Step Right Up!

I want to take a slightly different approach with today’s post. It’s a little on the long side, but I think it’s a worthwhile read, especially if you’re a writer or potential author, regardless of skill level or advancement. Think of this as a public service announcement.

Some of you may not be aware that besides being my first line of defense and primary editor my wife, Sheryl, is an accomplished writer in her own right. She’s got a few publishing credits under her belt and sends her stuff out just like most of us, in the hopes that a publisher she’s identified as a potentially good fit will like what they see. This week she received an acceptance email from one such publisher. To avoid any potential legal ramifications I won’t name the UK-based publisher in question. Let me just say that they’re named after a winged horse that rhymes with “Megasus”.

While it’s always exciting to receive an acceptance, this one caused Sheryl’s antennae to twitch. Something didn’t seem quite right, and she showed it to me. I read it over, and was delighted to see that they’d offered to send a contract. I glanced over at her and said “Please have them send you a contract.” I really wanted to have a copy of it to avoid any heresay or slander accusations. Once I had it in hand I chuckled and told her to reply with a ‘thanks but no thanks’. She did reply, in her own inimitable, colorful style.

Why, you might be wondering, would anyone do such a thing? Isn’t a publishing contract the goal here? Well, as it turns out, “Megasus Publishing” is what is known as a hybrid publisher. That’s a fancy way of saying they’re a vanity publisher. Essentially, the author pays the publisher for the privilege of having them publish his or her work. In this case, the asking price was a cool 1,900 GBP (or roughly $3,200 CDN). Just send us this money, the acquisitions editor said, and we’ll take care of everything. Hell, we’ll even pay you royalties on any books we sell!

Now, the difference between a hybrid publisher and a true vanity is that the hybrid claims to be a legitimate publisher that also offers what they call “inclusive contracts”. In other words, even though we offer real, legit contracts that guarantee actual payment to some authors, in your case we’d rather you pay us to “help defray some of the costs”. The difference, of course, is that there is no difference. In neither case do these hucksters operate in any legitimate manner, it’s all a ruse. Just smoke and mirrors, designed to ensnare starry-eyed would-be authors with the idea of seeing their name in print. Sadly, many still fall for these scams, which is how they manage to stay in business.

I discuss vanity publishers and other such scams more in-depth in my Introduction to Publishing course, but here are a few of the highlights of this particular contract. For starters, of course, is the matter of shelling out over three grand under a clause they’ve sneakily called “advances”. Advances, for the uninitiated, are monies paid TO authors in advance of sales BY publishers, against future royalties earned. For this price they will perform edits, cover art (all at the publisher’s discretion, with them having final say in all matters), and a bunch of other stuff that any reputable publisher pays for. They lay claim to subsidiary rights and draconian percentages. They will send you also 25 complimentary copies of your book, “completely free of charge” as the contract makes a point to specifically note – which, for your $3,200, comes out to about $130 per “complimentary” copy. The duration of these contracts is often ridiculous, too. There is literally no part of it that benefits the author in any way.

Oh, and in case you become disgruntled at your handling by your hybrid publisher, there’s also a clause that prevents you from saying, writing, or doing anything disparaging or that “may adversely affect the production, promotion, and sales of the work.” Unbelievable. And just for fun, they’d like first refusal on your future works. You know, just in case you happen to have another few thousand dollars left.

What the contract won’t tell you about vanity publishers is stuff like: horrible editing (often worse than it was in the first place), poor formatting, shoddy book quality, and maybe best of all, unrealistic cover prices to ensure few if any copies are ever sold. They’ll do zero marketing, nor will they make any attempt whatsoever to sell your book – they’ve already made their money from it, from you. So now it’s up to the poor author to sell as many copies as they can on their own (purchased from the publisher, of course) to try and make back as much of their sunk investment as possible.

I mentioned before that people still fall for these types of scams. Additionally there are still people who, for whatever reason, will defend their decision to publish with these slimy operations. I happen to suspect that in many cases they’re just too embarrassed over being scammed to admit what a bad experience it was for them. For the record, $3,200 isn’t anywhere near the top of the scale of what these scam artists will try and charge. The highest I’ve heard of was north of $15,000. Just incredible, the temerity it takes to run this kind of con with a straight face.

The long and the short of it is this: never pay anyone to publish you. Ever. If you plan to self publish, pay an editor, sure. Pay an artist for cover art, absolutely. These are part of the cost of doing business, which are generally covered by a legitimate publisher. But under no circumstances should you ever pay a publisher. The money always flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is wrong. And possibly a vanity publisher.

In case it isn’t obvious at this point, Sheryl did not sign and return the contract. She will not be working with Megasus Publishing on this or any future project, a fact she made abundantly clear in her final correspondence.

The next installment of An Introduction to Publishing runs on November 7th. For more stories about scams like this one and how to avoid them plus a host of other fun topics, click the link and drop on in.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP