Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Publishers Weekly Moves Into Self-Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A couple of years ago, I blogged about the launch of PW Select, an online supplement to the regular PW magazine. PW Select, which is published quarterly, allows self-published writers to buy brief listings (author, title, subtitle, price, pagination and format, ISBN, a brief description, and ordering information) for $149. With every issue of the supplement, a limited number of books--around 25%--are chosen for review.

This would certainly seem to be a moneymaking proposition for PW, but what it does for self-pubbed authors is less apparent. $149 is a lot to pay for a listing, on the off chance of receiving a review (especially since the reviews appear to pull no punches). As for promoting to PW's readership--agents, booksellers, publishers, librarians--here's one librarian's reaction. And here's one author's experience, which points up a known risk of using any sort of listing service: unwanted solicitations.

Now PW is venturing even deeper into self-pub territory, partnering with Vook to offer its very own self-publishing option, PW Select Plus. (The service actually rolled out in April, but this solicitation only came across my desk last week.) Here's how PW describes the service:
Under PW Select+, authors will receive all the benefits of PW Select as well as a host of options for using Vook’s e-book creation and publishing platform. Those benefits include conversion of authors’ manuscripts to an e-book format acceptable to B&N.com, Apple iBooks, and Amazon.com; automatic distribution within those three sales channels including full reporting; a distribution-ready EPub file for the author’s use in his or her own channels; an ISBN number (if needed); and seamless registration and integration into both PW Select and Vook.
The cost? $199.

The predictable reaction will be that PW is--again--trying to make money by exploiting authors. But I wonder about that--the moneymaking part, at any rate.

Vook charges subscription fees ranging from $9.99 per month to $199 per month. So getting the Vook service for a flat $40 (the dollar difference between PW Select and PW Select Plus) would appear to be a bargain for authors, and a money-loser for either Vook (if it doesn't expect PW to make up the difference) or for PW (if it has to pick up the shortfall or some portion of it).

Which raises a couple of questions. Is self-publishing via PW Select Plus indefinite--i.e., are authors free to use the Vook service for as long as they like? Or is there some sort of time-limit, beyond which they'll be expected to pay subscription fees? And are there any additional or hidden fees? For instance, per Vook's Terms of Service, "There are additional fees for use of the VOOK distribution partners and other value-added services." Will PW Select Plus authors be subject to those?

PW Select's literature doesn't address these issues--or even say which of Vook's three plans authors receive--and there are no Terms and Conditions on the PW Select/Select Plus registration form to provide further information (including about important things like payment plans). Autors can certainly find out more about Vook's services by visiting Vook's website--but will they bother, much less read Vook's Terms of Service? Even if they do, they won't find answers to the questions I've raised above.

Surely there should be fuller disclosure of these and other specifics at PW. As it is, authors who choose PW Select Plus are signing up--and paying--for a service based only on a very broad description, which lacks many of the specifics authors should carefully evaluate before signing up for any self-publishing option.

EDITED 5/31/12/ TO ADD: Cevin Bryerman, Publisher of PW, has responded to the questions I raise above. I've published his email in the comments thread.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Two Surveys

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Two fascinating surveys appeared this week. They look at opposite ends of the writing business, but dovetail in interesting ways. (This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me.)

The Writers' Workshop Survey of Professional Authors

In March, the Writers' Workshop, a UK-based writers' consultancy, launched a survey of traditionally published authors. The aim: to discover how authors feel about their publishers in a time of rapid change, where "it has become possible – arguably for the first time in history – for authors to detach themselves from publishers."

The survey results were posted this week, and they make for interesting reading. Authors are generally happy with a number of aspects of the traditional publishing process--notably, the editing they receive.
Around 75% of authors rated their editorial input as having been good or (more commonly) excellent. Just 14% disagreed...

Similarly – and again contrary to many stories about declining standards – authors rate their publishers extremely highly on copy-editing, proof-reading, page design and so forth. More than 80% of authors regarded their publishers as being good-to-excellent in these areas...

On the matters of cover design and jacket copy, authors remained broadly positive. About three-fifths of authors were highly satisfied with the way these things turned out. The remainder were, on the whole, ‘somewhat’ satisfied.
Marketing, however, was a different story. A majority of authors felt they weren't adequately consulted on their publishers' marketing plans, that their skills and strengths weren't adequately utilized, and that they had little input or control (ah yes--I know the feeling). About half the respondents felt that communication by the publisher was poor, and nearly half said that their publishers never sought feedback from them.

