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. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

December 26, 2017

How Not To Promote a Writing Contest: The NY Literary Magazine

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Congratulations!
You have been nominated for the "Best Story Award".
That's the message some writers found in their inboxes on Christmas Day, from a publication called The NY Literary Magazine:


Could there be a better Christmas gift? Recognition by a "distinguished print and digital magazine"! The chance to "add to your bio and credentials that you are a Best Story Award 2017 Nominee"! An award recognized by the New York Times and Writer's Digest!

Well...not exactly.

Anyone who clicked the email link discovered that this isn't so much a nomination as a solicitation (for a monthly writing contest; winners get a "distinguished award seal"), and not so much an unexpected holiday gift as a rather deceptive buying opportunity (the entry fee is $19.95, discounted to $14.95 for, you know, Christmas). As for those impressive-seeming pull quotes,
In fact:
Just a teeny bit misleading, wouldn't you say?

Above, I say "some writers". It's actually "a crapload of writers". NYLM seems to have engaged in a truly massive spam campaign to promote this contest.
Absolute Write members got hit up, too.

So what is NYLM? Basically, an obscure literary magazine with a very high opinion of itself (check out how often it uses "distinguished" as a descriptor). It's the brainchild of Camille Kleinman, girl genius (just read her bio). It runs free contests and doesn't appear to charge reading fees for submissions--but it does have several money streams. There's the monthly Best Story Award that's the subject of this post. There are anthologies, which no doubt are heavily marketed to contributors. And there's an "Editorial Book Review Service For Authors", which sells for $99. (Supposedly conducted by "experienced, professional Editors", the reviews are touted for their brevity--just two or three sentences long. Authors may want to save their money--the NYLM reviews I was able to find online are not only generic, many of them sound suspiciously similar.)

NYLM has gotten wind of the not-exactly-enthusiastic response to its spam campaign. I got an email this morning from "Amanda" (no last name or title, but NYLM's masthead lists an Amanda Graham as Editor) lamenting "a torrent of angry, hateful messages which shocked us and which we feel are unjust". Because, you see, it was all a terrible mistake:
We outsourced our marketing to an Asian service to help us spread the word about our Best Story Award contest. That is why authors received the marketing email from nyliterarymag.org (which is not our main website) on Christmas night, and at such an unexpected time in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, it appears they chose the wrong terminology when inviting authors to our contest. We're very sorry that being told they were nominated for the Best Story Award offended, insulted, angered, or disappointed so many authors.

We have fired this agency and will monitor each marketing action any one of our team members does extremely closely from now on.
I'll leave it to you to judge how plausible this is.

Amanda also admitted something that I'm sure won't surprise anyone: the goal of the Best Story Award is "to finally become profitable and support our magazine." I'm not a fan of contests, even where they're reputable; but profitmaking contests are nearly always a waste of money. For why, and how to steer clear, see my 2015 post: Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize and Avoid Them.

UPDATE: Digging themselves deeper into an already pretty big hole, the folks at NY Literary Magazine are now attempting to excuse their blunder with a non-apology apology. Those shifty Asians are again invoked. Click the link below.
UPDATE 12/27/17: NY Literary Magazine has sent out another mass email, a cri de coeur of tragically injured innocence that again attempts to shift the blame (oh, those dastardly Asians), decries the evils of cyberbullying by mean folks like me, and proves once again that they just don't get it. They claim to be closing down for good. If you want to read the whole screed, here it is; if not, here's a taste.
We are completely devastated and shattered from the extent of hate mail, comments, messages, tweets, lies and false accusations that were posted online which have totally blackened our name and destroyed our magazine - all based on a single email with one wrongly-worded sentence.

It's shocking how many people have posted blatant lies which weren't based on any facts and how many more people have shared, retweeted, and quoted those lies without ever checking to see if it's true or at least visiting our website....

This has been a heartbreaking Christmas.

We hope those people who spread the lies and worked so hard to destroy honest people's lives are now satisfied.
We have closed our contest. Refunded everyone who entered.
There will be no more free-to-enter contests. No more free-to-read anthologies.
No more articles. No more anything.

