A couple of years ago I featured Waldorf Publishing in a post about a manuscript contest it was running, which was replete with red flags–not least of which is that Waldorf is a vanity publisher. At the time, it was charging a menu of fees, from which authors could pick and choose:
In 2019, Waldorf switched to a book purchase requirement: authors were required to buy 50 or 100 books, “to ensure us that Authors are participating in marketing and actively promoting their book”. Possibly it won’t surprise you to learn that there is nothing on Waldorf’s website or in its publicity materials to suggest that fees are involved.
Waldorf is owned by Barbara Terry, who describes herself as “America’s Favorite Auto Expert, CEO, Spokesperson, Author, Off-road racer, Columnist, Television Host, Marketing and Public Relations expert”. The company appears to depend heavily on unpaid interns for staffing (at least one of whom did not have a happy experience); this may explain the quality of its covers, some of which you can see here. For a time, in addition to pay-to-play publishing, it sold author services a la carte.
Recently the company has re-branded as Waldorf Publishing, Marketing and Public Relations–the marketing and PR being provided by Barbara Terry Public Relations Group, which promises MAXIMUM IMPACT without providing any examples to illustrate the claim (and no indication as to whether these new services entail extra cost for Waldorf authors). Ms. Terry has also started several spinoff businesses: Waldorf Bookstands LLC, which “provides books on spinner display stands to businesses all around the United States” and has no web presence other than a single mention on an investment website; Shaggy Pup, a distribution company focusing on “libraries and school curriculum” that also seems to be on pause (its Facebook page hasn’t been updated since January 2020, and clicking on its webpage URL produces a 403 Forbidden notice); and Waldorf Book Fairs, whose website is currently blank.
Other business ventures undertaken by Ms. Terry include Dream Coast Films, a production company she established in 2013 that doesn’t appear to have ever gotten off the ground, and Master Media Class, a short-lived media training course she co-founded in 2020 with two Waldorf authors.
Over the past couple of years, complaints trickling in from Waldorf authors and contractors suggest a company under stress: unfulfilled marketing promises (such as paying for Kirkus Indie reviews that were never delivered), books paid for and not received, under-reported sales, and unpaid royalties. You can see additional complaints in the comments thread on my original Waldorf post (Ms. Terry threatened at least two of the complainants with legal action) and in other places online.
Recently, though, signs of trouble have increased.
This document from the Fort Bend, TX library system appears to be a request to terminate a contract won by Waldorf in October 2019, through which Terry’s distribution company, Shaggy Pup, was supposed to supply “high demand” books to Fort Bend libraries. The document details numerous issues and lapses on Waldorf’s part; for instance:
This past December, a comment appeared on my original Waldorf post from a liquidation company that claimed to have acquired a large number of Waldorf books. I followed up with a request for more information and got this response, which I’ve been given permission to share:
A defaulted storage unit filled with thousands of books? Not good.
Waldorf is also shedding contracts. In September of last year, a number of Waldorf writers received emails informing them that their books were being discontinued due to low sales. (A brief brouhaha erupted when a former Waldorf staffer contacted terminated authors to offer her own formatting services should they wish to re-publish, prompting the company to send out another email declaring that the former staffer was “misleading [authors] of communications from Waldorf Publishing” and that the matter had been referred “to our attorney as we speak.”)
Then, last week, I began hearing from more Waldorf authors who’d received termination emails in early January, this time from a lawyer apparently retained by Waldorf. Just like in September, they were informed that their books were being discontinued due to low sales. But this time, money was involved.
Now, there are two ways to read this email. The first is that two separate things are being offered here: one, the return of “physical and electronic” rights, and two, a suite of (dubious–see below) extra services. Saying yes to the first offer, which does not involve a fee, doesn’t mean you have to accept the second, which has a price tag of $350.
The other way to read it–especially if you are in shock at suddenly discovering your book is being axed, or your eyes glaze over at the sight of legalese–is that the return of rights is contingent on handing over $350 for a bunch of services you didn’t ask for. Which is, in fact, exactly what all the authors who contacted me about this email assumed.
Poor wording, or deliberate ambiguity? Hmmm.
As for the services writers are being asked to buy, they are at best dubious, and at worst undeliverable. The shoddy quality of much of Waldorf’s design and formatting work is not a huge recommendation for the reformatting offer–plus, there’s no guarantee it would result in a file that was usable by another publisher or publishing platform, all of which have their own requirements and protocols. The new ISBN might not be especially useful either; ISBNs uniquely identify the purchaser, and if Waldorf bought them, they are Waldorf ISBNs just as much as the ones on the books that are being discontinued.
As for the offer to “release and reassign” audiobook rights…Waldorf audiobooks are published through Audible/ACX. ACX contracts extend for seven years, can’t be terminated (except by Audible), and can’t be reassigned without written permission from Audible (and Audible is highly resistant to such requests). So it’s unclear how–or if–Waldorf could accomplish this.
I can’t say for sure that Waldorf is in the kind of death spiral that offloading contracts and abandoning stock often indicates for small presses. What’s clear, though, is that Waldorf’s business ventures are in disarray, and it is not just getting rid of books, but trying to monetize the process by making a few bucks on its authors on their way out the door.
UPDATE 4/25/22: Waldorf’s troubles continue. John Doppler of the Alliance of Independent Authors has posted a Watchdog advisory: apparently writers who are trying to invoke the termination clause in their contracts are encountering demands for more money and attempts to impose fake restrictions.
One of the more egregious examples of the latter is an amateurish, legally dubious clause asserting that “any willful slander against Waldorf Publishing” (presumably meaning any complaint about shabby treatment) will be punished by Waldorf Publishing seizing all rights to the author’s books.