And while there is much grumbling in the writing community about the lack of publisher loyalty, with publishers no longer willing to stick with writers over several books while they build an audience, authors are just as fickle. 40% of survey respondents said they'd move to another house if given the chance. 22% weren't sure.

Harry Bingham, who wrote the survey summary, concludes:
One, authors actually love publishing. It’s clear from much of the commentary we received that authors know publishers do a hard, essential and wonderful job...But that’s not enough. In truth, it never was, but the world of today is changing fast and authors can glimpse a new mobility just round the corner. As one author commented, it’s ‘Look after your authors, or die.’ Quite so.

Two, these things are simple. Breathtakingly so. I’ve written most of this post while sitting in one of the unrenovated parts of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Unlike the gleaming buildings around it, this part had paint peeling from the walls, curtains that looked to be left over from the 1970s, and a toilet with a high and dripping cistern. Yet in the corner of the unit, someone had put a big cardboard box, above which there was taped a sign: ‘PATIENT FEEDBACK AND SUGGESTIONS PLEASE!’

Publishers have better paintwork, cleaner curtains and only ever the most delightful of toilets. But no box. And it’s the box which matters.
I do have a few caveats. First, the survey sample was small--just 321 respondents (the survey summary notes that "[a]bout two-thirds of respondents were either with a ‘Big 6’ publisher or a major independent," which raises the additional question of what kinds of publishers the remaining third were talking about).

Second, there are different kinds of marketing--for instance, the stuff a publisher does long before publication (catalogs, ARCs, trade shows, advertising, etc.) and what it does post-publication. Authors naturally tend to focus on the second kind of marketing, and to gloss over the first, which is equally, if not more, important. It would have been useful if the survey had made that distinction.

Third (and of course there's no way to test this), I can't help wondering whether, if this survey had been done ten, or twenty, or even thirty years ago, the results would have been much different. Authors can be unreliable narrators, and marketing is an area where hope and expectation often clash unpleasantly with reality--something that I think has always been so. On the other hand, as Bingham points out, we are living in an age where it's not only possible, but viable, for authors to kick their publishers to the curb...so his final point remains compelling. Publishers need a box.

But before you do decide to take a pass on traditional publishing and join the ranks of self-publishers, you might want to take a look at survey number two.

The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey

In February, Taleist launched a self-publishing survey, with the aim of discovering, among other things:
- What the top earning self-publishers have in common
- What marketing seems to be working
- How much the average self-publisher is earning in royalties
- What types of outside assistance really make a difference
The results are in, and their title says a lot: Not a Gold Rush.

To get the full survey, you have to go to Amazon (here's a breakdown of the various chapters) but here are some interesting tidbits (for more detailed analyses, see these posts from Catherine Ryan Howard and Joel Friedlander):

- 10% of self-publishing authors earn 75% of royalties--a statistic that's eerily similar to the income breakout in traditional publishing. (Only about 60% of the more than 1,000 respondents were willing to answer questions about their earnings.)

- Half the authors earned less than $500 in 2011.

- A quarter of books probably won't make back the authors' production expenses.

- Earnings were sharply defined by genre. Romance writers earned 170% more than others, with literary fiction authors earning the least.

- Authors who sought outside help (editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design) earned more than those who didn't.

- The 29% of respondents who went from a traditional publisher to self-publishing earned twice as much on their own as they did from their publishers.

- The most financially successful  self-publishers write more than their peers, and spend less time marketing. In fact, those self-publishers who marketed the most earned the least.

Fascinating information, all in all. For me, one of the things that's most unexpected is the way that many of the results parallel the realities of traditional publishing. A tiny percent of authors earning the bulk of the income; most authors unable to make a living wage; the importance of editing and design; the market dominance of romance--all these things suggest (perhaps) that there are universal truths of authorship that transcend context.

Again, though, there are some caveats. The survey sample was sizeable--but how self-selecting might it have been? For instance, the majority of respondents were US-based (72%). Taleist acknowledges this:
For a start, no one knows what the total population of self-publishers look like so we can’t know for sure how closely our sample of 1,007 respondents represents that community. It seems likely that with a sample this size we will have good representation but do the experiences of our respondents match yours? Where are the differences? What do you agree with? What did you disagree with? What else would you like to know?
Also, as Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader points out, the survey needs to be considered in context: "The thing is, no matter how little those authors made while self-publishing their ebooks, on average they are almost certainly better off than if they did not have the option of self-publishing." Survey results support this: only 5% of respondents said that they considered themselves unsuccessful, regardless of how much they earned--reminding us that "success" is about much more than money.