We had the heartbreaking task of firing our team of loyal, hard-working employees. 10 people are now jobless after Christmas.
If there were 10 paid jobs at NYLM, I'll eat my hat.

As of this writing, NYLM's website is still online, but NYLM's founder, Camille Kleinman, has shuttered her website (it's "Under Maintenance") and removed all mention of NYLM from her LinkedIn profile.

December 14, 2017

Author-Agent Handshake Agreements: Should You Be Wary?


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've recently gotten a number of reports about a literary agent with a major agency who is offering representation with a "handshake" deal: representation based on a verbal commitment, rather than a binding author-agent agreement or contract.

There are a number of reasons why authors should be wary of such offers.

1. A handshake is not today's professional standard.

Decades ago, so-called handshake deals were common in the agenting business. You and your agent agreed that the agent would represent your work to publishers; once your work sold, the agent's right to receive commissions and to act on your behalf was formalized in the agency clause of your book contract. Before publisher consolidation created the mega-houses, before the digital revolution and the array of new rights and markets it has spawned, before authors' backlists became valuable, most authors, agents, and publishers deemed this to be enough.

But the present-day publishing landscape is far, far more diverse and complicated than it was then. There are more rights, more avenues to sell and re-sell them, and--at least potentially--much more money. In this increasingly complex environment, a simple, informal handshake and an agency clause are no longer regarded as sufficient. While there may still be some long-time agents who work on a handshake basis, author-agent contracts have become the professional norm.

2. A handshake doesn't protect you.

Oral contracts do carry weight--if they can be proven. For authors, though, the concern isn't so much proving the relationship exists as it is setting out the terms of it.

As noted above, publishing is far more complicated than it used to be. As a result, so is agenting. Myriad issues need to be addressed when agreeing to representation--from commissions and payments, to expense reimbursement, to termination provisions, to what happens after termination or if the agent goes out of business.

It is very much in your interest--and also in the agent's--to clearly and precisely lay all of this out at the outset of the relationship. Otherwise, you not only lack a clear understanding of what the agent can and will do for you, you have severely diminished recourse to demand accountability or to take action if the relationship goes bad.

3. A handshake may be a warning sign.

And not just of a lack of professional knowledge or practice. Putting it bluntly: a handshake deal makes it easier for an agent to get rid of you.

Maybe the agent doesn't want to bother with clients whose work doesn't sell in the first submission round. Maybe the agent isn't all that enthusiastic about you and is hedging their bets in case there are no offers (and if there are offers, is this really the agent you want representing you?). Maybe the agent has one publisher in mind and is up for a quickie sub but not a longer-term commitment. Maybe the agent only offers contracts after a manuscript finds a home, so they can disavow the authors they aren't able to sell and look like they're batting a thousand. (Be especially concerned if the agent works at an agency where contracts are the norm--as is the case with the agent I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.)

Over the years, I've gotten complaints from authors who've experienced all these things as part of a handshake deal. As these authors know, it's incredibly hard to walk away from an offer, even if the offer isn't a good one. But if the offer is a handshake deal, you just might want to make that very tough decision.

December 8, 2017

Alert: Blue Deco Publishing, Christian Faith Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

BLUE DECO PUBLISHING


Writer Beware has received multiple documented complaints from authors at Blue Deco Publishing.

Problems cited include late or missing royalties and royalty statements, broken marketing promises, and difficulty reaching or getting responses from the owner, Colleen Nye. To explain these issues, Ms. Nye has reportedly offered bizarre and elaborate personal excuses that authors tell me they believe are either made-up or exaggerated. (For an example of the kinds of complaints I've received, see here.)

Frustrated with the situation, a group of seven Blue Deco authors took the unusual step of creating an online petition to demand payment and reversion of their rights. (Given that Blue Deco only had 16 authors, including Ms. Nye herself, that's a big hit, over 40% of its list.)


I'm told that attorneys from the Authors Guild also contacted Ms. Nye. To her credit, she has been responsive. All the petitioning writers have received rights reversions, and all but two have been paid (both believe they have sales, but Ms. Nye says they don't; they've decided to chalk it up as a loss and move on).

