Bureau, which revoked Dog Ear's accreditation in March due to its failure to respond to or resolve the complaints. Other complaints can be found on Yelp, which is not typically a forum for reports about publishing services; and on Complaints Board--where they go back to 2009.

Now the Indianapolis Star has published a detailed story on trouble at Dog Ear, entitled "Dog Ear Publishing Faces Claims It Owes Authors Thousands."
Actor Michael Kostroff self-published his book Audition Psych 101 in 2017 with Indianapolis-based Dog Ear Publishing.

Kostroff, who played roles on The Wire as well as Law and Order: SVU, said he was happy with the production process and the book sold well.

Then it came time to give the author royalty payments – something Kostroff and nine other authors interviewed by IndyStar allege the company has not done on time, in full or, in some cases, at all for about the past 12 to 18 months.
IndyStar reports that its attempts to contact Dog Ear's owners have gone unanswered, apart from a vague comment by one of the company's owners, Ray Robinson:
"We do seem to have crossed a threshold where the challenges have reached a critical mass," [Robinson] wrote. "The industry has seen this with most self publishers when they accumulate more than about 10,000 authors." 
(It is highly unlikely that Dog Ear has or ever had that number of authors. According to reports by Bowker, it issued a total of 4,926 titles between 2008 and 2017; the most titles it has ever published in a single year is 662 [in 2014], and the least is 282 [in 2008]. Assuming that numbers for 2004-2007 are similar to 2008, and also assuming that every author who ever published with Dog Ear is still publishing with Dog Ear--which obviously is not at all probable--the total clearly doesn't come anywhere near 10,000.)

Non-response appears to be a pattern for the company. Authors interviewed by IndyStar say they've received no or vague answers to their questions and requests for payment, and according to the article, Dog Ear's owners, Ray Robinson and Alan Harris, have failed to show up in court for multiple lawsuits brought against the company, both by authors trying to get paid and by one of Dog Ear's founders, Miles Nelson, who left the company in 2016 but alleges he was never compensated for his share of the business. Another recent lawsuit, by Dog Ear's former leasing company, drew an appearance by Robinson but not by Harris, who was slapped with a $19,000 default judgment.

IndyStar details authors' speculation that Dog Ear may file for bankruptcy, either to re-organize or to liquidate and pay off creditors. I suspect, though, that this isn't terribly likely, especially if few assets remain; and in any case, authors are not well-served even when there are specific provisions for bankruptcy in their contracts. A group of authors is hoping to gather enough plaintiffs to launch a class action suit--but even if assets can be found, the cost of litigation could easily exceed them; and if (as is probably much more likely) there are few or no assets, a class action is pointless.

Authors have contacted the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General, where there are 19 open complaints. According to IndyStar, the AG is investigating, although the official quoted by IndyStar doesn't sound too keen:
Betsy DeNardi, director and chief counsel of consumer protection with the office, said if a company doesn’t respond to inquiries, a complaint case is usually closed. This happened with a case against Dog Ear in fall 2018, though 19 others remain open.

Some cases do result in litigation, if there seems to have been a violation of consumer protection laws. DeNardi said she did not know of any recent legal cases handled by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office against a self-publishing company.
(In fact, there have been at least two. In May of 2008, the Indiana Attorney General filed suit against Airleaf LLC, an assisted self-publishing company founded by an Author Solutions alumnus, for, among other things, violating Indiana's Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. The suit resulted in a Consent Judgment that did not include significant restitution, but did ultimately drive Airleaf out of business. And in October 2010, the AG filed suit against New Century Publishing, an Indiana-based "publisher" that charged enormous fees, also for violations of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, resulting in a default judgment ordering restitution of $81,875.15 to 43 authors. Amazingly, the AG had sued New Century's owner, David Caswell, twice before for different frauds; each suit resulted in a monetary judgment, but somehow Caswell managed never to pay.)

So is the end near for Dog Ear Publishing? The signs certainly don't look good. Ultimately, it may never be possible to know exactly what went wrong--but I'm guessing that at least some part was played by the general decline of the Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing business in recent years, under pressure from lower-cost and more straightforward DIY self-publishing platforms like Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and others.

Author Solutions itself has been dwindling for a while: per the Bowker reports referenced above, its title roster for 2017 was less than half of what it was at its high point in 2011. Output for Outskirts Press, another of the early assisted self-pub companies, peaked in 2013 and has dropped by 21% since then. Wheatmark's titles are down 77% from its 2008 pinnacle, and Xulon Press hit its highest numbers in 2013 but by 2017 had seen a drop of 39%. As for Dog Ear, after a 2014 high point of 662 titles, output fell year by year through 2018, when, according to Amazon, it issued just 378 books--a decline of 43%.

