Last year, members of my critique group and I decided to self-publish an anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories. Nine of us wrote, edited, and compiled original stories. We ran a successful Indiegogo campaign; we met to discuss marketing plans: signings, press releases, how to utilize the “go-local” craze. Graphic designers in our group made an awesome cover, and we even broke down the legal details of our partnership.
Sounds like we had all of our bases covered, right?
Well, I wouldn’t be writing a post about scams if that were the case. Our original publisher was AuthorHouse. (Some of you will groan when you hear that name.) After discrepancies with our original contract vs the one they tried to hold us to months later, we dug a little deeper and found that many people were having or had had the same issues with AuthorHouse. Legal suits were ongoing, plenty of sites flagged the company as untrustworthy.
So, many wasted months and hundreds of dollars later, we decided to leave AuthorHouse. We’re not sure if we will be able to get our money back and our anthology has had its publication date pushed back further and further. Though we found a new service to format the book, a lot of trouble could have been avoided with a few simple changes.
1. No matter how experienced you think you are, always do your due diligence.
Whether you are self-publishing, agent-hunting, submitting to magazines, participating in contests, or whatever, you must do your research. Yes, this is the most basic of advice, but it is important to remember. I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve been submitting to agents and magazines for ten years. Two of my favorite sites are Absolute Write Water Cooler and Preditors and Editors. I consider spotting bad agents a skill of mine, and those two websites have been my support through my agent-hunting years. Then how did I miss such an obvious scam as AuthorHouse?
Basically, because we published in a group. Someone else suggested AuthorHouse and printed off prices that compared a few self-publishing presses. I assumed the contract had been looked over, and no one else brought it up. Because I was in a new situation (self-pub vs agents) and in a group, I did not do my due diligence. Turns out, no one else in the group had either.
2. Take context into consideration.
If a traditional publishing house asked for a $500 reading fee before accepting you, you would know that was way too much money and back away slowly from the offer. But what about a $10 reading fee from an agent? Or a $15 entrance fee for a contest? That’s not too much money, and winning that contest could get you noticed by your dream agent! (Who represents Suzanne Collins, again?)
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about paying for services. Many people will tell you not to pay to enter a contest, but then there’s Glimmer Train. Self publishing was villainized not even ten years ago, but now respectable people pay to publish all the time. (Pretty much everyone will tell you never go with an agent who charges reading fee.) You will have to take context into consideration when making your decisions. If the only place you’ve heard of Glimmer Train is this blog just now, you probably shouldn’t submit there. Word of mouth is not a reliable way to choose who to work with. Look for a consistent track record of successful authors and happy customers. If this information is hard to find, go somewhere else. If customers disagree on whether the company is good to work with or not, go somewhere else.
3. If you are scammed, take action.
I can say one thing for my anthology group: once we knew about the scam, we rallied. Everybody chose one new publisher/press and researched it. We presented our findings and checked and double-checked before making a decision. We assigned one person to take on AuthorHouse and try and get our money back (we’re still in limbo). We’re discussing small claims court and revitalizing our marketing.
Your first task, whether working in a group or alone, should be to secure the rights to your work. Your money may be gone down a black hole but with persistence you should be able to get back your rights. After that, you can start considering options. Don’t worry about a smaller budget or a slower timetable. Your priority should be getting back on the right track.
This post is the first in a short series on publishing scams, so check back tomorrow for more details on avoiding and surviving scams.
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