I am the co-owner of BookLocker.com, which is selective about the books it publishes. Unfortunately, authors of those rejected manuscripts must find another publisher. WritersWeekly’s POD Secrets Revealed Series attempts to help authors avoid publishers that charge way too much, and that participate in business practices that, in my opinion, are not good for authors.
I am certain the firms mentioned in the article below, as well as in the links, will disagree that they are “Author Mills.” My descriptions of “author mills” are based entirely on my opinions and professional experience after 17 years of serving authors and book buyers in this industry. I highly recommend you do your own independent research, and make your own determination. If you have additional thoughts, please contact me HERE.
Last week, we discussed worthless (and expensive) book contests hosted by fee-based publishers for their authors.
In it, I wrote, “In my opinion, any publisher who must resort to vanity games and silly contests like this should be avoided at all costs. That’s a classic sign of an Author Mill.”
Most writers know what a “content mill” is. It’s a website that pays insulting, poverty-level wages for (usually) sub-standard writing just so they can fill as many web pages as they can with paid advertisements. Quantity, not quality, is the priority. The more (crappy) content they can get, the better. Some even pay writers to “re-write” other articles they find online, which is copyright infringement. Their writers are usually paid horrible rates (if they ever get paid at all), and some are treated poorly as well.
But, what is an Author Mill? The term was originally coined by Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware. It described publishers that focus on quantity, not quality. However, she limited the term to describing “publishers” that didn’t charge authors up-front fees, but that still published anything and everything, quickly pushing large volumes of sub-standard books onto the market. Unfortunately, many authors later learned that this type of publishing isn’t really “free” at all.
At WritersWeekly, we take it one-step further. In our opinion, an Author Mill is any so-called publisher, “free” or not, that sucks as many authors into their virtual doors as they can, while squeezing as much money out of each author as they can. The quantity of authors they bring in, not the quality of the books, is their priority because the majority of their revenues come from fees charged to authors, not from book sales.
These publishers earn high revenues from their authors by charging high initial fees, and then upselling some of them on additional products and services during and after the publishing process. Since they reap so much in author fees, some may not care if those authors actually later sell any copies of their books or not.
There are a handful of legitimate, fee-based publishers who are selective about what they publish, limit the number of authors they work with, and don’t drain their authors’ wallets along the way.
So, how can you avoid Author Mills?
Again, the descriptions of author mills above and below, and my inclusion of some of these firms here because of their practices, is my opinion, and mine alone. I’m sure all of them will disagree that they are “author mills” but, you can do some independent research, and make your own determination. If you have additional thoughts, please contact me HERE.
22 Signs That So-Called “Publisher” Might Be an Author Mill!”
1. The business publishes pretty much anything and everything.
Their inventories contain books with countless errors, poorly designed covers, badly botched interior graphics, and/or even some jaw-dropping topics. Here’s an example:
According to Sheriff Grady Judd, the author of the book ‘The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct,’ “wrote this book specifically to teach people how to molest and rape children…” That book was published by CreateSpace (Amazon’s publishing division). The author was later arrested, and charged for violation of obscenity laws.
A firm that doesn’t vet manuscripts for this type of content, and/or allows anybody to publish pretty much any book through their service, is, in our opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
At BookLocker.com, we reject numerous manuscripts each year due to bad writing, poor photos/graphics, questionable content, and more. We’re not fans of censorship but publishing a book that (allegedly) teaches people how to molest children is JUST PLAIN WRONG. Other publishers have published books on how to teach dogs to fight, how to commit credit card fraud, and worse.
2. Almost non-existent quality control.
If you want to see really bad writing, poor-quality graphics, and more, look no further than an Author Mill.
One example? See:
Lulu CEO Admits They’ve “Easily Published the Largest Collection of Bad Poetry in the History of Mankind”.
Any firm that not only knowingly publishes bad stuff, but also openly admits it, in our opinion, is an AUTHOR MILL.
