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My Experience With a Dishonest Publisher

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posted on Oct, 29 2006 @ 01:17 AM
Denying ignorance means admitting the truth.

I am the victim of a dishonest publisher. There's just no other way to say it because it's true. I'm here to share what I've experienced because I think what we learn here in the ATS community means more if we speak up so others can benefit from failures.

I contracted with Phenix & Phenix/BookPros, LLC in good faith to self-publish a novel.

This wasn't something I rushed in to it. Several months went in to the decision-making process. I looked high and low but could find no reason to NOT deal with this company. Publishing and media services were provided, as per the terms of my contract. All fees were paid, as per the terms of my contract. When it came time for me to receive my first royalty check, the company's representative begged off stating unspecified contract irregularities. For a period of several weeks, I received incorrect bills for services I had not asked for. When I did get a check, it bounced. The company has since refused all contact with me.

Self-publishing is a risky thing. Predatory firms like this one make it even harder to unknown authors to pursue their interests. I understood the risks when I got in to this. Now that I am an injured party, I feel obliged to get the word out about this dead-beat company. I am in the process of spreading the word about this company, and their business practices. I am prepared to provide copies of all pertinent paperwork, correspondence, and the bounced check and verifying bank statement to any investigative body.

I've requested that the company take my work out of print and cease all commercial dealings with me. To date, I have received one letter from their imprint division which states they have complied with this request. I have serious doubts that this is true, so I'm keeping up the pressure.

By issuing a check that bounced, and refusing contact with me, Bookpros is actively engaged in fraud. My only hope now is to ensure that others don't fall prey to the same dishonest tactics that have set me back. I'm fortunate in that I am not dependent on this failed effort for my livelihood. It was compartmentalized risk, and I took it.

Under the right circumstances, I will try again when time permits. In spite of it all, I've made a little bit of a splash, and I hope to use all of my accumulated book reviews (which are good) to pitch my work to a major traditional publisher. I'm not done raising a stink over this, either. There are a lot of inexpensive ways for a person to make firms like this one wish that they hadn't gone bad. Ya gotta love free speech.

Having said all this, I'm not looking for sympathy or even to be picked on. I'm just not going to hide from it.

posted on Nov, 2 2006 @ 05:03 AM
You have my sympathies, Mr. Oldham. It's good to read that you are now planning to sell your novel to a conventional publisher. This is the only kind of publication worth pursuing, whether you're looking for market success or literary credibility.

I myself am a published author (two books, dozens of magazine articles) who has also worked as an editor in book and magazine publishing, so I can claim to have experienced the business from both sides of the table. I hope what I write here will be of some use to you and others. It will sting a bit, I'm afraid, but then so does vaccination.

The publishing industry has its own term for what you call self-publishing. They call it vanity publishing. The term is unkind, but it is exact; such publishers live by preying upon writers who are too vain to accept the advice of an expert when he tells them their work is unpublishable.

Orthodox publishing is a risky business. The publisher must pay for editing, printing, distribution, publicity and so on. Should the book fail, he stands to lose a lot of money. So successful publishers are men and women who have become experts at determining whether or not a given book will appeal to the public. If they think it will, they'll publish it. If they think it won't, they won't. Orthodox publishing is as simple as that.

Publishers are human too. Sometimes they make mistakes. There have been great novels and popular bestsellers that earned any number of rejection slips before finding a publisher at last. Certainly no writer should ever give up hope of publication on the basis of one or two, or even half a dozen rejections. But when publisher after publisher rejects a manuscript, the odds are that it really is unpublishable.

Every now and then, a would-be author will not accept the odds. Disregarding any amount of evidence to the contrary, he remains convinced that the publishers who rejected him are ignorant philistines and that discriminating readers will snap up his brainchild by the cartload if only he could get the blessed thing published.

So he approaches a vanity publisher.

In doing so, he rarely asks himself the one vital question, namely, how do vanity publishers make money?

Everyone knows how orthodox publishers make money. They make it through book sales, the sale of translation, foreign publication, film and other rights, merchandising intellectual property from the book and so on. The spin-offs can sometimes be more lucrative than the book itself, but if the book doesn't sell, it's no deal for the spin-offs, either. So publishers, in short, make money off books that sell well. To put it another way, they make money out of people who buy the book -- readers.

