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Old 11-24-2012, 09:10 PM View Post #1 (Link) 7 Essentials to Staying Safe as a Writer
Infinity_Man (Offline)
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Join Date: Apr 2012
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I spent a large part of last night reading horror stories from people who've published with PublishAmerica, and the largest theme I took away from it was that writers need to be educated so that they don't make these same mistakes.

I don't want to scare you, but there are scams out there. You might know them as vanity presses--basically, they make you pay in some way to have your book published. In certain cases, they don't even really publish them. PublishAmerica, for example, is notorious for charging its authors hundreds to thousands of dollars for various aspects a normal editor does for free. Then they get you to buy a certain amount of your own books (a book with PublishAmerica costs around $24, and can get much higher) for you to give to friends, family, local bookstores, etc. and that's that. They do nothing beyond that. If you order more, they'll print them. It costs them maybe $7 dollars to print and ship your book, so they make a huge profit.

Now, legally they're sound--the contract you sign (which gives them absolute rights to your book for ten years, unless you pay $100 to buy the rights back) doesn't technically say anywhere that they'll distribute your book as a real publisher would. They only say they'll make it available--and they do: your book will be put on an online list that anyone can access from their local bookstore... but given the sheer volume of books they'll have to wade through, the only way they'll find it is if they know what to look for. There have been many legal battles with PA, and unfortunately few are successful. Legally speaking, many of these groups, like PA, are doing nothing wrong. The only way to combat them is to combat author ignorance. So here are a few tips to staying sfae as a writer:

IMPORTANT: Do this research before you send anything to anyone. You might think "Oh, I just want to see if anyone would accept me, just testing the waters" or "I just want to know what it's like to get accepted, I didn't sign anything so I'm okay" but you're wrong. Some of these operations have clauses that give them full rights to your manuscript just because you submitted to them. Do you want to waste months and years of work because you didn't want to do ten minute's worth of research?

1. It's as easy as Google
Trust me. If you want to send your query/manuscript to an editor or agent, do yourself a favour and google their name along with the word "scam". The real scams will have thousands of results, warning authors away from the company. But just because someone doesn't pop up on google, doesn't mean they're not a scam; This isn't a full-proof way of being certain they are a scam, it's just an easy way to not waste time in case they are. You'll have to dig deeper.

2. Dedicated resources
There are places dedicated to making sure there's testimony of the legitimacy of a business.
Writers Beware, for example, compiles lists of known scam publishers and agents (you'll notice that PublishAmerica is there)
Absolute Write Water Cooler is another writing forum with a whole sub-forum dedicated to asking if a publisher/editor/agent is legitimate. There's even a sub-forum in that sub-forum with hundreds of pages of horror stories about PublishAmerica. Usually it's as easy as typing an editor/agent's name into AW's search bar, and a thread will come up with a few pages of people talking about their experiences with the editor/agent in question, and whether they're legitimate or not. If nothing pops up, you can start a thread asking if anyone's had any experience with the publisher/agent in question--either people will tell you stories, or people with experience will look at the company's website for you, look over their guidelines and motto and some information, etc. and give you an idea what they think.

3. Dig Even Deeper
Usually, I'd stop there, since you'll probably have a fair idea if the publisher is legitimate or not. But, if you want to be extra careful, there are a few things you can do to look deeper. Look up authors the company or agent have sold, and check out those author's blogs; do they talk about their experiences with the editors and agents? (This is a good step in looking up legitimates, too, as you might be looking for a specific relationship with an agent or editor and this will give you an idea, but that's another guide). Has that publisher submitted their authors to any awards? How are they on publicity? Go to your local bookstore. Can you find that author's books on the shelves? (Within reason, as bookstores often pull books after a certain amount of years unless they're selling well). Can you find other books from that publishing just by randomly pulling books off the shelves? If the answer is a dead no to any/most of those questions, you probably don't want them publishing your book.

4. Follow the Money
The only time you should sign a check is an endorsement on the back of one. Agents and Editors only make money if your book makes money. I cannot stress this enough. Agents and Editors ONLY MAKE MONEY IF YOUR BOOK MAKES MONEY. Unfortunately, a lot of aspiring writers forget or don't know this.
Knowing this will help you avoid common mistakes, because this ignorance is what Vanity Publishers thrive on. PA sells you by implying the costs they're offering are lower compared to what other publishers make you pay. Sometimes they guilt you, as in "we're publishing your book, the least you could do is pay for shipping" etc. etc.
Real publishers do not ask for money. They know that if your book sells they'll get a large cut of it. The same goes for Agents. It's their incentive for working with your book: they don't just print it off, put it on a shelf, and finish with it--they put thousands to potentially millions of dollars into marketing campaigns, tours, getting your book to the table at the front of the store, etc. etc. etc. all because they expect to make that money back in sales. The money should flow upwards.
If you find someone who seems reputable, but requires a submission fee (some magazines do this) at least take the time to look up the reputation of that publisher first.

5. Read the Fine Print
Contracts are difficult. Legal jargon can be extremely difficult to understand. We're writers, not lawyers. Chances are, you can't afford a lawyer to read over the contract either. But please don't be so excited at the prospect of being published, or so overwhelmed by the contract, that you sign it without reading it carefully first.
Remember, this is how PublishAmerica gets away with it. Careful, technical definitions like "your book will be available to the public" can be true, but might not mean what you think they do. Most people will give you a few days to read over the contract. If you have questions, ask someone. There are published authors all over the internet ready to give advice to a new writer if they just ask for it.

