Wait, I’m One of the Adults?

Last week was a particularly busy one. I was working on the business side of writing, which meant arranging promotions, updating files and payments methods, etc, and fiddling with Createspace (I count that with the business stuff because I hate formatting and business stuff almost equally).

I was also busy following a particularly nasty story that had just emerged. I’d seen it coming since last year, when I’d noticed this particular business owner behaving in a very unprofessional way on Facebook and around the internet in general. At the time, I distanced myself by leaving the FB group she’d added me to and generally avoided her services, since although I found her to be a person I didn’t want to have anything to do with, I didn’t know her business practises were also suspect. I just knew that I didn’t like drama, bullying, and people being sent to one-star the books of perceived enemies. I also didn’t care for the upvoting of bad reviews and the downvoting of good ones.

Fastforward to this week when I saw the story explode on KBoards, (monster thread, but worth reading if you want to know the particulars of bad business and what to avoid when it comes to boxed sets) Passive Voice, and Inside Indie (a little more gleeful than I care for, but the screenshots are there).

So many people were popping up anonymously (and some bravely under their own names) to speak up about abuses and business practises that were against Amazon and Paypal TOS (most particularly, being told to pay with the Friends & Family option for a business transaction to dodge fees). There were also a truly startling amount who began to speak up about the bullying, threats, and general nastiness that had been directed at them, sometimes for something so simple as just asking a question. Indies who have been in the business for years were being PM’d by people too scared to speak out.

In one of the groups that had nothing to do with this promoter, some of her followers had come in to post glowing adverts for her services that were then jumped on by other followers who cheered for her and raved about her services. All without mentioning any of the controversy. All to a group where debut authors and inexperienced writers were looking for advice and help along the way. I made my feelings known, explained that I didn’t want to be a part of a group where such services were advertised to susceptible authors, and left.

And then I found that I had a message in my own inbox.

My first instinct was to run. I mean, I’ve only been doing this three years. I’M NOT ONE OF THE ADULTS. It was the way I first felt when someone came up and asked my advice about something. Let me get you an adult…I mean…wait…I’M an adult. Oh dear.

But when it comes to Indie Publishing, by three years you’re starting to get a grip on things. You’re starting to notice trends, and changes, and the way the world repeats itself in the same way, but a little bit differently. People are starting to come to you for advice. You’re one of the adults.

So in that spirit, I’ve decided to be one of the adults. I’m talking to all you newbies out there: the scared, the inexperienced, the debut authors. The ones who ask questions because they don’t know how to do the Stuff themselves.

Keep asking questions. Ask them in public spaces like KBoards so that you can get a wide variety of experiences and reviews, and make up your own mind. Keep your eye on Writer Beware. Follow people like Victoria Strauss, Patty Jansen, and Lindsay Buroker. They’ve got a good eye on the publishing world in general, and you’ll not be led astray following their advice.

And avoid promoters like GenreCrave, Hungry Author, and Books Butterfly. They could go great for you, or they could go very poorly. And when they go very poorly, it’s not just your money that’s at risk, because the way they do their business is a way that could get you into a lot of trouble with Amazon.

This blog post isn’t here to discuss the merits or lack thereof when it comes to the case against Genre Crave, Rebecca Hamilton, and Hungry Author. First and foremost, I want to warn newbie authors and other impressionable Indies that there are certain things you should look out for when you are hiring a service to promote or advertise your book. That goes for courses that will cost you $1-$2k, and boxed set buy-ins that are $500-$2k.

Warning signs being: the Promoter won’t tell you how they achieve their results (aka, secret sauce results); the promoter says no refunds (refunds are a part of doing business); the Promoter telling you to pay via Friends & Family on Paypal (against Paypal TOS and makes it so that you can’t get a refund through Paypal); the Promoter asks for payment up front, even before a contract is signed; there are numerous controversies already when you google the Promoter’s name; the Promoter is listed on Writer Beware, or has a negative thread on KBoards.

