Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news and commentary, and a focus on the weird and wacky things that happen at the fringes of the publishing world.

April 16, 2015

Warning: Raider Publishing International

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


In 2012, I posted a warning about Raider Publishing International. Founded by former (and disgruntled) PublishAmerica author Adam Salviani, and presenting itself as an independent publisher, Raider is basically a self-publishing service in the Author Solutions mold, with some added (and highly dubious) bells and whistles.

Raider began to become a problem in 2012, with mounting author complaints. Here's what I wrote at the time:
Over the past few months, I've begun receiving a steady trickle of complaints about Raider, where before I only received questions. I'm not the only one; as a result of the negative feedback he's gotten from Raider authors, Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine has revised his once-positive review of Raider to "not recommended." Other complaints can be found online--at Ripoff Report, for instance, and Scam Informer (I always take websites like this with a grain of salt, but in this case the complaints are quite consistent, and the problems reported reflect the reports I've been getting).

Author complaints received by Writer beware include publication delays of up to 18 months (according to Raider's FAQ, books are published six to eight months after contract signing, unless you pay for a fast-track option; several of the authors I've heard from are still waiting for publication and fear their money is lost); quality issues (poor editing, poor design, finished books full of errors); trouble getting royalty statements and/or payments; communications problems (being shuffled from email address to email address within the company, or not being able to get any response at all; several authors say that as soon as they sent in their fees, communication ceased); and broken promises (repeatedly missed publication dates, author copies never received, promised marketing services not provided, substantial delays despite payment of the fast-track fee).
Since then, negative information has continued to accumulate. If you take a look at the comments on my 2012 post, you'll see many examples, leading right up to this year; another 55 complaints appear at Scambook, and there are more at Absolute Write. There's a Facebook page devoted to warnings about Raider. Raider now has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. At least one petition has been filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. In 2014, the BBC Radio 4 program You & Yours did an expose of Salviani and Raider, featuring an interview with Salviani himself in which he denied the allegations of defrauded authors.

In 2014, Writer Beware added Raider and related operations to our Thumbs Down Publishers List.

In true deadbeat fashion, Salviani has made several attempts to escape his reputation, as well as to resolve his own financial issues. He established several new publishers with different names: Purehaven Press and Perimedes Publishing (both defunct), and purportedly UK-based Green Shore Publishing, about which I posted a warning last year. (GSP is still active, but as a result of an investigation by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority, Salviani was forced to remove numerous fake testimonials from its website.) In September 2014, Salviani declared personal bankruptcy.


He also put Raider on publishing hiatus toward the end of 2013. However, possibly as a result of resolving his bankruptcy case, he appears to be ramping it up again. Last December, Raider pumped out 12 titles in quick succession, and has published one title so far in 2015.

Given this renewed activity, it seems a good idea to post a second warning. Writers, beware of Raider Publishing International.

April 13, 2015

Amazon Takes On Fake Review Services

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The actual impact of four- and five-star reviews on Amazon and other retailers' websites is a matter of ongoing debate, but their perceived importance is not.

Which explains why, if those reviews aren't accumulating on their own, there's a quick fix--as long as you're willing to hold your nose and open your wallet. Throw a virtual rock these days, and you'll probably hit a service that, for as little as five dollars, will create a glowing review of your product and post it online--even if the reviewer has never used or even looked at your product.

Authors are as vulnerable to the lure of the quick publicity fix as anyone else (perhaps even more so, given the crowded book marketplace and the struggle for discoverability). One of the most infamous examples of book boosting by dubious means is self-publishing superstar John Locke, who, as one of his publicity strategies, bought hundreds of book reviews from a service called GettingBookReviews.com. And Locke wasn't the only one. According to the New York Times, GettingBookReviews sold over 4,500 reviews in its relatively short career.

For retailers, fake reviews are a nuisance, not just because they violate Terms of Use but because they degrade the value of real reviews. Partly as a result of fake review scandals, consumers are far less trustful of reviews than they were a few years ago (there's even a website called Fakespot that purports to analyze Amazon reviews for veracity). Amazon has periodically tightened its review guidelines and purged reviews its algorithms identify as fake--sometimes deleting real reviews in the process

Now Amazon is taking more direct action. Last week, it filed suit against three websites it accuses of selling fake reviews. According to The Seattle Times,
The suit, filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, accuses Jay Gentile of California and websites that operate as buyamazonreviews.com and buyazonreviews.com, among others, of trademark infringement, false advertising and violations of the Anticyber­squatting Consumer Protection Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
Additional websites named are bayreviews.net and buyreviewsnow.com. As of this writing, only buyamazonreviews.com and buyazonreviews.com are still online.

From the full complaint, which can be seen here:
A very small minority of sellers an d manufacturers attempts to gain unfair competitive advantages by creating false, misleading, and inauthentic customer reviews for their products on Amazon.com. While small in number, these reviews threaten to undermine the trust that customers, and the vast majority of sellers and manufacturers, place in Amazon, thereby tarnishing Amazon’s brand. Amazon strictly prohibits any attempt to manipulate customer reviews and actively polices its website to remove false, misleading, and inauthentic reviews. Despite substantial efforts to stamp out the practice, an unhealthy ecosystem is developing outside of Amazon to supply inauthentic reviews. Defendants’ businesses consist entirely of selling such reviews....

Defendants are misleading Amazon’s customers and tarnishing Amazon’s brand for their own profit and the profit of a handful of dishonest sellers and manufacturers. Amazon is bringing this action to protect its customers from this misconduct, by stopping Defendants and disrupting the marketplace in which they participate.
Amazon is asking that defendants be ordered to hand over their profits, pay damages and attorneys' fees, and cease using Amazon's trademarks and services. It's also asking that they be required to "Provide information sufficient to identify each Amazon review created in exchange for payment, and the accounts and persons who paid for and created such reviews." Not good news, if you ever used one of these services.

I'll be following this case as it unfolds. Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to see whether it has a chilling effect on the business of selling fake reviews.

(Of course, you don't have to pay someone else to create fake reviews for you. If you're enterprising, unscrupulous, and willing to invest a lot of time in self-aggrandizement, you can do it all on your own.)

