Friday, August 29, 2014

Haters Gonna Hate: The Smear Campaign Against Absolute Write

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

NOTE: Before writing this post, I thought a lot about linkage. I didn't want to increase traffic to propaganda blogs and websites by linking to them--but I did want readers to be able to see the kind of nastiness involved. So most of the links in this post are to cached versions.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I've been a member of Absolute Write since the early 2000's, and was a moderator there for several years.

Last week, I received an email from the owner of a website that, among other things, posts lists of resources for writers.

One of the website's users had objected to the inclusion of the Absolute Write Water Cooler (which, if you're not familiar with it, is an online writers' forum and community), pointing to a slew of blogs and websites with names like Absolute Wrong and Absolute Blight that purport to expose AW as a bully board populated by losers and wannabees whose main recreational activity is persecuting members and dispensing bad advice. The website owner wanted to know if there was any truth to these allegations.

This isn't the first such question I've gotten, and it made me sad. Sad at the volume of anti-AW propaganda (which has been proliferating rapidly over the past year). Sadder still that people might believe it.

The truth: AW is a valuable resource, one of the largest and most active writers' forums on the Internet. (As of this writing, it boasts nearly 60,000 members, over 8 million posts, and anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 users active at any given time--scroll down to the bottom of AW to see these statistics.)

At AW, you can discuss every aspect of craft and genre, learn about the ins and outs of publishing and self-publishing, share your work-in-progress, get your query letter critiqued, connect with beta readers and writing buddies, commiserate about rejection and rejoice about success, and participate in discussions about culture, music, art, politics, and just about anything else you want to talk about. AW members include writers at every stage of their careers--from just thinking about publishing to multi-published--along with a wide variety of publishing industry experts and professionals: literary agents, publishers, editors, illustrators, designers, and more.

So why the hate? Well, AW is a private forum, and it is strongly moderated. Flaming, shilling, spamming, sockpuppets, trolls--all the things that turn so many writers' forums into swamps of ugliness--aren't tolerated, and moderators don't hesitate to step in when discussions become heated or veer off-track. Members who engage in disruptive behavior are warned (often bluntly); those who don't heed the warnings may be banned.  This active moderation policy helps AW to remain a good deal more relevant, civil, and supportive than many other writers' communities--but it also, as you can imagine, creates resentment among those who've been kicked out. If you Google ["Absolute Write" + banned] you'll see many of their stories.

Reason number two: the Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum. Here, writers discuss literary agents, publishers, editors, manuscript display sites, contests, PR services, and more. Most of the hundreds of threads in this forum consist of questions and sharing about guidelines, querying, rejection, staff changes, new imprints, closures, and the like. Who could object to that? Well, no one, really. It's the Bewares threads, where writers discuss bad business practices and expose scams, that generate the anger. An especially volatile aspect of this forum is the often-harsh analysis of new small presses, especially those started up by amateurs with weird ideas about publishing.

So that's where the anger comes from. But who is behind the smear campaign?

Some of the propaganda comes from individuals or groups who've been outed at BR&BC. Some, such as such as Absolute Wrong and the Absolute Write section of Blogination, are projects of angry AW ex-members. Still more is disseminated by groups with a general axe to grind, such as The Write Agenda, a blog that attempts to discredit anti-scam activists, and Stop The Goodreads Bullies, a site that bullies those whom it claims bully others.

Right now, though, the most concentrated attack comes from a group of anti-AW blogs: Absolute Blight, Absolute Banning, Forums Review, and Write Absolute Reviews of Bully Boards (the "s" at the end of "Boards" is cosmetic; the only board discussed is AW). If they seem similar--not just in format, but in the circular way they all reference each other--that's no coincidence: there's substantial evidence that they've been set up by the same individual, a long-time forum troll who has made trouble not just at AW, using dozens of sockpuppet accounts, but at the now-moribund WritersNet (a WN member set up this special forum to memorialize her antics).