Here’s a scathing expose on a pretty awful book published by AuthorHouse:
3. The publishers earn more selling services to authors than they do selling books.
According to David Gaughran, AuthorSolutions (owner of AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford, and others),
“generated revenue of $99.8m in 2011, and projected that would increase to $179.6m by 2015. A full 63% of this revenue – $62.87m – came from selling services to writers, pretty much an even split between publishing services and marketing services. By contrast, e-book sales only generated $1.3m.” (https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/06/03/the-case-against-author-solutions-part-1-the-numbers/)
If the majority of a firm’s revenues come from publishing and marketing services sold to authors, as opposed to book sales, that firm is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
4. Outrageously expensive setup fees!
They hit authors with very expensive fees up front, knowing most, if not all, of those authors will never earn those fees back. If a firm charges authors thousands, sometimes up to $10,000 or more, knowing all the while that few to none of those authors will ever earn those fees back through resulting book sales, that firm is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
5. Upselling on worthless marketing products and services.
After your book is published, a team of salespeople may want to dig even deeper into your pockets, attempting to convince you to buy marketing products and services that they KNOW cost more than most authors will ever get back in resulting book sales. Book fair displays, book “awards” ceremonies, newspaper co-op ads, press releases that will be very likely tagged as “spam,” and coffee cups/ T-shirts / bumper stickers are some examples of these after-market upsells.
6. The publisher’s website is NOT devoted to selling their author’s books! Instead, it focuses on pulling even more authors into their clutches.
If the publisher’s homepage is primarily an advertisement for their own services, and does not devote most of their space to promoting their author’s books, they are, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
For example, the iUniverse.com homepage is a huge advertisement for their own services. The only mention of books they’ve published is a brief blurb at the bottom about three of their books that won awards of some sort.
As a comparison, BookLocker’s homepage features a rotating graphic of their authors’ book trailers at the top, lists of best selling print books and best selling ebooks, and a list of their most recent new releases. All books featured have the title, cover, and short marketing blurb included, and all are linked to their own individual book pages, which contain short and long descriptions, prices, covers, free excerpts, links to buy the books, and more. The only mention of BookLocker’s services on their homepage is a small link that says: Publish & Sell.
7. The website’s home page tells everyone that their authors paid to get published.
In the same vein as #6 above, if their home page makes it blatantly obvious to everyone (including potential readers) that their authors paid to get published, they are, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL. If your readers venture to your publisher’s website, they should see LOTS OF BOOKS FOR SALE! They should not see “pay to get published” ads.
8.They charge grossly inflated fees for things authors can do themselves for just a few bucks, like copyright registration.
In my opinion, firms that do this are AUTHOR MILLS.
9. They have teams of salespeople in other countries whose sole job is to see how much more they can squeeze out of each author’s pocket.
If an American POD publisher has teams of foreign salespeople who inundate authors with spam and telemarketing calls, they are, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
10. The break-even point for their authors can be very difficult to reach.
For some examples, see: POD SECRETS REVEALED – How Many Book Sales Needed to Recoup Your Investment?
11. Their ridiculously expensive fees don’t include some of the most basic things that any normal person would expect to be included in the service.
12. Some publishers use confusing verbiage like, “100 royalties!” You will never earn 100% of the list price of your book in royalties! When you see marketing verbiage like this, read the fine print. You may learn that you’ll actually end up earning less in royalties than firms that pay a firm percentage of the list price for print books.
When firms use such confusing verbiage about royalties that most authors can’t figure out how much they’re going to earn for each sale of a print book, in my opinion, they should also be avoided.
13. Their advertisements and websites prey and play on an author’s vanity.
Any firm that oozes drippy words in this manner, or that blatantly lies on their website, is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
14. Some publishers purposely fail to point out an author’s errors early on so they can charge the author even more to fix those errors later. Or, they charge authors to fix errors the publisher inserted!
15. Double-dipping! They charge authors even more money for copies of files their authors already paid them to create!
Any fee-based firm that charges authors extra for copies of their own production files is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
16. They run hokey contests, which force their authors to spend money on entry fees and copies of their book for each judge.
17. They offer “free” publishing guides as a way to get your email address and/or phone number so they can spam you to death, or burn up your phone line with telemarketing calls.
18. They use money from their authors to promote their own services.
Any firm that sells advertising space to authors, but then uses that advertising space to also promote their own services is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
19. They run sales for their publishing packages but, in the end, you still pay far more than you might elsewhere.
Any firm that offers “sales” that still require authors to pay far more than they could at other firms is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
20. They offer “free” author copies with the purchase of a package. However, the package is so expensive that the unit price of each “free” copy is jaw-dropping.
