A Niche Publishing Specialty
The world of paid anthology/boxed set publishing is a niche that I suspect many people aren’t familiar with.
Paid anthology/boxed set publishers (it should be noted that there are boxed set publishers that don’t require an author buy-in) specialize in collections of themed stories, novellas, and/or novels. Writers buy in to these collections for fees ranging from less than $100 to three or even four figures, depending on the publisher or set organizer. Often they must commit to pay for advertising and publicity as well. Promotion is important, as many collections are “list-aiming”, with the goal of appearing on bestseller lists such as USA Today. A long pre-order period (as much as 12 months) allows the publisher’s and authors’ publicity efforts to bring in sales, so that the collection (hopefully) hits the list on the day it debuts. Collections stay in print for a limited period–three to six months–after which they’re removed from publication and rights revert to the authors.
Publishers or organizers keep a management fee of anywhere from 10-40% of sales proceeds. To maximize income, some publishers issue as many as 40 or 50 collections a year. Remaining income is split between authors on a pro-rated basis. If the collection debuts high on bestseller lists and continues to sell, authors can make their investment back and then some.
Many authors who buy in to boxed sets do well and are well-served by their publishers. However, there’s always risk, since there’s no guarantee the set will hit its goals. And as in pretty much every area of publishing, there is plenty of room for scammery and cheating–such as set organizers including several of their own stories in a collection under different pen names, so they can claim multiple royalty shares.
In 2017, I received a large number of complaints from authors who alleged rank-fixing, bullying, and unsavory promotion tactics by boxed set organizer Rebecca Hamilton (similar complaints have been posted here). Among other fallout of this explosion of complaints was a defamation lawsuit in which Writer Beware was peripherally involved (Hamilton tried, unsuccessfully, to force us to reveal the identities of complainants). Hamilton, whose real name is Shana Raywood, is still active in publishing and marketing.
In 2019, Widstoe T. Bastian, a convicted felon on the run from the law (though his victims didn’t know that at the time), ran a boxed set scam that used fake accounting to avoid paying authors any royalties. I’ve also received complaints about Margo Bond Collins’ boxed set operation (which uses several publisher names, including Bathory Gate Press and Dangerous Words Publishing), from authors who say they haven’t received full accounting or full payment, among other issues. And I’ve gotten complaints about several boxed set publishers that no longer exist, such as Hydra Productions.
The implosion of BBB Publishings (no, that extraneous “s” is not a typo) offers another window into how paid anthology/boxed set publishing can go wrong.
The Demise of BBB Publishings
BBB Publishings appears to have begun in 2018 as a personal assistant service. At some later point, it morphed into a paid anthology publisher. On its Amazon author page, it describes itself as the “brainchild” of two “besties”, Nichol Smith and Sosha Ann. (These names may be pseudonyms; Nichol apparently writes under several monikers, including Beth Hendrix, and it isn’t clear whether Sosha Ann has a surname.)
BBB published a lot of anthologies (you can see some of this output here). It also scheduled unusually far out into the future, with open calls and buy-ins for anthologies planned all the way through 2025. Buy-in fees were small: $35-40 in most cases, although many authors purchased additional services, such as editing and formatting. As with similar publishing operations, authors were expected to actively participate in promotion, according to a procedure described here–including “optional” donations to fund release giveaways. Authors granted rights for 90-120 days, depending on the project, after which they could choose to leave their story in the collection or request that it be removed. BBB charged a management fee of 10%, and promised to pay royalties.
With a substantial backlist and huge catalog of upcoming projects, BBB certainly seemed to be a going concern. But on September 13, writers logging into BBB’s Facebook anthology groups were blindsided by a lengthy announcement from Sosha Ann. Nichol Smith was seriously ill, “unable to fulfill any of the obligations of the BBB Publishings brand”. As a result, BBB was on “hiatus.”
But DON’T PANIC! There was a plan. BBB Publishings projects would be allowed to “run out and be canceled in their current incarnations.” Which, somewhat confusingly, didn’t mean actually canceled–just postponed, so they could be taken over by a brand-new publishing operation called Set It Right Publishing (SIR).
Helmed by Sosha Ann, another BBB staffer, and the owners of Haney Hayes Promotions, this new publisher would issue new contracts and establish a new timeline. The catch? New buy-ins (but hey, 20% off)–and no immediate prospect of reimbursement of the money authors had already paid, since Sosha Ann was only an employee and had “zero access to [BBB’s] accounts with no way to recover them as Nichol’s family has made it very clear that she is to remain incommunicative [sic] until further notice” (a pretty odd situation for these two supposed best friends). To get their buy-ins back, writers would have to “apply for a refund from BBB Publishings”–which, because all invoices were paid through PayPal, in practical terms meant opening a claim with PayPal for services not rendered.