These anonymously- or sockpuppet-run blogs (check out the origin story at Write Absolute, which includes lots of fanciful detail but neglects to supply any verifiable specifics) demonstrate not just an unhealthy obsession with the goings-on at AW, but a truly over-the-top level of venom toward AW owners, moderators, members, and supporters. They're replete with sockpuppet comments (the blogs' owner likes to talk to herself) and larded with misinformation, including mistaken guesses about the identities of AW moderators (I know this because I know some of the people involved) and libellous unsourced allegations about AW members and defenders (again, I know some of the people involved). More unpleasant pastimes include attempting to doxx AW's owner, her parents, and AW admins, and to interfere with their livelihoods (Absolute Blight is the worst offender in this regard). 

The very nastiness of all this should be enough to discredit it. Unfortunately, when people receive anonymous emails or alerts and don't look closely at the sources, they may be fooled. I'm guessing this is the reason Piers Anthony, in his otherwise helpful Internet Publishing resource, cites some of the anti-AW propaganda.

AW is not a haven of sweetness and light. Discussions can be harsh; moderators are sometimes heavy-handed; feelings do get hurt. If you have a thin skin and are inclined to take things personally, AW may not be for you (nor may be most other writers' forums). But if you're tempted to believe the hate campaign, consider this: if AW were really the cesspit of evil that it's alleged to be by the anti-AW crowd, wouldn't members be fleeing in droves? Wouldn't they stop posting? Wouldn't AW be on its way to becoming moribund, like the unfortunate WritersNet?

That this is not the case should tell you something, not just about Absolute Write but about its obsessed detractors.

________________

Amusing footnote: The troll messaged me on Facebook this week (using a fake account), so she could do this:


Here's the whole exchange. Note how the troll is unable to restrain her ire.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Computer Down

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Today I thought I'd be writing a blog post and catching up on Writer Beware correspondence. However, that is not to be.

On Friday, my desktop computer (on which I keep most of my Writer Beware files) was working fine. Turned it on this morning...and it won't start. So it's off to the computer repair shop.

I do have Internet access via my laptop, so if you've written to me in the past week and I haven't responded (I am, as always, several days behind on correspondence), please contact me again, either via my website (if you want to reach me at my personal email address) or at beware [at] sfwa.org (for Writer Beware).

Thanks, and hopefully I'll be fully operational soon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Blue Ash Publishing: New Self-Publishing Service from Writer's Digest

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


As many of you may know, earlier this year Writer's Digest terminated its involvement with Abbott Press, the white-label self-publishing imprint created and powered for it by Author Solutions, Inc. Although Abbott Press remains online, all reference to Writer's Digest and its parent, F&W Media, has been removed. (Interestingly, there's no reference to Author Solutions, either, unless you dig pretty deep into the Abbott Press website--deeper, probably, than many authors will go--and Abbott Press does not appear anywhere on AS's list of imprints.)

Now Writer's Digest has re-entered the self-publishing services space with the just-launched Blue Ash Publishing.

This time, WD is partnering with Bookbaby, a self-publishing service that, unlike Author Solutions, has a decent reputation. As with Bookbaby itself, the emphasis at Blue Ash is on ebooks rather than print--a change from print-centric Author Solutions. Also unlike Abbott Press, Blue Ash Publishing doesn't keep a commission; authors get 100% of net sales.

At $417 and $842, Blue Ash's two lowest-cost publishing packages are less expensive than the cheapest Abbott Press package. Sticker shock does start to set in with the Prime and Ultimate packages--$1,230 and $3,137 respectively (ouch). However, when I contacted Phil Sexton, Publisher of Writer's Digest, he emphasized that "all of the various components of each package are optional. There's a 'customizer' function that allows you to get only those things you want...so you can get a mix that meets your price vs. benefit requirements."

Marketing and promotion add-ons can be major profit generators for self-pub companies, because so many are cheap to provide and all can be sold at a premium. As a result, authors who sign on for publishing packages can expect to be subjected to relentless solicitations to buy services that are often overpriced, frequently ineffective, and sometimes downright exploitive (such as the Hollywood packages offered by some self-pub service providers).

Blue Ash does offer a modest suite of marketing tools, some of which involve extra expense if writers choose to pay vendors. The tools themselves, however, are included in the publishing packages rather than offered a la carte, so hopefully writers won't be subjected to upselling pressure. I do take issue with the inclusion of Reader's Favorite as a review source; Reader's Favorite is one of those high-entry fee "awards" programs where the principal aim is for the awards sponsor to make a profit, and the reviews it provides (and sells) are often not of professional quality. I've mentioned my concerns to the WD folks, and I'm hoping they'll take a second look.

