Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thickening Plot

On Tuesday evening, I received an email from someone whose name I didn't recognize. The main part of the email said this (I left out the identifying details and bolded some things that aroused my suspicion):

Please allow me to introduce you to [NAME OF PUBLISHER (NOP)].  [NOP] is one of the fastest growing small press/independent publishers in America, based in [a city in a state, known for its dry climate and not known as a publishing hub]. Our approach is unique and very effective. We not only design your cover, edit your manuscript, design your interior, and print your book; but we also stay with you to market it successfully. What you have to say is important, so let us help you be read. We make your book available on 16,000 online stores, available to all major retailers, wholesalers, and distributors. We market your book to our proprietary database of 35 million email accounts. We also make your book available in the top 5 e-book formats and available to all e-retailers. You can also choose to attend and sell your book at our 200 company sponsored events across the country. Our company will also market and distribute one of your existing books. We, of course, guide you in this process for the best results.

I'm pretty sure this isn't an advance-paying, royalty-paying publisher. Nowhere on the website, for instance, did it mention an advance or royalties. I was getting a bit suspicious. So—I figured I'd just reply to the guy's e-mail. Here's part of what I replied:
I gave your website a quick look (reading light blue print on a medium blue background is very hard on my eyes), but I didn't see the info I was looking for. Perhaps you can answer these questions:
  • What is your average advance paid to authors? 
  • What percent royalty do you pay? Is that on cover price or net?
  • What about e-book royalties?
  • Where do you submit books for professional reviews?
  • Do you nominate books for awards? If so, which ones?
  • How many advance reader copies do you print and where do you send them? 
  • How many author copies do you provide?
  • Do you send your catalogue to bookstores?
  • Do you arrange for your authors to speak at book festivals and writers conferences? 
  • Where do I find links to your authors' websites or blogs?
  • Do you have author pages for your authors?
I figured he'd get back to me first thing the next morning. Nope, nothing in the inbox. Well, maybe later in the day. Nope. Thursday? We'll see.

In the meantime, here's why my suspicions were aroused:

  • How would he know that his company was "the fastest growing small press/independent publisher"? He didn't cite any statistics comparing it to similar companies. How fast, exactly, has it grown?
  • Any time a company describes itself as "unique," I'm suspicious. Unique is one of those meaningless words that's meant to sound impressive. 
  • How effective is "very effective"?
  • "Available" does not mean "actually for sale there" or "actually on the shelf."
  • Marketing to a database of "35 million e-mail accounts" means big-time spam. I wouldn't want 35 million account holders to hate me for having spam.
  • "200 company sponsored (sic) events"? None of those company-sponsored events (and what, exactly, are they?) are likely to be near me. 
I also did a bit of Googling. This "small press/independent publisher" appears to be a "self-publishing" company. Thus, it is a vanity press dependent of its authors for money.

Time for some definitions here:
  • Real "self-publishing" means the author becomes the publisher, gets the ISBN & EAN numbers and hires the printer (and designer, editor, etc.). I've self-published one book. It sold 1,700 copies, so I made back my investment. This book is available from some boxes of books in my garage and under my bed. Bookstores are reluctant to stock self-pubbed books.
  • "Vanity publishing" means the author pays a chunk of money to a company to take care of  everything. Books are generally printed on demand—as copies are ordered. Bookstores are reluctant to stock vanity-published books. I've vanity-published two collections of my former column and two collections of short stories—all four books fit a tiny niche market (think locally), so I made back my investment. I have some of these books available in the trunk of my car. However, you can get them from or from the publisher
  • A "small press" is a commercial publisher that doesn't charge the author to get published. Some small presses pay advances (though not big ones the way bigger publishers do) but they do pay royalties. If the small press has a distributor, bookstores will stock the book. 

When I returned home Thursday evening, following a stimulating session with my SCBWI crit group, there was a message on my answering machine from the guy who'd originally e-mailed me. He asked me to call him back to "talk about your book." But I didn't want to "talk about" my book. I just wanted the answers to those questions.

On Friday, I shared the e-mail with Lake Writers. One other member remembered getting the e-mail I did. No one thought this company sounded legit.

Mid-day Friday, he sent another e-mail:
Thanks for your questions. I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you. If you would send me your phone number and a convenient time for you to talk, I will call you.
I can't figure why he just didn't answer my questions in the e-mail. Why did he ask for my phone number when he already had it!? How did he get my contact info in the first place.

The plot thickens. . . .

Edited to add this: . . . and here's the last installment. I replied to his last e-mail to ask for answers to the above questions and to ask how he'd gotten my contact info and received this answer:

Thanks for your response. Let me answer your last two questions first. I found your email address and phone number in the Virginia Writers Guild Directory. I contacted you to see if you had any interest in our services. We do not discuss our fee structure online for two reasons. The first reason is every author is different. The second reason is it is impossible to evaluate our service and fees without fully understanding what we do and what you need. That is best accomplished by having a phone conversation at your convenience. I leave that decision to you. I can assure you that we are only interested in having a relationship that is mutually beneficial and long lasting. Thanks again for your interest.

Fee structure?! That tells me all I need to know. This company isn't a commercial publisher; it's a vanity publisher. If they can't be upfront with their fees, you know that "publishing" with them costs $$$$.

I'm closing the book—er, blog post—on this vanity outfit.


Blogger Snappy Di said...

I love a good mystery.


10:51 AM  

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