“We know that this is a lot to process,” the announcement closed. “We truly hope that our honesty and transparency during this shift will help to set you at ease so that we can move forward together.”
Honesty? Transparency? It wasn’t like problems hadn’t been simmering for a while. Editing, author copies, and other services paid for sometimes weren’t received, buy-ins for canceled anthologies weren’t always refunded, some authors weren’t getting royalties, and some collections lost money.
But no one had any inkling the company was in real trouble, or that Nichol was sick. With Nichol incommunicado, and many buy-ins and service purchases much older than PayPal’s 180-day claim window, how would authors get their money back? Who were Haney Hayes Promotions? What was this new publisher all about? Why hadn’t Nichol herself made any announcements? Why was Sosha Ann, whose name appeared alongside Nichol Smith’s on BBB’s contracts, and in multiple other contexts to indicate that she was co-owner of the company, now claiming to be just a helpless employee who’d been in the dark about BBB’s problems and had no access to its finances? And if she was just an employee, what gave her the authority to transfer BBB’s anthology projects to a new publishing company?
Furious not just at the sudden transition and unanswered questions, but at the callous offloading of financial responsibility and the demand that they essentially pay twice for inclusion in the same anthologies, writers poured out their anger, confusion, and hurt on Facebook and in the new SIR Facebook group. Also unleashed: a flood of complaints and reports to me, which in addition to the problems mentioned above, exposed the extreme unprofessionalism of BBB’s operations.
BBB’s official name is BBB Publishings LLC, but no one has been able to discover an actual business registration for the company. Part of the problem is that BBB doesn’t disclose an address, which makes it hard to search. There’s a clue in the header of its Twitter account, which indicates a Kentucky location…but I’ve checked, and there’s no registration for BBB Publishings (with or without the extra “s”) in that state.
Some writers received contracts (which are no prize, with an excessive claim on rights and vagueness about royalties) but many told me they didn’t. For those writers, their relationship with BBB was governed solely by this small paragraph at the end of anthology sign-up forms, which doesn’t mention rights, reversion, copyright, payment schedules, accounting, or other relevant items:
For buy-ins and other payments, some writers were encouraged by Nichol to use PayPal’s family-and-friends option, which is intended for personal rather than business use (this practice, which enables sellers to avoid transaction fees, is widely abused on PayPal). That’s not the only way the line between personal and professional was blurred at BBB. Writers report various forms of drama involving banning, bullying, and retaliatory invoice-canceling in Facebook groups and chat, as well as a string of raffles and fundraiser anthologies with profits going to Sosha Ann to help with her apparently frequent personal and family problems. Here’s one example.
In the days since the September 13 announcement, Sosha Ann has gone radio silent, supposedly upon advice of counsel, also supposedly as a result of being “threatened.” Hayes and Haney have reportedly decided to “step back” from SIR, also because of “threats”. BBB writers report that the SIR Facebook group is quiet (comments have been turned off), and there’s no current sign that SIR is moving forward. And there’s still no word from Nichol, or any formal announcement of BBB’s closure.
Meanwhile, some BBB writers have been able to get PayPal refunds, but others have lost sizeable amounts of money (up to four figures) thanks to PayPal’s 180-day chargeback window. And all are unsure about the status of their rights.
No one seems to have any contact info for Sosha Ann, but I reached out to Nichol Smith for comment via one of her several email addresses. As of this writing, I’ve received no response.
So what really happened? A real illness precipitating a real crisis? A falling out between two friends? Financial mismanagement? Appropriation of company money for personal use?
Probably no one will ever know. But I suspect that, at least toward the end of its life, BBB operated as a sort of Ponzi scheme, with money for future projects diverted to pay for current expenses. It would be one explanation for why the company scheduled anthologies into 2025, and encouraged authors to buy in to them so far in advance . Such schemes nearly always topple eventually of their own weight. Perhaps that’s the real story behind BBB’s demise.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are boxed set publishers that run their businesses professionally and don’t cheat their authors. But there is definitely shadiness in this publishing niche, and some people who’ve been the focus of author complaints in the past are still operating. If you’re thinking of buying in to one of these projects, you do need to be careful.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to judge company stability and business practice from the outside, and you don’t really get inside until you’ve paid your fee. But at a minimum, do not ever agree to participate in a boxed set or paid anthology without a written contract that clearly lays out terms on rights, fees, royalties, and the like. Ask questions, and be wary if answers are evasive or refused. Contact other authors and inquire about their experience. Buy the books so you can assess quality. Do some research–are there complaints? Is a publisher that claims to be an LLC actually registered as one? Email me–I might have heard something.
Be careful out there.