Publishing Pirates

Publishing PiratesI love pirate stories … and in fact, Laura and I are writing a fun pirate story right now in the second Dragon’s Bard online serial novel, ‘Blackshore.’ However, pirates in the real world are truly frightening, without morals and predators who prey upon those who cannot defend themselves. As a cautionary example, I’d like to introduce you to one of our latest Scribe’s Forge authors (who also produces his music online here) and his experience being hijacked by pirates of publishing…

My name is J. Eric Booker. Since I began writing 11 years and 5 months ago, I have written 4 ½ novels, including a “Who done it?” Murder-Mystery and an Epic Fantasy Trilogy—currently I am working on a Romance and am planning to write a few other genres of books—no doubt “my name” will last until the End of Time, just like William Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne Rice, Stephen King, and of course your awesome hosts of Scribe’s Forge, Tracy & Laura Hickman.

Two of Eric’s books are listed as available — ‘published’ — on Amazon.com. The first is “The Making…” from 2004 and the second is “The Sword of the Sultan: Book I of III”. One would normally think that being published would be a cause for celebration … but examine the pages again.

MISTAKE #1: If you take a closer look underneath the picture of The Making… you will read the following message: “Out of print.” This message has read this way … for the last 7 years, right after the last of the 1st batch of books “sold out,” which event occurred only 6 months after they were “officially released” by a particular publishing company that shall remain nameless in this report for legal reasons. Never did this publisher deliver me any sort of report as to how many books were initially made, nor did they assist me in the marketing or advertising, nor was I ever issued a paycheck for sold books. Never was a second batch made!

When I asked the publisher why production had stopped, they sent me a cold letter that basically stated, “We’re discontinuing your product because of a lack of a sales in an efficient timeframe and we have lost enough money. If you want your copyrights back, so that you can seek out other publishing companies, you will have to pay us an additional $500.”  I had already paid them $750 when I first signed the contract.

Now, I have not personally read Eric’s contract with this so-called ‘publisher’ but from a cursory examination of the facts he presents here these pirates not only have robbed him once but have robbed him repeatedly and continue to rob him today.

  1. The copyright to any written work is owned by the author until he assigns it to someone else. I am assuming that these pirates in their contract specifically had him sign away the rights to his work as part of their ‘Pirate Publishing’ contract. In traditional publishing — as we discuss in our sixth seminar, ‘Evolutionary Publishing’ — the writer ALWAYS maintains their copyright and only licenses the rights to publish the book to a publisher. The only exception is ‘work for hire’ — which this book clearly is not. This was their first act of piracy.
  2. He paid them to publish his book. This, too, is an act of piracy albeit a lesser act … more like a misdemeanor of publishing. Real publishers pay you for the rights to publish the book. Anyone who asks you for money to publish your book is not a publisher … they are a vanity press and your expectations should be different in this case. This should be counted as their second act of piracy.
  3. Even if he had given them all the rights AND paid them for it — they appear to have broken the contract. Was there a royalty agreement in the contract? Was there a reporting agreement in the contract? Were there stated minimums? Was there a rights reversion clause? We cover all of these aspects in our sixth seminar materials … but it looks to me that this Pirate Publisher should have broken several aspects of their original agreement. If they have … then ANY assignment of rights by the author would be null and void. The copyright should revert to the author since the pirate publisher did not appear to fulfill their part of the agreement. They are committing their third act of piracy by maintaining that they can hold his own copyright hostage when they have failed to perform their side of the contract.
  4. Asking Eric to pay them to get his copyright back … when, in fact, he may already OWN that same copyright because of the failure of the pirates to perform … is holding his own hijacked copyright for ransom. Again, I cannot give specific advice because I am not an attorney and I have not read the specific contract involved but I think any public advocate could give Eric advice on this. From my armchair perspective these pirates are asking a ransom for something they do not even have in their possession … pretty brazen piracy, eh?

The sad nightmare continues with a second publisher.

Despite this financial setback at the time when my 1st book stopped, I had just completed writing The Swords of the Sultan! And as I figured this 2nd story would be the “key to all my problems,” I began submitting it out to publishers all across the Internet…hundreds of publishers. Only 1 company ever responded back right away with a publishing contract; and after a month-or-so without any other offers from any other companies, I read yet again through the beautiful-sounding contract & signed the dotted line.

MISTAKE #2! This publisher was just as sinister…though they didn’t ask for a $750 down payment like my first ex-publisher, this company treated me far worse! They even used the contract against me when I objected to the pathetic-looking book-cover design they drew up, as well the pathetic editing job that they performed—there were even basic spelling errors in it! This time I raised such a horrendous stink (threatening them with the Better Business Bureau) that the publishing company had no choice to but to send me a letter that stated that our publishing contract was over.

At least in this case, Eric managed to get control of his copyrights back. Again, we see the difference between legitimate publishers and pirates.

One of the reasons that pirates are so romantic in our minds is that they are flattering rogues: like naughty, playful children. Real pirates are deadly predators who will tell you what you want to hear just before they go for your throat. That, too is a real problem because we all want to hear how wonderful we are as writers, that we have promise, that our ‘baby is beautiful’ no matter how ugly is really is.

If you want to be told how swell you are … you’ve come to the wrong place. We want to create careers … not just add to the bad fiction already crowding the world at the expense of others. Pirates will tell you any flattering thing to separate you from your purse … Scribe’s Forge is about telling you what you need to know to make your book and story worthy of a loyal and returning audience. Bring your manuscript or story to us and we’ll tell you not if it has problems … but how to fix them before it ever reaches your potential reader.

Only recently have I first run across Scribe Forge, and already do I believe that I may have just found the solution to my publishing problems, thanks to the awesome advice of Tracy & Laura Hickman, which is to self-publish through their system and to take their offered workshops & seminars. After all, look at the incredible successes they possess…New York Times Best Sellers!!! You don’t get any better than that my fellow authors…truly the “esteemed publishers” out there nowadays have their doors sealed closed. Just about all the rest are sharks…..

J. Eric Booker

Thanks, Eric … now let’s sink these pirates, leave them in our wake and get about the business of telling worthy stories!

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