But vanity publishers can't make money out of readers. Rarely if ever does a manuscript reach them without having been tossed out by several real publishers first. The experts have seen it and declared it a turkey. Chances are it will fail. Yet the vanity publisher still takes it on. How come?

Well, you know the answer to that, because you found out the hard way. Vanity publishers don't care whether their books succeed or fail, because they make money out of writers, not readers. This is what self-publication means to an author. It means bearing all the costs of publication yourself.

So what are you paying for, exactly? What is it that vanity publishers do?

Mostly, they turn manuscripts into printed and bound books. This involves editing, typesetting, proofreading, printing and binding. The end result, for the author, is the gratifying sight of a prettily bound volume (several hundred or thousand of them, in fact) with his name on the cover. Most vanity publishers will execute this part of their commission flawlessly, because to the majority of their clients, it is all that matters.

The next step, in orthodox publishing, would be marketing and distribution. But vanity publishers don't like marketing their publications. Unlike his client the author, the vanity publisher is quite willing to accept the verdict of the experts -- he's convinced from the outset that the book hasn't a hope of selling. Any attempt at marketing the thing would simply be throwing good money after bad. Oh, he'll make a few half-hearted stabs -- shoot off a few press releases, send off a few copies of the book for review. If you're fairly well-heeled, he may even design and print (at your cost) a brochure or flyer that will be mailed (at your cost) to wholesalers and big retailers. None of this is done with any hope of securing actual orders for the book; it is done to impress you and also to stay within the letter of his contractual obligations to you.

Distribution is the tricky part. The book was unsaleable anyway, the marketing was half-hearted and botched -- how many orders do you think the publisher is going to get for the book?

Yes, that's right.

Without any orders, there won't be any sales. Without any sales, there won't be any royalties. And when the royalties fail to roll in, things start to come unstuck between author and publisher.

Has your publisher sent you a record of orders or sales to date? Have you asked for one? I'm not a lawyer, but it stands to reason that your publisher could only be said to be defrauding you if there have been sales but no royalties. If there have been no sales, you are entitled to no royalties. On that score, Phenix &c. are untouchable.

I devoutly hope, for your sake, that your losses will be confined to whatever you have already paid the publisher. They need not be. You say you've asked the company to take your work out of print and cease all dealings with you. Unfortunately, this does not indemnify you against claims for work already done or in progress -- all those unasked-for 'services' you're getting billed for, and which will turn out, on closer inspection, to be aspects or subsets of services you've already agreed to.

Finally, and most worryingly of all, Phenix may now be able to lay claim to publication and/or subsidiary rights with respect to your novel, preventing you from placing it with another publisher or earning money from its publication.

Check your contract. Talk to a lawyer. Find out just what it is you've let yourself in for. And next time you're tempted to try an unorthodox shortcut to a desirable goal, do yourself a favour and ask yourself why the orthodox structure came to be there in the first place.

Good luck and may you find a proper publisher soon.

[edit on 2-11-2006 by Astyanax]

posted on Nov, 2 2006 @ 05:09 AM
For those interested in learning more about this predatory business, I recommend a reading of Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. This is a novel about conspiracy theories and those who believe in them, so it should be of interest to any ATS member. More to the point of the present discussion, however, the narrator and protagonist of the novel is a vanity publisher and the plot largely concerns his dealings with a conspiracy-obsessed client. The whole sorry charade is described in agonizing detail.

posted on Nov, 2 2006 @ 12:59 PM
Very informative posts
I've thrown around the idea myself a handful of times, but I always stop myself, primarily because I haven't been able to afford it, but also because I've heard allusions to situations like this. Never anything as definitive as what you've described, always just a quick blurb, someone saying "Vanity publishing's a ripoff..." with no details.

Also, one of my college english teachers -- at the time, an unpublished author, although I have no idea how he's doing now -- put it in a way that's stuck with me for the past couple of years: A real publishing company/agent/representative will pay you, and not the other way around. Except occasional, extremely rare instances, if you have to shell out more than postage to get your MS to them, you're getting ripped off. Even reading fees should be looked at suspiciously--sure, an agent's time is precious, but they're doing so bad that they need to charge prospective sources of income?

Vanity publishing does have one situation where I personally feel it's a worthwhile investment, and that's when it really is vanity publishing. You have a book of poems from your granddad that you'd like to see bound, or a little novel you wrote for your kid for their birthday. Vanity publishing's great for sentimental situations like that, but not much else.

