So yesterday I got a letter from Dorrance Publishing. Which surprised me, because I don't ever submit my work anywhere, so it's not like I'm accustomed to getting form letters from publishing companies. Imagine my surprise when I got this little gem (my thoughts in italics):

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Dear Sariah:

One of our researchers has discovered Discovered! You are so special we DISCOVERED you! your manuscript registration with the Library of Congress and has forwarded your name to me as a possible candidate for publication with our company.

As an author, you are probably aware of (and perhaps have experienced) some of the problems of trying to get your work published by a commercial publisher. Just having your manuscript read by most commercial publishers is difficult and usually involves long delays. Publishing is haaarrddd. You don't want to do hard stuff, right? No worries – do we have a shortcut for you!!!

Dorrance Publishing Company, Inc. provides a practical and by practical we mean mind-blowingly expensive alternative for consideration by authors of book length fiction and nonfiction manuscripts, collections of poetry, collections of short stories, children's books, etc., who wish to see their works in print. Notice how we don't mention that you could see your work in print TOMORROW if you used CreateSpace through Amazon. For free. You don't have to pay CreateSpace $10,000. Free is better. Trust me on this one.

The Dorrance name has been associated with a tradition of quality by whose standards? Not the publishing industry's publishing services since 1920 as if this somehow legitimizes them. Ripping you off since 1920! Ninety-five years of screwing potential authors out of their hard-earned money! I would welcome the opportunity to discuss our services with you and to review your manuscript to determine whether it meets our requirements for publication, pretty sure their strict, standard of excellence to meet their requirements for publication is that you have some words on paper. But this is to make you feel even more oh-so-special when they call you to let you know that YOU'VE DONE IT! Your book is so, so, so good, and they just can't wait to publish you and take your money! and if so, if we can be of help. You may oh, may I? Really, may I? submit your completed, typewritten manuscript to me for a no-fee, no-obligation review. This is a free service offered by every other publishing agent and publishing company already. It shouldn't cost you anything. That they offer it up to you like they're doing you a huge favor is ridiculous.

Your completed manuscript may also be sent to me on disk or as an e-mail attachment at jnovak@dorrancepublishing.com in ONE, CONTINUOUS FILE. If you choose to submit your manuscript in either of these formats, please seave it in a common word process program such as Microsoft Word for Windows. Basically we're assuming that if you're supid enough to fall for this, that logically you won't have any technical knowhow or capabilities because real writers know how to submit their work. Hopefuls may not. Also, if your completed, typewritten manuscript is less than 50 pages, you may fax it to my attention at 1-412-338-0427.

You're invited to call me, toll-free, at 866-387-8539, Monday through Friday. When writing or sending a manuscript, please address all correspondence to Jamie Novak and include your name, address, and phone number.

By all means, call and/or send a copy of your completed manuscript as soon as possible to reserve a place on our busy review schedule.
Sounds a bit like an informercial, right? ACT NOW!!! I'm fairly certain their busy review schedule is always open for somebody willing to pay. I look forward to hearing from you. You'll see in a bit that she did not, in fact, look forward to hearing from me.

Sincerely,
Jamie Novak
Publishing Services Consultant

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I was already in a bit of a mood when this letter arrived, and it just sort of set me off. I think vanity presses are amongst some of the absolute worst kind of professional predators out there. They promise you the moon (as long as you're willing to pay for the very expensive trip), and then leave you stranded.

Because in professional, traditional publishing, money ALWAYS flows TO the author.

Think about it this way – you want to be an actor. You move to Hollywood and you do everything you can to get noticed and to have someone see your talent. Your parents don't think you're an actor. Your friends mock you behind your back. But deep down, you know you're an actor and that you could be successful if someone would just give you a chance.

You take a part in some small production written by a freshman at UCLA who hopes to become a playwright.

After the show, an agent approaches you. You're amazing. You have talent oozing out of you. You're the next Meryl Streep. You're going to be a STAR. All you have to do is sign immediately with this agent, give him $10,000 to cover his expenses as he starts looking for work for you, pay another $5,000 to get new headshots, and an additional $10,000 to join his acting classes to brush up on your technique (not that you really need it, you're going to be a star, after all). He explains that this is an investment. You're investing in your future by going with him.

