VAMPIRE PUBLISHERS: How to Tell If You’ve Been Bitten by One By Julie Matherly

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Like many writers who can’t break through the exclusive ceiling of agents and large blockbuster-thirsty commercial publishers, you might be forced to change tactics. You query smaller houses until you receive every author’s dream – a book contract. The publisher pays royalties and claims not to be a self-publisher, POD, or vanity press. They invite you to ask questions, making you feel safe. You can’t wait to sign while the stars of potential royalties romance your head. Some of the terms seem a little vague, but your hunger for publication convinces you not to expect much with a first published book. You’re grateful to be one of a chosen few while the publisher seduces you to join their sacred family. You surrender to your appetite and sign. Having your first book published is worth almost any risk, right? Sadly, writers who buy into this deceptive myth may face dire consequences. Welcome to Vampire Publishing.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

When I received a publishing contract from a small trade publisher for my award-winning romance novel, I was elated. But, unlike many eager writers who would sign on faith, the scars from a past experience protected me. I studied all of the publisher’s information using a business head, putting emotion aside. The giddy effects of the first enticing bite began wearing off as the cold hard facts of this deal sunk in. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

This publisher’s terms would allow them to drain my personal bank account by requiring me to continually purchase copies of MY novels from the publisher at an unspecified price based on their unspecified production cost, plus a percentage. This was an UNSPECIFIED amount of books with costs subject to change. If I stopped buying my books from the publisher, the contract would be cancelled. In exchange for this grand opportunity, the publisher would provide nominal promotion. This type of contract should have a wooden stake stuck through it.

To confuse matters further, this publisher was operating under a cloak of “traditional publisher” while claiming not to be a vanity or POD (as if these operate lower on the food chain). They noted that their authors do not pay them to publish. Give me a break! Of course I would be paying to have my book published with this set up, and at a more detrimental financial risk than self-publishing due to the mysterious costs. Respected self publishers and POD publishers tell you up front what your costs are and you purchase your books when YOU choose to. You also keep the profits you sweated hard to earn by writing and editing thousands of words into a publishable book. This type of operator controls their authors’ checkbooks by telling them when to buy books. I felt a twinge of disappointment and disgust.

When I questioned their terms I received an evasive response from the publisher explaining how tough and mean the business is, not to have any pie in the sky notions. (I had every right to be concerned about losing my personal financial pie by agreeing to a purchase whenever they demanded I do so, while also bearing the majority of promotion costs with no guarantee of what “net” profits I’d earn. They wouldn’t even estimate my book’s cost. I wondered how many authors had ended up canceling or losing their contracts after having their finances drained in such a bold manner. I refused to believe that this type of operation was legitimate trade publishing. This should be classified BOPD (buy on publisher’s demand). These enslaving terms of entanglement I could live without and declined the contract.

The Stakes are High: Know What and Who You’re Dealing With

I care about this issue because I was victimized in the past by an exploitative business contract that I signed out of desperation. Don’t let that happen to you. The few seconds it takes to sign one legal document can create a huge detour in your life. Think carefully about what you’re signing and why. Always protect yourself.

Obtain an objective, professional opinion before signing a contract, but not that of the person making you the offer no matter how charming or expert they appear.

Don’t be intimidated by the old Groucho Marx response, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” when you question risky terms that conflict with your best interests.

Never sign a high risk contract due to desperate life circumstances if at all possible.

Vampire Publishing: Non-Traditional Hocus Pocus

The publishing business is changing constantly. Some industry hybrids and mutations are making this more confusing. To protect your precious book from being unfairly consumed by predatory publishers, you must know how to spot the vampires. Carefully measure risk vs. reward. If you’re contractually obligated to purchase your books with minimal return paid to you, what’s fair about this for you? Doing so provides your publisher ongoing income at your expense (terrific for them) while you have no guarantee of being able to sell the books fill up your garage and go broke (bad for you). Vampire operations can consume most of your book sales profits and your money by forcing you to buy copies or services WHEN they say so. These companies also have very little incentive to work to sell your books to the public since they can force YOU to buy them.

I was so perplexed by the way this company was operating under a shield of “traditional publisher” that I asked some authors and national publishing associations what the definition is today. Most of these professionals stated that there is no such thing as “traditional”, that there are trade/commercial book publishers (they pay the costs to publish your book) or self/POD/vanity (you pay). They also verified the following.

NO TRADE/COMMERCIAL PUBLISHER **REQUIRES** ITS AUTHORS TO BUY COPIES OF THEIR OWN BOOKS, PERIOD.

Vampires may be hot in novels and on film, but as publishers they can consume your precious book’s shelf life and your finances. How can we as writers protect ourselves from such bloodsuckers? Warn others and reject these outrageous terms of doing business. Predatory companies only get away with and profit from author abusing activities if we allow them to. Remember that we, the writers, provide the valuable creative content these operators need to survive and, without us, they will wither away. Vampire publishers should be avoided so that this publishing species will lose their life force and evaporate into the exploitative darkness they operate within. We can then all query a little easier in the daylight then.

Julie Matherly is an award-winning author of non-fiction articles and novels. She is a previous article/essay winner of the Yosemite Writers Conference and SouthWest Writers competition. Her work has appeared in A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers (Adams Media), Prime Time Monthly News, and Kaleidoscope: Life Stories II (United Disability Services).