Self-Publishing Warnings

Author Solutions’ Keith Ogorek to Be Added to Panel at Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

22 July 2014

From Booksworld:

Author Solutions, LLC, a Penguin Random House company and the world leader in supported self-publishing services, announced that Keith Ogorek, senior vice president of marketing, will join industry leaders on a panel titled “Methods to the Madness! The Latest, Coolest Developments in Indie Publishing,” at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference Saturday, August 2 at 1:30 p.m., in New York.

Ogorek and a group of publishing experts will discuss the future of self-publishing and how continued growth and changes will affect authors.

“The self-publishing movement continues to expand author and reader opportunities at an astounding rate,” said Ogorek. “Even so, there is a lot of potential for additional innovations and enhancements to help improve authors’ publishing experiences.”

Link to the rest at Booksworld

In case anyone wonders where Writers Digest stands when it comes to exploiting indie authors.

A Publisher of One’s Own

18 July 2014

From Inside Higher Ed:

Self-published books are on the rise, to the dismay of onlookers who wonder what to expect from a sector where E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey – originally published as online fan fiction by a tiny Australian e-book company – appears to be the best of the lot. More than 391,000 self-published titles appeared in 2012, according to Bowker, the official ISBN-issuing agency for the U.S. The self-published titles appear to be selling. In 2012, a quarter of Amazon’s top 100 bestselling Kindle books had been self-published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. And in 2013, readers in Britain bought 18 million self-published books, a 79 percent increase in market share compared to the year before.

Academics, meanwhile, inhabit a parallel publishing ecosystem: a constellation of university presses and journals that publish slowly, offer few economic returns, and subject all work to painstaking peer review. Scholars and publishing experts in the U.S. and Britain say self-publishing by academics remains a rarity. A handful of scholars, however, have turned to self-publishing to produce pet projects, such as blistering critiques of academic life. And others have struck away from the publishing mainstream in other ways: by founding journals, establishing independent presses and writing on blogs.

. . . .

Almost no active scholars have eschewed conventional publishing entirely. Educational technologist Martin Weller, a professor at the Open University in the UK, argued in a blog post that “external prestige is probably the greatest factor” spurring academics to chase book contracts rather than publish their own work.

“Self-publishing is seen as rather sordid,” Weller wrote, “the last recourse for the demented author who couldn’t get published anywhere else.”

. . . .

Academic books are almost never bestsellers, but a book that becomes a required text for a university course can be quite profitable.

“You do all the work, and the returns are very low,” Weller said. “You sign away a ridiculous amount of rights – the form includes future TV rights, merchandising, etc., but you take all the risks … if someone sues because of the book’s content it is your liability.”

. . . .

In 2011, Rojas self-published a book called Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure. The book emerged from an online advice column he had written for graduate students.

“People for years kept saying, ‘You should write this as a book,’ ” he said. “And I thought, no press would ever publish it, because I’m blunt about academia.” (The title’s fast-and-loose spelling might not have passed muster at a scholarly press either.)
The book now sells for $3 online. Rojas said the ability to charge a low price was another advantage self-publishing offered.

. . . .

Roger Whitson, an assistant professor of English at Washington State University, said he thought self-publishing books was, on the whole, an activity that only already-tenured professors could afford to undertake.
“Part of the reason why academics publish pre-tenure is that they want to receive credit for becoming a specialist in the field, and one of the main ways they see that happening is through peer review,” Whitson said. “For pre-tenure people who haven’t established a name in the field, academic publishing is really important.”

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

Writer’s Digest Dumps Author Solutions

23 June 2014

From David Gaughran:

I have some huge news: Writer’s Digest has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions.

Abbott Press – the imprint launched by Writer’s Digest, parent company F+W Media, and white-label vanity press provider Author Solutions – is still operational, but all ties to Writer’s Digest have been cut.

It appears that Abbott Press will now be run directly as yet another Author Solutions brand but Writer’s Digest and F+W Media will have no further connection with it.

. . . .

Writer’s Digest and F+W Media refuse to comment, despite being given several opportunities, but I’ve had this news confirmed by multiple sources. As Author Solutions only tends to allow early termination of partnership agreements if the partner signs a series of non-disclosure agreements, a formal announcement or comment is unlikely.

However, it’s clear from the websites of Writer’s Digest and Abbott Press that all links between the companies are in the process of being severed.

. . . .

Author Solutions aggressively pursues strategic partnerships to lend credibility to its scammy practices. More importantly, these partners help keep the pipeline of email addresses and phone numbers flowing. As I detailed two weeks ago, Author Solutions needs huge numbers of leads because it only converts 5% of queries into customers.

