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.

October 29, 2019

Fireside Press Cancels Multiple Contracts

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Last week, the SFWA Contracts Committee issued this advisory.
SFWA Contracts Committee Advisory on No-advance Contracts

Recently, SFWA's Contracts Committee was made aware of a situation in which a well-liked publisher canceled the publication of a number of books it had contracted to publish. The publisher said the decision was made because of "unexpected changes" at the company. The Committee has reviewed the contract in use, which lacked a provision for such a cancellation. The Committee believes that canceling a contracted book that satisfies the author’s obligations is at odds with the spirit of the contract. Making this situation worse is the fact that these were no-advance contracts. Because no advance was paid, the publisher could make this decision without financial penalties. The authors' books, were, in effect, put in limbo for many months and the authors received nothing but an apology. Besides depriving the authors of the ability to sell the books elsewhere during this delay and putting off any income from the books into the indefinite future, the authors careers suffer as a result.

Publishers of all sizes may find themselves unable to live up to their contractual commitments for a wide variety of reasons, some of which could not have been reasonably anticipated. Hence, the Contracts Committee urges writers to think carefully about signing a contract that provides no advance, or only a nominal advance, while tying up their work for a lengthy period of time. Critically, payment of an advance gives an indication the publisher actually has the financial resources to meet its obligations. Publishers who do not pay advances or pay only nominal advances should include language in their contracts specifying how they can cancel a book and what happens if they should cancel a book, including a specified amount of compensation to the author.

SFWA Contracts Committee
October 25, 2019

Legal Disclaimer: The contract alert should not be understood to be legal advice. The issues presented by contract law are complex. Authors should consult a competent attorney familiar with the business of publishing as well as contract law before signing any contract.
The publisher in question is Fireside Press.

The cancellations were first reported on October 8 by Jason Sanford in his Genre Grapevine column, and discussed on October 9 in Mike Glyer's File 770. Fireside publisher Pablo Defendini issued a statement on October 8, in which he revealed that the five canceled contracts were for manuscripts that were "unpublished and unannounced", and attributed the cancellations to disruptions caused by editorial departures.

Author Meg Elison, one of the canceled authors, did not find this to be a sufficient explanation...and she was livid.



A few days later, Defendini issued an apology. "I can see now how [the cancellation emails] read as callous, uncaring, and dismissive of the authors’ feelings," he wrote. "I’m very sorry for that....My behavior was not consistent with Fireside’s values, and I deeply regret it."

Beyond the Contracts Committee's general warning about no-advance contracts (and if you're part of the small press world, you know how common these are): multiple simultaneous contract cancellations are not frequent or normal, and can signal trouble beyond whatever the publisher offers as an explanation (if it explains at all). Ditto for a publisher that suddenly starts offering to revert rights on request.

Fireside's situation also highlights the risks of signing with a publisher that's essentially a one-person operation (as Defendini admits in his apology). With the best will in the world, the publisher can be sidelined by a single bad event (personal or professional), leading to glitches, errors, and delays in scheduling, payment, and more. Writer Beware's files are stuffed with such stories.

Troubled publishers do recover, or at least hang on. Month9, which canceled dozens of contracts in 2016, is still publishing, as is Permuted Press, which axed an undisclosed number of titles in 2015 (both publishers cited overstocked lists, though in both cases there were other issues as well). In the short term, though, if a publisher is or has been actively shedding writers, it's best to hold off on submitting until it's clearer what's going on.

October 3, 2019

A Pack Of Scammer Lies


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

How do scammers entrap unwary writers? The other day, an especially egregious example came across my desk, in the form of this "proposal" shared with me by an author who really, really wanted to believe it was real (I've redacted the author's name and book title to protect their privacy).


Not to beat a horse, dead or otherwise, but if you'll glance at the sidebar, you'll see that Alpha Books United is on Writer Beware's big list of Philippines-based Author Solutions copycat publishing and marketing scams. (When I got hold of this proposal, on September 26, Alpha Books' website was working fine, but when I checked it today it refused to load. "Mr. Ken Davis", however, has not stopped emailing and calling the author who contacted me.)

(UPDATE: Just a few hours later, Alpha Books' website is back online. Check out its specifics-free About Us page, on which it tells the following lie: "Once you’re earmarked, we open the possibility for you to be eligible for a non-contributory agreement with us.")

Here's the bait. Author empowerment! Amazing expertise! Commitment! Relationships! Sounds good, right? (Other than the complete lack of any verifiable specifics, of course.) Like most scammers, Alpha Books is counting on establishing a direct line to the author's deepest hopes, dreams, and ego.

Note that there's no mention of money. The initial phone calls and emails sent by "Ken Davis" didn't mention money, either.


Here are the "PUBLISHING Inclusions" supposedly on offer (only "if needed", of course!). Kind of bare bones basic, right? But for an author who isn't all that savvy about what goes into design and production, it hits the high spots: cover design, print and ebook format, and the all-important "content evaluation," which Alpha Books is hoping the author will wrongly interpret as "editing".

Again: no mention of money. That will come later, after the author has responded with interest to what they may believe is an amazing offer, especially if it's accompanied by flattery about how their book has been "discovered" or "recommended" by "book scouts" or "literary agents". These scams are successful in part because they solicit so relentlessly, but also because they have an acute grasp of author psychology. They know that it's easier to hook victims if you first get the victims to hook themselves.


And here is the pack of lies. Well, pretty much everything the scammers offer is a lie, but these are mostly slant lies: they could be true (it's just that they aren't). Alpha Books, on the other hand, distinguishes itself by going well beyond the usual obfuscations and half-truths with a great big alternative fact: guess what, we have access to Penguin Random House! Which will pay you $40,000!

If Alpha Books' previous phone calls and emails haven't convinced the potential victim, this magic name surely will. It's an especially sneaky tactic because there really is an Alpha Books associated with PRH: it's under the umbrella of the DK imprint, and publishes, among other things, the popular Idiots Guides series.

Of course, to anyone who knows a little bit about publishing, Alpha Books' claims about PRH are laughable:


The author who received this pitch nearly fell for it. Only when "Ken Davis" told them they'd have to pay $7,000 for this wonderful opportunity (the "true" cost being $19,000, of which Alpha Books would supposedly defray the bulk) did they start to balk. At that point, this happened:


As brazen as most of these scams are, this is just about the worst I've seen.

Fortunately the author contacted me, and I was able to convince them they were being scammed. (It wasn't the first time: they'd originally published with one of the Author Solutions imprints, and had previously been solicited by scammers Bookwhip, Stonewall Press, and True Media Creatives.)

I'm guessing that at least a few of my readers will be thinking "Well, if someone is that naive/ignorant/unwary, they deserve what they get." Believe me, I get frustrated too with writers' gullibility, and in particular with how many writers fail to educate themselves about publishing and self-publishing before trying to publish. But no one, no matter what, deserves to be deceived and ripped off by a pack of con artists.

That's why I keep doing what I do. Suck it, scammers.
 
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