As 2023 gets underway, it’s time again for Writer Beware’s annual look back at all the schemes, scams, pitfalls, and publishing industry craziness we covered in 2022.
A Big Change for Writer Beware
A New Home for the Writer Beware Blog: After many years, Blogger (our previous home) finally got too small for us, and we transitioned to WordPress. How that came about–and the benefits thereof.
Some important publishing industry initiatives kicked off in 2022.
The AALA (Formerly the AAR) Revises Its Canon of Ethics: The Canon of Ethics is the professional standard to which the AALA expects member agents to adhere. In updating it to keep pace with a changing industry, the most significant revision is a detailed set of guidelines for agents who also offer paid editing services, intended both to guide ethical practice and to prevent the kinds of abuse and conflict of interest that gets reported to Writer Beware.
The Copyright Claims Board: A New Option for Copyright Disputes: Established by the US Congress, the Copyright Claims Board allows creators to bring lower-dollar infringement claims without having to hire an attorney or make a court appearance. It’s a great new option for creators, who until now have only had access to the prohibitively expensive process of pursuing infringement claims in federal court.
Update: The Copyright Claims Board at the Three-Month Mark: Writer Beware’s Michael Capobianco takes a look at the claims that have been filed with the CCB so far. Among other interesting data points: there are very few writing-related claims.
Publishing Contract “Bewares”
Issues to watch out for in your next publishing contract.
Keeping Moral Rights: A Wattpad Contest Controversy: Moral rights–the right to have your work published with your name, and the right to have it published exactly as you wrote it–are unfamiliar to most US writers, but they are important in the rest of the world (and most publishing these days is international). Writers are strongly advised not to relinquish them. When Wattpad launched a contest requiring winners to waive their moral rights, an uproar ensued. Wattpad took notice…but change is hard.
A Contract Clause to Beware: Claiming Copyright on “Publishers Content”: Writer Beware’s Michael Capobianco explains why this copyright claim–which more properly belongs in a work-for-hire contract–is a red flag.
Publishing Contracts 101: Beware Internal Contradictions: Your publishing contract shouldn’t include clauses that directly contradict one another, should it? Nevertheless, some contracts do–such as requiring a transfer of copyright in the Grant of Rights clause yet also requiring the publisher to register copyright in the author’s name. It’s a major red flag.
The Terrible Contracts of Serialized Fiction Apps
The number of serialized fiction apps (websites where writers post extremely long novels chapter by chapter, with the first few free and the rest requiring payment to unlock) has exploded in the past few years. Predominantly based in China and Hong Kong, they are aggressively seeking authors worldwide, holding out promises of income and readership.
Almost all of the app contracts I’ve seen have been absolutely terrible, however, with excessive and irrevocable rights grants, sweeping claims on subrights and successor works, punitive financial penalties for breach, and more. Although many of the writers recruited by the apps are inexperienced young people whose first language is not English–teenagers who enjoy writing, college students who want to make a bit of money on the side–the contracts are written in dense English legalese that’s hard even for knowledgeable native speakers to parse.
Here’s my analysis of the predatory contracts I saw in 2022. You can see the ones I saw in 2021 here.
Advice You Can Use
I’m always looking for more topics! If there’s something you’d like me to address, please leave a comment, or email me.
Requesting Rights Reversion From Your Publisher: A suggested procedure for terminating your contract and getting your rights back, even if your contract doesn’t allow for cancellation by the author.
Junk Book Marketing: Book Fair “Representation”: Junk book marketing is marketing that’s cheap to provide, sold at a huge markup, and of dubious promotional value. Even if it’s not a take-the-money-and-run scam (and there are a lot of these), it is a waste of cash. This post takes a look at one common junk marketing scheme: charging you an arm and a leg to display your book in a booth at a book fair.
Author-Agent “Handshake” Agreements: Be Wary: So-called handshake agreements used to be the norm for literary agents–but that hasn’t been true for some time. Why to be skeptical if an agent offers representation, but not a written contract.
When New Isn’t Better: The Value of Experience: “Literary agent” isn’t an entry level job. Nor is “publisher”. Both require knowledge and skills that are best acquired by actually working in those fields. My post (published at Writer Unboxed) explores why experience is so important–and why inexperience can so often lead to major problems.
How to (Maybe) Get Out of Your Contract When Your Scam Re-Publisher Ghosts You: A company contacts you out of the blue, offering to re-publish your self-published book at a better list price, with better design and maybe some PR thrown in. It may seem like a tempting proposal, especially if you’re stuck with one of the Author Solutions imprints, and the re-publishing cost is reasonable–but the actual intent is not to re-publish or “re-brand” you, but to draw you into a scheme where you will be pressured to buy expensive junk marketing and/or targeted for fake publishing or movie rights offers involving huge upfront payments.
Scam re-publishers may close up shop abruptly, without letting you know–or, if you ask too many questions, may simply decide you’re not worth dealing with. This can leave you in a terrible position, with a published book and no one to contact about it. My post suggests a procedure for possibly getting your book out of the scammer’s clutches, if this happens to you.