Any firm that offers “free” copies of a book, but requires the author to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars in fees, is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
21. There are dozens or even hundreds of legitimate, detailed complaints about them online.
If one or two or even a few authors complain about a firm, that’s one thing. Some authors can be difficult to work with, or may be uninformed about the publishing or retail sales process. For example, one of our authors complained years ago that her Amazon ranking was in the millions…and that she hadn’t yet been paid for those millions in sales. We explained to her that the Amazon ranking in the millions meant that many millions of book titles were selling better than hers. She disagreed and she and her husband both threatened to sue us (yes, they were both emailing us separately). And, those emails were extremely abusive. They then hired an attorney, and paid him to explain to them what the Amazon rankings mean (which we’d already done). They disappeared, embarrassed. But, that was after they’d already posted false accusations online.
I also recommend you disregard posts by terminated employees and contractors. It’s difficult to discern if those are legitimate or not. Lots of fired folks are only too happy to post libel online in an attempt to stab their old employer/client in the back. They are often in such an emotional state that they don’t care about getting sued later by their ex-employer. Focus on complaints by legitimate customers instead.
Some authors may not even contact the publisher at all to seek a resolution, but might instead jump right into posting complaints when there may have been a legitimate explanation for what occurred. We frequently see authors posting a pretty common complaint about some publishers, stating their relative or friend bought their book last week and why hasn’t the publisher credited them for the sale yet? Ingram (the distributor for most print on demand firms) pays publishers 3-4 months after the fact so, of course, the sales won’t show up immediately. Even ebook retailers have a 2-3 month delay in paying publishers.
Also, some complaints could be fake, posted by competitors or even someone who may be upset about how they were betrayed in one of the publisher’s books. A person we exposed on WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings as a scammer preying on writers posted numerous false complaints online under a variety of fake names about many individuals and businesses (and also filed frivolous lawsuits). That guy was a real piece of work! You can usually spot fake complaints. They are vague, don’t contain specific details about what occurred, and the names are usually unbelievably generic (John Doe, Joe Smith, Bob Jones, etc.).
But, if you are seeing dozens or hundreds of complaints about one publisher, with most of them having similar themes (i.e. complaints about the publisher’s errors, outrageous upselling, poor quality, unpaid royalties several months later, etc.) THAT’S A HUGE RED FLAG! It’s not that hard to find these online. Sites like PissedConsumer.com, RipoffReport.com, and others can offer a treasure trove of warnings to unsuspecting new authors.
Any firm that has dozens to hundreds of obviously legitimate complaints posted about them online is, in my opinion, an AUTHOR MILL.
22. They’ve had class action lawsuits filed against them.
If a firm has infuriated authors so much that a class action lawsuit has been filed (or more than one!) against them, in my opinion, you should definitely avoid doing business with them.
With the help of fee-based publishers (author mills, as well as other, more legitimate services), authors can now bypass traditional publishers, and get their books on Amazon.com and other sites (and even in the brick and mortar bookstore systems) quickly and easily. Unfortunately, with the advent of Author Mills (we also call them Author Meat Markets), many authors have fallen victim to high-priced, greedy firms in their attempt to get published. Whenever a company is in the business of mass production of a product that they know isn’t likely to sell well, but that they’re going to somehow profit from anyway, you should, in my opinion, avoid them at all costs.
There are affordable alternatives…with much better reputations.
About The Author
Angela Hoy is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, and the co-owner of BookLocker.com (one of the original POD publishers that still gets books to market in less than a month), PubPreppers.com (print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish), and Abuzz Press (the publishing co-op that charges no setup fees).
WritersWeekly.com - the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday.
BookLocker.com - According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is: "As close to perfection as you're going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I've ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can't go wrong here. Plus, they're selective and won't publish any manuscript just because it's accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors' books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know."
Abuzz Press offers FAST and FREE book publication, but only accepts a small percentage of submissions, and only works with U.S. authors.
PubPreppers.com - "We Prep, You Publish!" Print and ebook design for authors who truly want to self-publish. Offers formatting and design services only, and then provides simple instructions for authors on where to sign up to have the print and ebook editions printed/listed/sold. Cut out the middle man. Keep 100% of what bookstores pay for your book!
Angela's POD Secrets Revealed Series can be found HERE.
Got questions about Print On Demand and Self-publishing? Ask Angela.
Have a POD Book with another publisher? See if BookLocker can give you a better deal. (BookLocker offers "disgruntled author discounts" to those who want to move from other POD services.)
See BookLocker's publishing packages HERE.
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Read More Of Angela's Articles HERE