Caveats aside, we now have a lot more information about self-publishers and self-publishing than was available before. As survey authors Dave Comford and Steven Lewis say (quoted in The Guardian),
The majority of the information out there is about the outliers, whose success is inspiring, but as we can now confirm bears scant resemblance to the experience of most authors.
It's a valuable counter to the hype that surrounds self-publishing, and hopefully gives authors who are considering this alternative more tools with which to realistically evaluate their goals.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Another Honor for Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


Once again, the Writer Beware blog has been chosen as one of Writer's Digest's 101 Best Websites for Writers (the list appears in the June 2012 issue of the magazine, and can be downloaded here if you're willing to subscribe to the WD newsletter).

Writer's Digest compiles this list annually from nominations submitted by the public. This year, more than 4,000 nominations were received, a record number.

Congratulations to our sponsors Science Fiction Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America, which also made the list, and to all the wonderful websites, resources, and organizations included in this highly useful resource.

Just to note: Writer Beware will not be participating in Writer's Digest's Affiliate Program, which pays a 12% referral bonus on sales from the WD online store, and is offered to everyone who's included on the 101 Best Websites list. To avoid conflicts of interest, Writer Beware doesn't host advertising, participate in referral programs, or accept donations.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Victoria Strauss Wins for Writer Beware in First Annual Independent Book Blogger Award

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I'm thrilled and honored to announce that Goodreads and the Association of American Publishers have chosen me as the winner of the Publishing News category of the first annual Independent Book Blogger Awards. I'll be attending the awards ceremony at BookExpo America on June 4th.

The official press release is below.

-------------------------------------

Amherst Resident and Author of Eight Novels Chosen as
One of Four National Winners of Publishing Industry’s Independent Book Blogger Awards

Washington, DC, May 16, 2012 – After hundreds of submissions…nearly 10,000 voters… and 60 finalists…the four winners of the first Independent Book Blogger Awards are being announced today by Goodreads and the Association of American Publishers. All winners were previously contacted and confirmed.

Victoria Strauss, author of eight novels who lives in Amherst, won in the “Publishing Industry News” category for Writer Beware Blogs! Other blog winners were The Nerdy Book Club in the “Children’s/Young Adult” category; Sophisticated Dorkiness in the “Adult Non-Fiction” category; and Insatiable Booksluts in the “Adult Fiction” category.

Each winner receives free airfare, hotel accommodations and full admission to next month’s BookExpo America in New York City, the US publishing industry’s most important annual gathering, as well as entry to the annual BEA Bloggers Conference to be held the previous day. Winners will also be acknowledged on Monday, June 4, 10AM prior to the Bloggers Conference keynote featuring author Jennifer Weiner.

“On behalf of the AAP Trade Division member publishers, who conceived and supported this competition, we were simply delighted with the outpouring of interest for this debut effort and the originality and diversity of the submissions,” said Tina Jordan, Vice President, AAP. “We are so appreciative of everyone who entered and hope that the voters take time to sample some of the great voices they can discover as listed on our blogroll.”

“The interest and voting show you just how influential book bloggers are in the world of books,” said Patrick Brown, Community Manager, Goodreads and one of the judges. “The attention and accolades are richly deserved and I congratulate all the nominees for the great work they are doing. You made the job of judging that much harder but it’s to every reader’s benefit to have such a wealth of amazing book blogs from which to choose.”

Entries were judged on writing, analysis, design and presentation and reader impact. The viewpoints expressed in blogs are those of the independent authors and do not represent AAP or Goodreads.

Insatiable Booksluts consists of book reviews, advice to authors, industry news and humorous tales of reading woes (and lots of swearing). With the tagline, “Voracious readers tell you if that book is going to suck,” the blog gives an honest opinion about books and reading. The blogger behind Insatiable Booksluts is Susan Rodarme, a writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

At Sophisticated Dorkiness, Kim Ukura is a bookworm journalist who writes primarily about non-fiction and literary fiction but also loves to read memoirs, comics and young adult fiction. The blog features reviews, opinions and musings about reading and writing. Ukura is the editor of a community newspaper, the Morris Sun Tribune, and lives in Morris, Minnesota.

The Nerdy Book Club is a community of readers from all over the world who particularly enjoy books for children and young adults; it’s organized and run by Colby Sharp, Donalyn Miller and Cindy Minnich. In 2011, they held the first annual “Nerdies Book Awards” for Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Poetry, Nonfiction, Young Adult Fiction and Middle Grade Fiction. The IBBA winner on behalf of The Nerdy Book Club is Minnich of Millersburg, Pennsylvania, who is a high school English teacher and National Writing Project fellow.

