Bad Publishers: How Can I Protect Myself?

Predatory Publisher Month at Indies UnlimitedI’ve known for a while now that Indies Unlimited planned a month of posts regarding bad publishers. Some know my story, but not most. I’m under a “gag” order, you see. The specific words of my termination contract were:  “In addition, the author agrees not to discuss the Author’s Group or any information from that group, or discuss [redacted], nor speak as an agent or former agent of the publisher, either by verbal, written, or electronic communication with any persons, groups, or agents, either publicly or unsolicited, and [redacted] will adhere to the same standard. [Bolding mine.]

And I haven’t, not in nearly two years.

Of course, it also says: “The publisher will pay all royalties due the author or accruing through miscellaneous sales from said third-parties during regular royalty periods, through US Mail, should the amount be $25.00 or greater. [It was quite a substantial amount “greater,” and that even according to emails from the publisher.] Should the monies be less than $25.00, amount will accrue to the next period at which time a close out payment including said funds shall be paid during payout for that period.”

Well, THAT never happened. So while I assume many of the terms of our termination contract are null and void for many of the same reasons our previous contract was null and void (namely, they didn’t uphold their portion of the contract), I’m still cautious, even though “unsolicited” has often gone out the window and I’m peripherally aware that they seem to have breached the “will adhere to the same standard” clause.

So here we are. Now what? Well, I’m going to discuss ways for authors to protect themselves, hopefully before reaching the “termination agreement” stage.

Believe it or not, at the time I sent my previous publisher my request to terminate contracts, I didn’t know much of what had actually happened. I sent my termination letter because I suspected they wouldn’t be able to pay me in the future. This was based on emailed conversations I’d had with them over the nearly three years I was with them. I felt sorry for them and the obstacles they faced, but realized I needed to protect myself – and my books. So, I sent a termination letter that said basically that.

At that time, I didn’t realize the copyright for my books had never been filed, nor did I realize the paperback versions of my books were only on Amazon. At that time, CreateSpace charged a $25 fee for Expanded Distribution. If that fee wasn’t paid, the book was only available on Amazon. And that’s where mine were.

So for the newbies out there:

Did your contract state the copyright would be registered? Is it? Check here:   http://www.copyright.gov/records/

Did your contract state the book would be published and available in “all major stores?” Check here to see if it is: http://www.gettextbooks.com/ Make sure to check “new” copies, not “used,” because used will show up everywhere.

Is your publisher telling you your books aren’t selling? Try checking NovelRank.

But this comes with a major caveat. Novelrank doesn’t catch all sales. The more a book sells, the less accurate their algorithm is. For example, during a recent promotion for one of my books, Novelrank had the book at fewer than 50 sales with an asterisk that detailed sales may be significantly higher. They were, at over 200. Just keep that in mind.

I previously wrote a post on scammer warning signs, and our own Evil Mastermind wrote a detailed one on How to Spot a Scam. Those were to help authors refrain from signing in the first place. If you missed that and now find yourself wondering if you need to terminate, hopefully this post, and the others we’re running this month as part of our #PublishingFoul series, will help.

Author: Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton is the author of the Cedar Hollow series, as well as a self-publishing guide. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Lear more about Melinda at her Amazon author page

15 thoughts on “Bad Publishers: How Can I Protect Myself?”

  1. Each experience I read about seems worse than the one that came before. 🙁 I knew this stuff happened, but I had no idea it was so prevalent, or so awful. Thanks for sharing, Melinda, and thanks also for pointing us to some great tools.

  2. Melinda, thank you for taking the risk and going out on a limb for the rest of us. I assume that you have since copyrighted and re-published your books so they can be enjoyed everywhere. I know I have seen your titles but don’t know if they are the same books.

    1. Thanks, T.D. There’s so much more about my experience I’d love to share. Luckily, IU has a post or two coming up in the near future from someone who knows exactly what my experience was, because hers was the same – she was just smart enough not to sign a gag clause. 🙂

  3. I was just asked how long it takes for a copyright registration to show up in the U.S. Copyright Office (great question!). It can take several months. My quickest was right at 5 months. Slowest was around 9. So if you’ve only been with a publisher a couple of months and your registration isn’t showing up, that doesn’t necessarily mean it hasn’t been filed.

  4. One of the problems authors face here comes from the fact that the publishers know that their failure to pay authors everything due is going to be difficult to prove in court; further, even if it were easy to prove, most of us cannot afford attorneys to represent us or to travel to the states where the publishers are and represent ourselves.

    Publisher policies also get changed unilaterally. When CreateSpace began offering printed books that looked good, publishers found them cheaper than printers such as Lightning Source. This reduced the books’ exposure inasmuch as CreateSpace didn’t (and still doesn’t) have the reach of Baker & Taylor and, as Melinda noted, publishers cut costs by not paying for expanded distribution.

    While publishers may insert clauses in their contracts requiring authors to help with the promotion of the books, those same publishers don’t do everything they could, including issuing press releases for new books and sending review copies to outlets that won’t accept review copies directly from authors.

    Sorry you had to go through all this, Melinda, but your experience will probably help a lot of other authors from signing up with so many bad places.

    Malcolm

    1. Thanks, Malcolm. Money is a huge issue, I think, for authors getting stuck in these situations. While I don’t know exactly how much they owe me, I have an email stating it would be my “biggest payout ever.” Knowing what my biggest payout up to that point had been, I have a pretty good idea. But even though it would have certainly helped during that summer of furloughs and government shutdowns, it wasn’t enough to justify paying an attorney to try and get it. And as they say, you can’t get blood from a turnip.

      Good point, too, about publishers not sending out press releases, review copies, etc. I had thought mine would. There was information online indicating that they had in the past. But it wasn’t in my contract, and I didn’t even think to look until it was too late.

      Luckily, CreateSpace Expanded Distribution no longer has a fee and can get the book everywhere Lightning Source can, so there’s no longer any excuse for paperbacks to not be widely distributed.

  5. It is such a learning experience. So sorry you have had to deal with this. Being a published author should be a thrill not a kill joy. I appreciate you sharing your story as it will help others before they get scammed. Very nice post. Thank you Melinda.

  6. Concise, and has links for every question one could have. Thanks! There are also editing scams.

    I was once directed to an editing company and all they did was run the book through some cheap software. How do I know? It was a book of Aesop parodies. “The chapter ‘The Ant and the Grasshopper’ should have about 40 more pages” Yeah, since the fable itself is just two paragraphs! They refunded after a lot of threats.

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