April 9, 2015

The Strange and Twisted Tale of Peter Senese, Serial Con Man

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On March 31, 2014, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the New York field office of the FBI announced charges against Peter Thomas Senese, founder and director of the I CARE Foundation, which billed itself as a group combating the crime of parental child abduction. From the press release:

Since at least 2013, SENESE allegedly defrauded parents whose children were victims of international abduction by falsely representing that he, working with the worldwide resources of I CARE, could rescue their children and return to them to the United States in exchange for money for his purported rescue operation expenses.

Senese allegedly conned over $50,000 from one parent of a lost child, and is charged with one count of wire fraud (the criminal complaint can be seen here). He was arrested and arraigned March 31. He's currently free on bail.

Okay--but what, you may be wondering, is Peter Senese doing on Writer Beware? Well, before he started preying on desperate parents, he ran an elaborate literary scam.

I first heard of Senese in 2007, when I began to get questions about a project called Bookbeat--a supposedly  in-development TV show featuring books and authors. Despite a cheesy-looking website full of ungrammatical text, Bookbeat purported to be affiliated with major players in the entertainment industry. No staff were named on the website, but a fairly easy-to-trace trail led to Senese, who claimed to head the impressively-titled Orion Entertainment Group, and to have authored a bestselling blockbuster novel called Cloning Christ.

All of this, of course, was much less than it appeared. Orion Entertainment was not (as its plagiarized logo suggested) in any way connected with defunct production company Orion Pictures, but was Senese's own venture. The execrably-written Cloning Christ was also a self-venture, though the name Senese gave his publishing company--Orion Publishing & Media, so close to the name of the real, UK-based Orion Publishing--certainly seemed designed to suggest otherwise.

I blogged about Bookbeat...and immediately began hearing from people who'd had encounters with Senese. Individuals told me that they'd auditioned in 2005 and 2006 for Bookbeat jobs that never happened (names dropped included Laurence Fishburn, who supposedly would serve as host), were hired to provide services for Bookbeat (for instance, a line of sportswear with Bookbeat logos) and were never compensated, were promised Bookbeat prizes and publishing contracts that never materialized, and were paid for Bookbeat-related services with checks that bounced. Here's a typical story, one of the few that still remains online (Senese was skilled at getting negative info about himself removed from the Internet).

It was becoming clear to me that Senese was more than just the creator of a literary scam: he was a prolific and habitual con artist--and a pretty effective one, too, at least in the initial stages. Nearly everyone I communicated with told me how charismatic, warm, and convincing they found him at first. It was only after they'd been involved with him for a while that the illusion began to thin, eroded by those never-arriving payments and bounced checks, along with missed appointments, mysterious postponements, and claims that were just too grandiose to believe or not quite consistent enough to ring true. When things got hot, Senese would do a bunk. One of his often-used excuses was his son, Tyler, whom he claimed had been abducted by his ex-wife and taken overseas (in reality, Senese and his wife shared custody of Tyler, and though she did take him to New Zealand at one point, it was with court permission). Tyler would suddenly need rescue, or there would be new information, and Senese would have to rush off to deal with it.

As I've mentioned, Senese was good at getting negative information about himself redacted. He got wind of my post soon after I put it online, and went to court to obtain an order for its removal (a scan of the order can be seen here). The order was contingent on personal service, which he wasn't able to accomplish (he attempted service via my publisher, which sensibly refused to accept). Nevertheless, Blogger yanked the post without an attempt to investigate, and I wasn't able to get them to reinstate it. Luckily, I was able to preserve a copy of the post, along with the 96 comments it accumulated, many from Senese's victims (and some--anonymously--from Senese). You can see it here.

Though my post was gone, a call for contact I'd put out on a thread about Senese on the Done Deal Pro message boards remained. As a result, over the years that followed I received a steady trickle of contacts and questions from people who'd encountered Senese. Here's the gist of what I heard and learned:
  • In 1997 in Suffolk County, NY, Senese was sentenced to five years' probation on one count of felony grand larceny for posing as a health care venture capitalist. (I spoke with the arresting officer.)
  • In California in 1998, Senese was sentenced to 9 months in jail and 3 years' probation on one count of burglary with intent to commit grand larceny, for writing bad checks. (I've confirmed this via news articles like the one reproduced here.)
  • In 2003, following the release of Cloning Christ, Senese contacted Christian booksellers across the country to set up signings. He told the booksellers that his novel was about to be made into a major motion picture starring Viggo Mortensen and John Malkovich, and promised that the stars would attend the signings. Senese then failed to show up for the signings, leaving booksellers stuck with large quantities of unsalable, unreturnable books. This scheme was the focus of an article in a 2004 issue of Christian Retailing magazine; though I've been unable to obtain a copy, I've corresponded with one of the booksellers Senese conned.
  • Around 2008, I started hearing from people who'd met Senese in his guise as a child advocate, or through his I CARE Foundation (I CARE's website is gone, but here's a cached version) and had become suspicious enough to do a websearch on him. On the other hand, Senese was convincing enough to attract the support of reputable professionals, and in 2010 got legit public attention as a child advocate when he appeared as a witness in support of a Florida Senate bill to combat parental child abduction. That appearance also attracted some less welcome attention--namely, a long article in the Tampa Bay Times that detailed his checkered history. Like my blog post, the article gathered scores of comments, many from disillusioned parents.
  • I've also heard from: a national literacy organization to which Senese gave an elaborate presentation about Bookbeat; a woman to whom he offered a job on a project supposedly connected with the Vatican Archives; a producer he met at a party in LA and tried to involve in an unnamed film project; a writer whom he solicited to write a comedy script for him; a group of friends whom he wined and dined and then stuck with the $700 bill; a costume designer he solicited to work for his Orion Entertainment production company; an actress who contacted him as a result of a casting call, but got suspicious when she met him; an Italian production services company he was in talks to hire for a movie of Cloning Christ; an Italian filmmaker who was approached by a friend on Senese's behalf for the same (nonexistent) project; a man to whom Senese promised a production assistant position if the man would move to LA (names dropped included Johnny Depp); people from whom he solicited donations for a movie of another of his books, Chasing the Cyclone; staff at hotels where he claimed to be planning to conduct events, and more. All these individuals and organizations smelled a rat, went looking for information online, and found my call for contact.
It may seem amazing that Senese could get away with his shenanigans for so long. But those who prey on others' deepest vulnerabilities often go unmolested by the law for considerable periods of time, in part because their victims are so reluctant to speak out or to give up the last shred of hope. Also, a number of the people who contacted me seemed to be afraid of Senese. He did sue one parent who spoke out publicly about his doubts (the case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction).

