Tuesday, 13 January 2015

I Wanted to Cry

A few weeks ago, I received an email that made me want to cry.

It looked innocent enough—a request from a debut author for me to review her book. My website said I wasn’t currently accepting review requests, but that’s only kind of true. I still look at each request I receive and consider it, as I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to read and review a great book.

So I read her email instead of just sending my standard “I’m not currently accepting books for review” response.

She says:
I chose to publish [book title] independently to retain control over my book.
That’s fine. I have no issue with whether a book is traditionally published or independently published, as long as it’s good, and in a genre I like.
My book is considered to be Christian Romance.
Christian romance? Excellent—it's one of my favourite genres. She continues:
There is love in the book … but I don’t feel it overwhelms with Romance. I would rather it be called Historical Fiction …
Well, I like historical fiction as well, so that’s not a sticking point. But what she said next got me worried:
but alas … I don’t have that much control over it.
That’s a red flag. You, the self-published author, don’t have control over your book’s genre? And this seems to contradict her choosing to publish “independently to retain control over my book”.

This made me curious about the book, probably for all the wrong reasons. I then read the book description from the back of the book, which was rather meh. It didn’t really describe anything—certainly nothing to grab my attention as a reader. However, she’d also included her own synopsis of the book, which definitely described a historical fiction novel, not a romance (hint: in a romance, the couple get together at the end of the book. It’s not about their marriage).

At this point, I wasn’t sure what to think, so I clicked on the link to the Amazon book page.

The first thing I saw was a cover that is best described as average. A stock photo featuring purple flowers on a nondescript green background, with the book title and author name written in an ubiquitous and boring script font. There was nothing about the cover to show the reader what kind of book they were reading, and it smacked of the worst kind of amateur self-publishing.

Then I checked the book description. Sure enough, it’s the completely unengaging one. Next I checked the publisher, where I wasn’t surprised to find the book was from a notorious vanity press (which explained why the author didn’t have control over the book’s genre even though she’d supposedly published “independently”).

Then I looked at the reviews. Six, all five stars, and one of them from a reviewer with the same last name as the author. While it’s not an uncommon last name (like, say, Goulton), it’s not Jones either. The review is almost certainly from a family member, which suggests the other reviews are from personal friends: hardly reliable. Two of the reviewers have only ever reviewed this book (one reviewed this book twice, so that’s two of the six reviews). One has reviewed three other items, but this is the only book.

None of the reviewers have the Amazon Verified Purchase tag (which can be faked, so having the AVP tag doesn’t really prove anything), yet none of them acknowledged they’d received a free book in exchange for review (as required by Amazon Reviewing Guidelines and the FTC).

I clicked on “Look Inside”. A quick read of the first page of the prologue showed the book either hadn’t been edited, or had been edited by someone who doesn’t know anything about modern fiction. There was dialect. There were adverbs. There were creative dialogue tags. The proofreading was also substandard, with apostrophes that faced the wrong way, missing punctuation, and commas where there should have been full stops (or periods, for American readers). There was also a language glitch that distracted me: if she’s going into town with her brother, surely the reference should be to “their father”, not “his father”. And this is me reading with reader brain: editor brain would be far more harsh.

I feel sorry for this author, because she’s poured her heart and soul into this book (that much was obvious from her email), but she’s been shortchanged by a publisher who has given her a dirt-cheap cover that tells the reader nothing about the book. They’ve offered little or no editing, then slapped the book up on Amazon where it’s not categorised properly. To use my daughter’s current pet phrase, it’s nasty.

And she’s paid for this. That’s what almost made me cry. This book is her dream, and the publisher she has trusted to nurture it and bring it to fruition has sacrificed her dream at the altar of the almighty dollar. Their website claims they have “editorial standards”. This book proves they don’t.

I don’t know how much she paid for her publishing package: it could be as little as $999 to as much as $6,499 (neither of which includes editing). I suspect this author paid for one of the mid-level packages, but didn’t opt for the additional editing (although the book sorely needs it). I guess after paying an estimated $2,999 for the publishing package, she didn’t have another $2,450 for their line editing.

I’m not going to review the book. I don’t want to give anyone the idea that this is a valid path to publishing, and I don’t want to be the person who breaks her author heart by telling her book isn’t good, and her publisher has wasted her money. Put simply, I don’t want to be the person who makes her cry.

But I’m upset. I’m upset that her publishing dream isn’t going to have the happy ending she’s hoped and prayed for. But most of all, I’m upset that a Christian author with good intentions and a story to tell has been financially and emotionally ripped off by a “Christian publisher”.

If you’ve ever wondered why Australasian Christian Writers does not feature or promote books from vanity presses, this is why.

About Iola Goulton


I am a married mother-of-two, living in the sunny Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. I play the tenor horn in the local Brass Band, do scrapbooking and cardmaking as hobbies.

I blog at Iola's Christian Reads, and I work as a self-employed fiction editor via Christian Editing Services. You can also find me on FacebookTwitter or Pinterest.