Writer Beware Blogs! shines a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes and pitfalls along with industry news and writing advice. The blog is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America with additional support from the Mystery Writers of America. Winner of the IBBA competition is Victoria Strauss, the author of eight novels for adults and young adults who lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Finalists in the Independent Book Blogger Awards are:

Adult Fiction: TNBBC's The Next Best Book Blog; Parajunkee's View; Vampire Book Club; LITERAL ADDICTION; Paranormal Reads; Fantasy-Faction; trevorkidd.com; AuthorJess; Words With Writers; How Novelistic; Not Another Romance Blog; Books . . . Looks and Takes by Eleanor Anders; The True Book Addict; Jen's Book Thoughts

Adult Non-Fiction:  The Girl from the Ghetto; Jeannie Walker - Award Winning True Crime Author; The Parchment Girl; Reading, Writing, Working, Playing; Misfit Salon; At Home With Books; A Novel Affair; Scandalous Women; The Feminist Texican [Reads]; The Dunce Academy; World War ll London Blitz Diaries 1939-1945; The Well-read Naturalist; Janet Boyer Reviews; Notes From The Parsonage

Children’s/Young Adult: : I Am A Reader, Not A Writer; Once Upon a Twilight; Bookies; Children's Book-A-Day Almanac; The Midnight Garden; KindleObsessed; books4yourkids.com; Tumbling Books; Me, My Shelf and I; Paranormal Book Club; YA  Bibliophile; Murphy's Library; Aileen's Thoughts; The Librarian Who Doesn't Say Shhh!

Publishing Industry News: Author Michael J. Sullivan; Kris Wampler's Blog: A resource for indie writers; Writer. Publicist. Superhero.; EvilReads; Ink Drop Interviews Presents...; Indies Unlimited; The Great Gray BridgeVouched Books; Yours in Books; Life as a Publisher; Market My Words; Bookworm; Anne R. Allen's Blog; Leslie Lee Sanders

According to AAP and Goodreads, all submissions are worth reading. These can be found at http://www.goodreads.com/book_blogger_award/

About Goodreads:


Goodreads is the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations. Founded in 2007, Goodreads is where readers discover and share books they love. The site has eight million members who have added more than 300 million books to their shelves and written more than 14 million reviews. Loved by avid and casual readers alike, Goodreads members can discover new books by seeing what their friends are reading or by using the Goodreads Book Recommendation Engine; share ratings and recommendations; track what they have read and list what they want to read. Goodreads is also a place where more than 35,000 authors and their publishers connect with readers. It is a privately owned company.

About AAP:

The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association representing the country’s premier book publishers. Its 300 members develop and publish the highest-quality entertainment, education, scientific and professional content in all print and digital formats. The AAP Trade Division member organizations are active in promoting the joy of reading, literacy, the value of publishers in an information society and First Amendment rights. They are committed to raising awareness through a variety of initiatives produced independently and in collaboration with libraries and other groups.

Contacts:

For AAP: Amanda Straub, Manager, Communications, AAP – astraub@publishers.org
For Goodreads: Suzanne Skyvara, suzanne@skyvaracommunications.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts: How to Protect Yourself

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Over the past couple of days I've gotten several emails and Facebook posts alerting me to a blog post by writer Mandy DeGeit about her bad experience with a small publisher called Undead Press. When she received her author's copy of the anthology in which her story was published, she discovered, to her dismay, that not only was there a mistake in her title (an inappropriate apostrophe), but...
They changed my story without telling me.

Let’s see: They turned a non-gendered character into a boy, they named the best friend, they created a memory for the main character about animal abuse. They added a suggestion of rape at the end…
When she complained about, among other things, the gratuitous addition of sexual content, she received this delightfully professional response from the publisher, Anthony Giangregorio:
on the contract, it clearly says publisher has the right to EDIT work. you signed it. are you saying you are a dishonest and immoral person and will now try to deny you signed the contract? well i have a copy right here
and as for the story. the editor had a hard time with it, it was very rough and he did alot to make it readable. despite what you think, your writing has a long way to go before its worthy of being printed professionally.
we did what we had to do to make the story printable. you should be thankful, not complaining. ah, the ungrateful writer, gotta love it
Ms. DeGeit's bad experience with Mr. Giangregorio, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be an isolated incident. Similar complaints are appearing in her comments thread, and other writers have reported the same kinds of problems with Undead Press and other publishing ventures run by Giangregorio--who, among other exploits, has apparently published and sold several unauthorized sequels to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

As egregiously unprofessional as Giangregorio's behavior is, however, that's not what I want to write about today. Today, I'm looking at editing clauses in publishing contracts, and how they can lead to the kind of situation in which Ms. DeGeit found herself. (I haven't seen an Undead Press contract, by the way, so I can't comment on it specifically.)