The other thing that's fascinating about this case is that for Senese, it seems to have only partly been about the money. Yes, he's charged with obtaining funds under false pretenses. Yes, many of the people who contacted me spent serious cash on things like travel and materials as a result of Senese's enticements and promises.Yes, he bounced checks and failed to pay for services.

But only a handful of the dozens of individuals I spoke or corresponded with said that they were directly asked for money. What many of them remembered most was Senese's relish for the roles he chose--the big producer, the bestselling author, the hero child advocate--and the sincere conviction with which he played them. Did he actually believe in these identities, at least while he was inhabiting them? There's no way to know. But several of his victims told me they were certain some degree of mental illness was involved.

I've seen some strange things in my years with Writer Beware, but the spiraling tale of Peter Senese, serial con man, is definitely one of the strangest. I'm almost going to miss those every-now-and-then emails that bring me news of his latest bizarre doings.

Senese's content has started disappearing from the web, but you can still see cached versions of his several websites. His Amazon author page is still there, as is his Twitter feed, at least for now; you can sample his self-aggrandizing tweets, which he was making right up to the day of his arrest.

April 1, 2015

Naughty-No-No! E-reading App Keeps Young Minds Pristine

Posted by Michael Capobianco for Writer Beware

If you follow publishing news, you're probably aware of the recent controversy over Clean Reader, a reading app that scrubs ebooks clean of curse words and profanity.

Now, in a step toward the future of interactive digital media, bold start-up Inkadinkadu has partnered with a number of major ebook distributors to produce and distribute a new reading app, called Naughty-No-No!.

Starting where censorship app Clean Reader leaves off, Naughty-No-No! allows readers to make any ebook capable of being read and enjoyed by pre-schoolers down to the age of three. “If they can read, they can read with Naughty-No-No!,” said Inkadinkadu head honcho Jimmy Duranceville, “and, if they can’t read yet, the app will read the book to them in a voice modeled after the legendary stage and screen actress Shirley Temple Black during her famous child actor years."

Not only does it substitute baby-language for those words that parents have rightfully banned from their children’s vocabulary, Naughty-No-No! simulates the simplified grammar that young children use before they’ve fully developed their language skills. References to bodily parts and functions in the text are altered to those words that every child learns to say first, such as pee-pee, poo-poo, hoo-hoo, fooey, and the rest. Any of the other words that children shouldn’t see or hear are replaced with “no-no!” When heard in the precocious voice of Shirley Temple, these passages are simply irresistible to a child of any age. Religion-based curse words are transformed into the inoffensive gol-darnit, krikey, gosh, h-e-double-hockey-sticks, and crimeny.

Inkadinkadu anticipates that if their product can be distributed widely, an entire generation of young readers will grow up to be untainted by corruption. Internet and real-world versions of the app are in the works, so stay tuned.

The app will be available as soon as authors stop whining about having their precious writing ruined.

March 31, 2015

Bookbzz -- Buzzed Off?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, I started hearing from writers who'd entered a contest sponsored by an outfit called Bookbzz, which describes itself thus:
Bookbzz.com was designed as a simple but powerful book marketing engine to enable authors and publishers to better market their books.

By gathering together basic information and enabling social sharing we are able to provide authors with a free marketing suite, reviews and tell-a-friend engine to promote their books.
While listing a book is free, Bookbzz pushes its Premium Membership option, which costs $7.50 per month (for one book) and offers the "opportunity" for writers to pay much more for additional promotional services.

The contest, Prize Writer Competition 2015, solicited entries in ten categories (children's books, fantasy novels, etc.) and promised cash prizes to the top three finishers in each category, who were to be chosen by public vote. (Contest description and guidelines no longer seem to be present on the Bookbzz website, but you can still see happy posts from finalists.)

On March 5, Bookbzz announced the winners...and promptly vanished. Authors assumed it was a technical glitch. But as time went on and the website did not reappear, and emails and social media posts disappeared into the ether with no response from either Bookbzz owner Conrad Murray or his partner, Paige Doyle, writers got anxious--and then angry. Author Helen Hollick blogged about her experience:
The whole thing, the Bookbzz website, the offer to advertise books and running the competition it transpires, was very possibly all a scam. Or maybe the people running it, Conrad Murray and Paige Doyle didn’t make the money they had hoped for from eager punters and got fed up with it? Maybe the website is down because of computer problems – it’s possible, but many disgruntled authors who have been eagerly waiting to hear about our prize money since the beginning of March have not had emails responded to. No answers on Twitter or Facebook. No response from connections via Mr Murray’s other publishing ventures of Swan’s Nest Publishing Canada and Bookmarq. His contact e-mail on Linkedin bounces back as unknown.
Frustrated writers have begun filing Paypal disputes in order to get their entry fees back. Possibly in response to this, the Bookbzz website popped back into existence this week. But it (along with Bookbzz's social media) hasn't been updated since March 5...apart from this sad addition to Conrad Murray's prizewinners announcement:
A few of you will be aware that a long-time relationship with someone I have lived with for 27 years has come to an end and I am taking some time to adjust to an empty, silent house with no laughter. It may take me some time to get back to being fully functional.

For the last month Paige has had to cope with pretty much everything on his own which is difficult enough at the best of times, let alone when we are trying to wrap up a competition. We will be writing to all Prize Winners and placed books within 2-3 days and adding flashes to your book pages plus sending you your winners’ publicity pack and prizes.
Authors, who are shedding no tears, also aren't holding their breath.

Who is Conrad Murray? His social media profiles sound ever so impressive--though on a closer look they're kind of vague, and if you decide to dig into them, you'll have a hard time tracking down the companies where he says he's worked. There's also some confusing interpenetration: for instance, a book Murray claims to have been hired to market through his "marketing and production services" company, Bookmarq.net, actually appears to be a book he published through his publishing company, Swan's Nest Canada (which does not appear to have published anything else).

