Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A New Way To Rob the Poor?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

Simon & Schuster has announced they’re getting into the self-publishing business with a new imprint called Archway Publishing.


Not really. Well, actually, not at all.

Why? Lots of reasons, the biggest of which being cost. The  publishing packages go from $1,599 all the way up to $24,999. How much you get depends on how much you pay--and quite honestly, how much you get doesn’t seem at all commensurate with how much you pay. These are services you can provide for yourself at a fraction of the cost. Besides, I've heard there's a land called Amazon where authors can publish their books free of charge.

And a few of the services themselves seem questionable. For example, the packages don't include editorial assistance; those can be obtained for an additional cost ranging from .035 to .05 per word (So as an example, for a 100,000 word manuscript, you can add an additional $3500-$5,000). They do, however, include what they call an Editorial Assessment, which in reality, amounts to nothing more than a sample edit (typically the first chapter, or about 1,700 words).

Here’s another problem: after paying all that money, authors are also required to hand over a cut of their sales, half, to be exact, for an e-book.

One more interesting (if not misleading) fact: Simon & Schuster will not be hiring new staff to provide these services. Actually, they won’t be providing them at all. The venture will be operated by the folks at Author Solutions (recently bought by Pearson), a vanity press that itself has questionable practices, not to mention a litany of complaints from its customers, not to mention, a statement from an employee, quoted as saying:
 You folks have no idea how deep the deceit runs at Author Solutions.
So really, Simon & Shuster is doing nothing more than lending an air of legitimacy to a company that seems to be lacking any. All this at a substantially higher cost than what Author Solutions normally charges its regular customers.

They do offer the enticement of the “Opportunity For Discovery”.  According to their website, there’s this:
Additionally, we will alert Simon & Schuster to Archway Publishing titles that perform well in the market. Simon & Schuster is always on the lookout for fresh, new voices and they recognize a wealth of potential talent in Archway authors. 
But you don’t have to be an Archway author for that. Simon & Schuster and several of the other Big Six (or soon to be, Big Five) publishers have been grabbing independent titles from Amazon's bestsellers lists for quite some time now. So again, yet another service you can provide for yourself, and again, at a fraction of the cost. 

The short version? This feels like another example of the big publishing houses trying to take advantage of an industry they not only wanted no part of, but also one that came as a direct result of their poor treatment of authors and ones aspiring to be. 

Or even shorter: a new way to rob the poor.


  1. I'm with you. It looks like a huge ripoff, and authors who go for it won't even get the S&S brand. I can't see how this venture will be successful. Too many other companies and individual service providers are offering better deals. It reeks of desperation for cash flow.

  2. Well said, both Andrew and L.J.

    It seems like there should be a win-win way for publishers to build a new brand for themselves directed toward writers who are seeking publication. For example, a publisher could offer legitimate services under one roof that writers would pay for independently anyway (editing, formatting, cover, etc.), and offer writers an incentive (as in marketing) for electing to use them. Is that so hard to see?

  3. Like a friend of mine once said, "There are more people out there making money off of authors than there are authors making money."

  4. A sad state of affairs... *shakes head in disbelief*

    Thanks for this exposé, Drew.

  5. I'm not surprised by the move by Simon & Schuster. Penguin Books have aquired Author House. Which by the way cost more than what Simon & Schuster branch is offering. Even more disappointing as you said, they didn't change any of the policies or the staff.
    Hence forth why I dropped Author House or any of them and went to BookLocker, where you have to submit your book as if you were submitting to a traditoinal publisher and yes they have turned down dozens of work.
    I hope many people read this blog. Great article.
    Carla Landreth
    Author of Devil's Concubine

  6. As I posted on Michele Scott's facebook post about this news...speechless. Good this is being exposed for the scam it is.

  7. How sad, and how sad for all the eager new authors who may jump on this because it is Simon and Shuster sponsored.

    Peg, people don't go for your suggestion because there isn't as much money in that in the short term. Why offer authors editing for $500 or cover design for the same amount when you can charge thousands for the full package?

  8. Just another coat of paint to gloss over the defects in the old vanity publishing house.

  9. Maryann, re your cost analysis there, a decent edit of a whole manuscript often costs more than $500 (could easily be double that or more), and I've had 3 covers designed for $100 or less each, so I can't see designing one cover costing anywhere near the same as editing 80-100,000 words!

