Thursday, July 26, 2018

Partridge Publishing, Author Solutions and other publishing scams

Image courtesy of
Have you heard of 'ambulance chasers'? Those are lawyers who chase after ambulances in order to persuade the victims of accidents to sue so they can make money. They're not particularly respected in the legal fraternity, and generally they're considered to be the lawyers so bad at what they do that they can't get business in more legit ways.

Well, we have ambulance chasers in the publishing industry too - in fact, they're worse than dodgy lawyers. Because these aren't just dodgy publishers, they're conmen pretending to be publishers. They often call themselves 'self-publishing imprints' (which is a huge misnomer, since an 'imprint' is a division of a publisher, while self publishing means going it alone without a publisher) but the rest of the industry knows them better as 'vanity presses'.

A vanity press is a 'publishing' company that appeals to the vanity of newbie writers. Aspirant writers send in their manuscripts and receive glowing praise back telling them their books are wonderful, and that the publisher most definitely wants to publish their books - for a price.

The aspirant writer, basking in the glow of the praise, and under pressure from the publisher, doesn't think to go to Google and double check the publisher's credibility (or if they do, they don't look beyond the first few hits on Google, which are usually the publisher's own website) and so they sign up and hand over their credit card details to publish their book.

At this stage, you're probably thinking "Where's the con in that? The author paid for a service, and got it." The answer is: yes and no.

Sure, the author paid and got a service. But it probably wasn't the service they were expecting. Because instead of their wonderful, "sure to be a bestseller" book rocketing up the charts, the only copies sold are the ones the author buys. Why?

Because the customers of these types of publishers are not readers. Their customers are the authors. Remember that hefty fee you paid up front - why would they need to sell books to readers when they already have your money in the bank? They are in the business of selling your own books to you. And if that isn't already bad enough, they won't stop there.

Once you've signed up with them, they will continue to contact you to sell you new products and 'top up packages'. Your first ebook cover goes up on Amazon, and while you're still going "squee! I have a real book!" they invite you to order print books. Still basking in the glow, you agree. Another payment goes off your account. The box of books arrives, and you're so excited to see your name on a real cover. Within hours you get the phone call inviting you to now buy their 'marketing' package. It's not accidental. They track the courier package, know when you signed for the parcel, and catch you while you're still riding the high of opening that parcel of books. And that's why they call it vanity publishing - they are master manipulators at playing to an author's vanity.

Before you know it, you've shelled out thousands and thousands of Rands - and sadly, only then do most of their authors finally start to ask "but what am I getting in return for my money?" Chances are: very little. Aside from being able to say to friends and family "look, my book is available on Amazon" and apart from that box of books you've paid for which are taking up space in your garage, you are unlikely to sell a single copy.

Most books published by these vanity publishers are poorly edited, if at all. Most are not yet ready for publication, as any legit publisher would tell you. Most have atrocious covers which are not professionally designed to attract the right kind of readers. And that 'marketing' you paid for was probably limited to a press release to newspapers and reviewers who didn't even read it.

Instead, for a fraction of the price, you could have bought a pre-made cover, hired an editor, and sent out your own targeted review requests (for free), and you'd have a far more saleable product.

But you know what the real tragedy is? The real tragedy is that aspiring authors fall for these scams every single day. It amazes me how easily people spends thousands of Rands without even doing the simplest of Google searches. An internet search would reveal articles such as this one on, this article by respected indie author David Gaughran, this link to Independent Publishing Magazine, and the entire Writers Beware blog.

So how, aside from doing a Google search, can you sniff out which publishers are legit and which are scams? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before handing over your credit card details:
  • Did you find this publisher by clicking on an advert? Real publishers don't take out Google ads - they don't need to.
  • Were you referred to this publisher by a well known publishing house that wasn't itself prepared to publish your book? The bad news is that the biggest vanity publisher on the block, Author Solutions, is in partnership with big, well known publishers. Books that aren't yet publishable get passed on to vanity publishers so they can still make money off your book without actually having to put the reputable publisher's name on your book.
  • Is this publisher a specialist in your genre? Even if they are a legit publishing company, if they don't represent your types of books, they're probably not a good fit for your book.
  • Did they ask you to do edits before offering you a contract? Legit publishers will always ask for revisions before agreeing to buy an unagented debut book. Apart from the fact that all debut books require edits, this is also a test to see if the author is prepared to work with the editor or if they are divas. However, vanity publishers don't care about the quality of your book. They'll tell you it's great and they really want to publish it - without even reading your manuscript.
  • What are their previous and current authors saying about them? Most authors don't mind being contacted for referrals. Finding out if their existing authors are happy with the publisher is as important as asking your Audi-driving friend for their opinion on Audi servicing before you walk into a dealership and sign to buy the latest A4.
  • How do the books they've published rank on Amazon? (Note: books that rank over 1 million are not selling well)
  • They make elaborate claims that your book will be a bestseller, will be made into a movie, or promise a guaranteed number of reviews. No legitimate publisher will make these sorts of promises, since these things cannot be guaranteed.
  • Are they asking you to pay to be published? Legitimate publishing companies cover the costs of editors, cover designers etc and do not ask you for a cent. If you are truly self-publishing, the you would be able to select your choice of cover designer, editor, publicist, formatter and you would negotiate individually with each of these service providers.
  • Are they charging rates that are exorbitant in comparison with what you would pay individual service providers? If you're not sure what reasonable rates are for editing, covers, book formatting etc, then check out this page on our ROSA website.
  • Are they keeping part of your royalties for themselves, even after charging you an up front payment? True self publishing service providers (such as editors and cover designers) get a flat, negotiated rate - they do not get a share of the royalties.
  • Finally, are they linked in any way to Author Solutions? This is the parent company which owns a vast array of vanity publishers, including local Partridge Africa. But there are others too.
In summary, a traditional publisher will cover all costs of publishing your book, in return for a share of the book sales. A self-publisher (you!) pays service providers to assist with specific aspects of publishing, but keeps all profit from book sales and all rights to those books. Anyone who asks you for a share of the profits or rights to your work in addition to charging you a fee is most likely a vanity publisher.