Just my $.02

posted on Nov, 2 2006 @ 11:18 PM

Originally posted by MCory1
Vanity publishing does have one situation where I personally feel it's a worthwhile investment, and that's when it really is vanity publishing.

Agreed. And there is an more or less respectable side of the business that actually does this. If all you want is for someone to turn a manuscript into a run of printed and bound books, there are publishers who will do this and no more. The client pays up and takes delivery of the copies, which he will then dispose of as he wishes. He may hand them out to his friends, or try to market them himself -- in which case he will soon discover that finding a market is no easy task!

A real publishing company/agent/representative will pay you, and not the other way around.

Absolutely. In fact...

Except occasional, extremely rare instances, if you have to shell out more than postage to get your MS to them, you're getting ripped off.

There aren't even any occasional, extremely rare instances. You should never have to pay anything but postage, period.

Even reading fees should be looked at suspiciously

You should never pay reading fees. An agent's incentive to work on your behalf is the money he will thereby earn. Likewise a publisher. There can be no reason to dilute that incentive by offering them money, and for them to demand it (as reading fees or in whatever other form) is unethical. It is not a practice in which respectable publishers and agents engage.

posted on Nov, 3 2006 @ 08:00 AM
I say that about the rare instances only because I've read somewhere (of course, can't remember where) that the occasional legitimate agent does charge a reading fee--legitimacy and reading fees aren't necessarily exclusive. At the same time though, there's plenty of agents out there who'd be more than willing to read a MS for free, so there's no need to take the chance.

(Of course, respectable/ethical and legitimate do overlap, but are by no means the same thing.)

Another reason I say that is because I hate to committing to an idea, especially broad statements like that--my own personal neurosis; feel free to ignore

Generally speaking, although I'm sure there's probably a handful of other, similar organizations that I'm unaware of, I would deal with anyone outside of the AAR (Association of Artists' Representatives). From what (admittedly little) research I've done, going with an agent who is a member of that organization will give you the least chance of being screwed. (I'm too cynical to say that you won't get ripped off period, but...)

posted on Nov, 4 2006 @ 05:03 AM
Having done my homework as thoroughly as I could, I am still at a loss as to why they decided to avoid paying me. I don't really care any more. I've moved on to other things. I got an electronic notice today that this bad publisher has received my BBB complaint. I still don't expect them to pay, so I am moving forward with other reporting options.

I can't undo this, but I can tell my story with Google in mind so that anyone who does decide to check out this unscrupulous publisher will have plenty of hits from me to look at. I am preparing to mail a copy of the fake check to the Attorney General's office for their State. Forgery is a no-no, and I have no doubt thatthe lawyers in that office will be interested to see my supporting documentaiton.

This sort of thing is a risk that all writers face when they take this path. AS long as you have your documents in order, along with all your supporting e-mails, you'd be surprised how much leverage you have in a situation like this. I won't get what I am owed, but I can be sure that few-er people get suckered by them. I'm busy with other things just now, and it's starting to be a good holiday season for me. I am really looking forward to Turkey Day.

posted on Nov, 5 2006 @ 03:47 AM

Sorry to hear of your problems with disreputable publishers. I think Astyanax gave some great advice and although I am not a publisher, I would like to add a few things.

Vanity presses are the reason why traditional agents/publishers/editors don't like to deal with self published writers. You will also encounter unscrupulous sorts in the publishing world, BUT this is more common in pay for publishing fields, where they don't have to follow strict guidelines and where the usual standards of writing aren't what count, but the amount of money you pay upfront for your book and through hidden costs.

You should never pay for for an agent to read your work. I've only come across one legitimate listing with a reading fee and it is probably safe to say that the agent doesn't get too many submissions.

Also beware of pretend agents that while asking for no fees upfront, helpfully suggest you get a 'professional' editor, before they take you on. You can usually spot these tricksters by all the oohs/aahs and non stop flattery they give you about your work; which of course would be perfect once you shelled out the 500 bucks or so to get it edited. After you pay the fee and never hear from the interested agent again, you later find out you've been scammed. In this way they get less money from you and are still preying on your vanity, but it is quicker, easier and you won't believe how many people fall for it.

For a writer who is serious about their work, vanity publishing should be your very last resort. Not only are they notorious for skimping on production values, but your beloved book will most likely be rushed, look amateurish, have bad spelling and grammar and the layout will usually be rubbish.