To any regular readers of this blog, all of this will be very familiar. Blue Deco's shortfalls aren't unusual; in fact they're endemic to the small press world. Often the problems don't stem from dishonesty or malfeasance, but simply from the fact that the people in charge don't know how to run a business.

The Blue Deco story also illustrates why it can be risky to get involved with publishers that are primarily one- or two-person ventures. With the best will in the world, a single personal crisis or health problem can derail the entire company.

CHRISTIAN FAITH PUBLISHING


I get a lot of questions and complaints about a lot of different pay-to-play publishers and publishing services. But there are certain companies I hear about over and over--all of them savvy, well-packaged outfits that aggressively recruit authors with slick websites, print and digital advertising, and direct solicitation. One of these is Christian Faith Publishing.

As its name indicates, Christian Faith Publishing targets Christian writers: "to discover and market unknown Christian-based authors who aspire to craft the greatest spiritual impact imaginable via the written word." It describes itself as "a full-service book publisher"--a misleading claim because, in fact, authors must make "a minimal investment". How minimal? Well, that's not really explained.
While the investment required of our accepted authors to bring a book to the world-wide market varies based upon the intricacies of each book, all of our authors are fortunate enough to undertake the production, distribution and marketing of their book via a short-term, affordable monthly installment plan which is to be recovered by the author from book sale proceeds before we are entitled to any royalty compensation whatsoever!
Writers be warned: this kind of coyness on pricing nearly always indicates excessive fees. I've heard from authors who were asked for anywhere from $3,500-$5,000 up front; for $495 up front plus installments of $295 per month for 10 months; for $950 up front plus installments of $380 for 10 months. Marketing is an add-on: for instance, $3,400 for a package that includes a "High-Definition Video Trailer", a press release, and a page on CFP's website. (This is not marketing. It's junk. It's not worth one cent, let alone four figures.)

What do authors get for these enormous fees? Basically, an assisted self-publishing-style service that's little different from the packages offered by companies like Outskirts Press or the imprints in the Author Solutions family. Naive writers may not realize this, though, because CFP is careful not only to style itself a "publisher", but to promise that it is "very selective" and that authors will have "availability" in "retail...sales outlets". Its salespeople call themselves "Literary Agents." Its TV commercials and web ads never mention money. And though its website does disclose that authors must pay, this is buried in the FAQ section and thus easy to miss. Put these misleading elements together with the fact that Christian writers are more likely to trust a company that self-identifies as Christian, and you have a perfect honey trap.

Does this business model remind you of anything? Maybe a certain Oklahoma-based Christian vanity publisher that recently went bust amid thousands of complaints of non-payment and other malfeasance, and whose owners were subsequently charged with multiple felony counts, including embezzlement?

If so, it may not surprise you to learn that CFP's founder and President, Chris Rutherford, is a Tate Publishing alumnus. He has held various titles with the company, the most recent of which, per his LinkedIn profile, is Chief Business Development Officer (though note the strategic omission of Tate's name):


Rutherford seems to have left Tate in the fall of 2013--at which point there were plenty of complaints and indications of problems at the company, though nothing like what started coming out in 2016--and started CFP in 2014. CFP doesn't seem to have published anything until mid-2015; it put out just eight books that year, according to Amazon, but ramped up production in 2016, which is when I started getting questions about it.

Unlike Tate, CFP seems to deliver what its clients pay for. Authors searching for positive reviews will have no problem finding them: at the BBB, for instance, or the abundant testimonials on CFP's own website.

However, like all vanity publishers, CFP relies on misdirection and ignorance to recruit authors who may not realize they're not actually signing up with a "full-service book publisher", or that they could get what CFP offers elsewhere at a lower cost, or that, whatever else it may be, CFP's declared Christian mission is a form of advertising to which Christian authors are uniquely vulnerable.

Christian authors, take note: there are as many schemes, scams, and deceptive services in Christian publishing as there are in other markets. Just because an individual or company proclaims its faith doesn't mean it will treat you fairly or offer you a worthwhile service at a reasonable price. In fact, in terms of marketing and distribution, faith is beside the point. Companies like CFP offer only junk marketing, and use the exact same distribution channels as everyone else.
 
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