Yes, we understand how desperately you want to be published, how demoralising it is to receive form rejection after form rejection, and how tempting it is to be seduced by the claims of these vanity publishers. But I beg that before you let yourself be seduced, please read all the articles linked in this post.

Even if you don't want to wade through all those articles, read this very short one. It not only gives an overview of the issues faced by customers of vanity publishers, but gives some very handy tips on how to ensure your book is good enough to attract the right kind of attention from the right kind of publishers.

Have you been approached by a vanity publisher, or fallen for one of their scams? Do you have a story to tell? Share your experiences in the comments below to help other writers avoid making the same mistakes.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

New release: Last of the Summer Vines

I continuously remind ROSA members that they can use this blog to promote their new releases, but my own release day came and went and I didn't even think to post about it here! So, to set a good example for all our members, today I'm talking about my book Last of the Summer Vines, which released two weeks ago.

This wasn't a book I planned to write. I'd written a book set behind the scenes on a television series (which won't surprise readers of my previous books) and had just started work on its sequel. But I was struggling to find a home for the completed book, and with each passing month my motivation for writing died a little more. It's hard to write a sequel, no matter how passionate you are about it, when every agent or publisher you query rejects the first book in the series.

Thank heavens for my lovely editor at HarperImpulse, Charlotte Ledger. Though my new books were very different from the kinds of books HarperImpulse were currently publishing, she agreed to read it and give me feedback - and then she gave me the best gift ever: she suggested I write something completely different.

Charlotte suggested I write the kind of book that's currently selling really well in the UK, books I'd taken to calling 'cosy teashop' books. These are gentle books, in which the heroine leaves the big city to rediscover herself in a simpler, country setting - and they usually involve lots of tempting food. Charlotte also suggested Tuscany as a setting. And so I started researching both the genre and the setting. And through researching and then writing this book, I rediscovered my passion for writing again.

Last of the Summer Vines is now on sale, and the reviews that are coming in are very encouraging. But they are just the cherry on the top, because even if no one else likes this book, it's achieved a miracle in my life. It inspired me again, and showed me new possibilities for my career - all the things that the book's heroine, Sarah Wells, discovers when she spends a summer in Tuscany.

I don't expect readers to experience any life-altering revelations while reading Last of the Summer Vines. But if you read this book and get swept away for a few hours, then my joy will be complete.

Love grows where you least expect to find it…

When ambitious workaholic Sarah Wells discovers she has inherited her estranged father’s vineyard near Montalcino in Tuscany, the last thing she wants is to take time away from her busy schedule to sort out a crumbling mess of a palazzo. But, of course, life never runs smoothly and when she makes a rare error, her bosses decide a holiday is just what she needs.

When Sarah arrives in Italy, she learns that she is not her father’s sole heir. In fact, she only has a partial stake in Castel Sant’ Angelo because of a loophole in Italian law. Her father has left the vineyard instead to his business partner, the gorgeous and infuriating Tommaso Di Biasi – and Tomasso doesn’t want to sell.

At first, Sarah wants the deal done as quickly as possible so she can get back to her life in London, but it seems Italy has other plans for her. Under the warmth of the Tuscan sun, with a glass or two of the local vino rosso, and brooding Tommaso challenging her all the way, Sarah starts to realise that that there might just be something to la dolce vita…

Last of the Summer Vines is available from AmazonKoboiBooksGoogle Play and Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Die moderne romanses: ’n gesonde cupcake

Today's post is by Cliffordene Norton, editor at Lapa Uitgewers.  Thank you, Cliffordene!

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Sprokies vir volwassenes, dis hoe romanses dikwels beskryf word.