25 comments:

  1. Creative dialogue tags. That's a nice way to put it.
    I do feel for some of the authors who've fallen prey to vanity presses. It really sounds good. It's sad that an author will spend countless hours researching while writing their novel, but don't take the time to fully vet a publisher before signing a contract.

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    1. I suspect many authors are so happy to have been offered a contract that they don't stop to wonder why this publisher is happy to sign them.

      Thanks for visiting!

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  2. Its so sad that so called Christian publishers like this one feel its right to rip people off.

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    1. I'd personally describe this as a general-market vanity press targeting the Christian market. However, there are a couple of vanity publishers who do claim to be Christian, and I'll be talking about their "products" next week.

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  3. Really sad to think a Christian publisher, vanity press or otherwise, would treat someone that way.

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    1. This is an equal-opportunity publishing scam: they rip off Christians and general market authors as well.

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  4. Very sad to hear. Victims keep falling into these traps.

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    1. Yes, people do keep falling victim to these scams, which is why we need to be aware of them.

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  5. Iola, thanks for sharing this author's story, which is unfortunately too common. Terry makes an important point about writers not investing their time in researching the publishers, the fine print in the publishing contracts, and the publishing industry as a whole. That's where the vanity aspect comes into play. The writer's desire to be a published author, see their name on a book cover, share their message/story etc. overrides common sense and due diligence.

    I have been questioned many times by writers about why ACW does not promote vanity presses, or books by vanity presses. It's not a decision we made lightly, and we're not being mean or elitist.

    The truth is that vanity presses are never a good deal for authors. The lady in Iola's example could have independently published her book with Amazon, Smashwords etc. and most likely achieved a better result by doing it herself and spending zero money. The book wasn't edited and there are many 'How to' videos on You Tube that teach people how to create book covers. I'm not in any way suggesting that spending zero money to indie publish is the best solution. It's commonly known that indie books that are professional edited and have professional cover art are more likely to be successful.

    Companies like Amazon and Smashwords now provide writers with a viable alternative to the overpriced vanity publishers who make money from authors rather than from selling books.

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    1. The sad thing is that if this author had taken the money she spent on the vanity press and used that to hire a competent editor and cover designer, she'd have ended up with a product to be proud of.

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  6. Oh no, I would want to cry too! It's one thing if you can see that someone has slapped something up on Amazon themselves without taking reasonable care, it's another when they've been conned/charmed/hoodwinked into paying for something so substandard :(

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    1. The part that upsets me most is that she doesn't realise it's substandard. But one day she will realise, and that's going to hurt.

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  7. Iola that's so awful! The poor thing. So unfair, so wrong and just 'unChristian'. Forget tears - it made my blood boil!

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    1. Yes, anger was my second reaction, and I don't see any issue with that. After all, Jesus got angry when the moneylenders in the temple.

      I find many Christians subscribe to the Bambi philosophy: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. There's nothing nice to say about companies like this, and too many people therefore say nothing at all, which means more people get caught in the trap.

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    2. *with the moneylenders.

      As usual, I only notice the error after hitting "Publish" (another reason not to use a vanity press: I've heard of one that makes a lot of money by charging to correct errors).

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  8. I've a friend who spent thousands on two vanity published books. They are un-readable. She also said it killed her creativity and has not really written anything since, although she still desires the writing life, being part of a writing group and an editorial committee for our local anthology. So sad to hear stories like this. I'm thankful for mentors and discerning readers who help make stories the best they can be before offering them to the world.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear that, Raelene. I think that's the worst part: that deception like this kills the creative spirit.

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  9. When trying to publish my Christian manuscript recently, the publishing house that required me to jump through the most hoops (which I assumed meant they were legitimate) then came back with a cleverly worded email from what was clearly a vanity publisher. He made it sound like he had read the whole book (although, from what he mentioned of the story, it's likely he only read the first and last chapters) and tried to sweet talk me with tales of how he wanted to start a relationship with Aussie Christian bookstores like Koorong. Then he said that it would be a 'co-contribution' setup, and he could do it for me for as little as $2000+. I politely declined.

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    1. As little as $2,000? Bargain! Not.

      I'm pleased you're savvy enough to know what to look out for. Sadly, too many authors aren't.

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  10. An awesome blog. How many times have I been stung by people waving the "Christian" flag. It's a very sad thing. We need to be wiser than that.

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    1. Thank, Brian. You're exactly right: we need to be wiser, and we need to be prepared to tell the truth, so people don't get stung like this.

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  11. Such a terrible shame to hear of these heartbreaking experiences, Iola.

    Next week's blog should be a real eye-opener. Thanks for making us aware so we don't become too trusting of those who promote themselves as Christian. As Jesus said, 'by their fruits you shall know them.'

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    1. Actually, Rita, one of the companies I'm going to talk about next week offered to publish one of your books, and you asked me to check them out. That's how I found out about them.

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  12. They obviously have editing standards - very low editing standards! Oops! Adverb alert!

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  13. That's so unfair. I feel for her too. All that work. :-(

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