Bill Cosby – The Dentist
I’d Rather Have a Root Canal Than a Vanity Publisher
Just when we thought that about every scam and crime had been committed against authors, a new and incredibly slick caper is being pulled off, not by the crook with a 10 x 10 office and an internet site, but rather by Corporate America, the publishing and book industry itself.

It has many aliases, fancy names and promising images. One of the terms used is “on-demand printing and distribution.” Here is one of the many ways it works, and it is very convincing; but it is a slick rip-off, and hard for the uninformed to uncover.

The author writes his book. He tries to find a major literary agent, with no luck. He sends dozens of costly manuscripts to big publishing houses, with no response. After months, he becomes discouraged and desperate. He believes that the only way to get his book published is to market it himself. He prints copies with no guidance from professionals. He has no one to call on who does not have a conflict of interest. Everyone wants more money. The author is stuck having to deal with printing books, manufacturing, designing, editing, plus trying to figure out what sells, what doesn’t, marketing, public relations, and so much more. Now, with a few copies in hand, he hits the streets, trying to peddle his own unprofessionally produced book.

Many of the authors who have become clients of the Author’s Workshop had taken their book to one of the big bookstore chains before becoming our client. The author is directed to some employee in the store. The employee states with great excitement that the author’s book will be a big seller, and maybe even listed on the New York Times Bestseller List. This employee is a corporate underling with a fancy title like Community Public Relations Manager. Most likely, she is a minimum-wage employee trained to make the author feel good. Why? Because the big chain stores know that if a local author goes into his hometown bookstore and the store does not put his book on the shelf, the author will raise a ruckus in that community. This would of course be bad for public relations and for local sales. Therefore, the story is always the same. “We love your book. We feel it will be a big seller. We’d love to have it in our store.” Well, with thousands of other books on the shelves, placed by professional publishers’ national sales teams, a few local books written by local authors cannot hurt the store. Therefore, the author is now pumped up and excited about how this big chain is going to push his book. He tells all his friends and family, but the book is never marketed. It just sits on a shelf. The very best the author can do is tell a friend that she can buy the book at that store, for only the author will be drumming up sales.

The unsuspecting author does not realize that in order to get into all the other thousands of stores owned by that chain, the author needs a major publisher and a major distributor. Big publishers have thousands of sales people selling tens to hundreds of books to each store. However, ten to a hundred books sold to one thousand stores add up to ten thousand to one hundred thousand per repeat order.

Therefore, that was the shell game up until recently. Now, there is a new, very cunning fraud that sounds too good to be true, because it is.

Here is how the new scheme works. The author goes into the chain store. The public relations person gives her the same line about how great her book is. Except now there is a new twist. In order for books to be sold, there must be a distribution network, and that network is owned by the bookstore. In essence, the bookstore is directing you to their own publishing arm without you knowing it, and they are collecting money from you without delivering any product. In addition, to add insult to injury, the unknowing author feels like she has been accepted into the world of publishing. It takes months before she realizes the truth.

The PR person now says something like, “We would be happy to sell your books at all of our stores. However, here is what you need to do. You need to contact our favorite distribution company and sign up with them, so they have your book in their hands, ready to be shipped to thousands of our stores.”

Guess who owns the distribution company? That’s right, the bookstore chain. And does the distribution company buy ten thousand books from you to place in their store? No way. Here is the swindle. They make you fill out lots of forms. And of course, they ask you for an up-front startup fee to get you into their system. Sound familiar?

More money up front, and no results. So what do they do with your book? They take your electronic PDF file and download it into a huge computer with millions of other books submitted by other naïve pay-to-publish authors. They tell you that they will give you a whopping 50% royalty every time your book is sold. Wow! Even the biggest names in the movie industry would be lucky to get 15%. A typical royalty with a legitimate publishing contract might be as low as 7%. However, you are being offered 50%. What’s wrong with that picture?

So how does this work? You think they are going to market your book. However, they do not do anything except collect your start-up fee. To sweeten the scam, they may offer you an ISBN, a cheap design backed by their few beautiful samples, and a placement on Amazon.com. Did you know that you could write on a napkin, call it a book, and submit it to Amazon.com? There are millions of books on that site that no one ever sees because they are not marketed.

You must market your book, as there is no one else to do it for you. But they never bother to tell you that. Why? They want their startup fee. You think your book is now in the big chain store, but there is not a single book anywhere. You tell your family and your friends that your book has been accepted by such and such bookstore chain. They are excited for you and want to support you with your first book release. They go to the bookstore to buy it. Oops, no books! The cashier looks up your title on the computer. Sure enough, there it is in their system—the electronic file, that is, not a real book. There are no books in the corporate bookstore. That would cost them money. The cashier states that the customer can have the books in maybe a week or two, so hopefully your friend orders a copy. At that point, the order goes to the distribution company owned by the bookstore, and an on-demand book is produced on a fancy copy machine, often called a digital press. There is no ink, just toner. Compared to real books produced on multimillion-dollar full-color offset presses, your book will look horrible. Because there is no upfront book manufacturing by any publisher or distribution company, but simply one book output on the digital machine at a time, any time an order is placed, they make almost pure profit. It might cost them $1 to output your book. Your friend purchased it for $14. You got to keep half. Sounds great. However, that’s why the scam seems so good. You only have so many friends. The distribution company owned by the bookstore has taken the signup fee from you with little or no obligation on their part.

Here is where the author gets burnt. You say to yourself, “What happened? I have my book in one of the biggest bookstore chains in the world, I’m an accepted author by a huge distribution company, yet why is it I’ve only sold 45 books in six months?” Soon you realize that every book sold was purchased by a friend or family member, or possibly someone who attended your book-signing party at the local library, where you spent lots of money for cheese, wine, and crackers. You realize it was you that sold the books, no one else.

You ask, “But what about the millions of books that were sold, according to the New York Times Bestseller List, by that famous movie star?” The answer is simple. Writing a book is a noble thing to do. It can take years of research and a lifetime of emotions. But writing a book has nothing to do with selling it.

Take, for example, all celebrities. They all have a personal manager, a business manager, a celebrity manager, a booking agent, a major celebrity attorney, a staff, a public relations firm, a speaker’s bureau, a travel agent, a speechwriter, and more. Often, they do not even write their own book. A ghostwriter does.

Because the celebrity has a new movie coming out, her manager may have contacted her public relations firm to set up talk shows for her to pitch her new release, and of course, her new movie. In addition, the management team contacts a famous ghostwriter and has him write the book on behalf of the big star. Oh yes, and the celebrity author-movie star will be seen on every talk show and late-night show, one after the other. A marketing blitz. It is a formula for those that can buy their way in. If you are famous, you can write about anything and it will sell.

Why did the Author’s Workshop spend this much time to elaborate and drive home this gloom-and-doom scenario? Because authors should be informed of the pitfalls before them. It is a story of con artists that prey on anyone with a dream. It is the dreamers who are lured in with the hope of their dream coming true. The hopeful have always been the suckers and the victims in every industry.

We are devoted to seeing all authors have a chance to truly fulfill their dreams without being cheated out of their money and their dignity. We are sworn to do everything possible to keep authors from being victimized and ripped off. Just look around you. It is not just in the world of publishing, is it? Our world is a cookie jar, and it is swarming with the corrupt hands of back-alley thieves and, even worse, corporate crooks using innovative money schemes to steal from innocent people. Knowledge is the only way to stay out of the snake pit. The Author’s Workshop provides that knowledge to each author.

 

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