Author Solutions first floated a partnership in 2010, but Jane Friedman – then publisher of Writer’s Digest – was unhappy with the idea and the direction the company was taking in general, and resigned.

. . . .

This is a huge partner for Author Solutions to lose – the biggest so far by some stretch.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

I Was a Digital Best Seller!

20 June 2014

From The New York Times:

FIVE months ago I published a short book called “Boom.” Commercially it was a bust. No news in that: Most books lose money and are quickly forgotten by all but their wounded authors.

But this experience wasn’t just a predictable blow to what’s left of my self-esteem. It’s also a cautionary farce about the new media and technology we’re so often told is the bright shining future for writers and readers.

Last fall a new online publication called The Global Mail asked me to write about the Keystone XL pipeline, which may carry oil to the United States from the tar sands of Canada. The Global Mail promoted itself as a purveyor of independent long-form journalism, lavishly funded by a philanthropic entrepreneur in Australia. I was offered an initial fee of $15,000, plus $5,000 for expenses, to write at whatever length I felt the subject merited.

At the time I was researching a traditional print book, my seventh. But it was getting harder for me to feel optimistic about dead-tree publishing.

. . . .

 In giddy calls and emails from Sydney, editors said that the first installment I had sent was “a ripper” and that Byliner thought we might sell up to 75,000 copies, with me getting a lofty cut of the profits.

. . . .

If I were writing for a traditional publisher, I’d have to wait months to see my work in print. This time, I’d be read within days, right on top of the news!

Exhausted but exhilarated, I headed to the liquor store for a celebratory bottle and returned to an urgent call from my editor in Sydney. “Mate, we’re [bleeped],” she said. The Global Mail’s backer had had a bad financial setback at his firm and evidently decided he could no longer afford a folly like quality journalism. He’d abruptly pulled the plug just hours before I filed my copy, making The Global Mail a dead letter.

Worse still, for me, Byliner hadn’t yet inked its deal with the Aussies.

. . . .

 At this point I called my literary agent, whom I’d foolishly failed to involve in the project. (Another fantasy of the digital world: Writers can do it themselves and dispense with all those middlemen.) Late that Friday my agent brokered a deal between Byliner and me. The advance was only $2,000, but my work would be available by Monday, for $2.99, and I’d get about a third of the proceeds once my advance was paid off.

. . . .

I was familiar with the stately ways of old-school book publicity: readings, dwindling print reviews, praying for a call from Terry Gross. Surely, Byliner’s tech-savvy team would move at light speed and deploy new tools like guerrilla marketing.

Except there didn’t seem to be a “team,” just an outside publicist who was busy on other jobs. She circulated a hasty press release and wrote a glowing review of “Boom” on Amazon, the main retailer of Byliner titles. Byliner urged me to “game the system” by soliciting more such “reviews” from friends and relatives, and issued a few tweets touting “Boom.” Then silence.

Physical books live on physical shelves at physical bookstores and can catch the eye of browsing shoppers. “Boom” was floating in the digital ether with millions of other works. How would anyone even know it was there? So I went to work hawking it myself, like a pushcart peddler: calling radio producers, sending “Boom” to big-mouthed friends, boring my tens of followers on social media. I wrote online articles for major sites, for which I wasn’t paid, since it’s generally understood in online journalism that we scribes are “building our brand” rather than actually making a living.

. . . .

I asked Byliner for sales figures. It took them a while to respond — because, I imagined, they needed the time to tally the dizzying numbers pouring in from Amazon, iTunes and other retailers. In fact, the total was such that Byliner could offer only a “guesstimate.” In its first month “Boom” had sold “somewhere between 700 and 800 copies,” the email read, adding, “these things can take time to build, and this is the kind of story with a potentially very long tail.”

It was also the kind of story that could bankrupt a writer. I’d now devoted five months to writing and peddling “Boom” and wasn’t even halfway to earning out my $2,000 advance (less than the overrun on my travel). The cruelest joke, though, was that 700 to 800 copies made “Boom” a top-rated seller. What did that mean for all the titles lower down the list? Were they selling at all?

Byliner couldn’t be making money from “Boom,” yet made no discernible effort to sell it.

. . . .

 But now that I’ve escorted two e-partners to the edge of the grave, I’m wary of this brave new world of digital publishers and readers. As recently as the 1980s and ’90s, writers like me could reasonably aspire to a career and a living wage.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Suzanne and several others for the tip.

