Editor or predator? By Ann Evans

There are lots of good reasons for self publishing and ebooks. Being in control of your own work is obviously top of the list. The downside, I've found anyway, is never being quite sure if what you've written is good enough to be published. Fine when it's one of your out-of-print books. But when it's a brand new book it can be a little bit scary.
     Last year I dragged an old manuscript out of the filing cabinet which I'd written years and years ago. After re-writing it, I thought I'd see if I could get a conventional publisher interested, as I really didn't know if it was good enough.
     I can't actually remember why I hit on the publisher that I chose, they were American and I'd never heard of them, nevertheless I was delighted when they said they wanted to publish - who would't be?
     They appeared genuine because of the blurb on their website and because they offer an advance. The contract, when it came seemed okay. The advance wasn't much, but the very fact that it was an advance made me think that they were genuine – and not vanity or worse.
     The contract had all the usual stuff in about royalties and percentages for book clubs, translation rights etc. It also said that the author would be responsible for the promotion of their book – but help would be given. So I thought that was okay.
     There was a clause that said authors couldn't complain about the staff, products or services of the publisher – ever. Which I thought was odd, but didn't pay much attention to it. That point however, is the reason why I can't reveal the name of the publisher now. Even though I've managed to terminate the contract.
     Anyway, I was appointed a copy editor who has been working with me for the last year on the manuscript. My later research makes me think she was a genuine freelance editor. However, then came the crunch.
     With the manuscript at a point of being pretty much ready to go to print, they wanted me to start my promotional push which involved getting lots and lots of reviews – hundreds. And how was I to do this? Certainly not by sending electronic copies out. No - that wasn't allowed. I was expected to  buy hundreds of copies of my own book. (Minimum order 100, but I'd get a better rate of discount if I bought 300 or 500 or 1,000.) And the price of each book... approx $22!
     After I'd picked myself up off the floor, and stopped feeling sick, I delved into the background of this 'publisher' and discovered some particularly dodgy things about them. I then went into action by terminating the contract, which fortunately I did easily enough because they were in breach over not paying the advance. First time ever I've been pleased not to have received dosh!

     So, I thought I'd do a list of tips of things to double check for anyone looking at little-known publishers which might come in handy. So, if anyone reading this has been offered a contract but doesn't know anything about the publisher, here's some things to look out for:
      Few, if any of these vanity publishers advertise themselves as such. So you might be able to pick them out because they actually claim not to be a vanity or subsidy publisher.

     If you receive a standard contract, look to see if it contains a clause that prohibits its authors from complaining about them. Then ask yourself why they would put such a clause in.

     Be aware that the contract may well deliberately miss off important points, so no matter how you scrutinise a contract, you won’t be able to scrutinise anything that isn’t written there. So as well as looking to see what they are offering, have your own check-list of pointers that you want agreement on. For example, ask them if you will be expected to pay anything towards the publication of this book. Be sure to keep their reply.

     Look at their website, Check (Google) that they are at the address they say they are. If their address turns out to be a post box or a postal annex ask yourself if you are happy with that?

     Look at their backlist of published books. Can you find them on book stores like Amazon? Scroll down to the book's details and check that the book was actually published by that publisher and not someone different or self published.

     Do they have a catalogue of forthcoming books that you can view? Does it look convincing?

     Google the publisher's authors and see if they are genuine people. You could even email one or two to ask if working with that publisher was a good experience.

     Google the name of the publisher and see what comes up, don’t just look at the first page of results, but delve deeper to see if people have blogged about they experiences with them.

     Check website such as Writer Beware. (www.victoriastrauss.com/writer-beware) to see if they are mentioned.

     If all you find is good comments and lots of info on the publisher, that’s a good sign. If you can’t find anything on them, that’s a bad sign.


Unknown said…
Wonderful cautionary post. There's actually a lively site that mirrors your title and it's worth a look: Predators and Editors. Scoundrels are out there.
Nick Green said…
Rogue traders, pure and simple. Ugh. That's a classic bait-and-switch scam: offer something attractive, then change it once the person is committed. Presumably you could still reveal their identity anonymously, via a third party?
Jan Needle said…
but why, if you've terminated the contract, can't you reveal their name?
Was thinking, with Nick, that you could reveal their name through a third party but I seem to remember reading something about a publisher with just this clause and I suspect it was on Author Beware. We could probably find out by googling. What a sad and sorry tale though. Worth also pointing out that the Society of Authors will vet contracts for members and they have a pretty strong legal department. (Sometimes, I feel, more on the ball than a small agency!) That alone is worth the annual membership fee if you are considering going it alone.
Ann Evans said…
Thank you for your comments. Jan, I suppose I don't want to openly reveal their name in this blog is because I don't want to risk any action been taken against me as they seem very crafty. However I have reported my experience to Writer Beware, which is mentioned above. And if anyone wants to know the name of the publisher, just email me privately.
Jan Needle said…
thanks for the explanation, ann. it might be worth slipping their name to the society of authors on the quiet, tho. they're very good and would probably warn others, without blowing your cover. nasty little story.
Die Booth said…
"There was a clause that said authors couldn't complain about the staff, products or services of the publisher – ever."
That's absolutely outrageous! I once pulled a story from an anthology when the contract required them to have the right to change anything in authors' work without having to consult the author - ha! I'm really glad you got out of that contract (and surely they can't touch you for anything now you are no longer under contract.)
Nick Green said…
Wow, I'd like to see that clause, Catherine! "An author may not anonymously reveal our misdeeds or else we will... Sue the author whose identity we do not know."
Lydia Bennet said…
well if you terminated the contract because they had broken it, by not paying you, surely all the terms are null and void? you'd have to look at the small print. what a horrible story. they should deffo be named and shamed by someone who hasn't signed this. good thing you got out of it! good on you for spreading the word.
There are a few mentions of publishers doing this on Author Beware. They have had 'cease and desist' letters which they seem to have routinely ignored. It's a form of bullying though, isn't it? I've never ever seen this kind of clause in any of the contracts I've signed - but I've either had an agent or used the SoA. I think what people sometimes don't seem to understand is that you can modify contracts if you don't like them! It's a two way street! For instance, magazines tend to include a draconian 'world rights' clause as a matter of course these days, but you just score it out and put in what you want instead. I've never had anything turned down because I've done that, and if they did, then I would walk away.

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