Dog Ear's website is still open for business, and its Facebook page is active (though its Twitter feed looks a bit neglected). It is also still issuing titles, the most recent of which has a pub date of July 2. Writers be warned.

If you're a Dog Ear author and have not been paid (or have had other problems), you can file an online complaint with the Indiana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division here. Where litigation has been undertaken against problem publishers or publishing services, it has usually been the result of a large volume of author complaints.

July 12, 2019

From Writer Beware's Files: Seven Prolific Vanity Publishers


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Vanity publishers, unfortunately, are not in short supply. Writer Beware's files include hundreds of them, large and small. But there's a select few about which we hear most often, via writers' questions and complaints. These companies reel in scores, hundreds, and even thousands of writers, often doing business on an industrial scale.

I'm going to provide a snapshot of some of these below. But first, some common deceptive terms.

Hybrid Publisher: There's some disagreement over whether there actually is such a thing as a hybrid publisher--a company that charges substantial fees yet provides a service that's otherwise equivalent to traditional publishing, including rigorous selectivity and editing, high royalties, offline distribution, non-bogus PR, and more. Regardless, the term is extensively misused by vanity publishers trying to look more legitimate. Any publisher billing itself as "hybrid" demands further investigation.

Co-Publishing and Partner Publishing: These are also euphemisms beloved of vanities. The implication is that the publisher contributes something of value to match or exceed whatever the author is being asked to pay or buy: the lion's share of publishing costs, for instance, or some kind of deep publishing expertise.

However, vanity publishing is a whole different business model from traditional publishing, with profits primarily derived not from book sales to the public, but from author fees and self-purchases. Far from being a contribution or a share, your fee will likely cover not just the entire cost of publishing your book, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well. And vanity publishers have little incentive to cut into that profit by providing high-quality publishing and marketing services.

******

Writer Beware receives more reports and questions about self-styled "hybrid" Austin Macauley Publishers than we do about any other vanity. Based in the UK, AM has aggressively expanded over the past few years, extending its tentacles into the USA, the UAE, and Australia.

Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section of AM's contract is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). Some authors are offered a choice of fees depending on which book formats they pick.

AM does occasionally offer a fee-free contract. But these are no bargain: among other things, there's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher"--in effect, a life-of-copyright grant with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. Also, as pointed out above, vanity publishing is a very particular business model. It's unlikely the vanity will have the staff expertise, distribution channels, or budget to provide a service that's anywhere near equivalent to what you'd receive from a traditional publisher--even if you don't have to pay a fee.

AM is currently recruiting writers via deceptively-headlined Google ads, which encourage authors who use certain search phrases to believe they are submitting to a Big 5 publisher:

For a more detailed look at AM (including its scurrilous rebuttal to my criticism, which has been removed from the web but survives thanks to the Wayback Machine), see my 2016 blog post: Questions For Vanity Publisher Austin Macauley Yield Few Answers.

As of this writing, AM is overdue on filing financial statements.

******

UK-based Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie is the oldest of the companies mentioned in this post, having been in business since the early 2000s. Like Austin Macauley, it claims to offer both traditional and "shared-cost inclusive" (i.e., pay to play) contracts to its authors, which "enables us to provide equal opportunities to both new and established authors" (claiming that new authors are a greater risk than established ones is a common rationale used by vanity publishers to justify their fees).

Like many vanities, Pegasus doesn't mention any actual money amounts on its website, but per reports Writer Beware has received, as well as others that can be found online, fees average around £2,500, with some going lower or higher (the highest we've heard about is £4,500). This is presented to authors as a "contribution"--supposedly, just part of the cost--but as I've explained above, claims of cost-sharing or partnership should be treated with skepticism.

Again like Austin Macauley, Pegasus's contract describes its fee as an "Advance". And speaking of similarities between these two vanities: with just a few exceptions, their author-unfriendly contracts are word-for-word identical.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Well, consider that AM and Pegasus have shared people, too. Mr. Bu-Azal Bedar, who briefly served as Pegasus's Director and owns more than 50% of shares in the company, was Secretary at Austin Macauley from 2007 to 2012.

That's not all. Mr. Bedar is also Director at Ashwell Publishing Ltd., which does business as Olympia Publishers. Writer Beware doesn't get questions or complaints about Olympia nearly as often as we do about AM and Pegasus, but we've gotten enough to know that it charges similar fees and, amazingly (or maybe not) offers the exact same word-for-word identical contract.

