There have always been vultures in the publishing world. Phoney agents charging “reading fees” to consider your novel for representation are a classic example. One of these agents actually listed a skill on his website as “tug boat captain.” This agent could never have sold anyone’s novel to a legitimate publisher, but I bet after collecting his reading fee, he’d have been happy to recommend unsuspecting authors to equally unqualified editors and book doctors.
The new world of e-publishing and print on demand has unfortunately provided these vultures with new opportunities to suck the life blood (and money) out of authors who have little skill on their computer other than writing.
Publishing on Amazon and Smashwords is easy for many of us, but even I had to wade through the 70 page Smashwords Style Guide in order to properly format my Microsoft Word documents. Some authors prefer to spend their valuable time writing, so they seek out one of the many new publishers to do all this slogging for them, including finding a cover artist, editing, and all the other efforts of a traditional publisher.
The goods news is there are many new publishers that don’t charge up front fees to authors and will pay royalties. Unfortunately, there are also the vultures. They pretend to be a new publishing house, but they’ll charge for cover art, formatting, editing, and after all those expenses are paid, they’ll still take a cut of the royalties. These are not publishers, they’re vanity presses. In fact, old style vanity presses are more legitimate, because they just ship you the books you’ve paid for and aren’t taking a cut of the author’s sales.
The other bizarre development in the rapidly changing publishing world is that some authors have morphed into vultures. After indie-publishing their own novels, they decide to use their skills to publish other authors, and so they open a micro-publishing house. Perhaps they started out with high ideals and simply underestimated how difficult it is to be a publisher, to earn enough from sales to cover all the publishing costs.
An author friend on Goodreads, Erica Pike, blogged last month about a such a case: an author opened a publishing house, No Boundaries Press, and at first all seemed to go well. Books were published and royalty cheques arrived. Then the cheques stopped even though sales were good. Quality became an issue when formatting errors in published Kindle versions (that should never have happened) went unfixed. The epic finale came after many failed promises of payment: No Boundaries abruptly announced that they were no longer in business.
The only good news was that authors could have their rights back. But then the horror stories started: the cover artist hadn’t been paid for many of the book covers. The editors hadn’t been paid. The third quarter 2012 royalty cheques were never sent. No Boundaries wanted their authors to pay for covers and editing (without mentioning that none of the suppliers had been paid.) A little investigating by Erica and others turned up the fact the key person, the former author turned publisher, had many aliases.
It’s refreshing that despite this bad apple, there are good new houses out there that behave like traditional publishers. Four of my fellow members of the Crime Writers of Canada have been published by a newbie small press and have been very happy with the results. One of them, Melodie Campbell, even hit the top one hundred paid sales on Amazon last week for her novel, Rowena through the Wall.
But it all comes down to the same old, same old: author, beware. There are vultures out there waiting to feed on your hopes and dreams.