Tonight I received an email from the sweetest woman. She had just signed with a local, “Christian-based” publishing company, and was so excited. I was excited for her until she shared that she would have to pay $4,000.00 to publish her book, and asked me what it cost to self-publish.
I’ve FB’d it, I’ve discussed it with my readers, I’ve bitched to my friends…even my mother. I’m still mad. So, what do I do when I’m mad? I blog.
If you’ve ever researched what to do after writing your first novel, you have seen the warnings. WRITER BEWARE <http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/> is a fantastic resource to keep you out of trouble. There are red flags, and there are blood red flags, but the one thing you NEVER DO is pay money to a publisher or an agent to publish your book.
I will sit up tall and pretend I was impervious to silly, obvious scams like this, but unfortunately I was not. Let me tell you a little story about how a noob author-turned #1 self-published author can get scammed:
I had just finished my first novel, PROVIDENCE. Just like everyone who has ever written a book, all of my friends and family told me it was great. It was going to be the next TWILIGHT. I was the next big thing in publishing, and not only did I believe them, at times I led the choir. I used Google and did the research. I followed agent blogs, perused Writer Beware, and chatted with other noob authors about how to get started. I learned what every one does in the beginning (or should), the most important, simple fact of the publishing industry: MONEY SHOULD ALWAYS FLOW TOWARD THE AUTHOR.
When I hit wall after wall, and the last batch of rejection letters from agents came in, I was discouraged to say the least. I made the mistake of telling friends and family that I had written a novel, and they all wanted to know when it would be published. I decided to post PROVIDENCE chapter by chapter on a web page so they could at least read it. That’s when an old high school classmate came across my story and told me about John* (yeah, I changed his name to protect his loathsome identity). She had worked with John before, and he was a veteran of the “publishing industry” (read: retired print shop owner). I was thrilled. She spoke with John, and asked him if he could help me get my book published. John told her that he could get my book on any shelf I wanted (I’m the #1 selling self-published author at this moment, and I can’t even do that) I was ecstatic! John agreed to meet with me and read my manuscript. I was beside myself with joy!
Then, it happened: John agreed to be my agent for $1500.00. That money would cover his expenses for traveling around to speak with publishing houses. He had his own helicopter, you see, and fuel was expensive.
The old warning immediately chimed in my head: DON’T PAY AGENTS. MONEY SHOULD ALWAYS FLOW TOWARD THE AUTHOR. NEVER USE YOUR OWN MONEY TO PUBLISH YOUR BOOK. I ignored it. I rationalized that John was not a New York agent, he was an Oklahoma agent, and we did things differently, here. Besides, paying for his expenses wasn’t unreasonable.
I would get calls from him once a week. He even called me in a hurry one evening (after I had called him six times because he was supposedly in Chicago speaking with a publisher), on his way to dinner with the publishing execs. He couldn’t really talk, but things were going great! (Nothing came out of that meeting, by the way.)
After a few months with no bites, John and I met with a local, brand new publisher that I had contacted. When we finished our meeting, John had dollar signs in his eyes. He had listened to this woman discuss royalties, and he was sure HE could publish my book. I wasn’t on board with this. Within two weeks, he had set up a bank account, and had spoken to a printer in Maryland. Maryland? Maryland. We would do it “ourselves” under his brand new publishing business! (I so wish I could out him, here, but I won’t.) He wanted to put his publishing logo on my book. I said no. He told me we would need $3,000.00 for print. I was a single mother, still in X-Ray school. I didn’t have that kind of money. He encouraged me to ask my friends and family. I explained to him that I had already asked my friends and family for the $1500.00 agent fee he required. Then, (and I honestly don’t even remember how this happened) I was in contact with a friend who also invests in various projects, and he enthusiastically said yes. He gave me the $3,000.00, and even put up $1,000.00 more for me to use for gas and such, to and from book signings, etc. John, of course, insisted he needed the entire $4,000.00, and if I needed an allotment, he would write me a check. He had put in his own $2,000.00, you see, for a deposit for the printer, so if he had put in his own money, I shouldn’t expect him to put in more. This sent up red flags all over the place. So, what did I do? I wrote him a check for the entire amount.
Long story short, when John said he would need the $2,000.00 he had put up for the printing deposit up front from my first book signing before I would get a dime, that was the final straw for me. He was really upset when I refused. I was broke, and needed at least some money to get to the next signing. I agreed to a 50/50 cut, but this wasn’t acceptable to John. He said he’d taken out his retirement, and if it wasn’t back in within a certain date, he would have to pay the penalty. This man, who owns his own helicopter, was upset about having to pay a $250.00 penalty?
I finally pulled my head out of my ass, and did some digging. I only knew the printer was in Maryland, so I Googled “Printers in Maryland” and called every single one. I found the one John had ordered through, and learned that he had never put in $2,000.00. After two extremely stressful weeks, and many tears, I decided to self-publish. I found my own printer in Kansas, had the books printed (thank you to my amazingly supportive and forgiving investor), and saved utter humiliation by having the planned book launch party on time. Two months later, JR Rain graciously explained to me that I was nuts if I didn’t put my book into eBook format and upload it to Amazon. The rest is history.
I would like to say, now having a legitimate agent, it makes me sick to think back of the times John said he was flying his helicopter to meetings with publishers. Rebecca lives in the UK and does all of her meetings via email and phone, and publishers have no problems with this. I was completely clueless, and he is a pathological liar that blatantly took advantage of a broke single mother, my friends, and my family. Bad combination. Shame on you, John. Karma will deal with you soon, I’m sure.
What is my point in telling you (in detail) what a daft imbecile I was? THAT IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE. Even if you’ve heard the warnings, and you have always considered yourself a street smart, skeptical human being. People can tell you all day long not to pay anyone money, but when you’re a desperate writer trying to catch your first break, you will ignore all the warning signs, hoping this one time is the exception.
IT’S NOT, and don’t think for one second these people don’t bank on your hope. Your naivety, you ignoring logic and common sense in order to believe the pipe dreams they’re selling you, is how they make their money. OF COURSE they’ll be sincere. Of course they’ll be innocent. Of course they’ll be passionate about your manuscript! They are that 18 year old boy trying to steal your virginity! They will tell you anything you want to hear!
The next thing I would like to say, and I’ll make it brief since this is possibly the longest blog I’ve ever written, is that it is absolutely appalling and despicable that the above company this woman signed with claims to be Christian-based, and they are ripping people off. Just because someone says they have been transformed by the blood of Jesus doesn’t mean they would think twice about using you and your talent to keep them in the lifestyle in which they’ve become accustomed.
Again, it does not cost a dime to self-publish. If you are a broke writer, buy a cheap stock photo for a cover and have your high school English teacher edit your book like I did. Learn how to format your novel to an eBook with the Smashwords.com manual. Do it yourself. It’s not fun, but it’s possible. Then, upload your book. You click a button. Not a cent comes out of your pocket. When you sell a copy, Amazon (or BN, or Smashwords, or whoever) gets 30%, and you get 70%. Paying a publisher $4,000.00 to produce your book, and then giving them 85% of your profits is crazy!
I am going to sound like a broken record, but I’m going to say it until it’s burned into your brain: If you are desperate to get your book out, desperately learn to format your novel into an eBook and upload your book. Stop helping people rob you. Listen to your gut, and learn from my mistake. NEVER PAY ANYONE to publish your book. Did you hear that? I don’t think you did. NEVER PAY ANYONE TO PUBLISH YOUR BOOK.
Say it with me: MONEY SHOULD ALWAYS FLOW TOWARD THE AUTHOR.
I love you guys. Give ‘em hell.