Sunday, March 8, 2015

What's this #PublishingFoul thing all about, anyway?

You may have seen the image floating around Facebook or Twitter by now. I mean, I sure hope you have. It's this one -- the ref throwing the yellow flag on scammy publishers. At Indies Unlimited, we're using it to tie together all the posts in FOULED! -- our month-long March Madness effort to bring rotten publishing practices out into the open.

So far, we've had a guest post from none other than David Gaughran, who blogs a lot on the vanity publishing industry; one by IU minion TD McKinnon; a guest post by Sophie Jonas-Hill; and the first of four posts by Yours Truly on what you can do when you realize you've been had by a scammer. And there's lots more to come -- including a post this week that will include a survey that we hope every indie author -- both those who have been scammed and those who haven't been -- will participate in.

The survey is important because we're trying to get a handle on how prevalent these ripoffs are among indie authors. Because it sure seems as if being scammed is almost a rite of passage. Scratch any indie author, it appears, and you'll see a tale of a book gone wrong underneath.

I think this is true for several reasons. The first is that until Smashwords and KDP came along, if you couldn't get a contract from a regular publisher, paying a vanity press was the only way your work could see the light of day. And I think a lot of older people with stories to tell have not yet heard that there is another way to go -- or else they don't think they're capable of learning everything there is to learn about real self-publishing.

Another IU minion, Melissa Bowersock, suggested another reason why these stories are so prevalent: most people are brought up to believe the best about others. They themselves are trustworthy, and so they expect the people they do business with will be trustworthy, too. Of course, that doesn't always happen -- but hey, that's why you have a lawyer vet your contract, right? But your publisher probably has a more expensive lawyer than you do. And in any case, you can bet the contract is going to be written to benefit the publisher -- not you, the author.

A third reason why so many authors have been scammed -- and why so many continue to be scammed -- is that the victims are ashamed of having been taken in. We have a culture of individual responsibility in the US, and there's nothing wrong with that. But people take it to an unfair extreme. There are times when a smart, savvy person who does everything right gets conned by an expert con artist. It's not the person's fault they've been victimized. But when they're then told they were too gullible and it's their own fault they were taken -- when the victim gets the blame -- that's not about the victim. It's about the person making the comment. Likely that person is using their attitude of superiority to cover a fear that they, too, might have been scammed in that situation. Or maybe they think they're smarter or more savvy -- as if either smarts or savvy will protect anyone against a real pro. Either way, the end result is that the victim is victimized twice: once by the scammer, and again by friends and family who rush to tell them how stupid they've been.

This sort of thing makes me crazy. And that's why I suggested to our admins that I do a series of posts on this subject. They expanded on my idea, and that's how we ended up with this month-long series.

The thing is that what these publishers do, for the most part, is legal. The vanity presses in particular are very careful to stay on the right side of the legal/illegal line. But just because a particular business practice is legal, that doesn't make it morally defensible. These guys have been playing an ugly game for decades. They've been stealing people's dreams by taking money from them without giving them any real success in return. We at IU aim to do our part to send this business model down the sewer, where it belongs.

News: This week, I'm packing for Arizona. I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books next Saturday and Sunday, in the BookGoodies booth (we're number 112). I'll be signing books Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Feel free to stop by and say hi, if you're planning to go to the festival.

More news: Seasons of the Fool is now up at Smashwords, and that means it should be available at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo pretty soon. I'm knocking the price down to 99 cents through March 22nd -- so if you haven't gotten a copy yet, now's the time.

Still more news: The first draft of Sage's story is in the can. I'm hoping to publish it in May, with the second book of the duology coming fast on its heels in June. The series title is Pipe Woman's Legacy. Kinda catchy, don't you think?

These moments of anti-scammy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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