Even though you are paying for all these services yourself, vanity presses like to save money by not going through the necesary steps to ensure the finished product hits the shelves looking as polished and as perfect as you would expect. After all, they don't care if the book sells or not. They have already recouped their costs with you. Why should they worry about how the book looks to potential readers?

I've heard sad stories about well written, interesting books that were vanity pressed and then passed on by reputable agents/publishers afterward, as they didn't want to touch the writer with a barge pole. Who wants to be associated with such a shambolic process? Especially if it is tinged with allegations of scamming and/or abuse. This can't be good for the future marketing of your book, no matter how good it is.

To be rejected time and time again is not easy and can be quite disheartening. But keep revising and polishing, if your work is good enough, someone will eventually want it. If they don't, figure out why and change what you can accordingly. Look at the market, do your research, find where you fit in and what you have to offer.

Publishing is a business run by people who are experienced in their field and make their living by selling books.

Vanity publishing is a cheap nasty alternative that lures unsuspecting writers by offering shortcuts. It promises to bypasses the annoying traditional route; but it is actually harmful to you, your work, your vision, your integrity and your future sales; not to mention your career if you want to be taken seriously. They make a living not by selling books, but by feeding you your own ego.

All the control you think you are getting is just an illusion. Sadly in the end, you will pay dearly for the folly. And until traditional publishing changes, this is the only way to go.

There is a website that you may have encountered, but if not, I'm including the URL so you can post your cautionary tale and maybe save someone else from future nightmares.

Good luck with the writing!

[edit on 5-11-2006 by nikelbee]

posted on Nov, 5 2006 @ 05:32 PM
I'm well aware of Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. My situation has been reported to both. I am now waiting for the publisher to respond to my Better Business Bureau complaint. I have identified roughly 39 more entities I can report to. I can, at the very least, report that I did not have any involvement with a vanity press. You're using that term interchangeably and there are differences.

I've already had an impact on the business that has done me wrong. My efforts so far have generate a few pages worth of Google hits. I have not yet pushed the check fraud angle because I need to wait for this thing with the BBB to pan out. If this bad publisher follows the usual pattern, they'll just ignore it. It's possible that they may not know that I have their fake check, which will make it much easier for me to work with the authorities in their State.

In most cases, writers who get burned don't have the bogus check, and they don't have their paperwork in order. I planned on being ripped off at some point, so I prepared for it. It's all too easy for those who have not been through this process to diss the people who have. I've actually achieved the goals I set out to for myself, and it really is baffling to me why this publisher decided to NOT pay. Even so, I just don't care. Failure to pay is failure to pay, no matter who does it.

My intent now is to just put this out on the table so that we can all see it. Even I will feel better if somebody else learns from what happen to me. The RSS feed that steers a potential author to this web site, and this thread, will do some good for somebody. In it's own way, it speaks for me more effectively than I ever could. Will it put a damper on that company's business? I can only hope so. In the end, I will spend far less than what they owe me to get the word out.

In the mean time, I will move on to other things. I have other irons in the fire, and like I said, I did get the bulk of what I wanted from this effort. If they insist on being short-sighted, I'll be more than happy to be a thorn in their side. If my protests amount to nothing, I'll still sleep better at night.

posted on Nov, 6 2006 @ 12:52 AM
I have always contended that if someone can't get a "recognized" publisher to accept your manuscript, then do it yourself.

Yes, it's really easy to get a book printed and bound......essentially that's what the vanity press does......but, as was mentioned, it's the distribution that is the hard part and, frankly, that's not what vanity press companies do. Their income comes from simply printing your work.

I have known several people, myself included, that have simply skipped trying to have a major company distribute the books. Instead, try distributing them yourself. Smaller, independent book stores will sometimes accept books. It helps to develop a personal relationship with such independents.

Of course, such independently published books often fall into niche categories; children's books, art books and books having to do with 'cult' followings; comic books, books on film and, yes, conspiracies. In my own experience, I have self-published and distributed several books on comic art with rather marked success. Of course ventures in the comic book genre are a bit easier to distribute since much can be done through advertising in journals having to do with comic book fandom and, of course, there are always the comic book conventions with sales to other comic book dealers.

