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.

February 27, 2020

Mass Contract Cancellations at Mystery Publisher Henery Press


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Beginning on Friday, February 8, dozens of authors with mystery publisher Henery Press received some version of this email.
Dear ________,

Before entering 2020, we felt it prudent to review future projections for _______ series, taking into consideration recent releases and overall performance. To provide an unbiased professional opinion and guidance in our 3-year strategic plan, we hired a consulting firm with experience in the industry. This allowed us to analyze not only your specific series, but also the competitive landscape and industry as a whole.

Unfortunately the sales of _______ series do not justify the publication of future titles beyond 2020. We know this is disappointing. The market has become beyond saturated (especially in mystery fiction), with all leading indicators pointing to even more intense competition for consumer dollars in the next cycle and beyond....

Although we don’t have a pathway forward with your new titles, we will continue to sell and support your backlist titles as usual under the terms of our original publishing agreement. To be clear, we will not be reverting the rights on any of your already published title(s), only future titles specifically outlined in the addendum to follow in the next week.
A number of the cancellations affected books that had been completed, turned in, and scheduled for publication, with some authors having already made promotional plans. Others interrupted series whose first installment hadn't yet been published--with Henery holding on to the yet-to-be-published book and reverting rights to the rest. Cancellation of a series before it's completed can be tough--another publisher may not want to buy into a series mid-stream, and while followup titles can be self-published, it's difficult to promote a series when it's split up like this.

The cancellations came out of the blue (nothing had been said about any strategic plan or consulting firm). But while some writers were blindsided, others weren't hugely surprised. Although they have praise for the company's early days, Henery authors say that problems have been increasing for some time, with staff departures (interns are reportedly used to do a lot of the editing, with sometimes substandard results), late royalty checks and reports (several authors told me that they feel there are discrepancies in their sales figures), diminishing marketing (according to multiple writers, virtually no promotional support is provided), ordering problems (writers cite non-returnability and nonstandard discounts), and difficulty with communications.

"Over time," one author told me, "Henery Press’s business model started to look more like a company that assists with self-publishing and less like a real publisher." (In fact, Henery uses CreateSpace for printing, and Barnes & Noble lists Henery ebooks as "indie".)

I've gotten a variety of additional complaints, which I'm not able to share here because they could compromise confidentiality. There seems to be considerable fear among Henery authors that they will be penalized for speaking out--which may be why almost no word of the cancellations has escaped. There's also the gag clause in the rights reversion addendum that authors are receiving:


One writer told me, "HP payback tactics (they're so vindictive) are hell. [Authors are] afraid if HP even suspects they've contributed, the books they have will go down." I truly wish this weren't such a common component of publisher implosions.

So is Henery imploding? Mass cancellations are never a good sign, and often indicate financial distress. Some Henery authors don't feel that's the issue, though, or not the only issue: they speculate that the owners intend to retire, and are keeping the company alive in order to retain the income stream from existing titles.

I emailed Henery's owner, Art Molinares, for comment. As of this writing, he hasn't responded.

Mystery Writers of America (where Henery is listed as an Approved Publisher) is aware of the situation, and is monitoring it. If you've been affected, you can contact MWA here. Be sure to put "Henery Press" in the subject line. All communications are confidential.

I will post updates as I receive them.

February 14, 2020

Should You Pay To Display Your Book At BookExpo? (Short Answer: No)


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

BookExpo (formerly known as BookExpo America, but still referred to as BEA) is the US's leading publishing industry event. Attended by publishers, agents, booksellers, retailers, librarians, and people and companies from all aspects of the book trade, it's an opportunity for industry professionals to network, do business, and learn about new trends, titles, and opportunities in the book world.

Although BEA doesn't happen until May 27 this year, it's not too soon for industry professionals to begin planning for attendance. It's also not too soon for authors to start receiving solicitations--by phone and by email--to buy expensive services and packages that supposedly will give their books visibility at the fair.

Here's what author and editor Jane Friedman has to say about paying to display at BEA. (Jane's website is an amazingly comprehensive and useful resource on all aspects of writing and publishing; you should definitely bookmark it.)
Aside from the Author Market [a designated area of the exhibit floor where self-published authors can buy display space], there are a handful of opportunities for authors to get visibility for their work at BEA. As far as I’m concerned—as someone who attended this show for 10 years, mainly as an editor with a traditional publishing house—it is not worth the investment. Here’s why.

The emphasis of the show is on traditional publishing, rights sales and pre-publication marketing, and does not favor indie title promotion. It is a New York industry event where traditional publishing insiders talk to other traditional publishing insiders. Yes, there are librarians and booksellers, but they’re rarely paying attention to the places where an indie book may be showcased or promoted.

