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.

January 24, 2020

Junk Book Marketing: Pay-to-Play Magazines


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

On this blog and elsewhere, I spend a lot of time warning about junk book marketing services: so-called marketing and promotional services that are cheap to provide, but can be sold at a big markup, and for the most part are of little worth for book promotion or can more effectively be done by the author him/herself. Some examples: press releases, email blasts, book trailers, book fair display, social media setup, and social media advertising.

All these and more are hawked to writers at exorbitant prices by assisted self-publishing companies like the various Author Solutions imprints--and also, increasingly, by their scam imitators. Either way, they're a ripoff...but the scammers demand even bigger fees, tell even bigger lies, and deliver even more shoddy results. And that's when they're not just taking your money and running.

A few weeks ago, I focused on pay-to-play radio interviews--another junk marketing service--and why they're not worth the huge fees charged by providers. This week, I'm going to talk about pay-to-play magazines. (You'll note that all the companies discussed below are on my Big List of Publishing and Marketing Scams.)

Have you ever received a solicitation like this one?
Or this one?
Or this one?
Of course the books haven't undergone "extensive evaluation", or been "carefully chosen", or showed to "a team" that "really like[s] your vision". Such solicitations are just spam, blasted out to addresses scraped from the internet or stolen from self-publishing company customer lists.

Nor are these real magazines, in the sense of publications that are widely available to the public. Instead, they're collections of ads, interviews, and "feature articles" sold to writers at huge prices, sometimes interspersed with general interest pieces (often really badly written) or, in the case of New Reader Magazine, with fiction, poetry, and art. These "publications" are never circulated in any meaningful sense; they may be posted online, but their primary mode of distribution is from tables in company booths at book fairs...where many of the authors buying ad or interview space have already paid a premium for display.


The prices the faux magazines charge for placement can be enormous. For instance, here's the  "Executive Full-Spread Ad" from Paperclips Magazine, which is owned by (not "partnered with" as claimed in its solicitation email) publishing and marketing scammer Legaia Books:


A "Showcase" full-page ad costs $3,698 ($2,218.80 on sale), and a "Premier" half-page ad clocks in at $2,599 ($1,299.50 on sale). Paperclips' parent company, Legaia Books, also sells publishing and marketing services at high prices, using deceptive sales tactics to target small press- and self-published authors.

Here's one writer's not very satisfactory experience with Paperclips. I've gotten emails from many others.

New Reader Magazine--which looks quite legit if you don't know better--is owned by New Reader Media. Though the magazine actually appears to provide small payments for content acquired via general submission, it charges anywhere from $5,000 and up for the magazine feature and "partnership" mentioned in its solicitation email. Like Legaia, New Reader Media also sells publishing and marketing services at gigantic prices, as well as book-to-screen services (always a scam).

New Reader has accumulated some online complaints due to its aggressive solicitation and poor performance. It has also been caught making false claims, such as that it was responsible for Christopher Paolini's bestselling novel Eragon being made into a movie.

The Christmas magazine that's the subject of EC Publishing's solicitation can be seen here (if you're brave, you can also check out the Las Vegas Edition, produced for the Las Vegas Book Festival). Like most of the pay-to-play magazines, it's a compilation of author-purchased ads and features, laughably badly-written general interest articles, and a smattering of actual advertising. Prices for inclusion range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on how much space is purchased.

Thanks to its aggressive soliciting, EC Publishing is the subject of a warning from the Australian Society of Authors.

Authors Press's Authorial magazine has its own website (note the "notice of non-affiliation and disclaimer" that pops up if you linger on the home page: the scammers read Writer Beware). Writers can buy a spot in the magazine, starting at fees of a few hundred dollars; ad space or "features" are also included in some of the more expensive promotional packages Authors Press offers.

Authorial's BEA 2019 issue consists of more than 75 pages of author ads, interviews, and excerpts. Just imagine the thousands of dollars in revenue generated by all those pages, some of which include ten or more ads. Also have a peek at Authorial's gallery page, which features photos of  the dozens of books displayed in Authors Press's BEA booth. In 2019, writers were being charged anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 for presence in the booth, depending on what level of activity they chose. Now multiply all of this by the seven book fairs Authors Press attended in 2019. It's not chump change.