I don't know the topic or genre of your particular work but if you 'believe' in your work and in it's merits, there really isn't anything to stop you from you 'pushing' your book yourself. It's hard, I know, but self-publishing, promotion and distribution do have their success stories.

posted on Nov, 6 2006 @ 02:04 AM
Benevolent tryrant, I think what you described is called POD (print on demand); there are two types, POD printer and POD publisher. POD print differs from vanity publishing, mainly in areas of self distribution and awareness that your printers will not do that job for you.

This requires a healthy dose of self confidence, ability to market yourself and a lot of free time to travel around getting people to buy your book and going to book conferences.

There are some good ones out there and if one is interested in self publishing or very specialised books with specialised markets (and I said this in a post a few months ago in another post about publishing) this is the way they should probably go.

The other one, POD publishers, promises to do it all for you and often only does the printing.

Justin, I don't think I used to term interchangeably. I focused specifically on talking about vanity presses and I've already talked about self publishing in another thread some time ago, in which you also posted.

As I said, I am sorry for the trouble you have gone through, but you must be aware that even when using 'good' self publishing methods, you always run a risk and that sometimes even when dealing with companies you think are legitimate, they will try to scam you in the end.

It is a good thing you have all your paperwork in order and I'm glad you are getting the word out about them in all necessary channels.

Good luck!

[edit on 6-11-2006 by nikelbee]

posted on Nov, 6 2006 @ 02:49 AM
Your point is made, and your position is understood. It's always nice to have the view from the high ground. In my own case, I am willing to talk about my mistakes because I'd be like to let others know what I have already learned.

Any contracted service can result in fraud. I was prepared to sell no books at all. I had my own goals in mind when I did this. Nobody held a gun to my head. Self-publishing is not something to be done under most circumstances, unless you're after limited goals.

It's not hard to find people who think poorly of the practice. It's not hard to find peole who are quick to think poorly of those who have done it. Iti sh ard to find people who did it, got ripped off, and were willing to talk aobut it after the fact so that some good could come from it.

The company has received my complaint through the Better Busness Bureau. I do know more than I'm telling here, so fill in the blanks for yourself. If they made good, I'd be done and in need of a new hobby. Chances are that they won't, in which case, I'll be ready to move to the next level. If it comes to that, I'm hoping to share what I learn so that those who want to know what I know...can do so without being judged. Kowledge is power, and I did promose my mother to use my powers for good.

posted on Nov, 16 2006 @ 06:27 PM
I have an update. Phenix & Phenix/BookPros LLC has not addressed my complaints, but they have paid me. They were extra-super speedy when it came to terminating my contract as per my request. There was even one last attempt to at bill fraud on their part.

As much as I know that some of you will like to cticisize my failures here, I want to be clear about one thing. My purpose in coming out in to the open with this is to make it clear to others that this sort of thing really does happen. It's not just something you hear about.

I don't expect any feedback from this company. I do expect them to be mad at me for the extent to which I have reported them. For all I know, I may be the first writer who didn't cave to their intimidation. They probably did count on my silence. If that's true, they bet wrong.

This company is now dragging its feet when it comes to getting me out of print. They claim that it's all a bureaucracy thing, and the distributors are slow to respond. I says, they're being deliberately slow because my title is still selling. This can also mean that they could be trying to sell copies of my book without telling me. If that's true, I've already made the necessary arrangements. I expect to be totally done with this by the end of the year. If not, I will know hwat my hobby is for 2007.

I'd like to be clear about something before I go. Relations with these people had been good before this failure to pay happened. All t's were crossed, and all the I's had their little dots. The snow storm of false bills, telephone interference, and other problems made it clear that they were obviously playing me for a sucker. Nobody runs a business like that for very long, unless they've learned how to get away with it.

I've had dealings with other publishers, and they were good. I may even go back to a publisher that I have previously dealt with. This hurt me, but it will not stop me. As of now, I've had some good leads that may allow me to avoid future self-publishing. I look forward to 2007 and the success it may bring.

posted on Dec, 1 2006 @ 04:11 PM
This should be my last post on this topic. I am pleased to report that my complaint against this publisher, which I filed with the Better Business Bureau, has been resolved. I am quits with them ,an they have paid me. What I've gone through is quite messy, but I hope that by coming out in to the open about it has provided some with food for thought.

This company has been reported to all the apropriate watchdog groups. I've been contacted by several authors who were in the process of doing business with this firm . I would not be surprised if they changed their minds and found new publishers. RSS feed will allow people around the country to know what I know. Perhaps, this dishonest publisher will claim fewer victims.


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