Writer Beware

I had briefly touched upon this particular subject in an old post, but I felt it was time to bring it up again.

You’ve done it. After months/years of working, re-working, re-re-working, altogether scrapping and rewriting it, your story is ready. Now you are ready for the next step: publishing. But where do you even begin to take those steps? You look online, check out books on agents at your local bookstore. Things such as query letters, synopsis, chapter outline, are foreign to you. You feel a little overwhelmed, uncertain. And then, one day, you come across an advertisement like this:

Wrote a book? Submit your story now, and we’ll help you get published!

Well! How about that? This place doesn’t want you to do through hoops to get published. Excited, and maybe feeling a little lucky, you send your story away. You’re on pins and needles. Very soon, you’ll be able to hold your story in your hand: a physical representation of all your hard work. You can hardly believe it.

And then the shoe drops.

The company you eagerly sent your precious story off to isn’t at all what it made itself out to be. Instead, it gives you the option to publish with them, so long as you cover all marketing expenses. And I mean everything. You’re left feeling angry, disappointed, and a fool. How could I be so stupid?, you may ask yourself.

It’s not your fault. What you just experienced is called vanity publishing. The late, but definitely not lamented Vantage Press was the most infamous of these examples. While vanity publishing in itself isn’t a scam, Vantage Press DID scam its customers. I, too, sent my epic fantasy to them back in the heady days of novel completion. Their answering letter informed me I’d need $20,000 to publish with them. I promptly sent them a thanks but no thanks. Others, unfortunately, weren’t so lucky to avoid the trap. Just take a look at the comments section in the page I linked. That pretty much tells the whole story. While I don’t see many new writers getting tripped up by the promises vanity publishing delivers, not with self-publishing options becoming more available, this is still something to be wary of. Well, unless you can afford the cost to use a vanity publisher.

This next publisher is not only infamous for scamming its writers, it pretty much set the bar as to what not to do with your manuscript. Because once you get roped in by this publisher, it’s a relentless, uphill struggle to get yourself out of it.

I have to precede this company with an appropriate gif.

Hermione-punches-Draco-harry-potter-30733600-500-211

Publish America is makes Draco Malfoy look like Captain America. There is nothing so evil, so corrupt in the publishing field as Publish America. The very name incites anger and frustration among those who have been burned by it. Don’t believe me? Check this out (source from Wikipedia):

As of 2004, the current executive director of PublishAmerica was Miranda N. Prather.In 2004, Prather stated that 80% of authors who submitted manuscripts to the house were rejected, and that the house had “30 full-time editors” with plans to expand. She also refused to identify the CEO of PublishAmerica.In 2005, the company had 70 full-time employees of various functions.

 

In 2004, PublishAmerica published small runs of over 4,800 titles (compared to Random House‘s 3,500 titles). In 2005, the company had approximately 11,000 authors under contract.

 

In June 2005, PublishAmerica identified Willem Meiners as “PublishAmerica CEO” and Clopper as “company president”.

 

In August 2005, PublishAmerica was sued by Encyclopædia Britannica for trademark violation over PublishAmerica’s PublishBritannica imprint. The matter was settled out of court, with PublishAmerica agreeing to stop using the “PublishBritannica” name.However, PublishAmerica continued to use the website address on letterhead as late as 2008.

In late September 2005, PublishAmerica announced its books would be returnable by the bookseller if they failed to sell, a standard practice among other commercial publishers. The announcement stated that this applied to “all” of its books, though it noted that there would be “a few exceptions initially” and that the offer would apply to United States booksellers only. PA’s site now says that “many of our books are returnable.”

Or this?

PA pays advance fees of US$1–$1000to its authors, provides minimal editing and provides few of the services handled by trade publishing, such as retail distribution, marketing and media relations. Disgruntled authors told Publishers Weekly that PA did not pay royalties owed to them, sold books it no longer had any rights to sell, set unreasonably high list prices and lower-than-average discounts for authors to buy their own books and either neglected or failed to place books into bookstores.

Not enough information to whet your appetite? Check out one of THE most invaluable resources to a new author- hell, even established ones can get great use from this place! Preditors and Editors. Need more proof? P&E doesn’t just have a link for Publish America, it has a whole section devoted to it right here

That’s right, friends. This diabolical company has enough dark marks on it to even give Lord Voldemort pause. Fellow writers, should you hear this name mentioned anywhere, RUN. Run like there’s a Dementor after you, cause once PA gets its claws into you, not even a Patronus will save you.

I’m loving these Harry Potter references, btw.

In all seriousness, this company is bad news. I can’t remember when PA first crossed my radar (perhaps after I received the letter from Vantage Press), but when I heard that my older sister signed a contract with them, I was ready to scream. She, like many of PA’s victims, was lured by the promise of seeing a beloved work in print, and on bookstore shelves. Of seeing a dream realized. She didn’t realize she’d been had until it was too late. It was a painful lesson for her, for the story she had submitted to them was her first, and we all know how precious a first can be. It’s the rawest form of our writing talent; no doubt she felt a sense of betrayal at seeing it treated so poorly. I don’t even know if she retains the rights to it anymore.