Editing clauses are one of those contract areas where there needs to be a balance between the publisher's interests and the writer's. A publisher needs a certain amount of latitude to edit a manuscript to prepare it for publication (assuming it's professional enough to do editing at all--you might be surprised how many small press contracts I see that don't include editing clauses). It also needs to have the right to final approval--it doesn't want to be forced to publish a manuscript that the author can't or won't revise to the publisher's satisfaction.

A writer, on the other hand, needs assurance that they will be a partner in the editing process, and that their work won't be changed in major ways without their permission.

Whether you're publishing an entire book or a story in an anthology, the editing clause of your contract should ensure that content editing (the kind of serious editing that focuses on plot, pace, structure, style, and content) includes your cooperation (ideally, the editor will provide revision suggestions and you will carry them out yourself), and that substantial alterations can't be made without your consent. For copy editing, on the other hand, the publisher usually has discretion--but you should have a chance to see and approve the copy edited manuscript before it goes to press.

Here's an example of an editing clause you don't want to see (this and other clauses quoted below are taken from actual contracts in my possession):
Publisher shall have the right to edit and revise the Work for any and all uses contemplated under this Agreement.
What's missing here? Any obligation on the publisher's part to seek your approval before making the edits and revisions. A clause like this allows the publisher to edit at will without consulting you or asking your permission. If you sign a contract with this kind of  language, you are at the publisher's mercy, and shouldn't be surprised if the publisher takes advantage of it.

The next clause is more elaborate, but has the same effect (this language is fairly common, by the way; I've seen it in a number of contracts):
The Publisher shall be entitled to develop, alter, edit, and proof the content, usage, format, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling of the Work to conform to the Publisher's style, the subject matter, and intended audience previously agreed upon by the parties of this Agreement.
Here's another bad one, which is explicit about the publisher's right to edit at will:
Publisher has the right of final approval of Author’s manuscript. Publisher will assign an editor to work with Author in making revisions. The Author agrees that Publisher can make editorial changes to the manuscript, including, but not limited to spelling, punctuation corrections, and abridgments of text without Author’s consent.
Less obviously a problem is something like this:
Publisher shall have the right to correct errors, and/or edit and revise the Work for any and all uses contemplated under this Agreement (collectively "Editing"), provided that the meaning of the Work is not materially altered.
Again, this is a very common formulation. Many authors skip right over it, because on a surface reading it appears to protect the work from major changes. Not so. "Provided that the meaning of the Work is not materially altered" can cover a huge amount of ground, including stylistic alterations, abridgements, additions, and all sorts of things that might not change your manuscript's meaning but could seriously change its tone and style. Plus, the publisher is not required to consult you or get your permission before making those changes.

This one throws the author a bone, in the form of notification:
Publisher has the right of final approval of Author's manuscript. Publisher will have the right to correct errors and revise the work for all purposes of this Agreement. The Author will be notified prior to any and all substantial changes.
But although this prevents you from being blindsided by enormous changes in your finished book or story (assuming, of course, that the publisher's definition of "substantial" is the same as yours), you have no power to dispute or refuse those changes. You're still at the publisher's mercy.

Are clauses like these an automatic invitation to badness? Not necessarily. It's entirely possible that the publisher will be conscientious and ethical and make you a full partner in the editing process, and everyone will wind up happy. The problem is that you have no contractual assurance of this. The letter of these clauses gives all the power to the publisher--and in publishing, the letter of the contract is the bottom line. If the publisher has a dictatorial attitude, or employs not-very-competent editors, or is just an obnoxious scumbag--none of which, unfortunately, are uncommon in the small press world--you could find yourself with a badly-edited manuscript and no recourse. I have gotten hundreds of complaints over the years from authors who've found themselves in this position because the editing clauses in their contracts gave them no rights and offered them no protection.

So what should you look for? Here are several examples of better editing language, taken from various book contracts I've seen, including my own:
The Publisher shall make no changes in, additions to, or eliminations from the manuscript, except for typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors, without Author's consent. Any other edits will be requested of the author and agreed upon between the author and editor prior to preparation for sale.

