You’ve asked your publisher to edit and format your book correctly, and it hasn’t been done. You’ve asked for the rights to your book, and your publisher has either refused or told you you’d have to pay a fee to get them back. Now you’re just sick of the whole thing. You’ve paid these people a lot of money and you’ve gotten nothing in return but a lot of aggravation and ruined dreams. What can you do?
You can sue them. Unfortunately, even that may not get you very far.
Your first problem is going to be finding an attorney. Lawyers don’t come cheap, and it’s by no means assured that you will prevail. Some authors try to find an attorney to represent them on a contingency basis – that is, the lawyer gets paid only if the author wins. But Victoria Strauss with Writer Beware told me lawyers typically won’t agree to that unless there’s a big payout involved, which is unlikely in the case of a deadbeat publisher.
If you’re broke, you might find a lawyer who will agree to represent you for free. Writer Beware has some suggestions for finding a referral to a pro bono attorney. For example, many U.S. states have chapters of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and other countries have similar organizations. Alternatively, if you’re a member of a writers’ organization, check the list of membership benefits; sometimes, they include legal advice. (You may also find some help on Indies Unlimited’s legal resource page.)
One thing that talking to a lawyer can help with is pinpointing the grounds for your suit. Strauss told me, “I often hear from authors who want to sue their deadbeat publishers, but much of their dissatisfaction stems from either a lack of research ahead of time, or the author’s own unrealistic expectations. Many deadbeat publishers are deadbeat by design, and carefully craft their contracts and procedures to enable them to do nothing while appearing to promise much. You may be furious that your publisher’s promises of promotion amounted to a press release – but your contract will probably be worded to make that completely defensible on the publisher’s side.”
So maybe a class-action lawsuit would be the answer. After all, vanity publishers are big businesses with deep pockets, and authors are neither. With 180,000 authors signing up with Author Solutions alone over the past few years, you wouldn’t think it would be hard to find enough people to band together and make it work – especially now that it’s been confirmed that Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI for short) is handling assisted-publishing packages for Nook Press.
In fact, class-action suits have been filed against vanity publishers over the years with varying degrees of success. Vantage Press has been sued by authors left high and dry after it went out of business in 2012; in an earlier lawsuit, Vantage was ordered to pay 2,200 authors punitive damages totaling more than $3.5 million.
Similar suits against PublishAmerica became almost an annual occurrence before the company changed its name to America Star Books in January 2014. A class-action suit was dismissed in 2012; another was subsequently filed in 2013, and was also dismissed.
One of the law firms involved in the 2013 PublishAmerica suit is not giving up. Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart has also drawn a bead on ASI. This lawsuit, too, was filed in 2013, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and it’s still going on. Partner Oren Giskan told me his team filed a motion to certify the class last month. This comes after the judge hearing the matter dismissed Penguin Random House as a defendant on the grounds that the events alleged in the case occurred before Penguin purchased ASI.
Giskan said between 300 and 400 authors are currently part of the class, and his firm is still accepting requests from authors who want to be involved. If you’re interested, there’s a form to fill out here.
But these cases take years to wend their way through the courts. Gisken told me he expects it will be a couple of months before the judge rules on the class certification. Only after that does the case have a chance of going to trial.
I know how discouraging all this sounds. But just think: today, we don’t have to deal with these scammy publishers at all. Today, we can go indie.
Remember our Moldovan author? As the IU minions advised her on what to do, she said, “But why are you helping me? You don’t even know me!”
It’s because that’s what indies do.
So please share this info far and wide, okay? Too many of us have fallen prey to deadbeat publishers, and it needs to stop. Let’s all agree right now: Authors don’t let other authors get scammed.
And one last thing: please don’t forget to fill out our survey, if you haven’t already done it. Thank you!