Sadly, PA and Vantage Press are just two examples of a niche heavily saturated with scams. And it’s not limited to publishers, either. Agents are also prone to scamming naive writers. The best example I can come up with is Janet Kay & Associates. Take a look at what this agent pulled before she was shut down (sourced from P&E website):

Charges fee. Convicted of theft 4/25/06. Strongly not recommended. A scam literary agency. Contact at:

133 W.Concho, Suite 112
San Angelo, TX 76903

  • 2/3/04: a writer reports this agency is under criminal investigation with the San Angelo Police Department. Detective Brian Elkins is the contact person and can be reached by email: brian.elkins@sanangelopolice.org. 
  • 2/26/04: “Since September 2002 the San Angelo Police Department assisted by several other law enforcement agencies has been investigating the company(s) known as Helping Hands Literary Service, Janet Kay & Associates and JanGeo Ink. The crime alleged is “Theft” by deception.” “These companys were taking fees for contacts with publishers. The investigation shows that although the fees were being taken personal contact or contact only with publishers did not happen. Clients were led to believe that they had a high chance of being published if money was given for office expenses.

    “On January 30, 2004 a search warrant was served on the home and business of Janet Kay and George Titsworth. All manuscripts and writings submitted to this business were seized and placed in evidence. These manuscripts and writings will remain in evidence until the conclusion of the investigation and prosecution of all involved.

    “Soon after the search warrant was served I was advised that the business was abandoned. At this time there is nothing/nobody left in what used to be the office for Janet Kay and Associates. The phones and mail are going unanswered.

    “Many of you have questions about plagiarism and your contracts. At this point I have no information that leads me to believe that any of the writings submitted were used in any illegal way. As for the contracts you have signed the best I can inform you is to consult with a local attorney in your area. Attorneys in this area advised that a contract is only as good as both parties fulfill the letter of the contract.

    “If you have yet to file a complaint with the police department please fill out the form Statement of Fact (contact Detective Elkins via the email link below).

    “If you have already filed a complaint with the police department you may receive an e-mail from my office needing more information. If this is the case you will also need to go to the web link and complete the form. Many of you have registered your name but we need complete information for the case file. In addition, if you have any paperwork, documentation, correspondence with any one or more of theses companies, please forward a copy to the San Angelo Police Department attn; Det. Brian Elkins. Scanned or electronic copies my be sent to brian.elkins@sanangelopolice.org.”

     

  • 2/10/04: Writer Beware is reporting that this agency is closing. 
  • 10/14/05 – Janet Kay and Associates, when they appear in court in November, may get off without any prison time and a promise to repay restitution of $100,000 with no apparent time limit set meaning it can extend beyond their term of parole. This means their victims will have to take their individual cases to civil court later to force restitution. According to Karla Thomas of the Victim/Witness Office, Tom Green County District Attorney’s Office, Janet Kay and George Titworth will plead guilty and receive a sentence of 10 years deferred adjudication probation and be ordered to pay a total of $100,000.00 in restitution. Victims are to contact her by email for restitution and manuscript recovery.

I had sent my manuscript to this agency shortly before all this came to light. I remember receiving a copy of my story, and the explanation as to why. I was very lucky, for they hadn’t gotten around to asking me for payment. I can’t speak for any other writers.

Writers, beware: there are many scammers out there. Knowledge is power, and with websites such as P&E, we are no longer fumbling around in the dark. When you are ready to submit your manuscript, you must, must, MUST, do your research. But don’t limit your resource to the internet alone. There’s a wonderful book called Writer’s Market that’s published yearly. It includes not just lists of reputable agents and preferred genres, it includes writing contests, magazines, poetry contests, the works. A spellbook, if you will, one that lists all the necessary ingredients to transform your manuscript into something wonderful. I cannot recommend it enough.

There you have it, fellow writers. Keep your eyes open for self-serving agents and publishers like the ones I mentioned above. Crafting a book is as exhausting as it is exquisite; you should never have to pay to make it a reality.

 

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3 comments on “Writer Beware

  1. Thanks for helping to warn writers of these dangers. Scammers lurk everywhere, ready to part naive hopeful writers from their money.
    These days, writers need to be more wary than ever, because the scammers come in two guises – some masquerading as traditional publishers, some as self-publishing services.

  2. I went to a “writing conference” once. Guess who had published one of the speakers? That’s right: Publish America. Everyone there, besides one speaker, was vanity and/or scam published. And they seemed to be encouraging others to follow their path. I should’ve said something. To this day I regret not standing up and sharing the truth. Alas, all I can do now is pray that no one was led astray…and make sure I am braver in the future.

    Thanks for the post. Every author thinking of subbing NEEDS to read this. I wish I had done my research in my teens. Poetry.com (which, fortunately, didn’t get a dime from me…but they still published my poems on their website w/o permission, if memory serves) and some other vanity press. It’s a jungle out there!

  3. Pingback: Learn by doin’ | The Writer's Parlor

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