  10. Thanks for the excellent comments so far, everyone. I'd love to hear more thoughts on the topic.

    It's difficult for me to see things like this--No, actually, that's not a strong enough sentence: It infuriates me because I know how desperate some authors might feel while trying to make it in this business. I was one of them. Vanity presses take advantage of that desperation the most selfish way possible--out of greed.

    This is not the answer. It's predatory. It's wrong. It's throwing a big name around to attract the vulnerable.

    My sense is that in time, these vanity imprints will fail--I just hope there aren't too many people who suffer before they do.

  11. Recently attended a Writer's Digest conference in Hollywood. Abbey Books is their publishing affiliate and their representative is a spellbinder. Not surprisingly. I was astounded at the prices they were asking for different packages. Gob-smacked as the Brits say. It's not a lot different than what you've written here. Sigh. Big sigh. Sales guy called me up afterward and I had a hard time convincing him I didn't have $25K which was my custom package. Persistent. Special price if I sign in 30 days.

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  13. I do workshops for those wanting to be published, and I try to explain the true dangers in the business. Most newbies are afraid that somebody in publishing is waiting to steal their manuscript and make millions off their work--I tell them it's a whole lot easier for the bad guys to get aspiring authors to pay lots of money for stuff they don't need and produce books for them that they'll never be able to sell.

  14. "Besides, I've heard there's a land called Amazon where authors can publish their books free of charge."

    Please don't discount Barnes and Noble PubIt!, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, and All Romance eBooks (and I'm sure there are others) as places where you can self-publish w/o having to pay a dime to them. Amazon's great, but don't put all your eggs in one basket.

    Yes, you should still contract out for professional editing, and cover art (if you can't design yourself), but you can find those services offered at good quality for a flat fee at a fraction of the cost S&S/AuthorSolutions rip-off artists are offering, AND you don't have to give up 1/2 of your royalties on top of it!

  15. Very good point, Stacey, and my oversight. There are plenty of other reputable online retailers who will allow you to self-publish. Mostly, I was using Amazon as a prime example of one. The great thing is that these days, aspiring authors have so many choices and no longer have to resort to paying ridiculous amounts of money.

  16. The publishing business is suffering from the economy and the competition of new technology that is available to authors. Vanity Presses were the thing of the past. Authors had become too aware to pay out $10,000, 20,000, or more to see their manuscripts go to print. Beware the wolves in sheep clothing are sneaking back into the picture.

    I am an author and I’ve branched out on my own to publish my novels. What I have learned about the ins and outs of self-publishing has been a great eye-opener. Amazon paints a picture-that is a paint-by-number picture—that anyone can produce a magnificent book in ten easy steps. Not true.

    To do it right, you need to understand all of the venues that it takes to publish your book. I am a life-long visual artist (painting, stippling, photography, etc.) and even I had to do additional training to learn about book cover design, trailer development, and book marketing not to mention educating myself about printing issues, editing, formatting, etc..

    Many authors do not have the skills to do it on their own; therefore, they must be able to recognize the predators out there.

    Authors are creative people and know their unique skill, which is writing. Publishing has skills, too. It is not a crime for both groups to be paid for their unique skills and acknowledge. However, the vanity press wants more.

    What has come up through the ashes of the changing and struggling publishing industry are three choices, traditional publishing, honest self-publishing companies (P.O.D.), and vanity presses.

    Of course, the author has the choice to it their self, many have and have done a great job, or they can hire people with the skills to produce a quality product. Whether it is a full service-publishing package or ala carté service, or the traditional route, authors can take control. Articles like this help authors make the right decisions.

    We need more people writing about the predatory actions of some in the industry. Thank you, Andrew and shame on Simon & Schuster!

  17. All very good points, Chris, and so true. I had to stumble my way through the marketing process, and it was a bumpy road because back then there weren't many options. The great thing is that now, there are so many reasonably priced and reputable services available. My fear is that those less familiar with How Things Work might fall prey to those who want to take advantage of their inexperience.

  18. This is horrifying. I had a feeling it would be when I first heard the announcement, but thanks for sharing some specific numbers. How do they even find enough people with that kind of money to spend?


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