Finally, check out the comments on this review of Olympia by The Independent Publishing Magazine, in which numerous authors report receiving offers not just from Olympia, but from AM or Pegasus as well--or as with this poor fellow, all three:


Coming full circle, a fourth connected vanity, Artemis Publishers Ltd., has applied to be dissolved and its URL, www.artemispublishers.com, has been set to re-direct to Pegasus.

******

I've written several times in this blog about Morgan James Publishing--most recently in 2018--regarding its repeated inclusion on Publisher's Weekly's annual list of fast-growing independent publishers.

Morgan James may be "independent," but it's also a vanity publisher. It 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 at least some writers are asked for a "deposit" of as much as $5,000 on contract signing. I've also had reports of additional fees for editing and PR.

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP 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." Neither of these claims is true.

******


Page Publishing is one of a triad of sorts, a group of US-based vanity publishers that have very similar fees and business models, and present and advertise themselves in very similar ways. (The other two are Christian Faith Publishing and Newman Springs Publishing, both of which I discuss below). I haven't been able to find any proof that the three are connected (with the exception of one possible coincidence, detailed below), but as you'll see as you read on, the similarities are striking.

Page is the oldest of the three, with a 2011 founding date--although I didn't start getting questions about it until 2013. Many of the authors I've heard from missed the brief reference to "a manageable investment" on Page's About Us page, and assumed its claim to be a "full-service publishing house" meant it was a traditional publisher.

No actual prices are mentioned on Page's website, but based on the many, many reports, questions, and complaints I've received, as well as others that can be found online, Page's fees average in the $3,000-$5,000 range, paid on an installment plan over 10 or 12 months. As with so many vanity publishers, authors can spend hundreds or even thousands beyond their basic fee if they spring for optional promotional packages and materials, such as video trailers and sell sheets.

Page is an aggressive advertiser, with multiple Google ads and the kind of TV ads that run on channels like CNN or Fox News or the History Channel during the afternoon hours and late at night. Its BBB listing is stocked with an improbably large number of five-star reviews (the BBB is not normally a place where writers flock to leave reviews of their publishers)--however, it has also gathered some complaints, which paint a very different picture and echo what I've heard from writers who've contacted me.

Page is one of the most prolific vanities out there; if Amazon is to be believed, it has published over 7,000 books to date. Austin Macauley knows a competitor when it sees one:

******

Founded in 2014 by an alumnus of disgraced Christian vanity Tate Publishing, Christian Faith Publishing describes itself as a "full-service book publisher" that "partners" with its authors to deliver "personal care and national marketing exposure." All that's required is "a short-term, affordable monthly installment plan".

Sound familiar?

As with Page, CFP's fees--which it doesn't disclose anywhere on its website--average between $3,000 and $5,000, paid in installments over a period of months. Marketing is an add-on: for instance, $3,400 for a package that includes a "High-Definition Video Trailer", a press release, and a page on CFP's website. (This is not marketing, it's junk. It's not worth one cent, let alone four figures.)

Again like Page, CFP is an aggressive advertiser, with a similar range of Google and TV ads. Its BBB listing too boasts hundreds of five-star reviews...along with the inevitable complaints that tell a different story.

Remember the possible coincidence I mentioned in my discussion of Page, above? Check out CFP's corporation directors:


See the third name on the list? Dustin Roberts is the name of Page Publishing's CEO. Could this be a different Dustin Roberts? Sure. But given the nature of both businesses, one could be pardoned for wondering.

CFP is currently the subject of a wage and hour lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleges that they and others were not paid overtime. Dismissed in 2018 in favor of the plaintiff due to CFP's failure to appear or defend, the case was re-opened in 2019, and the plaintiff is now seeking a class action.

This summary of the lawsuit includes some interesting details about what CFP employees do:


Full-service, indeed.

******

Newman Springs Publishing, the third of the triad, is the baby of the bunch, having opened its doors in early 2017. Its first books didn't come out until June 2018, but it hasn't been idle: according to Amazon, it already has a catalog of nearly 400 titles.

Like CFP and Page, Newman Springs styles itself a "partner publisher," and employs a similarly modest--and non-specific--description of its fees ("a relatively inexpensive initial investment"). According to reports I've received, as well as others that can be found online, "relatively inexpensive" means the same price range as CFP and Page: somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, paid in installments over 10 or 12 months. Additional money may be due for extras like video trailers.

A more polished version of Newman Springs' website pitch is here.

Newman Springs uses the same advertising tactics as CFP and Page: Google ads and late-night TV commercials. Also similar is its BBB listing, which includes a suspiciously large--and growing--array of five-star reviews. It hasn't been in business long enough to score any complaints, but I'm sure those are coming.
 
Design by The Blog Decorator