Publisher has the right of final approval of Author's manuscript. Publisher may assign an editor to work with Author in making revisions. The Author will be notified prior to any and all substantial changes, which will be made only with the Author's approval and participation...Publisher may make corrections of typographical errors without Author's consent.

If the complete manuscript for the Work delivered by the Author is not acceptable to the Publisher, the Publisher shall give the Author a written request for changes and revisions for such work...After the Work has been accepted by the Publisher, no material changes may be made in such Work without the Author's approval. However, the Publisher may copyedit the Work in accordance with its standards of punctuation, spelling, capitalization and usage. The Publisher shall send the copyedited manuscript to the Author, who shall make any revisions and corrections and return it within two weeks of receipt.

The Publisher shall request that the Author work cooperatively with the Publisher to make the Work satisfactory to the Publisher, in which event Author shall use best efforts to do so...Upon acceptance by the Publisher, no changes shall be made in the Work without the author's approval, except that the Author authorizes the Publisher to make the manuscript of the Work conform to its standard style in punctuation, spelling, capitalization and usage.
And from an anthology contract:
 The Publisher will make no major alterations to the Work's text or title without the Author's written approval. The Publisher reserves the right to make minor copy-editing changes.
What's common in all these clauses: the author's consent is required before serious changes are made.

What to do if the publisher that has just made you an offer has a bad editing clause in its contract? Try to negotiate. Ask that the publisher add a sentence about seeking your approval--a la the four clauses above. Many publishers will be willing to be flexible on this. If they aren't willing, hard as it seems, you might seriously consider moving on.

Obviously, with even the best contract language, things can go wrong. Really devious publishers can always argue semantics to justify their bad behavior--for instance, what's a "major" change? You might think it's hacking 25,000 words out of your novel; the publisher might claim to disagree. (All the more reason to research the publisher before you submit to make sure it's a professional operation.) But if you sign a contract that doesn't protect your rights in the editing process, you are really vulnerable. Just another reason to be smart and careful out there.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

e-Publishing Revo: It's a New Electronic Self-Publishing Service, But There's a Catch

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Zooming into my inbox last week: a press release for a brand-new ebook self-publishing service called e-Publishing Revo. Per the website:

What makes e-Publishing Revo different from the rest?

1. Permanent 100% royalties. Need we say more?

2. We treat your e-book publishing seriously. Never will we rely on “meat grinding” application software. You will have to upload your manuscripts. But our eBook Associates will carefully format your work. We don’t automate.

3. e-Publishing Revo is hassle-free. Our two-way publishing process is very simple. Just submit your manuscript and we deliver. No need to learn technical manuals.

4. We guarantee tasteful designs. We house globally competent artists, illustrators, and designers. Your e-books will surely standout.
Sound tempting? Not so fast. This new attempt to cash in on the electronic self-publishing gold rush is owned by Bookwhirl.

You may recognize the name of this notorious Internet spammer. If you don't, it's a so-called marketing service that has become infamous for its prolific spam emails and cold-call phone pitches offering writers cheap (for Bookwhirl--for authors, the costs range from around $300 to over $10,000) spam-style PR such as mass email campaigns, press releases, online directory listings, and the like.

Testament to Bookwhirl's relentless spamming and cold-calling can be found across the Internet in the form of complaints, mockery, and angry blog posts. (Many of the commenters note the poor grammar of the company's emails and the heavy accents and broken English of its phone solicitors--which would appear to be no accident, since the company, which claims to be based in Iowa or Wisconsin, is owned by an Asian business called Yen Chen Support.) So widespread did the negative discussion become, in fact, that Bookwhirl felt obliged to disseminate some counter-propaganda, publishing a press release refuting the criticism, a blog doing the same, a "phishing email alert" attributing complaints to a phishing scheme (and suggesting that "victimized" writers contact Bookwhirl), and an "email scam warning" alleging, with no doubt unintentional irony, that it is the victim of negative statements by "a professional scammer."

Still interested in e-Publishing Revo?

If you are, here's the rundown on its services. It offers two packages--e-Pub Revo Lite for $299, or e-Pub Revo Pro for $399 (for the additional $100 you get extra revisions plus some garbage marketing). A possible catch, though: while the description of the packages on the e-Publishing Revo webpage gives the impression that formatting, layout, book cover design, and distribution are included in the price, the order form suggests that they cost extra.

