My post on The getting of agents started life as a comment in the thread following Slushkiller. To continue the theme, this post started life as a comment in the thread following The getting of agents. I don’t believe the organization being discussed is wicked in any extraordinary way, just several of the usual ways; but the discussion of it may be of more general interest.This latest outgrowth started with a comment posted yesterday by Charles Boyle:
You say to be wary of publishing assistance that requires payment by the author. A group called The Writers’ Collective seems to be different.I said:
Can you provide an opinion, please.
Yes. There’s one throbbing, luminous, mindbendingly huge distinction: this particular vanity publisher calls itself a writers’ collective. Aside from that, it’s just another vanity publisher.
TWC charges you $275 the first year and $150 each year thereafter, and calls it membership fees or dues. There’s a further charge for having your book printed—had you noticed that yet? It doesn’t matter what TWC calls itself. You’re still paying to have your book published.
Different vanity publishers have come up with a bunch of different terms for the money they want you to pay them. That’s why Yog’s Law doesn’t specify what that payment is called. It simply states, “Money should always flow toward the author.”
As I said, TWC charges $275 the first year and $150 each year thereafter, in return for which you get an ISBN, a Library of Congress CIP number, a barcode (by which they may or may not mean you get an EAN), the right to set up a useless promotional page on their website, an optional free conversion of your text into e-book format, a listing at Baker & Taylor, and an XML conversion of info about your title for use in databases. Note: if they’re going to list you at Baker & Taylor, I believe they’re going to have to do that XML conversion anyway, so listing it as a separate benefit is a bit of a rip.
In addition, you get access to their cover template pages, where you get to design your own book cover using the resources they provide. I assume there are limited choices, because the colors on their template covers are spec’d as names—latte, goldenglo, putty, lapis—rather than Pantone shades or CYMK percentages. It looks like they had someone dummy up a bunch of generic cover treatments. You can spot the ones nobody’s wanted to use yet, because they don’t have any back cover copy.
Is this enough to get you into print? It is not. That $275 is only the beginning. You’re going to pay your own production costs. Here’s their page where you input your information in order to get a quote on your printing costs: a sure sign of expenditures to come.
You know, there are a bunch of printing companies out there who for years now have made exactly this kind of “get a price quote” page available to the public. Theirs are far more detailed and complete, and there’s no charge for using them. You input your info, you get your quote. Weeks or months after that you may get a follow-up letter from them, asking whether you ever got your book printed, and are you still interested; but that’s all. You can find out more about this and related matters in a piece called “Self-publication without Pretense,” available here, here, and here. It’s a few years old now, but the basic principles haven’t changed. To find out about getting ISBNs, CIP data, and the like, you could start here. Or start somewhere else; a little research will turn up a great deal of information. All you need is the knowledge that it’s something you can do for yourself. The biggest thing TWC has going for it is the pardonable ignorance of newbie authors.
Assimilated all that? Okay, here’s TWC’s page listing their printing charges. Don’t feel bad for not spotting it right away. That page is a bit hard to find. Normally, you wouldn’t see it until you were well along in the process of applying to have them publish you book.
Basically, TWC has a deal going with a printer called Fidlar Doubleday, of Kalamazoo, MI. I very much doubt that they’re connected with Doubleday Books. Give the page a good long look. Note all those minimum print runs and setup charges and other sobering requirements.There are a couple of gotchas you may not fully appreciate, so I’ll point them out to you:
Prepress ChargesNever think they don’t mean it. Surcharges for tardiness, carelessness, poor organization, and (in some cases) naivete about the exact services for which one is being invoiced, are a major profit center for the printing industry. Don’t assume they bill by the fraction of an hour. One finds oneself wishing they’d specified how much time is allotted per TWC title.
If Fidlar Doubleday services are required to help format, create, or make changes to the files over and above the time allotted by the Writers’ Collective package, the charge will be $80 per hour. Yet another reason to double and triple check your files before submission.
Proof Samples: $ 0.05/page, $15/coverGrit your teeth and pay it. If there are more than a few small corrections, grit your teeth again and pay for a second pass.
Changes To Text After Proof Approval: $9.50 per pageWoof! That provision’s a bitch. In my experience, corrections made at that stage are normally priced at a buck or two per line. Fidlar Doubleday’s being merciless. At $9.50 a page, you had better have your text proofread to within an inch of its life before you send it in, or you’re going to learn a salutary lesson about ground-level capitalism.
While you’re at it, remember not to make any late alterations that change the overall length of the page being corrected, because that will add words to or subtract words from the next page, incurring another $9.50 charge; and if that alteration keeps propagating forward, possibly all the way to the next chapter break, things could get very expensive indeed.
To put that $9.50/page charge for corrections into perspective, the last time I priced typesetting, we were paying an initial rate of maybe eight bucks a page.
(Obviously, even if you’re charging by the line, late alterations can run up the price pretty fast. I once got one of my typesetting sales reps tipsy over lunch, and he told me his next appointment that afternoon was with a client that published large complex guidebooks. “I’m giving them a beautiful rate on the first pass,” he said. “Doesn’t matter. I could give them the first pass for free, and I’d still be making a profit.”
My eyebrows went up. “They’re making that many corrections?”
He beamed. “They’re rewriting those things in fourth pass.”
I made an instant and horrified calculation, and blurted out, “With clients like that, why do you even bother typesetting our books?” And it’s true, we can’t have been paying a fraction of what that other house was cumulatively paying per page. But he soothingly explained that we were a bread-and-butter account, steady business in large volume, and thus dear to their hearts.)