From URLink Print and Media comes Harbinger Post. Like the others, it's nearly all paid content, interspersed here and there with staff-written features. Here's an example of the caliber of that writing:


Other scammy publishing and marketing companies that sell space in proprietary magazines (I've received multiple complaints about all these companies):

Global Summit House: Global Summit House
Litfire Publishing: WayFairer
AuthorCentrix: AuthorCentrix Magazine
Stonewall Press (defunct): GoldCrest Magazine

Print advertising is expensive, and how useful it is for book marketing is an open question. But if it is to be effective at all, it must offer the possibility of being seen by a large audience of potentially interested readers and buyers.

That means circulation, subscriptions, and quality content beyond mere advertising--not ad-stuffed, error-ridden, proprietary publications whose only exposure to the public is a "free, take one" stack on a side table in a book fair booth. Even if the ad slots weren't insanely expensive--and even if writers didn't have to pay for what real magazines never charge for, such as interviews--buying space in these fake publications would be a waste of money.

Writer beware.

January 15, 2020

What You Need to Know About How California's New Law AB-5 Affects Writers


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Scroll down for updates

Last year, California passed a new law, AB-5, intended to make things better for gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, by forcing these companies to provide employee protections and benefits for their freelance workers.

However, the narrowly-written law, which went into effect on January 2, has created unintended consequences for freelance writers, most of whom are independent by preference. If they sell 35 or more pieces to the same company in a year (which can easily happen with short blog posts or  product reviews), the company must treat them as employees rather than freelancers and pay payroll taxes as well as unemployment and other insurances. Even before the law went into effect, companies were laying off California freelancers and seeking replacements in other states.

Book writers may be affected too, under certain specific circumstances.

The article below was originally published by the Authors Guild; I'm re-printing it with permission. This is an issue all writers need to be aware of, as similar laws are under consideration in other states, including New York and New Jersey.

******

We have been receiving inquiries about California’s new law AB-5 and similar pending legislation in other states that require companies hiring individuals on a freelance basis for labor or services to treat them as employees, unless the individual’s work falls within one of several exceptions. Laws like AB-5 (which goes into effect on January 2) are meant to aid gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, who work for a single company and have no employee protections. They are well-intentioned pieces of legislation, but unless they are narrowly written, they can go beyond protecting gig workers and disadvantage many traditional freelancers who wish to remain independent by overriding existing state agency law.

To be clear, the Authors Guild fully supports employment protections for freelance journalists and authors, and will be lobbying for collective bargaining rights in 2020. Like Uber drivers, writers have no benefits and are often paid less than minimum wage. But forcing writers to work as employees, especially on a state-by-state basis, is not the way to go about it. The situation in California speaks to the importance of deliberation, careful drafting, and getting buy-ins from the various industry groups. Similar “gig worker” bills are in the works in New York and New Jersey. The new draft NJ bill includes a strict, sweeping version of the ABC test. Those working closely on the bill are concerned that freelance journalists will in many cases be treated as employees. We will watch the bill and do our best to ensure that the necessary protections for freelance journalists are added.

* The NY bill attempts to exclude freelance journalists, and we have provided comments to the drafters to make it clearer.* (correction 12.30.19)

AB-5’s 35-Submission Cap

As many of you are aware by now, much of the debate surrounding AB-5 comes down to its 35-submission cap applying to the contributions of freelance journalists, editors, and photographers. When the bill was being negotiated, a coalition of writer and photographer groups, including the Authors Guild, was able to get an exception for freelance writers. Unfortunately, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who sponsored the bill, added a cap of 35 pieces per company—meaning that once a freelance journalist or editor submits 36 articles or jobs for the same company in one year, the freelancer must be treated as an employee and the employer must pay California State unemployment and employee insurances.

Many full-time writers today patch together a living from different sources—and they want to keep it that way. Because of AB-5, California freelance journalists writing 35 or more pieces for a single company fear losing clients to writers in states with laxer laws. Indeed, some publications have already stated that they will not hire California freelance writers because of the new law. 35 articles might seem like a lot, but there are plenty of writers who write more than that. Writing a short weekly blog piece for a client could easily put a writer over this limit.