What about those attractive-sounding 100% royalties? This is a meaningless claim, by the way--royalties are by definition the author's share of a book's revenue, so all royalties are 100%. The real question is, what can e-Publishing Revo authors expect to earn? It's a major challenge to find out--the information appears only in e-Publishing Revo's Terms and Policies, which are accessible only on the Signup page--but hey, that's why I'm here, to dig this stuff up for you. What it all boils down to is that authors receive 70% of list for books priced at or between $2.99 and $9.99, and 45% of list for books costing less or more. (Royalties are paid quarterly and only if the amount due is at least $50.)

The Terms and Policies also include this important provision:
Publishers should agree to receive promotions and updates through e-mail, newsletters, and calls from BookWhirl.com.
So if you decide to use e-Publishing Revo, be prepared to be solicited to buy lots of other stuff.

The easy availability of free electronic self-publishing options means that no one has to pay to publish an ebook. Nevertheless, fee-based self-pub services have their place. For people who are time-crunched or non-web-savvy or just uninterested in DIY, they can provide a good solution, as long as they are reasonably priced.

Price isn't the only determinant, however, and cheap isn't always good. Choosing a reputable provider is even more important--even if, sometimes, it charges a bit more. It's vital to carefully research any company you're thinking of using (you can always contact Writer Beware to find out if there have been complaints). It's also a good idea--especially if you're not sure of the company's reputation and expertise--to give new self-pub services a year or so to settle in before jumping on board.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Vetting an Independent Editor

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I often receive questions from writers who are looking to hire an independent editor to polish their manuscripts, either for self-publication or for submission to agents and publishers, and want to know whether a particular editor or editing service is reputable. 

I usually tell them three things. First, paid editing can be expensive, so it makes sense to consider alternatives--a friend who’s not afraid to criticize, a local writers’ group or critique circle, an online writers’ group (such as Critters Writers Workshop for SF/fantasy/horror writers), a peer critique community (such as Book Country or Authonomy), or a creative writing course. Any of these may be able to give you the help you need, free of charge or at a fraction of the cost. (You should be seeking such sources of feedback anyway–while self-editing is an essential component of the writer's craft, no writer is capable of being completely objective about his or her work, and outside viewpoints are vital.)

Second, paid editing is not a magic fix. Editing is a subjective process--there’s no set formula for dynamic plots or well-rounded characters or even good prose style (beware of any independent editor who tells you there is). And even the most accomplished editor can’t turn a bad manuscript into a good one, or a mediocre manuscript into a blockbuster. They can only work with what’s already there.

Third, scams aren't all you need to watch out for. Competence--or rather, the lack of it--is an equally hazardous pitfall. The Internet is rife with editors who've set up shop without much--or sometimes anything--in the way of relevant credentials.

These folks are often entirely well-intentioned, sincerely believing that a lifetime of reading, or a teaching career, or some technical writing experience, is enough to qualify them to edit manuscripts. But it's much more likely that they don't possess the specialized skills that are essential for a useful critique or a professional-quality line or content edit. Some provide no more than glorified proofreading or copy editing--things you really should be competent to do yourself, if you're serious about writing. An inexperienced editor may also be unable to judge your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses for the trade marketplace (very important if you're planning on seeking traditional publication), or have strange ideas about what constitutes good writing. Some amateur editors I've encountered aren't even fully literate.

How to avoid unqualified or dishonest editors, and make sure the editor or editing service you're considering is right for you? Here are some common-sense suggestions.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

- Be sure the editor (or editors, if it's an editing service) is qualified. You’re looking for professional publishing industry experience--preferably, as an editor for reputable publishers--and/or professional writing credentials (legitimately-published books, articles, etc.). If the editor has a website, a resume or CV should be posted there. An editing service should post staff names and biographies. Be wary if you can't find this information, or if requesting it produces excuses or obfuscation.

Also, for individual editors, membership in the Editorial Freelancers Association (US), the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders (UK), the Institute of Professional Editors (Australia), or the Editors’ Association of Canada are all indications of professionalism. (The websites of these organizations provide a lot of helpful information, including sample agreements and charts of recommended rates).
 
- If you've been referred to the editor or editing service, verify that they're independent. No third party (such as a literary agent or publisher) should benefit. 

- Be sure the editor you're thinking of hiring has experience appropriate to your work. Editing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Good editors specialize, both on the basis of experience and taste. Someone whose main work has been with nonfiction may not be the ideal choice to edit your epic fantasy novel.

