More Warnings: Spectacular Productions; Balboa Press/Author Solutions

It’s been a busy month for publisher warnings!

Spectacular Productions

From author Brian Keene, a warning about a small publisher called Spectacular Productions. Authors report long publication delays, missed pub dates, lack of communication by publisher Christian Hanner, lack of payment, and work accepted but contracts never received.

It’s amazing how many small press implosions feature this exact same litany of complaints. As Keene observes,

Sadly, this is an all-too-common occurrence within the small press. A start-up publisher emerges, announces a bold list of titles, issues contracts, and then crumbles after publishing a few or none of the books, leaving authors to sort out their rights reversion and customers frustrated with the small press in general. This isn’t always done maliciously. Sometimes, the publisher is just woefully inept or ignorant of the business or finds they ran out of start-up cash quicker than they thought. Other times, there is clear malfeasance on the part of the publisher. In this case, I’m not sure which applies (as Hanner had not responded to my requests for comment by press time) but I suspect that it started out the former and has now segued into the latter. And that is unfortunate.

Keene also provides a good set of tips for submitting to small presses. Also see my blog post, Precautions for Small Press Authors–it’s a few years old but the advice is still current–and Writer Beware’s Small Presses page, which includes a list of cautions and links to many helpful resources.

Balboa Press / Author Solutions

Like other such ventures, Hay House’s self-publishing arm, Balboa Press, is outsourced to Author Solutions Inc. I’ve blogged quite a bit about the problems at ASI, as have David Gaughran and Emily Suess, and I’ve seen a lot of complaints from authors who’ve used various ASI “brands.” ASI and its parent, Penguin Group, are currently the focus of a class action lawsuit, alleging, among other things, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

Even knowing as much as I know, however, I was shocked by this writer’s account of her nightmare experience publishing an illustrated book through Balboa. Illustrations that couldn’t be gotten right (despite the detailed information the writer provided), multiplying text errors, corrections that were promised but never made…the list goes on.

After months of inexcusable errors, it was apparent the Art Director, or whomever, did not adhere to “set up an artist that best suits your project.” The project was/is light, airy, and whimsical. I received
“dark.” In most cases, the illustrations were sparse (not intricate detail) with no color consistency, no innovation, wrong genders, wrong race, missing or incorrect features, etc. An ancient woman was drawn as a bald-headed, old man numerous times, despite repeated pleas and request for adherence to the RAD [Required Art Directions form, filled out by the author] and characterization forms…

Excuse after excuse mounted by the CIAC [Custom Illustrations Accounts Coordinator] who offered, “the illustrator is sensitive, he’s young, he draws like that; it’s a difficult project.” My response to the CIAC, “I appreciate that, but this is this is a children’s book. This does not take place in a bombed out trailer park in Beirut. There is no consistency in colors…” In my mind, I understood I paid for “intricate design” [the author paid $3,444 for an “Intricate Design” illustration package] and the CIAC maintains, “it’s a difficult project.” Why? If it was so difficult, then why accept the project? It was now apparent that there was no professional oversight.

I think that some due diligence was lacking here. The author says she didn’t realize Balboa Press was associated with ASI; however, if you Google “Balboa Press,” my blog post about Balboa and ASI comes up on the first search page, along with a review by Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine that mentions ASI in the first paragraph. The information is definitely out there for those who seek it.

The author is correct, though, in saying that the Balboa Press website is not transparent about the connection. ASI is mentioned, but the mention is deeply buried in a place where most people are not likely to look. To the casual visitor or aspiring self-publisher, there’s nothing to suggest that Balboa isn’t run by Hay House; indeed, everything on the website is geared to encourage visitors to believe it is.


  1. This is an interesting and probably very important discussion. I had no idea when I joined up with Balboa that they were connected with AS, nor until I started in with this discussion. Balboa certainly didn’t mention that detail in their small print and it explains why I have in the past had a good number of emails from AS trying to suck me in to paying for further services. Most scam publishers are pretty easy to recognise by their book lists, and then googling the titles they indicate as reasons to work with them.
    On another tack, what about Reedsy? Is that a useful service for new authors?

  2. Indeed, you are right, there is always some (though occasional only) marketing pressure, but I’ve already told them I’m not spending another cent on my book. Generally they seem to accept that. So I just ignore the emails that still trickle in. What else does come in though are scams from other various places, which I can see now is no doubt generated by Author Solutions. I researched AS and put them in my Scam box as soon as I received their first email, so it’s interesting so know now that they are involved with Balboa. Scams are easy to avoid, simply because I’m not giving anyone, no matter who, any money. I wonder though if more than a decade ago Balboa was perhaps a little more professional and did in fact do some good things? I certainly didn’t get an impression they were trying to rip me off. More conversation welcome. P

    1. Balboa has always been run by Author Solutions. In addition to their owned imprints–Xlibris, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Palibrio, Partridge–AS runs several self-publishing “divisions” for publishers: Archway Publishing for Simon & Schuster, Westbow Press for Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins, LifeRich for Reader’s Digest, and of course Balboa Press for Hay House. There were several more, but they’ve been closed down. Partnering with traditional publishers was intended to be a major initiative for AS, but it hasn’t proved as popular as they hoped.

      The publishers’ names attached to these divisions is a draw; they all claim to monitor the divisions for promising books that could transition to traditional publishing, and the verbiage on the websites implies that authors will have access to the publisher’s infrastructure. I believe there’ve been a few books that have been “discovered” this way. But it’s mostly smoke and mirrors, and for the most part, the publisher’s name is the only connection. If you sign with Archway, or Balboa, or any of the others, you are firmly in the AS ecosystem.

  3. When I self-published with Balboa Press 12 years ago my aim was to get a simmering novel off my bucket list. I went down this path because constant submissions, mainly overseas, were expensive time-consuming and frustrating, and established publishers, though quick with praise and encouragement, were clearly not about to accept a new author. My anger at that time was aimed mainly at the professional publishing industry, who to my mind were most likely not doing themselves any favours by rejecting every work on their desks without a well-known name behind it. Balboa I found to be comparatively reasonably-priced, efficient to work with, and they came up with an end product that I was reasonably happy with (see Laughter on the Wind, by PG Edwards). This book is still advertised online through various outlets, all by Balboa’s initial work, not from anything from me.
    Since I am not about to suddenly become any great marketing whiz, and will avoid being online whenever I possibly can, my book of course is not selling. As far as I know it hasn’t sold a single copy. I blame myself for this detail, not Balboa, even though I remain positively confident that my great novel will one day prove to be a golden egg, once it gets into the right hands!
    There were of course some problems working with Balboa.
    1) The fact that they promoted themselves as an Australian arm of Hay House was an aggravation, since I am an Australian resident and all dealings, including financial, had to be done through their Indiana US offices. Even though printed copies seemed to be easily delivered through their Australian branch, so quick and cheap for them, transferring money to the US was considerably more costly than Australian currency at the time, and the US tax system was impossible to deal with, so I gave up trying to work with snail mail.
    2) Their Indiana head office seemed to be managed at every level by ethnics, with accents that for me, who hates telephones, were very difficult to understand. Luckily they were happy to work through emails, which I like because everything is in writing and can’t be disputed, but nevertheless some of the grammar was questionable – for a book publisher.
    3) They unfortunately don’t include marketing in their list of inclusive services with their packages. Writers are writers, so possibly I just assumed a publishing company would at least attempt to get a book they have worked on in front of an editor or two, to try to make a bit more money for themselves. Presumably they do know some successful publishing houses, and I actually believed Hay House to be one of them, but the list of magazine and publication outlets I suggested to them for a spot of initial advertising seemed to be totally ignored, and most that they chose seemed totally inappropriate.
    4) While I am able to check my account online, I never bother to do that because it’s fiddly and nothing has moved whenever I get in there. As far as I know my novel could be making a million for Balboa, but there’s no way I can find out about that. It seems to be just a matter of honesty.
    5) With everything online, and most internet technology double-Dutch to me and people being what they are, I suspect quite a few could very well have downloaded my full novel without anyone having a clue if it happens or not. Certainly not me.
    Otherwise I got my book done. My main wish was always more for a spot of recognition than for any great hope of wealth and fame, so I guess I got my wish. I don’t think I can blame Balboa for that. However any proof to the contrary, and any other comments and suggestions will be very welcome.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Patricia. I’m glad you’re generally satisfied.

      Balboa is run for Hay House by Author Solutions, an assisted self-publishing service provider that is indeed headquartered in Indiana but outsources most of its publishing-related work to the Philippines. Hence the accents you mention. Additionally, selling high-priced marketing services is a major profit center for Author Solutions, which is why such services are sold separately (and as a Balboa author, I’d guess you may have been subjected to some sales pressure to buy marketing services; Author Solutions is notorious for high-pressure sales tactics).

  4. Anonymous 3/21/15:

    The warnings about Author Solutions imprints still stand.

    If you want to self-publish, I recommend you look into other (cheaper) options, such as CreateSpace or IngramSpark if you want to do print, and Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and the direct-to-ereading-device platforms such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, if you want to do an ebook only.

    There's lots more info on self-publishing, as well as links to helpful resources, at the Self-Publishing page of Writer Beware.

  5. Hey i know this post was years ago, i have been talking with Balboa about pulsing my book and they want me to give them a certain amount they have packages, I'm a single mum my story is unique and suggestions?

  6. Dear Victoria,

    Could you please suggest me appropriate publishers who are good at books with illustrations? My friend has a manuscript on Indian Carnatic Music and is earnestly waiting for publishers who could do illustrations that would match up. Your advice is greatly appreciated here. Thanks much!

  7. Anonymous 9/08:

    You're completely right about the bad-advice-givers, who are legion on the Internet. Here and there on this blog I've addressed particular individuals or websites that offer bad advice–but I've never done a blog post on this subject in general. A good suggestion–thank you.

  8. I just discovered this site; I'm late to the party.

    As a young, aspiring writer back in the '70s, I fell for almost every trick in the book. I paid a fee to the Scott Meredith agency to read my manuscript, and received a committee-written reply. I spent money on writers' magazines and absorbed their bad advice.

    I admire Writer Beware for exposing the hoaxes. Have you written anything about the hacks who make a living selling bad advice? I remember reading articles saying I could write a novel in three months if I simply wrote ten pages a day, I remember an article one writers' magazine that said a good way to break into the market was writing porn, and I've seen too many books on How To Be A Published Author written by people have have written nothing else but these advice books.

    The last book I actually spent money on (never again, I've learned my lesson) was called "Some Writers Deserve To Starve" and the author had one novel published by Publish America" and her only other title is another advice book.

    As I said, I'm new to this site. Have you addressed the issue of the professional bad advice givers, who suck money from unsuspecting aspirants?

  9. Perhaps the Balboa customer could just try filing a complaint with the "Hay House" corporate office. Since the ASI customer support seem inept at best.

    Here's the contact info page:

    This is an opportunity for Hay House Inc. to get directly involved and fix it for the customer.

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AUGUST 28, 2013

Sandpiper Publicity: the Albee Agency Returns


A Message From Writer Beware Co-Founder and Chair, Ann Crispin