Bait-and-Switch for Self-Published Authors

5 June 2014

From Writer Beware:

Recently I heard from a self-published author (let’s call her Author) who received an alarming email from a reader–or at least, someone claiming to be a reader (let’s call her FauxReader).

FauxReader said she loved Author’s book, but was distressed by the large number of errors in it–wrong tenses, mis-spelled words, and grammatical mistakes on nearly every page.

. . . .

Author was shocked. She works with an editor, and carefully prepares her manuscripts. She didn’t think it could be formatting glitches, because those wouldn’t insert mis-spellings and grammar snafus. All she could guess was that she’d uploaded the wrong file.

When Author asked FauxReader where she’d purchased the book, and to provide a few examples of the mistakes, FauxReader became cagy. She did eventually offer a retailer’s name, and also identified a few typos–but nothing like the major errors with which, she’d claimed, Author’s book was riddled.

By this time, Author was suspicious.

. . . .

Author was being set up; if she’d continued interacting with FauxReader, she probably would have received an offer to fix the “errors”–for a fee, of course.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

The Case Against Author Solutions, Part 1: The Numbers

4 June 2014

From David Gaughran:

The more you study an operation like Author Solutions, the more it resembles a two-bit internet scam, except on a colossal scale.

Internet scammers work on percentages. They know that only a tiny fraction of people will get hoodwinked so they flood the world’s inboxes with spammy junk.

While reputable self-publishing services can rely on author referrals and word-of-mouth, Author Solutions is forced to take a different approach. According to figures released by Author Solutions itself when it was looking for a buyer in 2012, it spent a whopping $11.9m on customer acquisition in 2011 alone.

This money is spent on:

  • Paying bloggers, websites, and companies a “bounty” based on how many writers they can deliver to Author Solutions.
  • Buying a huge presence at writers’ events such as the Toronto Word on the Street Festival the Miami Book Fair International, and the LA Times Festival of Books.
  • Setting up a whole string of misleading websites which purport to offer independent self-publishing advice, but which actually only recommend Author Solutions companies (such as iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and Trafford).
  • Lots and lots of advertising, particularly Google AdWords ads, to drive inexperienced writers towards these deceptive websites, as well as SEO to push down critical voices.
  • Setting up fake social media profiles of people claiming to be independent publishing consultants… who only recommend Author Solutions companies.
  • Spambots – because the world needed more of them.

. . . .

Some complain that prospective customers of Author Solutions should do more research –caveat emptor and all that. This is a little unfair for three reasons.

  1. The deceptive practices outlined above.
  2. Author Solutions keeps launching new brands (20 at last count) with similar prices and practices, but without the internet baggage. This makes a mockery of Author Solutions CEO Andrew Phillips’ recent claim that “we are not trying to deliberately confuse anybody”.
  3. Finally, it appears that most prospective customers do actually research the company thoroughly and step away. Out of the 475,000 leads, Author Solutions only converted approximately 5% into customers.

. . . .

Author Solutions also needs to aggressively pursue new business because its existing customers don’t come back for more. According to figures released by CEO Andrew Phillips, Author Solutions and its subsidiaries have published 225,000 titles by 180,000 authors – an average of 1.25 titles per author. The lack of repeat business is in stark contrast to someone like Smashwords which has 310,168 titles from approximately 80,000 authors – an average of around 3.88 per author.

. . . .

Author Solutions sold 27,500 publishing packages in 2011 and, in the information sent out to attract a buyer in 2012, Author Solutions forecasted that the number of publishing packages sold to authors would increase to 30,700 in 2012, and to a staggering 49,015 in 2015.

These packages are widely considered to be massively overpriced compared to competing services but where Author Solutions really makes its money is in aggressively upselling a range of additional services to authors – not included in those expensive packages they first purchase. Most packages don’t even include editing, and this is the first area where sales consultants try and hit their internal targets (claimed in the class action to be $5,000 per customer).

When these sales consultants contact authors, they invariably claim they are calling from Bloomington, Indiana. I should note however that approximately 78% of its staff is actually based in Cebu, Philippines – including the sales and marketing departments. The actual location of Author Solutions staff is important for a number of reasons, not least ascertaining the English ability and editing qualifications of staff working on these books.

. . . .

Penguin [decided] to purchase the company for $116m in July 2012. At the time, the writing community expressed shock at that move, given Author Solutions’ well-known history, and the long-standing warnings from watchdog bodies like Writer Beware.

Some expressed hope that Penguin would clean house, but all it has done is aggressively expand Author Solutions’ operations, with new imprints targeting Spain, Malaysia, India, and South Africa, as well as new white-label self-publishing services for huge companies like Simon & Schuster.