I wrote last year about Bookmarq.net's Finding a Publisher service, one of those worthless middleman services that--for a fee, of course--claims to market writers to literary agents. Other Bookmarq services are similarly dubious--a Rights Reversion Management scheme that offers no examples, editing and cover design services that provide no staff credentials. I can find no trace of any books ever published by Bookmarq (other than the one mentioned above), although it claims to provide self-publishing services. Bookmarq and Murray also ran afoul of the folks on Kboards when Murray (via his supposed partner Paige Doyle, whom many writers do not believe is a real person) tried to shill Bookmarq's services (for the short version, see David Gaughran's evisceration of Murray's claims). 

All of which makes the happenings at Bookbzz somewhat less surprising--though no less distressing.

Will Murray make good on his promise to contact prizewinners and release the prizes? No word as yet. Either way, I would love to hear from winners--either in the comments here or via email to Writer Beware.

I attempted to reach out to Conrad Murray for comment, via social media and the contact form on the Bookbzz website. As of this writing, I haven't received a response.

UPDATE, 4/4/15: Murray has posted a rambling statement on the Bookbzz site, claiming that he has "lost control of Bookbzz content", that "the business accounts were systematically emptied," and that "In the absence of any money from the bookbzz.com business accounts [prizes] will have to be paid from my own resources," a task he "hopes to have completed" by the end of April. A screenshot is below, in case the statement disappears.

Bookbzz winners, please keep me posted, whether you do--or do not--receive your prizes.

March 26, 2015

Second Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Author Solutions Inc.

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In April 2013, the law firm of Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart filed a class action lawsuit against Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI). The case survived various motions to dismiss, and this past February completed discovery and filed for class certification.

Now the same law firm has filed a second class action against ASI.

Dated March 23, 2015, the complaint was filed in District Court in the Southern District of Indiana (ASI's headquarters are in Bloomington, Indiana) on behalf of two new plaintiffs, Patricia Wheeler and Helen Heightsman Gordon. It alleges fraud, unjust enrichment, and violation of various statutes and consumer protection acts, including the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act and the Indiana Senior Consumer Sales Act (Wheeler is over 60 years of age).

ASI's parent company, Penguin Group (which was bounced from the first class action early on) is not named as a defendant.

The complaint, which can be seen in full here, focuses largely on ASI's sales tactics and marketing services.
5. In truth, Author Solutions operates more like a telemarketing company whose customer base is the Authors themselves. In other words, unlike a traditional publisher, Author Solutions makes money from its Authors, not for them. It does so by selling books back to its Authors, not to a general readership, and by selling its Authors expensive publishing, editing, and marketing services (“Services”) that are effectively worthless.

6. Author Solutions aggressively sells publishing and marketing services (“Services”) to its Authors through a large sales force of telemarketers, largely based in the Philippines, who introduce themselves as the Author’s personal "Publishing Consultant” or “Marketing Consultant.” This has the deceptive effect of leading Authors to believe that the “consultant” has a background in publishing or marketing and has the requisite skills to guide the Author through the publishing process. In fact, these “consultants” are simply commissioned sales people with aggressive quotas who are not required to have any publishing or marketing experience. Author Solutions never discloses this fact to Authors.

7. Similarly, the Company employs scores of “Book Consultants,” a sales team whose goal it is to sell hundreds of the Authors’ own books back to the Author. However, Author Solutions does not employ any sales force to sell an Author’s books to the general public - referred to as the retail channel – because, unlike with traditional publishers, an Author’s retail success is largely irrelevant to Author Solutions.
Both plaintiffs in this new lawsuit spent small fortunes with ASI: Ms Wheeler dropped nearly $25,000, and Ms. Gordon handed over more than $10,000. Details of their experiences are included in the complaint; even if, like me, you've seen a lot of ASI complaints, it makes for pretty awful reading.

If you've published with an ASI imprint and would like to share your experience, there's a form on Giskan Solotaroff's website where you can do so.

March 23, 2015

Rights Grab: Omni Reboot (Updated)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Do you remember Omni Magazine? Created in the 1970s by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, it published some of the most iconic names in science fiction, along with in-depth articles on science and the paranormal. It ceased publication in 1998.

In 2013, Omni's archives were purchased by Jeremy Frommer of media company Jerrick Ventures. In addition to putting all past issues of Omni online, Frommer resurrected Omni as an online-only publication called Omni Reboot.

Omni Reboot, which describes itself as "the intersection of science, technology, art, culture, design, and metaphysics," has published features and fiction, and is open for submissions. Its website offers no details about rights or payment. However, a writer who recently received a publication offer sent me a copy of the Jerrick Ventures contract (Jerrick Ventures owns several other webzines in addition to Omni Reboot)--and it includes a major rights grab.

Here's the relevant language (my bolding):
WHEREAS, by this Agreement, Author desires to assign to Company exclusive ownership of all the rights in the Approved Entries, including the copyright herein....

Section 3. Assignment. Author does hereby irrevocably assign to Company and its successors all right, title, and interest throughout the world, in and to the Approved Entries, including without limitation, any copyrights and other proprietary rights in and to the Approved Entries in any media now known or hereinafter developed, and in and to all income, royalties, damages, claims and payments now or hereafter due or payable with respect thereto, and in and to all causes of action, either in law or in equity for past, present, or future infringement of such rights.
The contract defines Approved Entries as entries chosen for publication. So if you publish with Omni Reboot (or other Jerrick Ventures webzines), you must surrender copyright--and this is not a temporary arrangement, as is sometimes the case with copyright transfers. The contract includes no provision for authors to request that their copyrights be returned.

What about money? Some writers might be willing to consider trading copyright ownership for a fat paycheck. The contract doesn't mention rates; all it says is:
Section 2. Payment. Company shall negotiate payment with author on a per assignment basis.
However, the acceptance email received by the writer who shared the contract with me did not mention money at all. Apparently, the writer was expected to sign the contract--thereby giving up copyright--without even knowing what Omni Reboot would pay.

