All in a Day’s Sleuthing

A couple of weeks ago I got a question about the reputation of a publisher I’d never heard of before. I checked out its website, which was pretty amateurish-looking, and provided no information at all about who was running the company and where the company was located. This is information you always want to see on a publisher’s website, because it’s awfully hard to evaluate a publisher if you don’t know who’s behind it–especially when, as in this case, it hasn’t actually published any books.

Also red-flaggish was the publisher’s promise to provide a report with every rejection, which would not only “help the author pinpoint problems that need attention, but will also improve your chances to obtain that publication contract all authors seek.” The publisher then “goes that extra step…if we make an initial ‘pass’, many times we give the author the opportunity to resubmit their manuscript for consideration after they address the problems our editors denoted on the ‘pass’ report.”

Nothing is said about money. Nevertheless, this reminded me an awful lot of the kind of wording one sees from publishers and agents who charge an evaluation fee or routinely recommend paid editing services. I made a note of the publisher’s name, and resolved to keep an eye out for more information.

If someone’s doing something shady, it doesn’t usually take long for Writer Beware to get wind of it. Yesterday, I got an email from a writer whose novel had just been rejected by this publisher. The promised report was included with the rejection letter. According to the report, the ms. needed “some work”; the author was free to choose “any editing firm you feel comfortable with,” but the publisher had an “arrangement” with an editing service that had agreed “to provide our potential authors a discount on their editing services.” Once the manuscript’s problems were corrected, the publisher would be willing to reconsider it.

This, by the way, is exactly the bait-and-switch technique used by Edit Ink, a crooked editing firm that was put out of business by the New York State Attorney General in 1999.

I had a pretty strong hunch, therefore, that the publisher either owned the editing firm or was getting some kind of kickback for referrals. But I didn’t have any proof. So I decided to do a little digging. Domain name searches often turn up very interesting information. I discovered that the domain names for both the publisher and the editing firm are registered through a proxy service (which means that the name and contact info of the domain name owner is hidden), but the geographical location and the ISP for the two websites is the same–and the IP addresses are identical.

It’s still not conclusive proof that the publisher and the editing service are run by the same person, but it’s pretty suggestive. I’ve broken my own rule and written to the publisher to ask for an explanation. I’ll keep you posted.

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