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

The Launch of the Virtual Classroom

At various times over the last few posts I’ve alluded to the imminent switch to online learning. As of today everything has begun to fall into place and the inaugural online classes will begin next month.

It’s exciting new territory for all of us at the CEL, a whole different approach from the classroom experience. As I understand it we’ll be going with the Zoom platform, a free download that costs attendees nothing to use. Obviously a microphone and speakers are needed, and a headset is ideal.

The coolest part of this is that it opens the door, for the first time, to those who don’t live close to the campus. As an added bonus, given the circumstances surrounding this entire process the spring sessions are being offered at discounted prices.

Here are the links to my two classes:

Crafting the Short Story

An Introduction to Publishing

The new session of Crafting the Short Story is a six week course that begins on May 4th. An Introduction to Publishing is a one day workshop that runs on Saturday, June 20th.

Of course, mine are not the only courses running this spring. There are a number of other excellent classes on a variety of topics. Here’s the link to the complete list so far. Have a look, maybe there’s something here that might pique your interest. Let me know if you have any questions, or you can contact the CEL office directly. I hope to see some of you joining me (from a safe distance!) in a couple of weeks.

-JP

The Distance Learning Experiment

Just a quick couple of notes from the comfort of my couch on this dreary, rainy April evening. First, a novel update: thanks to a small but dedicated burst of activity this past weekend the word count is hovering in the 40,000 range. I don’t know just yet how much more will be added, but as I roll along it’s become apparent just how rough the rough draft really was. It clearly needed more, and the more I do with it the more complete it feels.

I don’t recall whether or not I’ve actually given any specific information about this project beyond referring to it as “the novel”. The working title (which will probably also be the title that eventually graces the cover) is Putting Down Roots. As you would expect from me, it’s a horror novel – a creature feature of sorts this time around. It’s gone through a few incarnations already, from its humble beginnings as a short story to a longer, more developed novella, and now a full-length novel. It’s an awkward approach to writing, and not something I would normally do, except in this case the story lent itself to a longer format.

In other news, I just got out of a meeting via Microsoft Teams with the folks at the university regarding distance learning. As I’ve alluded to previously, in the face of virus-related isolation we’re forced to explore alternative approaches to classroom teaching. The online route might not be ideal – personally, I much prefer the in-person group approach – but for the time being it’s the lone option at our disposal. So this coming week they’ll release the specifics on dates and times and such, with an eye toward getting up and running by sometime next month. I, of course, will pass the info on to you here as soon as the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed.

I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about this approach. I’m not a fan of the platform we’re supposed to use, so I may go rogue and use a different method. The meeting wasn’t a total loss by any means, though. It was nice putting faces to the names of many of my fellow instructors, and a lot of good info and advice was shared. On the plus side, the online classroom is open to more than just those who live within driving distance. So, silver lining there.

One final note: the increased number of people staying at home in recent weeks may be partly responsible for the uptick in traffic this site has seen lately, which is cool. The bump in readers, that is, not the fact that so many are stuck at home (although for some of the folks I know, being stuck at home and isolated from society isn’t exactly a punishment). In any event, whatever brought you to my little corner of the internet, you have my appreciation and thanks. Feel free to drop by any time.

As always, be well and stay safe!

-JP

Making Adjustments

To put it mildly, a few things have changed around the world since my last blog post. Let me just say that there is ample reading material, information, misinformation, statistics, and memes concerning the COVID-19 virus across all social media platforms. Since I don’t really have much of anything to add to the discussion, I’m not going to talk about it here.

…well, except as it pertains to my writing classes.

Naturally, when everything else began to shut down, the university followed suit (they were actually ahead of the curve on that front). So as a result, we had to shut down the final session of Crafting the Short Story, and cancel An Introduction to Publishing. If you’re reading this, ladies, as promised we WILL do that final class, whether in person or via Skype or some such.

Further to that: as of this morning I’ve been in discussions with the powers that be regarding classes, and how to handle them moving forward. It looks like we’re going to launch online classes in place of classroom gatherings. I’ll discuss more details as they unfold, but for now it looks like what would have been the April session will begin sometime in May.

What does this mean? Well, it’s an adjustment, no question. I’ve done online lessons via Skype before, so it’s not entirely new for me, although I’m told we’ll be using a different platform here. It also means that suddenly my classes are available to people who don’t happen to live in the immediate area.

Just a short post today, to let you know I’m still plugging away over here. I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. Talk soon!

-JP