Last December I wrote about The Toast, whose contract included a similar copyright grab. In response to the outpouring of criticism that resulted, The Toast agreed to change its contract to ask for First North American Rights only. Might Omni Reboot do the same--and perhaps, also, be more transparent about payment? Here's hoping.

UPDATE 3/23/15: Someone tweeted a link to this post to Omni Reboot. Here's its response:


Sean Sullivan, Omni Reboot's content manager also contacted me directly, with a similar statement.

However, the contract I saw did not read like a work-for-hire contract. The US Copyright Office  defines work-for-hire as "a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment" or "a work specially ordered or commissioned." The writer submitted through Omni's submission page--so the work was not commissioned--and the contract not only makes no mention of work-for-hire, it is very specific about designating the writer an independent contractor, rather than an employee:
Section 7. Relationship. Nothing contained in this Agreement shall be construed as creating a joint venture, partnership, agency, or employment relationship between Author and Company....Author shall at all times be an independent contractor (and not an employee or agent of the Company)
I've requested that Mr. Sullivan clarify if I'm misreading any of this, and also, if this was the wrong contract, that he share the correct one with me. I'll update this post when I hear back.

UPDATE 3/30/14: As of today, Sean Sullivan has not responded to my request, nor shared the "correct" contract. In the meantime, I've heard from another writer who was offered the "incorrect" contract--which shows, if nothing else, that this is not an isolated incident.

March 10, 2015

Manuscript Pitch Websites: Do Literary Agents Use Them?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, a writer contacted me to ask about WriterPitch.com,"a website that blends the worlds of literary agents and writers under one roof."

How?
For Writers:
You’ll have the ability to have your pitch/pitches read by hundreds of literary agents. With the click of a button an agent can request your manuscript and instantly an email will be sent to you as well as a notice to your homepage....

For Agents:

As an agent you’ll have the ability to search through pitches by specific genres. With the click of a button a request of materials will be sent to any pitch you like, this request letter will be completely customized by you as a field in your personal profile.
The question the writer wanted to ask me was whether WriterPitch's Terms and Conditions posed a problem, specifically the User Content clause:
You grant to WriterPitch.com a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, adapt, publish, translate and distribute your user content in any existing or future media. You also grant to WriterPitch.com the right to sub-license these rights, and the right to bring an action for infringement of these rights.
I told her that this language was not ideal--it'd be preferable if the license were limited to operation of the service--but that it's also very common. You'll find similar language on just about any website that accepts user content. It's not intended to enable the site to rip off users' intellectual property, but to allow the site to operate online.

Such language is a concern, and if you're going to participate in a website whose Terms include it, you need to understand it and its implications. With WriterPitch, however, there's a much more pressing question.

Will agents use it?

Manuscript pitch websites, a.k.a. manuscript display sites or electronic slushpiles, often present themselves as new! Revolutionary! Disruptive! Truth is, they've been around for as long as I've been doing Writer Beware (more than 15 years now--gulp).

First appearing in the late 1990s, they were billed as writers' Great New Hope for getting around the antiquated system of gatekeepers. Problem was, agents didn't take to them. By the turn of the century, most were defunct. The earliest and biggest, Authorlink, survives only as a publishing service.

Over the years, many iterations of the same idea have surfaced. I've written about some of them here (Agent Inbox, AuthorForSale, Publishers Desk, Agent Artery). Other examples (and looking through my list, I had trouble finding ones that were still alive): The Author Hub, First 3 Chapters, TV Writers Vault, Inkubate.

All these sites are selling a dream: of access, of a shortcut, of a magic ticket that will somehow transform the world of publishing from a buyer's market, where agents pick and choose, into a sellers' market, where agents come to you.

But this was a fantasy in 1998, and it's a fantasy now. I have never seen a pitch site that is able to show evidence that reputable agents regularly use it. Agent Inbox, for instance, which boasts a large roster of agents and has been around since 2009, cites just one success story. Others cite none at all.

Unconvinced? I reached out on Twitter to ask agents whether they would use a website like WriterPitch.


The response was unanimous: No. (Scroll down to the bottom of this post for screenshots of agents' tweets). Some feel it's extra work they don't have time for--they're already awash in queries, why go looking for more? Others have no interest in a website full of pitches unvetted for quality. Still others point out that just as writers are looking for agents who get them, agents are looking for writers who want them. They prefer writers who target them specifically, rather than tossing a pitch out into the world for anyone passing by.

Another concern: even if pitch websites (or pitch events--#pitmad or #tenqueries, for instance) draw reputable agents, they may also draw inexperienced or questionable ones. There are some excellent names on WriterPitch's tiny list of member agents, but there are also some with iffy track records, or from fledgeling agencies that haven't yet made any sales. An agent contact you receive as a result of a pitch site listing may not be the kind of contact you're really looking for.

WriterPitch founder Samatha Fountaina says that WriterPitch aims to become more than just an author-agent matching service. "It's all about helping each other," she told me in email, "and giving writers a place to concentrate their web presence with a personal writers profile, their pitches, and blog posts about writing. Writers can even see how many page views their blog posts or pitches have received. This site is brand new and is evolving and that's in part because of the amazing writers that are part of WriterPitch. We hope to grow into something that writers look to."

Time will tell. In the meantime, unlike some other pitch sites, WriterPitch appears to be free. So there's probably no harm in using it. But if you do, don't pin all your hopes of finding an agent on it--and definitely don't stop querying the old-fashioned way.

EDITED 3/12/15 TO ADD: Writers take note: WriterPitch's Terms currently don't include any provisions for terminating your account and removing your material. Samantha has informed me that these will be added soon.















March 6, 2015

Update: Lawsuit Against Author Solutions Inc.

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Reported in Publishers Lunch last week (but apparently nowhere else): the lawsuit against Author Solutions launched in 2013 has completed the discovery stage, and has filed for class certification. 
A February 26 filing in New York's Southern District Court by Kelvin James, Jodi Foster, and Mary Simmons (added to the suit after Terry Hardy dropped out in the fall of 2013) asks Judge Denise Cote for certification of the class, covering 170,000 or more authors "who, during the period 2007 through the present, purchased a publishing package or service from Author Solutions."