Many in the self-publishing community believe that any fee-based self-publishing service is "vanity" and should be avoided. I believe that fee-based services have their place, as long as they're transparent, reliable, reasonably priced, and don't send writers to Spam Solicitation Hell. It's much too early to judge the reliability and value of Blue Ash Publishing--but what can be said is that it's a big improvement over Abbott Press.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How Not to Seek a Literary Agent: The Perils of "Middleman" Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


I know I've written about this before. But I'm seeing an increasing number of these kinds of "services," and they are all worthless.

What am I talking about? Agent middleman services--services that, for a fee, purport to contact agents on your behalf with the aim of snagging representation and, hopefully, a publishing contract.

A particularly egregious example: Bookmarq.net's Finding a Publisher service. (All errors courtesy of the original.)
Agents in New York or London receive thousands of query letters a year in the first stage of the book-beauty-contest that is traditional publishing....

Publishing a new author represents a significant investment for any publishing house which goes far beyond the amount of advance. To reach the promise land it is absolutely vital for an author have all the links in the chain in place or they will not be successful in securing a publishing contract.
What are those all-important links? Read on.
Step One: The Critique

We begin with an honest critique of your work which will aim to sort out any problems. Nobody buys a book on a query letter and if you are to make a sale (as opposed to becoming an expert at writing query letters) you need to have a saleable product.
Your cost for this assessment: 1.5 cents per word. And who will be doing your critique? You'll be glad to know that they are "professional editors." No names, no credentials--but you don't need those, right? All that stuff about the huge numbers of unqualified editors doing business online--surely that's an exaggeration. Bookmarq wouldn't ask you to pay for editing unless it had made sure the editors were competent, would it?
Step Two: The Presentation

We will ensure that you present the work to the right people through the appropriate bookmarq.net office (in New York or London) in the form that they would wish to receive it. That means we sort out the query letter, the manuscript and the synopsis and deliver them with a covering letter from one of our editors – whom they probably already know – along with a personal letter of recommendation.
"Indicative costs" for this service: $199 for 10 agents, and $10 per agent thereafter.

Leaving aside the whole anonymous editor thing (and believe me, a freelance editor accomplished enough for her name to be recognizable to a reputable agent is not going to be doing this sort of work), let me remind you of the reaction of two real literary agents to this kind of approach:
Not only that, you have no way of knowing whether the Bookmarq folks are knowledgeable enough to screen out marginal and disreputable agents.
Step Three: The Negotiation

Subject to the level of interest we will liaise with the agent or publisher on your behalf and negotiate the best terms available. It remains for your agent to negotiate the best price for your book but we will negotiate the best terms possible with your agent.
Let's assume that the moon is blue and pigs are flapping overhead and steps One and Two actually bagged you an agent. Here's what Step Three boils down to: some outfit you found on the Internet will horn in on negotiations your agent expects to carry out on his/her own, unaided by third parties. It's hard to say who would be more annoyed: your agent or your potential publisher.
Step Four: The Contract

Our specialist legal team will comb through any details in any publishing contacts to eliminate unpleasant surprises or future pitfalls.
Bookmarq will once again interfere with your agent as s/he tries to do her/his job--an unwelcome prospect even if Bookmarq actually has a "specialist legal team." (On the other hand, if it's really just publishing "contacts" Bookmarq will be combing through, the effect might not be so deleterious.)

The fees for Steps Three and Four are speculative, since they're "related to value of contract and subject to negotiation." They're also imaginary, since Bookmarq will never get you past Step Two. But you'll still have thrown away whatever you paid for a critique of questionable value and some (probably) junk-style mailings to (possibly) not-very-well-screened agents.

Writers: don't fall for services like this. The only recognized middlemen in the publishing industry are literary agents, and they expect to hear directly from writers--not proxies. Do not pay a person or service to query agents for you (especially if that person or service wants to have a hand in how your agent does his/her job).