Another problem with treating writers as employees and not freelancers is that employee-writers do not own the copyright in their work; instead, the employer is considered the “author” under copyright law and automatically owns the copyright in its creation. Of course, as most major publications today insist on an assignment of copyright anyway, the practical effect, unfortunately, is the same: the writer gives up copyright. Still, freelance writers who assign copyright can reclaim it after 35–40 years, which is a benefit that employee-writers lack.

Does AB-5 Apply to Book Contracts?

Authors have raised alarm that AB-5 will apply to book writers as well. The Authors Guild has been reviewing the bill from that perspective since it was first introduced. We were assured by those working on the bill that trade book authors are not covered, and we do not see a basis for disagreeing since the bill clearly states that AB-5 applies only to “persons providing labor or services” and authors provide neither “labor” nor “services” under standard book contracts—they instead grant copyright licenses or assignments. Additionally, royalties—even in the form of advance payments—are not considered wages. It is difficult to imagine how a court would conclude that a typical book contract is for labor or services.

Writers with Service-Like Obligations Should Get a Legal Opinion

There are, however, some book-writing agreements that could be considered service agreements and arguably would fall under AB-5, such as work-made-for-hire agreements and contracts where the author has ongoing obligations and the publisher has greater editing ability or control over the content. Authors and writers working under multi-book contracts are most likely to encounter such a situation. These authors’ contracts should be reviewed by an attorney to determine whether they are subject to AB-5. Publishers and authors who want to be certain to retain a freelancer relationship should be careful to make sure the contracts are written as simple license grants and not as services agreements. For instance, the agreement should be written as a copyright grant of a defined work without interim or ongoing obligations, and remuneration should be in the form of royalties and advances against royalties. The writer should also have full control over their work and use their own workspace and tools. As a general rule, it is also recommended that freelance editors and journalists have written contracts that allow them to work when and where they want with no oversight other than approval of the finished work product.

If you have such a contract and are an Authors Guild member, remember that we do review members’ contracts for free. You can send us the agreement using our online form, and our legal team will get you comments and let you know if you need to revise the agreement.

UPDATE 1/16/20: Washington (State, not DC) is contemplating a bill like this as well. From the comments, below:
WA should be on your watchlist, too. An AB5-like bill was just re-introduced in the Senate there, even though it had been defeated last year. It, too, requires writers and other freelancers and independent contractors be hired as employees when their works contribute to the normal business of their clients. The bill ignores a study of independent contractors that was prepared by the Dept of Commerce after the bill's defeat. The study documents that 3/4 of the independent contractors in WA don't need or want the employee benefits touted by the bill's advocates. Between their own efforts and those of their families and friends, they're doing fine. Read the study yourself then write to Sen. Karen Keiser about your opposition to being made employees against your will.

The study: https://app.leg.wa.gov/committeeschedules/Home/Documents/26113?//20902
Senator Keiser: karen.keiser@leg.wa.gov
A similar law may be in the works in Illinois.

UPDATE 1/20/20: This article from Digiday explores the negative impact that AB-5 is already having on freelancers and publishers in California.

January 8, 2020

Writer Beware: 2019 in Review

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Happy New Year! It's that time again--time for a look back at the schemes, scams, and issues Writer Beware covered in 2019.

PUBLISHER TROUBLES

Sadly, there's never a shortage of stories like these.

Scandal Engulfs Independent Publisher ChiZine PublicationsArguably the biggest small press story of the year, the spectacular collapse of Canadian indie ChiZine Publications--amid allegations of non-payment, financial mismanagement, and a horrifically toxic work culture rife with bullying, sexual harassment, racism, and more--posed thorny questions for the small press community about cultures of silence, the treatment of whistleblowers, and the tacit enabling of unprofessional behavior.

Authors' Concern Grows Over Late Royalty Payments At Dreamspinner Press: Multiple author complaints of nonpayment and other problems, for which Dreamspinner has provided confusing and conflicting explanations. (Dreamspinner has become part of the implosion of Romance Writers of America, with RWA accused of failing to assist Dreamspinner authors who requested help.)