It was clear that Penguin knew exactly what it was purchasing. Companies don’t splash out $116m without doing a thorough check. John Makinson (Chairman and CEO of Penguin at the time), when announcing the purchase said, “We’re looking to upsize not downsize. There are no plans for layoffs, this is an opportunity for growth.”

Penguin’s name also lends credibility to Author Solutions, and its sales consultants have dangled the prospect of Penguin picking up customers’ books. One writer who published with Xlibris (an Author Solutions company) relayed the following:

They told me that with Penguin buying them they could, basically, guarantee that Penguin would look at my book and because it was so good (she’d read the first couple of pages) they would definitely pick it up.

Needless to say, Penguin did no such thing.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Visible

Self-publishing is not revolutionary – it’s reactionary

30 May 2014

From The Guardian:

Self-publishing has always been possible and, indeed, for centuries waspart and parcel of literary culture. Then it became expensive and, frankly, less prestigious, until digital books came along and made it affordable. Now price and success, too often the determinants of value, have made it respectable.

The idea of writers being able to bring their creations directly to readers is widely touted as a radical advance in authorial control and a revolution in the creative process.

. . . .

Unfortunately, self-publishing is neither radical nor liberating. And, as revolutions go, it is rather short on revolutionaries. It is actually reactionary, a contracted version of the traditional publishing model in which companies, who produce for a wide range of tastes and preferences, are replaced by individual producers each catering to very narrow range.

Self-publishing is supposed to democratise publishing. For Nicholas Lovell, writing in the Bookseller, “publishers no longer have an ability to determine which books get published and which books don’t.” In other words, democratisation is nothing more than the expansion of the publishing process from the few to the many. But this both overestimates the barriers to traditional publication – the vetting and selection process may be deeply flawed, but every writer can submit a manuscript – and underestimates the constraints of the marketplace. It also fails to consider whether the democratisation of publishing produces a similar democratisation for the reader by making literary culture more open.

By definition, self-publishing is an individualistic pursuit in which each writer is both publisher and market adventurer, with every other writer a potential competitor and the reader reduced to the status of consumer. Publishing then becomes timid, fearing to be adventurous and revolutionary lest it betray the expectations of its market. This is a natural tendency in traditional publishing but it is one restrained by the voices of its authors who are free to put their work first and entrepreneurship a distant second. With authorship and entrepreneurship now equal partners, the new authorpreneurs have thrown off the dictatorship of the editor to replace it with the tyranny of the market.

. . . .

The risks that are an inescapable part of an industry where every book is a gamble make traditional publishers very conservative. But they are far more liberal, far more radical than self-publishing in its current form. Cross-subsidies from commercial titles support poets, academics and writers of new and daring literary fiction who will never appear on bestseller lists. Such concerted action is impossible in a fragmented world where each writer pursues individual success.

Can a literary culture where writers are producers and readers are consumers be truly open? Only if your definition of an open society is one ruled by the market.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Nick for the tip.

PG wonders if the tyranny of the market is the same thing as the tyranny of democracy.

The Party’s Over

18 May 2014

From Aaron Shephard’s Publishing Blog:

I’m writing this fundamental update because I feel I owe it to my readers.

My career as an authority on self publishing was launched by my 2007 book Aiming at Amazon and furthered by its 2010 spin-off, POD for Profit. Both books were built on a business plan offered as a route to profitable self publishing, primarily of nonfiction, through print on demand and marketing on Amazon. The problem is, that plan is no longer likely to produce much profit.

Amazon has been touted as fostering a thriving culture of self publishing with its level playing field for online sales and its promotion of new reading and publishing technologies, particularly the Kindle. Well, much of that is valid. Amazon has made self publishing more and more accessible to writers and for many years supported a good number of them with sales. But with the Kindle, Amazon has also commodotized books to the point that fewer and fewer self publishers can make a living from them.

. . . .

 Of course, for the tiny percentage of titles that rise to the top, the payoff in massive sales is impressive. And established authors with a sizeable backlist can find the sales very comfortable. But the newcomer, or the author of the kind of merely competent, original, and useful nonfiction books I’ve been encouraging for years, will likely find it necessary to work harder than ever before—supporting two different formats—for much less return.

Link to the rest at Aaron Shephard’s Publishing Blog and thanks to Bill for the tip.

PG feels like he understands what’s going on with indie fiction better than indie nonfiction, but he doesn’t see the current market and the future of indie publishing  this way.