There's plenty more to debunk on the Bookmarq website. Author and self-publishing expert David Gaughran does an excellent job of that here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Writer Beware's Self-Publishing Page Renovated and Updated

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've completely re-worked the Self-Publishing page of Writer Beware, to better reflect the rapid changes in the self-publishing marketplace.

New features include an introduction that provides an overview of how technology has transformed self-publishing, pointers on making the decision to self-publish (or not), an expanded list of cautions for self-publishers (including common scams), and many new links to articles, experts, and statistics.

Comments and suggestions are welcome. Please post them here, or email me.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Marketing Pitch from Author Solutions

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've written before about Author Solutions' relentless efforts to get authors to buy the company's "marketing" services. Here's an example that was recently passed on to me (with the author's name and other identifying information redacted).

Note the poor quality of the English (a lot of AS's staff are in the Philippines; English is a second language), the implied specialness of the offer (50% management discount, just for you!), the "hurry up and buy" pressure (supposedly only eight books will be able to get in on the deal; first come, first served!), and the...um...optimistic way the service that's being sold is presented ("endorsement" implies something tailored to the product, but in fact all it means in this case is a listing in Ingram's print and online magazines). It's all directly out of the junk mail marketing handbook.

Note, finally, the tiny-print disclaimer at the very, very bottom, under "Paul's" signature: "This email is an advertisement."

Bottom line: the author is being asked to shell out over $2,000 for a couple of magazine advertisements and returnability for a book no brick-and-mortar establishment is ever likely to order.

_______________________

From: Paul Wellshyr 
To: [author's name redacted]
Sent: Sat, Jul 26, 2014 4:38 pm
Subject: [title redacted] - marketing it directly to owners of bookstores, retailers, and libraries

Mr. [author's name redacted],

Good day!

This is Paul Wellshyr, a Marketing Consultant from iUniverse.  As I had mentioned earlier, I would like to see where and how far this book of yours, [title redacted], can take you.  You may have published newer books than this one, but that doesn’t make this book any less than those newer ones.

And since I’m only asking you to give this book at least one chance to be promoted, then I want to make sure that I don’t get to waste such an opportunity by making sure that we would be able to penetrate the best market for this book… and that would be to get this book be carried and picked up by different bookstores, retailers, and libraries.

I had also been able to get the approval from my manager for an additional 1 year of the insurance/buy back program for this book.

Kindly review the information below.

Physical bookstores and retailers are the two establishments that had generated a good number of sales for those authors that had their books be carried by some establishments. Thus, we are aiming to have more retailers and bookstores to start investing on our books this year. To achieve this, we have made some changes that would make our books even more attractive and easy to invest on for bookstores and retailers.

Before, retailers and bookstores need to purchase around 500 to 1000 copies to be able to take advantage of a 40% retail discount from the distributor. The smaller the volume of copies they are purchasing, the smaller the retail discount gets. This had disabled most establishments, especially the smaller scale investors, to invest on the books. Now, while under the Ingram +BRP campaign, bookstores and retailers will be able to enjoy a 48% retail discount (instead of just 40%) and with NO minimum purchase required. This would allow even the smaller stores and retailers to be able to test the waters out with the book. Still, they would be able to return and get refunded for unsold copies.

With this opportunity I am offering you right now, we would be able to have your book be one (1) of the eight (8) books that would be endorsed directly to owners and decision makers of around 38,500 establishments across the globe. These establishments are composed of bookstores, retailers, public and school libraries.


Account Holder
:

[Author name redacted]
Pen Name/Pen Name
:

[Author pen name redacted]
Project/Book ID
:

[redacted
Book Title
:

[Title redacted]
Genre
:

Body, Mind & Spirit / Supernatural / Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs




Proposed Project/s
:

Ingram Endorsement Project
Components/services involved
:

Ingram Print and Online Marketing
:

Book Returnability Program (12 months)
Recipients
:

Subscription Based - Total of 38,500
• Bookstore Owners
• Retail store owners
• Library Directors
Total Investment required
:

$4,548
3 Payment Installment option
:

Initial Payment
$1,516 + $30 surcharge fee


2nd Payment
$1,516


3rd Payment
$1,516




Book US List Price
:

$10.95
Retailers, Bookstores, and Libraries Retail Sales Discount Rate
:

48%
Retailers, Bookstores, and Libraries Retail Sales Discounted Price


$5.69

Minimum Purchase


NONE. This would allow smaller stores to test the waters out with the book.
Store - Distributor contract required?
:

NONE. This would allow the stores to invest on the book without any hassle of being tied up to a contract and permits them to ask for refunds on any given day while the book is under the Buy Back Program.
Royalty
:

20% of net sales
Royalty Refund
:

NONE. Refunds in line with returned copies will not be charged against author's royalty.





Management Approved Offer for
[Author name redacted]
Assistance/Discount
:

$2,274.00
New Total Price
:

$2,274.00
3 Payment Installment option
:

Initial Payment
$758 + $30 installment fee
:

2nd Payment
$758.00
:

3rd Payment
$758.00

Ingram Endorsement Project:

Endorser: INGRAM – world largest and biggest Book Distributor. www.ingramcontent.com
- #1 Global Book Distributor

Services involved in the project :
- INGRAM Print and Online Marketing
  • Ingram has now given us the opportunity to have a set of 8 books this year to avail of their service wherein these books will be endorsed directly to decision makers and owners of bookstores and libraries across the globe.
  • Note: This will serve as highly recommended books along with other traditionally published books.
- Booksellers Return Program

  • - Bookstore Owners
  • - Library Directors
  • - Decision Makers of chain bookstores, multiple branched libraries, and resellers
  • · Note: These recipients are actually paying Ingram, the endorser, for them to receive this endorsement
Endorsement Format:
- Printed Form of the endorsement
  • The Advance Magazine has an established circulation of more than 13,500 chain bookstore owners, booksellers, and library directors across the globe over the past twenty years. It is a trusted and in-fact a paid reference for new books because of its comprehensive title listing. This is being paid for by these subscribers since this is where they get the information of which and what books to place on their shelves.
- Online Form of the endorsement
  • The Independent Voice Catalog (formerly The Fine Print) is an online catalog that allows over 25,000 subscribers to view titles, make selections, and place an order on iPage®—Ingram’s online search, order, and account management site. This is being paid by the subscribers who prefer to receive the endorsement using the internet especially those who are located in different countries
Additional Service:
- Single Slot Ad in ForeWord Magazine
  • ForeWord magazine is the premier review magazine for independent publishers. With a 23,000 bimonthly circulation, this publication and review services affect the choices of booksellers and librarians across the country who influence the buying decisions of millions of readers.
Pre-requisite:
- Booksellers Return Program (for at least a year)
  • This program will attract booksellers (bookstores, retailers, libraries) to stock your book by allowing them to return unsold titles. The Bookseller's Return Program increases your chances that a bookstore will be willing to stock your book. If a book does not sell well, bookstores want the ability to return unsold books to publishers for a complete refund. Because traditional publishers always take returns, iUniverse has developed the Booksellers Return Program so that bookstores are able to return unsold books to the wholesaler. The best part is, iUniverse authors receive their retail royalty for every book sold in the Booksellers Return Program, whether the book is returned or not. When a book is returnable, the bookstore has no risk of losing money on unsold inventory and will be more likely to stock the book than if you don’t enroll in the program.
- Benefits of Booksellers Return Program
  • Encourages bookstores to invest more copies of the book
  • Improves chances of scheduling book signings and appearances, especially with hometown bookstores
  • Allows book returns yet will NOT reduce author’s royalties
Note:
  • · Book Returnability Program Turn-around-time (TAT): 30-45 days after full payment
  • · Catalogs TAT: next available issue
  • · $30 installment surcharge fee is non-refundable
  • · This project goes under a set of eight books and will be a first come first serve basis.
Please feel free to call me at 877-820-5395 ext 8552 for any inquiries.

All the best,

Paul Wellshyr
Marketing Consultant
1663 Liberty Drive
Bloomington, IN 47403
Phone: 877-820-5395, ext 8552
Fax: 812-961-3133

Author Solutions, the parent company of iUniverse, is a member of the Penguin Group.
This email is an advertisement.