The plaintiffs say their lawsuit is "a case about a publishing company that makes money from authors, not for them." They allege again that ASI "operates more like a telemarketing company, not a publisher, that employs a large, commissioned sales force to sell books and services to its target audience: the Authors themselves, not the general public." The filing quotes an Author Solutions executive saying in a deposition that the company "has no idea whether the services help authors sell books," which the plaintiffs call "struthious" and a pretense.

The plaintiffs believe the "evidence common to all class members will prove that Author Solutions deceptively sold Publishing Packages and other Services by making false, untrue, or misleading statements, and by concealing critical information from the Plaintiffs and Class" -- namely that its "consultants" are in fact telemarketers who do not need to have experience in publishing matters; that it lies about being "invested in Authors' success"; that its "Rising Star" program with Barnes & Noble is a fiction; that the company "does not know whether Authors succeed in the retail channel and makes no effort to find out"; and that services "are not reasonably designed to help Authors sell books or to accomplish their stated goal and are effectively worthless."
Memorandum of Law in support of plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

Excerpts from the depositions of plaintiffs and Author Solutions staff. A lengthy document that unpacks a lot of information about ASI's business model and internal operations, and makes for fascinating reading. For instance, if you wondered what the appeal of an ASI-run self-publishing division was for a traditional publishing house, here's how it worked for Thomas Nelson's WestBow Press (from the deposition of Don Seitz):


So the "partner" publisher earns a "royalty", a.k.a. a percentage of the fees authors pay (and ASI's salespeople earn a commission on sales, so they're highly motivated to sell as many services as possible). It would also appear that services like marketing are priced higher for partner publishers, to account for the "cost differential" of the royalty:


Author and ASI critic David Gaughran also offers some analysis, in his recent blog post about Barnes & Noble's partnership with ASI.

Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart, the firm that's conducting the lawsuit, has an update on the case on its website with a form that ASI authors can fill out.

March 2, 2015

Author Solutions Inc. Losing Market Share As Production Numbers Fall

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On February 9, while doing research on something else, I noticed that Harlequin's Author Solutions, Inc.-run self-publishing imprint, Dellarte Press, had closed its doors. Dellarte's website is now a placeholder, with a "we're sorry" message.

Some of you may remember the outcry that greeted Dellarte (originally named Harlequin Horizons) when ASI and Harlequin rolled it out in November 2009. (By contrast, the earlier launch of WestBow Press for Thomas Nelson caused barely a ripple). Writers flipped out. A slew of pro writers' groups either issued statements condemning the move or de-listing Harlequin. Ultimately, the bad press forced Harlequin to change the service's name and also to distance itself from Dellarte. Of the several self-pub divisions run by ASI for traditional publishers, Dellarte was the only one that didn't prominently tout the connection with its parent publisher.

Why such an abrupt, unannounced closure for Dellarte? Harlequin hasn't talked, and neither has ASI. But maybe it was because Dellarte did almost no business.

Mick Rooney, writing about the closure in The Independent Publishing Magazine, discovered that over the past 5 years, Dellarte published just 16 titles. This is a shockingly small number, and understandably, some people were skeptical, including Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader*. However, it's been confirmed for me by an independent source (and also by the report I discuss below).

The question that immediately occurred to me: is Dellarte an exception? Or are other ASI imprints also doing tiny business?

The answer is "not really." A report by Bowker, Self-Publishing in the United States, 2008-2013, includes a special section on total print and ebook ISBN output at ASI**, which indicates that production at most ASI imprints is in the four-figure range. However, only Xlibris and AuthorHouse crack five figures. And the statistics show something even more interesting: production at ASI is in decline.


There's an up-and-down pattern for individual imprints, but overall, ASI production increased steadily between 2008 and 2011, when output hit a high of 52,648. (Though compare that to CreateSpace's 2011 ISBN output of 58,862.)

In 2012, things started to slip. Numbers rose at Trafford, WestBow, and Palibrio, but fell at other imprints (Xlibris and AuthorHouse by around 3,000 ISBNs each); as a result, overall output declined to 49,885. (For the same period, CreateSpace output more than doubled, to 131,460.)

The slide accelerated in 2013. With the exception of Balboa Press and Partridge India (which Bowker only started tracking that year), every single ASI imprint lost ground. Total output fell to 44,574, a decrease of 5,311. Meanwhile, CreateSpace continued its meteoric rise, leaping to 186,926.

We'll have to wait for 2014 stats to know whether this trend will continue, but my guess is that it will. In part, ASI is reaping the fruits of its poor reputation and the large amount of negative publicity and commentary it has received in the past few years (see, for instance, David Gaughran's The Case Against Author Solutions). Beyond that, though, I think that its business model--print-centric, high-priced, with outsourced operations (much of ASI is based in the Philippines) and an extreme emphasis on upselling--is simply becoming less and less relevant in this age of free-to-cheap digital self-publishing solutions.***

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* Nate suggested that the number was so small because Dellarte titles have been folded in among other ASI imprints. But ASI has always been very careful to preserve the division between its own operations and the imprints it runs for others, and does everything possible to distance itself (for some of the imprints, you have to look at the Privacy Policy to know that ASI is involved). It has also kept Abbot Press running and separate, even after Writer's Digest bowed out. So I think it's unlikely that it made Dellarte titles disappear.

** Archway Press is not included because Bowker did not start tracking it until 2014. Many thanks to David Gaughran for sharing this report with me.

*** Other companies featured on this blog that lost ground in 2013: PublishAmerica, Dorrance, and, surprisingly, Smashwords (though overall, Smashwords' output is second only to CreateSpace's; the decline could also reflect fewer authors choosing to use ISBNs).

February 27, 2015

Crescent Moon Press, Musa Publishing Close Their Doors


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware 
 



Crescent Moon Press has announced that it is closing. From a mass email sent out to authors late last month:

On March 31st  at 11:59 pm, Crescent Moon Press will release all author [sic] from contracts.  All rights will revert back to authors for their manuscripts. If your contract expires prior to March 31st, it will not be renewed. Final royalty payments will be issued as well as any necessary documents as soon as they become available. Please be patient as we work to close out our business affairs.

Artwork will remain property of the company. If you would like to purchase the rights to your artwork, please let us know.