Why You Might Not Want to Use Wire Transfer or Payment Apps to Pay For Publishing Services: Increasingly, publishing scammers are demanding that authors pay not by credit card or PayPal (which allow you to file disputes and possibly get your money back) but by wire transfer and payment apps, which are usually irreversible. Why this is a terrible idea and should be avoided.
Publisher Fails and Failures
Sadly, there’s never a shortage of these.
Pink Sand Press: What Can Happen When Your Agent Decides to Become Your Publisher: A complicated tale of a literary agent who created a publisher to publish his single client (I shouldn’t need to note that this is a major conflict of interest). Misrepresentation, an atrocious contract, alleged breaches (on both sides), a lawsuit, and more.
Author Complaints at GenZ Publishing: Already on Writer Beware’s radar because of its $2,500 “recoup” fee, a flurry of author complaints exposed multiple major problems at GenZ, including egregious production errors, the use of “beta readers” rather than editors, and failure to register copyright, as contractually required, for pretty much its entire catalog.
Complaints and Changes at Parliament House Press: An abrupt announcement of a change in ownership unleashed a flood of complaints about long-standing problems, including authors and staff who reported not having been paid for months or years.
The Implosion of BBB Publishings: The sudden demise of BBB Publishings is too bizarre and complicated to recount in capsule form! In addition to a litany of (sadly familiar) small press problems, the closure shines a small light into the sometimes dysfunctional world of paid anthology/boxed set publishing. Be sure to look at the comments, which shine a bigger light on why authors who’ve had bad experiences seldom speak out.
Whatever Happened to Catstone Books? Launched with an ambitious publishing program and a mission to support marginalized authors of speculative fiction, Catstone never managed to publish a single book and vanished abruptly under murky circumstances. It’s not the only BIPOC/LGBTQ- focused publisher that has failed recently amid allegations of unprofessional behavior–worrying, if it’s a trend.
Long-Standing Payment Problems at Cricket Media: The magazines published by Cricket have been a major market for children’s writers for decades. But writers report sweeping payment problems going back months or years–with some writers saying that they’ve never been paid at all. It’s a problem that Cricket seems unable–or unwilling–to address…while continuing to recruit and contract writers.
Scammity Scam Scam Scam
These are the posts that I have the most fun writing and researching–not just for the pleasure of exposing scumbags, but because it’s a constant marvel to me how crude and easily unraveled so many scams are. Scammers, you really need to make things harder for me.
How to Spot a Ghostwriting Scam: “Ghostwriting” scams–websites that offer book and article-writing services, but also editing, packaging, publishing, and marketing–are very much on the rise. Like the publishing/marketing/fake literary agency scams I write about so often, they hail from overseas. This post examines their telltale markers, with many amusing examples.
Another Fake Agency Referral Scam: Harper Literary / Bantam Wings: A complicated (but sloppy) scam involving deceptive solicitations, referrals to fake agents with laughably fake websites, and a “publisher” with a name designed to confuse.
Impersonating Agents: A New Face for an Old Scam: Old scammers never die: they just move on to the next scheme. In this case, an elaborate and apparently new scam that impersonates a wide variety of reputable agents and agencies turns out to be a scammer well-known to Writer Beware, doing business under a new set of names.
Beware Bait and Switch Scams: Bait and switch scams purport to offer an opportunity or a service–but in order to get it, you have to pay something or buy something or provide something of value, such as personal information. This post profiles several such scams currently doing the rounds.
Scam Alert: Scammers Impersonating Acorn TV: Scammers claiming to represent Acorn TV are contacting writers on Twitter with offers of “freelance writing” jobs (needless to say, this is not how streaming TV services recruit writers). It’s a fairly detailed scam that appears designed to harvest personal information.
Solicitation Alert: The Book Walker: A prolific spammer, The Book Walker presents as a book marketing website that uses “AI” to match books to readers. On examination, though, it is much less than it appears.
The “Mexican Film Director” Scam: What author wouldn’t be thrilled to get an email from Guillermo del Toro expressing interest in their film rights? Or Alfonso Cuaron? Or Amat Escalante? Problem is, these flagrantly bogus solicitations are…flagrantly bogus. Another example of the impersonation scams that are so common right now.
America’s Next Great Author: The Author Reality Show Idea Rides Again: Another year, another would-be author reality show. There’ve been a lot of these, and most have never gotten past the recruitment stage. This one has Important People behind it, including popular author Kwame Alexander, and has managed to film a pilot episode. Will any TV networks be interested in a show about writers writing? Color me skeptical, but stay tuned.
Victoria. You are an old cunt.
If nobody pays you for this blog, you are dumb too.
I do enjoy getting scammers’ panties in a knot, though!
You also enjoy NOT doing research before listing hard working companies on your scam list but I assure you…your company will be on one as well.
This is a test post
Have you heard anything about Penguin Book Writers?
