July 28, 2004
Don't Give Your Baby (your book!) to A Naughty Publisher! By Angela Hoy | printable version
I received a series of emails from an author last week that had me puzzled. For three emails in a row, she questioned our Booklocker.com setup fees. She kept asking me to clarify what they were and asked me if we had any hidden fees. I kept repeating, "$199 setup fee plus $18 annual POD file hosting fee." I added, "No charge if you want to use your own cover art. If you want to order a cover from one of our designers, it's $99 for the template and $199 for original cover art (and authors retain all rights to their covers). That's it. There's nothing else."
Her final email let me know why she kept emailing me. She said, "I guess I thought the $199 was too good to be true, considering some of the other prices I've seen."
I wrote back saying I understood her skepticism. I've compared our prices and services to our competitors and it's appalling what some people are charging for the same print run...literally! All the major POD players use the same printer! It's even more discouraging that most of them aggressively try to up-sell authors for worthless marketing products and services.
What's perhaps the saddest of all is that some POD companies are demanding all rights from the author (even though they offer few or no complimentary marketing services). Some POD publishers offer to publish your book for just a few hundred dollars, but then up-sell the authors on more and more mandatory services. By the time the print galley arrives, these victims realize they've spent thousands. Once an author has spent a few hundred and are then told they must spend more to go forward, he or she may feel forced to just pay a little bit more, and then a little bit more, just to see their book in print. This type of business practice is horrible and, in some cases, what the companies are doing is probably illegal.
It's unfortunate that not only have many of our competitors priced identical services several times what our prices are, but they've also mucked up their reputations so badly that they're quickly giving our entire industry a black eye. Let's face it, if one of the "leaders" in any industry has disappointed so many people that you can find countless inflammatory posts about them online, they're going to give all of us a bad name. Unfortunately, we have no recourse in this situation other than to educate authors about how to avoid these firms.
What's perhaps the most unfortunate scenario is that some authors who can't get published by traditional houses, and can't afford a short press run, are so frightened by complaints they've read about these firms online that they may give up on ever being published. It's a shame and angers me that a few bad apples in the industry are hurting so many hopeful authors.
So, what should you do to avoid firms like this?
Step 1: Search the online forums for bad experiences people have had with a firm. The best ones are:
WritersWeekly.com Whispers and Warnings
SFWA's Writer Beware
Preditors and Editors
The Bewares Board
Better Business Bureau
Let's face it, if you find one complaint about a company, it might be a fluke. If you find numerous complaints, don't assume you'll have a good experience with that company. Avoid firms that have multiple complaints posted against them online. And, remember, unscrupulous firms won't hesitate to put "plants" online to post rosy (and perhaps fictitious) experiences with that firm. You'll often find these following complaints posted about the firms. We've seen that happen on WritersWeekly Whispers & Warnings. If an overly-gushing "good experience" is posted right after a complaint, we research the poster, their IP address, their book title and anything else we can find out about them to see if they're a real author or a "plant."
Step 2: Find three or more authors online who are publishing their books through that company and ask them exactly how much it cost them from submission of the final manuscript to the arrival of their print galley. To find these authors, choose a few books from the publisher's library and type the book title and author's name into a search engine. If the authors have personal websites, you'll quickly find them. Once there, you'll find their contact information. Book sales shouldn't be the question you pose because marketing is the author's responsibility, not the publisher's. (Some authors mistakenly assume these publishers will do all the marketing and they later learn that authors are the primary marketers of their books, regardless if a book is self-published or published through a traditional publisher. But, be wary of publishers that make it look like they'll market a book...but then don't do follow through.) Ask about the publisher's setup fees, contract, any unexpected experiences and what the authors was charged for books and shipping.
Step 3: To avoid hidden charges, ask the company for a simple list of everything they offer and the charges associated with each service. This way, you'll know up front what hidden fees might be waiting for you after you're in too deep to back out. Save all emails from the company and demand each representative give you their full name. If the company insists on sending you confusing verbiage that makes it impossible to determine what they charge and what services they offer, consider this a huge red flag.
Step 4: Ask the company exactly how much they're going to charge you for author copies (they should offer discounts based on the quantity ordered). Make sure this information is either posted publicly in their website or specifically included in your contract.
Step 5: Very important! Ask the company how much they'll charge to ship copies of a book that matches your book's projected size and length to your address (give it to them or give them your zip code). Ask them for quotes to ship 1, 50 and 100 copies. We've had numerous complaints from authors about POD companies charging authors two to three times what UPS charges them to ship books. We definitely consider this dirty business! A slight mark-up of 25% or so is acceptable...but a 200%-300% mark-up is ridiculous! If you're already with a POD publisher, you can check their shipping costs by weighing the package you receive and getting a quote from ups.com about how much it would cost to ship that package from your printer's zip code to your zip code, according to the method shipped (ground, overnight, etc.).
Step 6: Read the entire contract BEFORE you pay any money! And, when they send you the "real" contract to sign, make sure it's the same as the sample contract you've read before signing. Never sign a contract that you can't terminate immediately upon notice. There's nothing worse than getting scammed by a company and then needing to hire a lawyer to get out of your contract. If you don't want your book taken hostage by an unscrupulous POD publisher, insist the contract state you can terminate immediately, at any time and for any reason. And, whatever you do, don't let the publisher automatically have first right of refusal on any future works. This right should only be given to traditional publishers that have paid you a hefty advance.
And finally, if you feel you've been had by your POD publisher, share your experiences with one or all of the websites listed above. This will prevent other authors from falling into the company's trap.
POD publishing technology has allowed thousands of authors to get their books in print and into the hands of their readers for just a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately, many firms charge thousands for similar services and end up botching the job. Don't let your book get stuck in this quagmire. Do your homework before trusting your baby (your book) to someone who may see you as a bottomless pocketbook...instead of a professional author.
Angela Hoy is the publisher of Booklocker.com, Inc., an author-friendly POD publisher that takes no rights, pays high royalties on a monthly basis, and treats authors like people, not numbers. She is also an advocate for writers' rights and publishes WritersWeekly.com, the free marketing emag for writers, offering paying markets and freelance jobs every Wednesday at no charge.
This article may be freely reprinted/redistributed as long as the entire article and bio are included.