IndieGogo’s Fraud Problems Are a Good Reason to Avoid the Site

7 April 2014

From The Digital Reader:

With lower standards than Kickstarter, Indiegogo has always been (in my mind) an iffy site where I couldn’t really be sure that crowdfunding campaigns supported a real device or simply a fake mockup.

I’ve been concerned about Indiegogo ever since I noticed that the PopSlate iPhone case launched in November 2012 but still hasn’t shipped, but now that I see they have actual fraud going I will be avoiding the site completely.

. . . .

In spite of the complete lack of medical credentials, work history, scientific research, or any other background details which would back up or verify the claims made by the device’s maker, Indiegogo has yet to pull the campaign. They haven’t even suspended it or added a warning message.

This campaign is about to reach the million dollar mark and Indiegogo’s only response was to change their FAQ:

What’s the right thing to do if your crowdfunding platform guarantees to detect “any and all” cases of fraud, but then is shown clear evidence by Pando of a near-$1m fraudulent campaign happening right now?

If you answered “suspend the fraudulent campaign,” you’re right.

If you answered “quietly delete the no fraud guarantee from our website,” you’re Indiegogo.

I’m not joking. Following a week of reporting by PandoDaily in which we exposed the junk science, corporate smoke and mirrors and flat lies behind Moscow-based Healbe’s Indiegogo campaign, Indiegogo finally took action yesterday. Not by suspending the campaign to protect its users, not by doing anything at all to ensure that thousands of people aren’t about to be swindled out of close to a million dollars… but by deleting the reference to their foolproof fraud detection from their support pages.

While I don’t expect Indiegogo to be infallible, I do expect them to correct their mistakes and not simply cover their own ass by changing the rules. This is a tacit admission that they know the claims made about the Healbe Gobe are questionable at best, and rather than pull the campaign they’re going to pretend there is no issue.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Publishers Weekly Ignores The Real Scandal At LA Times Festival of Books

9 March 2014

From David Gaughran:

Publishers Weekly whipped up a storm on Wednesday with news of a deal between Amazon and the LA Times Festival of Books, resulting in calls for the publishing community to boycott the event. But Publishers Weekly is ignoring the real scandal.

Amazon isn’t listed as a sponsor or scheduled to appear. The “deal” in question pertains to the LA Times Festival of Books signing up as an Amazon affiliate so they can earn a percentage from sales made through their website. Mary Williams, of Skylight Books in Los Angeles, complained that sales will be “siphoned away” by Amazon.

. . . .

The reaction was predictable:

The LA Book Festival is a place where book publishers, booksellers, and book lovers come together as a community to celebrate their shared values. Those values are far removed from Amazon’s. Giving Amazon such a prominent role is, to say the least, inappropriate and insensitive.

Give me a break. This is the same LA Times Festival of Books that has been welcoming Author Solutions for years without a peep. And aside from scamming writers in general, Author Solutions has also been scamming authors at the event.

I reported last month that Author Solutions is selling $3,999 book signing packages to appear at the LA Times Festival of Books, and that by Author Solutions’ own figures, they screwed authors out of over $900,000 at last year’s event alone.

This book signing scam has been going on at the LA Times Festival of Books for at least five years. Where’s the outrage? It’s pretty hard to miss the giant row of Author Solutions booths at the event. Why didn’t all these indie booksellers and publishing professionals threaten a boycott over Author Solutions?

. . . .

A media organization, and the editors and journalists that work for it, makes subjective choices all the time. They choose to run a story about Amazon’s partnership with the LA Times Book Fair. They choose to print six negative reactions to the news and zero critical analysis. They choose to make this their headline story. And they choose to cover the Amazon angle and ignore the much worse Author Solutions story. Objectivity, as always, is a fig leaf.

While Publishers Weekly is strangely reticent to cover the Author Solutions story, it’s more than happy to take its money. Author Solutions sells six different Publishers Weekly advertising packages – costing between $2,599 and $16,499. These are pushed by its huge team of sales consultants, who are famous for putting the squeeze on inexperienced writers and making false promises, behavior which has led to a class action suit for deceptive business practices.

Author Solutions makes two thirds of its income from selling crap like this to writers (instead of making money with writers by actually helping them sell books). And you can see the full list of companies who have such dealings with Author Solutions – a virtual Who’s Who of traditional publishing – at the bottom of this post.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Visible and thanks to Pamela for the tip.

PG says nobody in the traditional publishing ecosystem becomes upset when organizations make money at the expense of authors. However, when they make money at the expense of bookstores or pubishers, it’s a scandal.

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