6. Skip the Honeymoon
This is the hardest one of all, because it's about your emotions. Here's the thing: Publishing is hard. Getting a book out there is incredibly difficult because only a small amount of books are being published a year, and millions of books are being considered. It doesn't matter if you have the greatest work of literature ever, a publisher might reject it just because it didn't really click with them, or they don't think it follows their company's mission statement.

So after a few dozen rejections, you're starting to get really angry. You start coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why your book isn't getting published, usually never actually considering it's the book's fault but thinking it must be because the publisher is jealous of your ability, or just wanted to get your hopes up to dash them, or it was too ahead of its time, etc. etc. There are whole sites dedicated to authors ranting about rejection letters, and while some are sympathetic, you'd be amazed at how many people get extremely useful rejection letters (that basically say "fix this and your book will get published by anyone, guaranteed") and are frothing at the mouth because of how evil the Publishing world is.

But then comes along someone like PublishAmerica, who says they'll publish your book. After all that rejection, the elation you get from an acceptance is enough to blind you to any of the red flags your subconscious might be raising. You sign the contract to your masterpiece first book of the series that will undoubtedly be the next Harry Potter, and start working on the sequels.

Between acceptance and when you get your first e-mail from PublishAmerica about why you didn't get a check (According to PA, you only get a check if you clear about $49 in royalties, and that's really hard to do when they're not selling your book) is the honeymoon phase.

I'll give you an example from the Absolute Writer forums: In 2007, a new member created a thread saying Publish America was the best thing to happen to writers. She outlined her previous attempts at getting published as I've mentioned above, and attacked the community telling her she was being scammed, saying such things as:
If I could I would kiss the hands of everyone at PA for rescuing poor unknown authors from the hellish rejection cycles of traditional publishers and the vanity publishers who ask you for thousands of dollars UP FRONT!!![she had not yet been asked to pay for her own books or anything]
Unknown authors must remember that they are the competition to these professional writers and taking money out of their pockets, just like all the reality shows with regular people are taking jobs from professional actors. I love this new era of the common man being given a chance.
I went through all this negative crap when I tried to get some good advice the last time I moved about moving companies. What I found out is that any idiot can say any idiotic thing on this internet and not be held accountable.

There is no doubt that some people have had problems BUT I have to look at the expectations of the people. I didn't go in and think that I would get so much for so little. No one knows me. PA doesn't know if I will buy or sell a single copy and they worked for me and TRUSTED me. I love them for that.

You also have to look at the other options of an UNKNOWN UNPROVEN author. No traditional publisher will trust you UNTIL YOU PROVE YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE. PA is giving you the opportunity to prove yourself.
This was her final post in the thread, after everyone told her she had made a mistake and outlined why she had (this is also her last post for three months):

I'm out. Sorry I came here since you are personally attacking my VERY GOOD work because you have such insane hate for PA.
This is a waste of my time. Unlike some, I have writing to do and stories to tell and I can't do that if I spend all my time blogging out hate and Neither can you. That's why I don't believe you're writers at all. Just some disgruntled ex PA authors. If they're good enough for the BBB. They're certainly good enough for me. So focus your hate on the Better Business Bureau instead of me please. Goodbye
And this was her next and final post on that forum, three months later:
I can't figure out why I am on 10 websites and I did a 4000 email subscriber campaign and only received $8.
[quote]

Now, there are two important things to take away from here: Notice how she refused to listen to the other authors who, at this point, were telling her she had made a mistake? She even implied in the rest of the thread that she'd already done all the background searching, and found all the warnings of it being a scam, but still agreed to sign with them because they were giving her a chance, and to her that meant everyone else was wrong.
This is what the honeymoon does to you.
It doesn't last long, and by the end of it you're sitting at home, no money from your books, wondering what you did wrong, and slowly coming to the realization that you can't publish the rest of the series you've spent the last ten years working on because a scam publisher owns the rights to it.

But the other important thing to take away from her story is that she forgot...

7. Publishing isn't just a Business
It's a community. Now, don't get me wrong, it is still a business, and the publisher and agents are still only going to take books they know will sell, but they aren't ripping each others throats out in a mad grab for the next big thing. The poster above seems to forget this.

Look at how she assumes every author who's giving her advice, telling her not to go with PA, is more or less scared she's going to take their customers away. Somehow it's easier for her to accept that the entire writing community is terrified of her abilities and in on some massive conspiracy to keep her unsigned, than to accept that maybe she made a mistake and she shouldn't get so excited so soon. Look at how she blames the Publishers for never taking new writers, despite, in my experience, the fact that almost every editor and agent makes a special mention about how they're always looking for new material (some publishers set a quota for debut authors they try to sign). The point is, she's ready to twist the trutho f the publishing world to fit her needs.

And that's what the scam company wants. They want you to be angry at the Publishing world so they can come in, like the white knight, and carry your book to safety. They know you'll be so thankful for getting published you won't question anything they say. They tell you not to listen to other writers who tell you otherwise, because they're just raising themselves on a pedestal and pretending they're writing experts, or are just angry they were rejected by PA (very few people are rejected by PA). And when you do question why you haven't received a check yet, or why they haven't booked signings? They guilt you; PA is especially infamous for sending e-mails to authors who ask too many questions or accusations with the general tone of "How dare you talk to us like this. We gave your book a chance, and this is how you repay us", etc. etc. all while ignoring the initial complaint.

So please, don't let yourself become a honeymooner hopelessly gobbled up by the scam publishers out there. Do your research, and stay safe.

And, if you're still unsure about Publish America, read this.
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Pro-tip: because my first instinct is to procrastinate anything I see as an obligation or responsibility, asking me for a critique is a good way to make sure I never give you a critique.
  
						Last edited by Infinity_Man; 12-10-2012 at 11:59 PM.
					
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