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Predatory Labeling Goes Too Far

December 1, 2015

Label of predatory publishing goes too far

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock (213109372)

Wow. I feel so victimized, and I haven’t even been touched. Why? Because I operate a small publishing company that is for all practical purposes a subsidy press. The national writers’ organization I belong to has chosen to label all such endeavors as “Predatory Publishers” and virtually every renowned blogger is currently dousing the Ethernet with vitriol about these “unethical, greedy, deceitful scam artists.”

Really. I take personal offense, people. We are not all that way. My little publishing house is tiny, and was set up primarily for my own work (read: self-publishing). For a very short time I agreed to publish books for two other people, both of whom knew exactly what I offered and did not expect anything different. You see, when I first began floundering through the learning curve of setting up as a small publisher, I quickly realized I would never have the resources to deal with other authors the way large traditional presses do. There was no way I could afford to front others’ expenses, pay thousands of dollars for advances, nor put my family’s finances at risk on the hopes that my authors’ books would sell and make any significant profit. My own books could not guarantee me those things.

The Romance Writers of America hesitated to let me join because I owned my little business. I had to assure and promise them that I had not, did not, and would not solicit other romance writers to publish through me. I also had to agree, or should I say I was “told,” that I would always be ineligible for all RWA contests, special promotions, and election to any office. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but I believed the relationship was still worth the pain, so I joined. There have been numerous times since then that the bitter taste rises in my throat, when I wish I could enter contests, or purchase advertising, or simply be accepted into the Published Author Network ranks. I do have two novel-length books out there, with modest but positive reviews, but since they haven’t earned the minimums recently defined for acceptance into PAN, I continue to sit on the sidelines. Actually, I am not overly hurt on that one. If an author can’t market herself enough to earn those minimums, then maybe she hasn’t finished paying her real-life dues yet. Point taken.

What truly does bother me, though, are the all-encompassing, scurrilous “predatory” labels attached to everything “subsidy.” I may not promote my services, but there are other writers out there who have queried me from time to time about using my company to quasi-self-publish their work. I’m not totally averse to that, but so far I’ve declined. With all the bad-mouthing hitting the internet right now, it is probably not in their best interests to purchase anyone’s services – and that puts all of them at the mercy of Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes & Noble and all the other giant publishing corporations. I’ve been fortunate to possess a lot of the skills and software necessary for my publishing process, including a regular publisher account with Ingram/Lightning Source. I do not, however, have the knowledge or temperament to deal with eBook file conversion – I hire others to do that for me. Does that mean those people are “preying” on me? Hardly. The lady who does my file conversion is also a personal friend, and she has been far more conscientious, flexible and generous with me than most of the other people in the industry with whom I have dealt.

I hesitate to use the term “conspiracy” but why is this hostility being broadcast at roughly the same time? Are the traditional powers-that-be uniting to drive all subsidy presses, and perhaps all small presses, out of business through fear and intimidation? Understandably, the handful of companies that have indeed been victimizing thousands of naive but hopeful authors have been dragged into courts for some time now. It seems appropriate to let the public know that those entities truly are scam artists to be avoided at all costs – and cost they do. I remember looking into several of them prior to finishing my first manuscript. Even then, I realized how much money was wanted to simply provide the setup and initial print run of a single title, and how little else was furnished – no advance, no advertising or marketing – all of those items were pricey add-ons. Authors were essentially on their own to sell that first copy and every copy after that. Traditional publishers certainly provided more, but even they were gearing up to have their stable of authors provide ever more of their own marketing efforts. The time and effort required to track down agents and/or publishers who might be interested in my books seemed overwhelming.

Another staggering issue was having to be tied to a publisher’s timetable. I had – and still have – a full-time career outside of publishing. It pays virtually all the bills. No publisher was going to work around my primary work obligations. Hence my decision to self-publish. That choice has yet to work out well money-wise for me, but the flexibility allows me to continue earning a living until such time as I can devote more hours to self-promotion. I have faith in what I write. I even have a small group of fans who continually ask when the next book is coming out. That little bit of encouragement helps me to keep working toward that goal.

So, having meandered all over this subject of irritation and frustration, I find I am no closer to having any answers to my questions. Nor am I likely to have changed any minds higher up the food chain about their unfortunate choice of social labeling that includes those of us who are anything but “predatory.”

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