Fireside Press Cancels Multiple Contracts: Mass contract cancellations don't generally bode well for publisher health.

Complaints At Month9Books, Nonstandard Business Practices at Black Rose Writing: Long-standing issues, including late payments and bullying, appear to be ongoing at Month9. As for Black Rose, it presents as a "traditional" publisher but, vanity publisher-style, sells a large menu of marketing services to its authors.

Trouble at Dog Ear Publishing: Multiple, long-standing author complaints of nonpayment by this assisted self-publishing company (this publishing model is in trouble generally).

AWARDS TO AVOID

If you've been reading here for a while, you'll know that I'm no fan of contests and awards--not just because they often involve big entry fees (even the legit ones), but because they so often have author-unfriendly rules and guidelines. Here are a few I encountered in 2019.

Can We Get a Do-Over? What do you do when you get caught with predatory language in your contest guidelines? You hastily switch it out, of course. That's what Harper's Bazaar did when the copyright grab in its annual short story competition was outed on Twitter.

Rights Grabs by the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award: Another prestigious (and rich: the winner gets £30,000) contest with a predatory rights grab.

The Pressfuls Short Story Contest: Why not to enter a contest that doesn't post rules and guidelines: you may discover, as writers who entered this contest did, that your work has been published without your permission.

SAVE YOUR CASH

The shady underbelly of the publishing world is chock-a-block with those who scheme to take authors' money, by fair means or foul. Here are some especially foul examples.

Seven Prolific Vanity Publishers: A look at the vanity publishers about which I get the most questions, including Austin Macauley, Page Publishing, and Christian Faith Publishing.

Anatomy of a Book-To-Screen Scam: One of the most unlikely outcomes of publishing a book is selling film rights. Book-to-screen scammers--who purport to turn your book into a screenplay, shop it to Hollywood, and more--don't want you to know that.

Vanity Radio: Why You Should Think Twice: Should you ever pay for a radio interview? Like paid book reviews, this is an iffy proposition--even if you're not being solicited by a scammer.

A Pack of Scammer Lies: Dissecting the highly deceptive pitch by one especially egregious publishing and marketing ripoff.

ADVICE YOU CAN USE

When a Publisher Claims Copyright on Edits: This predatory practice is a big publishing contract red flag.

How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search: Among other sneaky techniques: fake publisher matching sites that purport to guide you to appropriate publishers but steer you to vanities and self-publishing companies; deceptive use of Google ads to do the same thing; fake facts and statistics about traditional publishing designed to make the vanity model seem preferable.

Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize Them and Why They Should be Avoided: Profiteering awards programs have a secret agenda: making money for the sponsor with huge entry fees. They're not about honoring writers.

GENERAL BEWARES

Be careful out there!

From the Philippines, Not With Love: A Plague of Publishing and Marketing Scams: This is one of the biggest new scam trends threatening self-pubbed and small press authors. Some background on how the scams came to be, plus a list of the nearly 70 scammers I've discovered so far.

Issues at Audible's ACX: Including attempted rights fraud and inexplicably withdrawn promo codes.

Caution: Turkish Publisher Mavifil Publishing (Mavifil Yayinlari): Old scammers never die; they just change their names. A non-paying publisher that stalked writers in 2011 returns to stalk them in 2019.

AMS Literary Agency: Approach With Caution: Old scammers never die; they just change their names. Whoops, didn't I just say that? The owner of one of the most notorious vanity publisher scams ever returns in the guise of a literary agent.

Beware: Wid Bastian aka Widtsoe T. Bastian/Genius Media Inc./Kairos Phoenix Company: A convicted felon, an ebook promo and box set scheme. What could go wrong?

Publishizer: Do Authors Really Need a Crowdfunding Literary Agency? Yet another of those reinvent-the-wheel attempts that are so common in publishing: a crowdfunding site for writers that claims to represent manuscripts to publishers, but is mostly used by vanities and other fee-chargers (some of them seriously questionable).
 
Design by The Blog Decorator