 - Look for a client list, or a list of published books. Clients' work published by recognizable publishers suggests that the editor has professional expertise and standing. If the editor or editing service specializes in self-published authors, get hold of a couple of the books so you can assess quality.

- Ask for references, and contact them. This is important for obvious reasons.

- Ask to see a sample critique or part of a sample edit. Not all editors may be willing to provide this, but if they do, it'll give you an idea of what you’ll be getting for your money. Some editors or editing services have sample critiques on their websites.

- Make sure the business arrangements are clear--and get it in writing. You should know exactly what you’ll be paying for, including the scope of the work to be done, the charges you’ll incur, the time period involved, and who will be doing the editing (you don't want to pay for a well-known editor only to discover that your manuscript is being handled by an underling). This is important not just for you, but for your editor, who needs to be clear on what you want the edit to accomplish. You should receive a contract or a letter/email of agreement that covers all these areas. Be wary if the editor is unwilling to provide this.

WHEN TO BE CAUTIOUS

- If you receive a referral from a literary agent or publisher. This is not necessarily questionable. Reputable agents or publishers who like a project but don't think it's ready yet may suggest that writers consider hiring independent editors, and may recommend the name or names of qualified editors they’ve previously worked with and trust to do a good job.

But editing scams are out there. Common schemes include a kickback setup for successful referrals, where the scammer pays a percentage or a finder's fee, a la Edit Ink--or the agent or publisher may actually own the editing service under a different name, and send writers there without disclosing the connection. An editing referral should always prompt some extra checking.

- If the publisher or agent recommends his/her own paid editing services. This is a clear conflict of interest. If the agent or publisher can make money from selling you editing or critiques, how can you be sure that the recommendation is in your best interest? Again, your editor or editing service needs to be independent.

- If buying editing is a requirement of representation or submission. Some scam literary agencies require clients to purchase a critique as a condition of representation. Some devious publishers make buying a manuscript assessment part of the submission process. Again, this is a conflict of interest, allowing the agency or publisher to increase its profit margin by charging authors for extra services–which may not be of professional quality.

- If you can't find a resume or CV, or claims of expertise can't be verified. A reputable editor will provide a biography or CV that clearly states his or her experience--either on his or her website or on request. Ditto for the staff of reputable editing services. Be wary if this information is missing, or if it's too vague to verify. Claims like "Joe Editor has published ten novels" or "Jane Editor has worked for two major publishing houses" are meaningless unless they're specific. And if you request specifics and are refused--move on.

- If the editing is anonymous. Some editing services don’t just fail to provide the credentials of the editors who work for them, they won't even provide names. You may learn your editor's name only after he or she is assigned to you--or maybe not at all (I know of one dubious editing service where editors are identified only by number). This makes it impossible for you to verify your editor's credentials, or whether he or she has experience appropriate to your work.

- If the editor edits any and all genres, all comers accepted. Expert editors have areas of specialization that reflect their professional experience and their personal tastes. The skills required to edit or critique a romance novel, for instance, are quite different from those needed for a work of narrative nonfiction. That’s not to say a single editor won’t possess both skill sets–but it’s not very likely that one person will be able to edit any and all subjects and genres with equal effectiveness.

Also, within the basic scope of services, a good editor will tailor the job to the client. Standardized services and a lack of specialization suggest either a dearth of professional experience, or an editor who provides a widget-like service.

- If the editor tells you that agents and publishers prefer manuscripts that have been professionally edited. Dishonest or ignorant editors sometimes prey on the anxieties of writers who are seeking traditional publication by saying that agents and publishers give preference to professionally edited manuscripts. This is false.

For one thing, agents and publishers know the limitations of even the best editing, which can make a manuscript better but won't necessarily make it marketable. For another, they are well aware of the number of less-than-competent editors out there, and know that "professionally edited" may not mean any such thing. Plastering your manuscript with "Professionally Edited" or mentioning it in your cover letter is unlikely to improve your chances--in fact it may harm them, as savvy agents and publishers may assume you've been rooked, or worry that you aren't capable of producing a publishable book on your own. Your manuscript needs to be as perfect as you can make it, but no one will hold it against you if you accomplish that yourself.

- Vagueness about specific services. If an editor or editing service won’t give you a firm price, or doesn’t want to lay out a procedure and/or timeline, or won’t tell you who will be working on your manuscript, move on.

- Refusal of reasonable requests for information. A reputable editor or editing service should have no problem providing a resume, references, and work samples, or answering questions about prices and services. Be wary if you encounter resistance in any of these areas.