Maar ’n leser van romantiese fiksie weet dat dié genre en vroulike issues dikwels saam stap. Die dae van ’n vrou wat met haar nommer drie-skoentjies, onmenslike skoonheid en kraakvars onskuld wag vir ’n man om haar van oujongnooistatus te kom red is gelukkig verby.

Maar in ’n tendense wat al hoe meer in Afrikaanse romanse voorkom is dat voorheen taboe temas soos depressie, onvrugbaarheid en kanker meer in liefdesverhale na vore kom. En as ’n ywerige leser en uitgewer van romanses, kan ek net sê: Hier kom ’n goeie ding!

Die donker kant van die lewe begin sy skadu saggies oor romanses gooi, maar in plaas daarvan om die sprokieselement van die verhaal weg te neem, skep dit ’n verhaal met diepte, wat meer eg en meer emosiegedrewe is. Lig en hoopvol maar met ’n goeie skoot realisme in.

Een boek wat kenmerkend is van hierdie soort verhale is ongetwyfeld Sophia Kapp se Oorlewingsgids vir ’n bedonnerde diva. Wie ken nie die diva nie? Die hoofkarakter word soos volg bekend gestel: “Dit is Simoné se annus horribilis. Op vier en veertig stap sy vir die tweede keer uit ʼn huwelik, bankrot, werkloos, moedeloos, verbrysel.” Hierdie vrou en die lewe het duidelik mekaar al ’n paar rondtes aangevat.

Die diva is ’n karakter wat min in vroue- of romantiese fiksie voorkom: eg menslik, modern met bagasie. Hierdie egtheid en die struikelblokke waardeur vroue vind al hoe meer hul plek in boeke.

In Romanza het dit begin met Didi Potgieter se ’n Tweedehandse hart (Julie 2016) waar die held en heldin hul verhouding beëindig na die miskraam van hul kind. Helene en Cronjé is alledaagse mense, vriende wat jy ken, en daarin lê die mag van die verhaal.

Die Romanza-skrywer, Marilé Cloete, het verlede jaar begin om ernstiger temas in haar verhaal aan te spreek. In haar novelle, Man met ’n hart (RomanzaLiefde, Augustus 2017) is die heldin, Jackie, in ’n rolstoel. In Marilé se Oktober 2017-Romanza, Moed vir die liefde, het sy oor nog ’n ernstige tema geskryf. Die pragtige held, Dawid, het depressie. My kollega, Marlies Haupt, het die verhaal uitgegee, en gevra: “Sal jy verlief kan raak op ’n held met depressie?”

Die antwoord was nie net ja nie, maar ja met hartjies in die oë. Dawid se siekte is met empatie en egtheid aangepak. Hy was vir my dapper, want sy siekte, was net dit − ’n siekte en dit het hom nie minder manlik of aantreklik gemaak nie. En hy is die woord ‘held’ in alle opsigte waardig.

Boeke wat hierdie temas aanpak is nie heeltemal nuut nie, maar dit is dun gesaai. Dit het gelyk soos slegs ’n gelukskoot toe verskyn daar meer boeke wat vroue issues en aktuele sake aanspreek. Karlien Badenhorst se novelle Jy het my hart (RomanzaLiefde, Julie 2018) spreek onvrugbaarheid aan en hoe ’n vrou haarself beskou as sy nie kan kinders kry nie.

My kollega, Charlene Hougaard, het ook manuskripte ontvang wat ernstiger temas aanvat, soos Marilé Cloete se Logika van die liefde (Oktober 2018) met borskanker as tema en Elsa Winckler se Vir ewig my altyd (November 2018) wat deur die #MeToo-beweging geïnspireer is. Dit het my laat glo dat boek wat lekker lees én moeiliker temas aanspreek dalk die norm sal word.

Hierdie boeke is nie net vir ons as uitgewers lekker nie, maar die lesers is mal daaroor. Amelia Strydom skryf op GoodReads: “Hoe wonderlik om ʼn romanse met soveel diepte te lees! Marilé Cloete – een van my gunsteling Romanza skrywers – bewys in Moed vir die Liefde dat swaarder, donkerder onderwerpe sinvol hanteer kan word in hierdie lekkerleesgenre.”

Wat inspireer dit? Wel, ons kan kyk na die internasionale mark. Die Amerikaanse historiese romanseskrywer, Sarah MacLean, het openlik erken dat sy nie meer haar hertog in The Day of the Duchess kon vat na Trump se verkiesing nie. Vrouefiksie boeke soos Gail Honeyman se Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine is topverkopers en die beweging het selfs nou ’n naam: up lit.

Is hierdie beweging doelbewus? Miskien, maar dit is ook vir my ’n gevestigde karaktereienskap van die romansegenre: Dit spreek vroue se issues aan. In ons huidige tydgees en land is daar baie issues wat vroue in die gesig staar. Hoekom dit in romanses uitlos as dit deel van ons alledaagse lewe en liefde is?