The Craft
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On the Selling of Shovels

In any gold rush, it’s not the prospectors who make the most money: it’s the people selling the picks and shovels.

Writing scams are nothing new. Before I was even born, Jessica Mitford famously (and finally–it was years before she could find a magazine that would take the story) was able to publish her expose on Famous Writers School, a very much for profit institution that treated eager would-be-authors as a revenue stream and bilked thousands. Even besides that case, vanity presses had a well deserved reputation for leaving an author stranded with a thousand copies of a book they couldn’t sell sitting in their garage. The end result was the same: the author wasn’t the client or even the commodity. The author was the customer, the end of the sales chain.

Once you’ve sold the prospector his supplies, what do you care if he strikes gold?

One of the more recent forces of this type has been (formerly)¬†Penguin Random House owned Author Solutions, which has an astonishing track record in this regard. They basically list as number one of Writer Beware’s list of publishers to be avoided at all costs, and for very good reason. The list of unnecessary or overpriced services that this company offers makes it very clear that they’re not interested in selling an author’s books nearly as much as they’re interesting in selling TO the author. Recently this article came to my attention. For those who don’t want to follow the link, it basically details how Barnes & Nobles’ Nook Press is subcontracted out to Author Solutions — and forwards its customers to them for the big marketing sales pitch.

More shovels. More picks.

Want to know who really struck gold in the Alaska Gold Rush? The fellow who set up a hot coffee stand on the trail up to the claim sites. HE ended up rich as Midas.

There’s a famous saying about this industry: money should always flow to a writer, not away from them. The emphasis on that is traditional publishing centered. Self-published authors know that’s all but impossible. Everyone wants their cut. Everyone is offering some indispensable service. People will tear you apart if your book isn’t edited and proofed to perfection, never mind that most Big Published books aren’t either. The cover isn’t amazing? Get out of here and stop wasting our time. There’s incredible pressure on indie authors to buy services to make themselves look professional. A better cover, a pass from a really good editor (story editor, line editor, proofreader). The costs add up fast. Then your first book doesn’t sell as well as you’d hoped and when some group like Author Solutions comes along and promises sales, you start to think that maybe that’s a good idea. You have to spend money to make money, right. Right?

It’s not a good idea. It will never be a good idea.

Stay away.

Want to know who made their first millions with the California Gold Rush?


This entry was posted in: The Craft


Jenn is a writer, artist, and game producer living in a castle near the sea in a land called Honalee. (If anyone can prove any of that's not true, please email us and we'll update this page immediately.) She writes epic fantasy.

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