The Problem with Indie-Publishers

I finished my first novel almost eight years ago, and went through the process of contacting agents (before self-publishing was a reality) to represent me. After I carefully researched them, followed all their rules and made sure my query letter was up to their standards, most didn't bother to respond. The few that did often sent slips of torn paper to “Dear Athor” (no joke, they didn't even bother to spell check their xerox response), explaining in two lines that they weren't accepting new clients, or my work didn't fit their list. The agents who wrote me directly gave me advice on how to make the novel work for them, i.e. take it out of first person, and/or multiple voices, and then resubmit.

I spent a year rewriting the novel to their specifications. When I resubmitted, they didn't bother to get back to me, or sent me a xerox slip of paper.

I then submitted to publishers, hoping they'd be a better bet than arrogant agents leeching off of authors. Self-publishing was still years off. I went through lists of many publishers before one of the last on my lists wrote me back with an offer. No advance. No marketing. Author's cut was 20% for hardcover, 50% for an ebook. Publisher promised one editing cycle, to put on a cover of her choice, and hold the rights to my work from the time I signed the contract until two years after the publication date, at which time the rights would go back to me.

I researched her publishing firm and got nothing, positive or negative. I contacted some of her authors (emails she gave me), who all said she didn't do much, but assured me most publishers don't. A bestselling author friend published through a major house told me the same about his publisher. I contacted “Author's Beware,” and asked them if they'd heard of any problems with this publisher. They hadn't, but told me their information was not kept current for the most part.

Three years after I signed her contract, my indie-publisher emailed me to begin the editing cycle. It lasted about a week, where, through Google Docs for two hours a day she went through the novel and “edited” it with me online. She suggested a few minor changes, took out sections I felt important to the story regardless of my protests, and missed most of the spelling errors. When she sent me the proof version she was to publish, she left out chapters so the novel didn't make any sense. She balked when I protested the cover “design,” done by her niece who was not a professional, but looking to change her career from a book store clerk to graphic designer. She refused to change the cover when I supplied her a new one done by a pro. She released the novel six months later without notice to anyone but me.

In the two years the novel was for sale through Zumaya Publications, the CEO never showed me sales records after multiple requests. She never paid me. Anything. Ever. But the worse part—this corrupt indie-publisher continues to sell my novel even though our contract has expired over seven months ago and she no longer has the rights to my work. I have a termination contract, as well as the original contract that states our association was over on December 31st, 2012. There is no clause in our contract that allows her to continue selling my work after our contract is terminated. She is breaking the law, and Amazon and other online resellers are not only helping her, but profiting from this illegal activity.

I'm not writing this blog for sympathy, or to whine. A HUGE amount of 'indie' publishers are springing up these days and taking advantage of new authors looking to get published. These corrupt publishers simply stick work up on Amazon, Nook...etc., and reap the profits. They offer no real help to the author. No advertising. No marketing. Crap editing, if at all, with cover designs by their relatives or other non-pros done on the cheap.

Struggling authors hide in shame when taken advantage of, believing their work wasn't good enough for a “real” publisher. Somehow they deserve to get screwed by these unscrupulous publishers, for going with the ego stroke of acceptance. Authors are often too embarrassed to speak up while their work continues to sell through these corrupt publishers on Amazon even after their contracts expire!

When publishers put a book up to sell, Amazon creates a “perpetual page,” meaning it'll keep the page up and continue to sell the work FOREVER, as long as the publisher doesn't remove the page, whether that publisher has the rights to the work or not. Many indie-pubs include in their contract the right to sell “remaining copies” even after the contract has terminated. But with digital printing, i.e. “print on demand,” there is no such thing as "when the product is sold out." The book is printed on request and is NEVER sold out. New copies are available all the time, as with my novel, which continually has two or more NEW copies for sale, illegally.

When I realized my evil ex-publisher had no intention of discontinuing the sale of my work after the termination of our contract I contacted Amazon. Since January 2013 I've sent no less than twenty emails to every department Amazon has, including, but not limited to Kindle Direct, Kindle UK, Amazon Chat, Amazon Legal, Amazon Copyright Infringement...etc. The only emails I got back were auto-responders, or some nameless employee saying they can't help me.

I realize this is a sticky wicket with Amazon, as there are likely thousands of authors that went with corrupt publishers continuing to sell their work illegally. Most authors are afraid to go up against Amazon, as they don't want to be barred from selling their work in the future. Authors can not remove the pages publishers put up, so authors have no recourse, since Amazon and other sites will generally take none. Why should they? They make money with every sale, legal or not.

Some better known authors, like Sara at Goodreads says, “I ran into a problem with a digital publisher, I went ahead and self-published on Amazon, even though the digital publisher continued to ship my books to Amazon. As the legal holder of copyrights, the books were mine to sell, and once it was established by Amazon that I was the seller, the digital publisher was kicked out of the equation.”

Sara's experience is the exception by far. Many new authors I've spoken with are experiencing the same issue I am. They've also contacted Amazon multiple times, as I have, to no avail, not popular enough to garner Amazon's attention or interest. Ignored by the corrupt publisher, and Amazon, there really is no recourse for the emerging writer except to avoid publishing with indie-publishers in the first place, and self publish!  

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about a class action suit against the publisher?

Publishers that contribute nothing, or virtually nothing, to the sales of a book will go out of business. Authors have no reason to partner with them.

J. Cafesin said...

By things she's claimed, she hardly has any money. No lawsuit there worth anything. Have gotten several authors who've emailed me in regards to her ripping them off too.

And I wish your comment about her going out of business was true. Unfortunately, like me, so many new authors are looking for someone to lead them, accept them. They don't know about who she is, what she is until getting in bed with her.

J. Cafesin said...

UPDATE 7/22/13:
Dear Jeri,
Thank you for your message. Please be advised that we are in the process of removing the "Buy Button" for the following item(s) on Amazon.com:
Reverb ISBN-10: 1934841862
This means that the title(s) will no longer be available directly from Amazon.com. The catalog will continue to contain bibliographic and other information about the titles, and third parties will be able to continue to buy and sell copies of the titles that are already in the marketplace.
It typically takes 2-3 days for these changes to become apparent on the site. We trust this will bring this matter to a close.
Best Regards, Anne Tarpey
Copyright/Trademark Agent Amazon.com

J. Cafesin said...

UPDATE: 2/5/14
While the old version of Reverb is no longer available on Amazon, it took over a year, and many emails and calls to disappear from sale completely.
I got a check from Zumaya Publishing for under $50 for the five years she held my book under contract, and a tax form she submitted to the IRS. To date, she has not produced any documentation on my sales.