For those looking to join boxed sets, despite all the kerfuffle in the threads linked to above, I would like to point out, very clearly, that not all box sets are a scam, nor are they all trying to slip beneath Amazon’s TOS. Not even most of them are. I’m going to be joining one at the end of the year, in fact. What you need to watch out for are the boxed sets that break TOS, are making lists by huge amounts of gifted books, and are doing other dodgy things like offering incentives to preorder the set for the purposes of making a list dishonestly. It’s not worth being caught up in that, because when Amazon swings its hammer, it obliterates all the tiny players like us, and leaves the scammers/shady business owners/slippery salesmen free to skip away and start over again. It’s really hard to come back from a nuked account at Amazon, even if they finally acknowledge that you weren’t at fault.

Be aware. Be safe. Try to do things like boxed sets via recommendations from trusted sources. Even some of the most experienced authors in the Indie world have been scammed. Even the most experienced Indies have found themselves running afoul of Amazon’s TOS due to a slippery promoter. So do your homework. Ask questions. Look at a Promoter from several different sources before you say yes to using them.

(Also, if you have an opinion and comment, that’s okay, but this blog isn’t for a rehash of what’s happening at KBoards, and bad language won’t be approved in comments. So be nice).

Scams And Gullibility

Yanno, like Sense and Sensibility, cos it’s . . . oh, never mind.

At some stage in your writing career (well, in almost any career), you’re certain to run into a scammer. Where there are writers desperately hoping and trying for a breakthrough, there are always going to be schemes like PublishAmerica and the like, ready to prey on the hopeful and uninitiated.

In my original quest for a publisher, I ran into three of these. The first was PublishAmerica. I’d sent a blurb and a sample chapter or two before I knew enough to check them out on the internet. They sent back an effusive email missive that said they would like to publish my book FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. (And yes, they did capitalize that.) Once I’d come down from the high of reading that someone wanted to publish my book, a few things snagged uneasily in my mind.

#1 was that capitalized assurance that publication would cost ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. A genuine publisher has no need to tell prospective authors that they won’t charge for publication. Money flows to the author.

#2 was the fact that they hadn’t even read the full manuscript. I got this message after sending only a few chapters to PublishAmerica. So yeah. If a publisher hasn’t read your full manuscript and is already offering to publish it, run. Run for the hills. You might be that awesome, but my bet says you’re not.

#3 was the info I found on the internet after belatedly checking out the ‘company’. If you’re looking for information on almost any publisher out there, scam or legit, you can’t go past Absolute Write and Preditors and Editors.  I can’t stress enough the importance of checking your facts before even approaching a publishing company or agent. The less bait you are for scammers, the safer you’ll be. There will always be the cold-call, or direct approach, but at least you won’t make a mark of yourself.

More insidious was the supposedly reputable publisher who received my application (blurb, chapters, etc), asked for the full manuscript, and then sent an email back to me some months later, indicating that they could publish me under one of their imprints- which turned out to be a vanity outfit that wanted to charge me $3000-$6000 to ‘publish’ my book. This was after I’d checked them out online and found them to be supposedly reputable. It was only later that I learned this particular publisher had a ‘traditional’ side and a ‘vanity’ side. I sent them back an email indicating that I would wait until I found a publisher who felt they could support me in every way. As I said before (and many have said before me): Money flows to the author.

Pic from http://lifeissavage.com/2012/06/21/microsoft-study-solves-why-email-scammers-say-theyre-from-nigeria/

Pic from http://lifeissavage.com/2012/06/21/microsoft-study-solves-why-email-scammers-say-theyre-from-nigeria/

Most recently, a friend of mine was emailed out of the blue by someone who claimed to have read her fiction online, and who was interested in publishing her. Now, my friend is a great writer. However. This person purported to run a certain company with a name almost exactly the same as a reputable company. They were so similar, in fact, that every google search turned up the other publishing company instead of his. The reputable company has been around for some years, and is connected with many reasonably well-known names. The ah, entrepreneurial company has been around for two months. I still don’t know whether it’s a determined scam (though I’m inclined to think so, based on the name game), or whether this guy with no proven publishing experience/contacts just isn’t awake enough to himself to know how publishing works. Either way, it’s not a safe bet. Your writing might be that awesome. But it’s not likely.

There will be stuff you learn along the way – hopefully not through bitter experience – but what I’ve learned is that:

*Money flows to the author

*If a ‘publisher’ contacts you, check them out very carefully before signing anything

*Suspect everyone, and check out everything

*The internet is your friend

*If it seems too good to be true, it probably is (Actually, I got that from Hustle, but it’s true)