Nobody is going to notice your book there. Your book is likely to be promoted with many other books, with no way of attracting attention even if someone did pause for a second within 50 feet of your book. Imagine setting a copy of your book down in the world’s largest book fair, and expecting someone to not only notice it, but be entranced by it so much they can ignore 10,000 other things happening at the same time.

If you—the author—are not present to advocate for it, your book doesn’t stand a chance. Services that offer to promote your book at BEA are rarely, if ever, hand-selling or promoting your book in a meaningful way. But they will be happy to cash your check and say that your book had a “presence” at BEA. If you want to satisfy your ego, go ahead. But it’s not going to lead to meaningful sales. (I challenge anyone in the comments to provide evidence that a self-published book gained traction at BEA because the author paid a fee to secure placement—and the author was not present.)
I'll add a fourth consideration: You will likely be hugely overcharged, especially by companies that sell book fair packages, or re-sell the exhibit services of others.

SOLICITATIONS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER


1. You may already have received an email from the Combined Book Exhibit's New Title Showcase. The CBE, an area of standing bookshelves outside the entrance to the BEA display floor, offers display packages for a few hundred dollars. For a few hundred more, you can buy an ad in its catalog; for many hundreds more, you can buy an autographing session.

Your book will be placed on a shelf with hundreds of others, in no particular order: there are no separate areas for genres, for instance. I've attended BEA many times, and the CBE is often completely deserted, with not a customer or a staff person in sight. I've never seen more than a handful of people browsing it at any one time. There is definitely no handselling involved.

A number of predatory marketing companies re-sell CBE services for enormous markups. The CBE is aware of this, and has posted a warning on its website (it's no coincidence that all the companies named in the warning appear on the scam list in the sidebar of this blog).

2. If you've chosen an assisted self-publishing company, you may be encouraged to buy presence in their BEA booth.

The Author Solutions imprints sell BEA as part of a package that includes several fairs and costs nearly $3,000. (What do you get for that? Basically, a spot on a shelf, higglety-pigglety in among an unknown number of other books by writers no one has heard of). Xulon Press sells BEA on its own, but with multiple options for spending big bucks, from shelf space only ($599) to a "Boutique High Top Table with 30 Books" ($1,999--do you get to take the table home?).

Outskirts Press re-sells CBE services--for over $150 more than you'd pay if you dealt with CBE directly.

3. Vanity publishers (yes, vanity publishers do attend and display at BEA and other fairs) may offer their authors the "opportunity" for BEA presence--at extra (possibly significantly extra) cost.

Here's my post about SterlingHouse, a vanity publisher that is now defunct but in its heyday charged its authors as much as $9,500 for BEA display of their books, signings, and other perks. (As Jane indicates above, being present to advocate for your book may make a difference--but $9,500 worth? Even if the author sold all 150 books included in the package, they wouldn't come close to making that money back.)

Here's one of the many BEA-related solicitations with which the late, unlamented PublishAmerica bombarded its authors:


4. Some unscrupulous literary agents sell slots in catalogs or portfolios that they claim to bring to BEA, supposedly to market to publishers.

Examples of this scheme that I've seen involve fees of anywhere from $150 to four figures (here's one that charges $300). If your agent is the kind of agent who exploits clients in this way, they are not the kind of agent who has contacts with publishers.

This sort of thing is far less common than it used to be, thank goodness (there are fewer literary agent scams in general, thanks to self-publishing and the many small presses that deal directly with authors), but it's still a ripoff. Don't do it.

5. The most aggressive solicitations--especially by phone--come from unscrupulous or scammy marketing companies.

Services run from the basic--a spot on a shelf in a not-always-very-professional-looking display area (you have to supply the book)--to basic with perks--mostly junk marketing, like press releases, a listing in the company's proprietary magazine, and a "post fair fulfillment report"--to elaborate packages that include an autographing session.

Prices I've seen range from $750 for shelf space only, to mid-four figures for signing packages. For instance, here's Stonewall Press's deluxe offering, which doesn't even include author presence. Note the effort to create faux urgency by pretending that space is limited.


Looking for a bargain? AuthorCentrix is a tad more economical--here are its 2019 BEA packages. The "standard" doesn't include a badge, which would add around $400 to the total.


BOOK FAIR RIPOFFS AREN'T LIMITED TO BEA

Multiple predatory marketing companies and PR services hawk book fair presence to authors. It's one of the most common marketing solicitations you'll receive. Why? Because it's insanely lucrative--for the predator.