This is not done lightly, nor is it done with a heavy heart. We have enjoyed our experience as publishers immensely, but the time has come to move on with alternate endeavors.
While I don't imagine that Crescent Moon authors will much appreciate the "have a nice life" tone of the last paragraph, many of them will probably not be surprised. Though the letter makes no mention of financial or other problems, reports by authors who've contacted me over the past year suggest that Crescent Moon has been troubled for some time.

The litany of complaints is familiar: poor communication, missing or non-timely payments, poor editing, finished books with lots of typographical errors. The publisher's response (made to me in email) is also familiar: The authors complaining were on a "witch hunt" because they couldn't deal with their poor sales.

Some authors have expressed concern about whether the general release in the mass email is sufficient to return their rights. In my (non-legal) opinion, it probably is--but it would be much better if authors received individual reversion letters, and if I were a Crescent Moon author, I would definitely request one. Final royalty payments (and statements) are still an open question.

Crescent Moon's website doesn't say anything about the closure; in fact, as of this writing, it is still "open to general submissions."

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Musa Publishing is also going out of business. From the email received by authors last week:

On January 21, we held a quarterly budget and planning meeting to address some of the many challenges 2015 will present. We came away with some proposals and tasks which we hoped would resolve some critical budget and staffing concerns. Since February 6, we have been in daily discussions as a team. We met again on Friday February 13 to formally agree on a plan going forward for Musa Publishing.

As you all know, the publishing market changes rapidly. Most markets have suffered and eBook publishers are no exception. The rising costs of doing business and reduced sales have hit us extremely hard in spite of fantastic books and enthusiastic efforts of staff and authors alike....

Because we are absolutely determined to pay our authors and staff; to remain debt-free and empowered to live out our founding values, this week Celina, Kelly, Kerry, Jeanne, and Dominique together made the painful decision that Musa can no longer remain open.
Musa authors may be experiencing whiplash from the abruptness of the closure: as of February 28, Musa will cease to exist. (Though in retrospect, the November closing of Musa's ezine, Penumbra, seems like a warning sign.)

Musa claims in the letter that "we are not in financial trouble." However, authors have been reporting issues with Musa for a long time (see the long, long, long discussion thread at Absolute Write). Complaints include rapid editor changeover, a lack of marketing support, brusque responses to author concerns, and overextended staff. (It should be noted that, although many authors have expressed disappointment with sales, Musa does not seem to have had a problem with missed or late payments). Some authors felt that Musa, which expanded very rapidly after its September 2011 opening and quickly built up a huge catalog, ultimately became little more than an author mill.

Apart from the abrupt notice, Musa does seem to be going about the closure responsibly. It has pledged to provide individual reversion letters and to send royalty payments and statements due, and has announced the closure on its website.

This is a very sad situation. Musa arose in the wake of a small press horror story (Aspen Mountain Press, where some of its founders worked), and began with the best of intentions. In the end, I think it simply tried to do too much too fast, and stretched itself too thin to survive.

February 24, 2015

New Life For Old Books (Mine!)

Posted by Victoria Strauss

One of the greatest things about the digital revolution is the opportunities it has created to give new life to old books. Years ago, books rarely came back into circulation once they were taken off the market--but the proliferation of digital self-publishing options, as well as the rise of digital publishers specializing in reprints, has changed all that.

I've written nine novels, but until recently, only four were "in print" and available. Today, I'm thrilled to announce that four of my backlist books are being re-released as ebooks by Open Road Media. This brings all but one of my novels back into circulation (that one, Worldstone, was badly in need of updating; I'm planning on revising and self-publishing it later this year).

The Way of Arata Duology

http://www.victoriastrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/The-Awakened-City-Reissue-194x300.jpghttp://www.victoriastrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/The-Burning-Land-Reissue-194x300.jpgThe Way of Arata duology (The Burning Land and The Awakened City) was originally published in 2004 and 2006 by HarperCollins Eos (now Harper Voyager). It's epic fantasy for adults, featuring diverse characters in an exotic non-Western setting.

Of all my novels, these are the ones of which I'm most proud, and that I feel best represent me as a writer.

From Open Road: A magnificent tale of intolerance, magic, and holy war, the duology explores deep questions of faith and humanity as it transports readers to the kingdom of Arsace, a troubled realm where the newly reborn Brethren cruelly enforce the strict dictates of their once-outlawed deity, Ârata.

The saga chronicles the Brethren’s unrelenting persecution and attempted destruction of the mystical Shapers, powerful renegade mages who escaped into the sacred Burning Land years before, when the Brethren themselves were the victims of a tyrannical atheistic government. It is the story of a traveler in both worlds, a devout Âratist priest and Shaper named Gyalo Amdo Samchen, and the remarkable journey he makes from disciple to doubter to lover of the mysterious Dreamer Axane, and ultimately, to man of peace.

"An involving novel that shines with intelligence…Combined with a solid plot and Strauss’ crisp, clean and literate prose, this is one of those novels that envelops readers, the kind of book that makes it a pleasure to linger in its imagined world." --Science Fiction Weekly on The Burning Land

" Like A Canticle for Leibowitz, Strauss’s The Awakened City explores deeply reflective themes like the true meaning of faith, the pitfalls of zealotry, and the very dangerous non-spiritual influences of organized religion…[A] highly intelligent, profoundly thought-provoking work." --Barnes & Noble Explorations on The Awakened City

For more reviews, excerpts, the original (gorgeous) covers, and a large amount of bonus material (including maps), visit The Burning Land and The Awakened City on my website.

Giveaways!!

If you buy The Burning Land, Open Road wants to give you a free ebook of The Awakened City! Just tweet with the hashtag #BoughtBurningLand by March 1(and be sure to follow @OpenRoadMedia so they can notify you if you win). Official rules are here.

To celebrate the re-release, I'm running a Goodreads giveaway! Enter by March 1 to win one of five signed copies of the beautiful original hardcover edition of The Burning Land.

Guardian of the Hills

http://www.victoriastrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Guardian-of-the-Hills-194x300.jpg
A historical fantasy for teens, Guardian of the Hills was my third novel, published by Morrow Junior Books in 1995. I had a lot of fun with the research, which included a visit to the fascinating Moundville historical site in Alabama.