Yes–it’s a ghostwriting scam like the ones I discuss here: https://writerbeware.blog/2022/01/24/how-to-spot-a-ghostwriting-scam/
I’m slowly exploring this site as part of a mission to find anything on the net about a couple of publishers I’ve run across as a reasonably well-published poet (I very nearly got sucked in anyway because I couldn’t find anything in the way of reviews of these presses). Their model is the “publish a couple hundred titles a year and demand, after the contract is signed, a slew of ‘pre-sales,” which isn’t, I think, hybrid per-se, but reasonably similar. The sneaky part, IMO, is that they both run what appear to be perfectly legitimate annual contests and manage to have them listed without comment on places like Poets & Writers, AWP, and Newpages.
The one that almost got me is a place called Mainstreet Rag Press. After their contest ended, I received a “you didn’t win but we really like your book” email offering to publish. I was a little put off by the condescending boilerplate email I received immediately after signing the contract explaining the “rules” that have resulted, according to the publisher, from the fact that poets are just so unreliable and unrealistic. Pre-sales were mentioned at that point but nothing about numbers. Like a lot of folks, I suspect, I thought, “well, that sounds a touch fishy but I have a mailing list and can send out a quick blast to those folks asking them to consider a purchase.” Then, after I’d provided cover art and the publisher had sent me a minimum-effort mock-up of the cover, I received an email announcing a “new policy” that all authors had to make a minimum of 180 pre-sales or the press wouldn’t apply for an ISBN for the book. I realize I can apply for an ISBN myself, but I suspect many folks don’t.
At that point I balked and asked to withdraw the manuscript. You’d have thought I was trying to rob the publisher at gunpoint. He sent me a long shouty screed about how unethical it was for me to try and steal his services on the cover (I mentioned that I’d used fiveer to hire someone to make a mock-up of my own that cost me exactly $20, and offered him the same $20, but he didn’t take that well–mayhap that was a bit passive-aggressive on my part). He then threatened to interfere with the publication of another book I had under contract with a different, apparently more legitimate press. I’d been up-front about that book’s acceptance & publication date, and he reminded me that the contract I’d signed gave him a 9-month window before and after his press’s publication when I wasn’t allowed to have another book come out, and that all he had to do was delay publishing my book and then there would be “legal consequences” if the other press published as scheduled. I basically told him to go ahead and publish the damned thing and I’d do everything I could to un-support the publication & would use my contact list to pillory his press to whatever limited extent I was able. He accused me of “bullying” him and told me I should “walk off into the sunset,” which I took as enough of a surrender that if he really wanted to harass me legally I’d have a leg to stand on.
Sorry to be long-winded. It’s just stunning to me that I’d never heard of this before, given that I’ve been doing the po-biz thing for thirty-some years and teach in an MFA program. Nasty business, IMHO>
Wow, that’s just incredibly unprofessional behavior on the publisher’s part–and IMO it says even more about the publisher than the pre-sale requirement (which Writer Beware considers to be back-end vanity publishing). It’s really unfortunate that such behavior is so common in the small press world–I hear about stuff like this all the time.
Running contests as a way to draw in submissions can be kind of a racket too, especially if there are entry fees or where the publisher has some sort of payment or purchase requirement. Straight-up vanity publishers do this: they pick a winner or winners who do usually get prizes, but the real prize (for the publisher) is the pool of entrants, all of whom can then receive a very special offer. Even if only a few writers take them up on it, it’s guaranteed income.
Most of the information in Writer Beware’s database isn’t public, so the best way to find out about a publisher is to email me; if I have any complaints or other info I’ll gladly share it.
The scariest thing is that some of these are not scams. The “publishers content” clause is an example. I don’t believe attorneys who graduated with law degrees and passed a bar exam are stupid. They are doing this kind of thing on purpose.
Scams are definitely a focus for Writer Beware–but not our only one. We report on all aspects of publishing (and its lunatic fringes).
In many cases, it IS stupidity. Small press contracts are often not written by lawyers, but by the publishers themselves, borrowing templates from books or online sources, or pasting bits and pieces from multiple sources into a whole, or (in what are usually the most unprofessional examples) creating them from scratch. Sometimes the author-unfriendly language is intentional, but often it’s because the publishers simply don’t understand the meaning of the clauses they’re Frankensteining together. My post on internal contradictions is an example of that.
I appreciate all that you do. I keep getting the emals for promotion, movie rights, and ‘redoing’ my books. They are all sent to spam. If I got an actual offer (unlikely) it would go to spam since I didn’t contact them for anything. My rule of thumg is: If I didn’t contact you, that email goes to the spam folder. I had my one experience with Author Solultions back in 2014 when I first started writing. Never again.
Thank you! I’m glad you find my info helpful.
Thank you so much for this. I teach/coach writers and your info (Writer Beware) has always been part of my teaching. Thanks for the thorough job you do. I hope you know how much heartache you save writers from.
Thanks for the kind words–much appreciated!
I don’t think I’d read the comments before on that BBB post. Holy cow is all I can say. Reminds me of the old days on writers.net.
Holy cow indeed. As to the person who left so many of those comments: those who know, know.
It’d be nice if you were less busy this year but I doubt it. Scammers gotta scam.