Maybe Fidlar Doubleday’s offering writers a good deal. Maybe they aren’t. Personally, I’d want to check out the prices at a few other printing companies, just to see. Or, if you’ve written a decent book, you can take it to Booklocker. It still won’t be free, but their prices were quite reasonable last time I looked, and they’re straight shooters.
My overall take on TWC is that they’re a prime example of rent-seeking behavior. They’re not proposing to edit your book, or sell it, or publicize it, or design its cover and write the copy for it, or do any of that other hard work. They’re not even going to read it. They’re just going to provide you with a few semi-automated services, and broker you a few more services (some of them of a highly dubious nature), and sit back to collect an annual fee on the arrangement.
Should I be gentler in my judgements of TWC? Mightn’t they be well-intentioned but gormless newbies? They might; but alas, I have my doubts. For starters, there are too many places where they address difficult questions with a flurry of hand-waving, tapdancing, and fast talk, then move on without answering the question. To see some examples of this, look at their FAQ entries on “If writers have to pay dues to join TWC, isn’t this just another scam to part eager writers from their money?” (here), and on “But what if I don’t like having my Great American Novel sitting on the same Internet shelf as some lousy hackwork?” (here).Sometimes they’re more obviously misleading. For instance:
Until now, writers who wanted to self-publish had to pay a minimum of $250 for ISBN numbers. About $200 for an LOC number. Another $200 in printer set-up fees. At least $300 for a decent cover. And the only other company on the net converting title info into XML (about to be made mandatory by major wholesalers) charges $150 per title. Per year. Well over $1000 before you’ve paid for a single book. The cost to join The Writers’ Collective and get everything listed above while retaining 100% of the sales price? Just $275. That’s it. No hidden charges. No catches. Your work. Your book. Your profit.When they say “$250 for ISBN numbers”, they refer to the minimum purchase of a block of ISBNs from Bowker, which is 10 ISBNs for $225 (plus the $75 application fee). However, there are a number of outfits that will provide you with an ISBN for considerably less than that. And by the way, TWC bought theirs in a block of 100, which means they paid $8.00 apiece for them. The other figures TWC quotes there are likewise questionable. And for a newbie, those last fifteen words—“Just $275. That’s it. No hidden charges. No catches. Your work. Your book. Your profit.”—are going to suggest something which I can tell they don’t mean, but the newbie can’t. Next, check out this passage from their FAQ:
True, there’s no advance, but if your book is really good and you promote it well, you’ll make more money than with a small advance going to pay for a PR person, which new writers are expected to provide these days.To put it bluntly: No, they aren’t. That is an untruth. I’ve never heard of a legit publishing house requiring a new author to hire their own PR person. Publishers may or may not pay for PR, but they don’t require authors to pay for it. Some writers do hire additional PR help, but by far the commonest arrangement is for the author to do their own adjunct PR work.
(By the way: one of the lines you’ll hear from scammers is that you might as well go with a vanity publisher, and take on the huge task of publicizing and selling your own book, because unless you’re a big-name bestselling author, conventional publishers aren’t going to promote your book anyway. Since you’re going to wind up doing all the work yourself, they say, why not keep all the profits while you’re doing it?
The answer is that of course publishers sell and promote their books, but most of that happens where the general public doesn’t casually see it. You don’t make most of your bookbuying decisions based on print ads, right? Well, neither does anyone else. What an expensive ad for a bestselling author is usually saying is, “You know that book you already know you want to buy when it comes out? It’s out.” Nevertheless, aspiring authors have this unfounded but persistent belief that selling a book consists of putting out a new press release every week and buying ad space in the New York Times. When they don’t see smaller books getting that treatment, they mistakenly assume there’s no selling going on at all. Scammers, evil bastards that they are, play on that perception, because despair drives aspiring writers into their arms.)Here’s one more quote from TWC’s FAQ. This one’s not merely untrue, but has disturbing implications:
Any book not professionally edited has a fool for an author. We have several great editors whom we’ve personally vetted, and who give generous discounts to members. Use them, or use someone else who makes you happy. Use none — and you’re not going to sell many books.As I mentioned briefly in The getting of agents, “professional editor” has become a warning sign. (As a professional editor, I resent this.) When you’re trying to size up an unfamiliar agent, catching them making the assertion that “no publisher will look at a manuscript unless it’s been professionally edited” practically constitutes prima facie evidence that they’re scammers. The legit industry has no such requirement. All that matters is the quality of the manuscript itself.
The reason scam agents do the “you have to be professionally edited” song and dance is that they’re in cahoots with dishonest book doctors. Baby authors who know they’re not supposed to be paying their agent will fail to realize that the very expensive (and not very good) editor to whom they’ve been referred is paying the agent a substantial kickback. These price for these “edits” can run into thousands of dollars. For some scam agents, it’s the most profitable part of their operation.
Maybe that’s not what’s going on at TWC. Maybe this time, “let me refer you to one of the excellent professional editors we work with” is nothing more than a helpful offer to put you in contact with an experienced freelancer. I have to believe in that possibility. Of course, it’s also possible that various mid-size mammals will sprout wings and fly. Wouldn’t it be cool if that happened? We can but hope.
(…)When I finished posting my comment, I found Jim Macdonald had already responded to Charles Boyle’s question. Jim had cut right to the chase:
James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2004, 03:13 PM:Bill Blum also turned up, and mentioned that he knew a writer who’d gone with TWC. When I asked him to go on, he said:
“A group called The Writers’ Collective seems to be different.”The only way it seems different from your standard PoD vanity press is that they’ve added a dollop of the Professional Editor scheme.
The party still involved with TWC? The last time I checked, she was still working overtime to try and come up with more money for fees.