The photo below is last year's BEA booth for publishing and marketing scammer URLink Print and Media.


More than 100 books can be counted in this photo. All the authors have paid to be there. URLink also sells ad space in a 50-page catalog, with most of the pages listing eight book per page. Writers have bought the banners shown in the photo, and others have paid to host signings. Still others have bought ads and features in URLink's fake magazine, Harbinger Postwhich sits in piles on a table on the off chance someone picks one up.

The minimum cost for any of these "services" is several hundred dollars, with more elaborate packages running into the mid-four figures (see the examples above). From one book fair, a company like URLink can gross well over $100,000--a considerable profit, even taking into account the cost of booth rental, travel, and badges. Now multiply that by multiple book fairs attended per year.

The Miami Book Fair, which along with BEA is one of the fairs most frequently targeted by marketing scammers, appears to be aware of the exploitation, and provides a warning.

THE TAKEAWAY

My feeling about book fairs is the same as Jane Friedman's: book fairs are not the best place for authors to self-promote. If you do decide to attend, do it with the aim of learning and having fun--not getting "discovered"--and don't pay someone else to take you or your books there. At best, you'll get little return on your money. At worst, you'll be ripped off.

February 7, 2020

The Impersonation Game


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog. It's a familiar meme...which can be turned around. On the internet, nobody knows you're not a dog.

I can claim, for instance, to be a well-known literary dog...er, agent, and as long as I put a little effort into the subterfuge, and only make the claim to people who are likely to want to hear from someone like who I'm pretending to be, at least a few of my targets will take me at face value.

One of the most common tactics used by scammers is solicitation, by phone and email. To make themselves seem more reputable and attractive, scammers often masquerade as dogs...that is, they try to impersonate real, reputable companies and individuals.

Sometimes the impersonation is just a vague (and therefore unverifiable) claim of industry expertise.


Sometimes it's a claim to be working with reputable companies (the scammer in this case is the little logo on the left):


Sometimes it's a claim to actually be a reputable company. Note the strategic use of the Hachette Book Group logo (the scammer is the supposed partner):


And sometimes the deception is more elaborate. Last week, Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency posted this warning:


Don was kind enough to share the solicitations with me. Here's the first. The English is passable, but note the typo. Also note "Jennifer Jackson's" email address, which on a websearch doesn't match anything connected to the real Jennifer Jackson.


Here's the second solicitation, received after the author responded. The grammatical and other errors are much more obvious here, and if that's not enough to prompt caution, the next to last paragraph, with its demand for money, should be:


Techbooks Media, whose domain name was only registered a few weeks ago on January 15, sells a range of junk marketing at insanely inflated prices (for instance, placement in PW Select, which actually costs $149, for $699; or a Kirkus Indie review, which actually costs $575, for $1,699). Putting this together with the blatant deception, the ESL mistakes on the website and in the emails, and inside info from one of my confidential sources, Techbooks Media is certainly another of the Philippines-based marketing scams listed in the sidebar. Accordingly, I've added it.

Some tips for seeing through scams like this:

1. Proceed from a point of skepticism. An unsolicited contact from a real, reputable agent or publisher isn't automatically suspect, but it's rare. Out-of-the-blue contacts are far more likely to be illegitimate. Caution is definitely in order.

2. Mistrust--and verify. Google all the individuals and/or companies that are mentioned (are there complaints? Have they shown up on this blog?) If someone claims to have worked for a major publisher or agency, or a company claims to have placed books with reputable publishers or to have sold film or other subsidiary rights, see if you can verify the claim. If you can't, or if there are no checkable details (such as names or book titles) attached to the claim, be wary.

3. Use your common sense. Anyone can make an occasional typo, but professionals communicate professionally (no reputable agent would send out grammar-challenged emails like the ones from "Jennifer Jackson"). Check the email address and any links--do they match the person or company claiming to be contacting you? (There's nothing to connect Ms. Jackson with anything called Techbooks Media.) If there's a demand for upfront money, be sure it's a service or company that customarily charges such fees (reputable agents and publishers don't).

4. Contact Writer Beware. Always a good default if you aren't sure about an individual or company. We may have heard something, or received complaints, and if we have, we'll let you know.

UPDATE: According to additional documentation I've received, Techbooks Media is also doing business as Chapters Media & Advertising. Payments are made to Chapters, and Chapters' name is on the service agreement that Techbooks victims sign.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jennifer Jackson (the real one) responds.
UPDATE 5/27/20: The scammer is still at it. This is basically the same solicitation they sent out in January.

 
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