Open Road keeps its covers simple, but the new cover is a vast improvement on the original, which I absolutely loathed (even though it was done by a pretty well-known cover artist). Take a look and see what you think

From Open Road: A young girl in Depression-era Arkansas discovers her Native American heritage when a series of strange and troubling spiritual events plague an archaeological excavation on sacred lands...An ingenious blend of historical fiction and dark fantasy, this is a page-turning tale that thrills and chills in equal measure.

"Mysterious dreams, suspense-filled legends, the terror that unfolds as the dig ensues, and the fine characterizations weave together beautifully to make this adventure fantasy a winner." --Booklist (starred review)

Guardian of the Hills was chosen as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.

For more reviews and an excerpt, click here.

The Lady of Rhuddesmere

 http://www.victoriastrauss.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/The-Lady-of-Rhuddesmere-194x300.jpg
Published by Frederick Warne in 1982, The Lady of Rhuddesmere is a historical novel for teens.

Lady was my debut novel. I wrote it when I was 17; it got me an agent who found me a publisher (a journey of nearly 10 years), where a wonderful editor helped me re-write it from beginning to end, and in the process taught me more about writing than I've learned before or since.

From Open Road: In this powerful young adult historical fiction classic, a young man serving a sad and secretive lady in an isolated English manor makes a shocking discovery that could destroy those he loves....Nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, Victoria Strauss’s acclaimed debut novel bridges the gap between historical fiction for youth and adults with a chillingly provocative Gothic tale that sheds a stark, revealing light on human cruelty, ignorance, and intolerance.

“Riveting historical fiction . . . A compelling, suspenseful read, with fine accuracy and integration of historical detail.” --School Library Journal

For more reviews, an excerpt, and the (very dramatic) original cover, click here.

February 12, 2015

Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts: How to Protect Yourself

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Editing clauses are one of those publishing contract areas where there should be a balance between the publisher's interests and the writer's.

Publishers need a certain amount of latitude to edit a manuscript to prepare it for publication. They also need to have the right of final approval--they don't want to be forced to publish a manuscript that the author can't or won't revise to their satisfaction.

Writers, on the other hand, need 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 or magazine, 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 alterations other than copy editing can't be made without your consent. If the publisher isn't happy with your revisions, or you don't want to implement the publisher's suggestions, the publisher's remedy should be to refuse to publish--not to unilaterally impose changes.

For copy editing, by contrast, the publisher usually has discretion. But you should have the opportunity to see and approve the copy edited manuscript before it goes to press.

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Red Flag Editing Clauses

Here's an example of an editing clause that should be a dealbreaker (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 or even informing you. If you sign a contract with this kind of language, you are at the mercy of the publisher and its editors (and if it's a small press, those editors may not be very qualified). You shouldn't be surprised if the publisher takes advantage of it.

This clause is more elaborate, but has the same effect (this language is fairly common, by the way; I've seen it in many 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, grammar and 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--and if you don't like the changes, you may not be able to persuade the publisher to undo them.

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 may prevent you from being blindsided by enormous changes in your finished book or story (or not--the publisher's definition of "substantial" may not be the same as yours), you have no power to dispute or refuse those changes.

Alternatively, the publisher may be willing to give you input into the editing process, but reserves the right to ignore your suggestions:
Publisher shall have the right to edit and revise the Work for any and all uses contemplated under this agreement. Author shall be consulted if substantial changes are made, provided that in any dispute over such changes, Publisher's decision shall prevail.
A related issue is a clause like this one, which may appear in addition to the editing language:
If the Publisher considers it necessary and in the best interests of the Work, the Author agrees to revise the Work on request of the Publisher. The provisions of this agreement shall apply to each revision of the Work by the Author as though that revision were the work being published for the first time under this agreement, except that the manuscript of the revised work shall be delivered in final form by the Author to the Publisher within a reasonable time after request for revision...Should the Author not provide a revision acceptable to the Publisher within a reasonable time, or should the Author be deceased, the Publisher may have the revision done and charge the cost of such revision against royalties due, or that may become due, the Author, and may display in the revised work, and in advertising, the name of the person, or persons, who revised the work.
This is a Revision clause. While it's appropriate for a work of nonfiction, which may need to be revised from time to time to keep it up to date, it does not belong in a fiction contract: novels, once published, are not typically revised. If you see a revision clause in your contract, negotiate with the publisher to remove or strike it. I've heard of at least one publisher that used a revision clause to unilaterally enforce unwanted edits--at the author's expense.

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What To Look For

Are clauses like the ones above a guarantee of malfeasance? Not necessarily. It's entirely possible that the publisher will be conscientious and ethical, that you will be a full partner in the editing process, and everyone will wind up happy.

Problem is, you have no contractual assurance of this. These clauses give all the power to the publisher--and in publishing, the letter of the contract is the bottom line. You should never assume that what the contract says could happen, won't happen. If the publisher has a dictatorial attitude, or employs not-very-competent editors, or is just a deadbeat--all of which, unfortunately, are pretty common in the small press world--you could find yourself with a badly-edited manuscript and no way to protest it or fix it. 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 clauses, 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.
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.
And from a magazine contract:
The Publisher will make no alterations to the Work’s text or title without the Author’s written approval in e-mail or hardcopy. The Publisher reserves the right to make minor copyediting changes to conform the style of the text to its customary form and usage.
What's common in all these clauses: the author's consent is required before serious changes are made.

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In Closing

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 language ensuring that your consent is required for changes other than copy editing--a la the clauses directly above. Many publishers will be willing to be flexible. If they aren't, as hard as it seems, you may want to seriously consider moving on.

Don't be swayed if the publisher assures you that in practice, you will always be consulted, or says something like "That's just in there for the lawyers; we won't do anything without your consent." This may be true at that particular moment--but you have no guarantee that it will still be true at some future point. Again, never assume that what the contract says could happen, won't happen.

Obviously, with even the best contract language, things can go wrong. But if you sign a contract that doesn't protect your rights in the editing process, you are really making yourself vulnerable. Just another reason to be smart and careful out there.

For some tips on cultivating the right mindset when evaluating a publishing contract, see my recent blog post: Evaluating Publishing Contracts: Six Ways You May Be Sabotaging Yourself.
 
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