A second agent approaches you after the first. She thinks you have real, raw talent. You might need to work a little to refine the edges, but she can see your potential. She wants to represent you. She will take 15% of whatever job she gets you. If you don't get paid, she doesn't get paid.

Which agent do you think will find you a real, actual job? Which agent has the incentive to do so?

If you said the second, ding, ding, ding! You win a prize. Because Agent 1 already got all his money from you and from every other hopeful in Hollywood desperate enough to do and pay whatever it takes to get noticed. Why would he find you work? The second agent doesn't make any money unless you make money, so she will hustle to find you a job.

The same is true in publishing. If a publishing company is offering you the "opportunity" or "privilege" to get published and it will only cost you a small fortune, RUN. They make their money off of every naïve and unaware person who falls into their trap. They don't need to promote you or advertise you or make any effort at all. They've already made their money. A publisher who gives you an advance and won't make any other money until your book makes money has an incentive to really push you and get you out there. Much as I dislike the Big 5 in New York, at least they still do this part of it correctly (although they take too much of the money, which is a post for another day).

I wrote her back. This made me mad. They're using people's inexperience and lack of knowledge against them.

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You sent me a letter dated August 3 inviting me to submit to your company for possible publication. Unfortunately for you, I am an informed author and I know that your company is nothing but a vanity press and a scam. I make thousands of dollars a month publishing independently and with one of Amazon's publishing imprints. They - get this - pay ME money and then they market my book to thousands of readers! You, on the other hand, take tens of thousands of dollars for nothing. So you create a printed copy. So what? I can do that through CreateSpace for free. Why would I use your "services?"

I think it's disgusting that you're using the copyright registry to troll for unsuspecting and naive authors who want so badly to be published they'll do anything to get it, including paying ripoff organizations like yours thousands of dollars.

You are a disgusting bottom-feeder to prey on the hopes and dreams and finances of others, and I hope your company goes bankrupt and puts all of you out of business.

Don't contact me back - there's nothing you can do or say that would ever change my mind (although I suppose it is possible for you to lessen my opinion of you by trying to still sell your sham services). I just wonder how it is that you sleep at night knowing the harm that you do on a daily basis.

Sariah Wilson

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Like I said, it makes me mad.

She actually responded. I'm not going to fisk this one, because you'll be able to see for yourself all the lies, half-truths and misrepresentations she makes in trying to defend her company

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Well, Sariah, I appreciate you taking the time to state your concerns so respectfully and articulately. Not only am I a proud employee of this company, but I'm also an informed author myself. In fact, I owned my own writing services business (editor, literary agent, tutor – you name it, I have years of experience doing it) before transitioning into my position here. So I would like to make a few things clear. At least then, as you move forward with what I hope is an illustrious publishing career, maybe you won't continue to badmouth us all over town.

A "scam" is some kind of subterfuge, some kind of trick – a dishonest company that says one thing and does another, that steals from people. We are absolutely no such thing. We're incredibly upfront about the fact that authors must pay to publish their work here. Had you taken the time to call me and speak to me in person before berating me with an email, I would've happily told you that you had to pay for publishing with us during our very first conversation. I'm very aware how all facets of the publishing industry work. I know there are companies that pay authors to publish. Unfortunately, given the shifting nature of the publishing industry and the heavy influx of books into the market these days, most new authors go completely unnoticed, even when – get this – their authors don't have to pay anything upfront. But as I have also worked for a commercial (i.e. traditional) publishing company, I know that those companies also take 30-40% royalties, they rarely if ever promote their books, and they usually produce books that are of substandard quality (because they have to crank through books to stay afloat). True, we do have publishing options that run thousands of dollars, but the only people taking advantage of those sort of options are people like Paula Dean, who recently published one of her cookbooks with us and has the ability and desire to invest that kind of money.

I also must further amend your gross generalization: We also have publishing options that are merely a few hundred dollars. For less than the cost of a mediocre washing machine (being in the market for one myself, sigh), we would not only edit, format, create a cover, and yes, print a hard copy, but we would do things like make an e-book, obtain a copyright, post your book on major book distribution websites, boost Google sales, create and disseminate ads online and in print, arrange book signings, recruit published authors to write reviews....and the list goes on and on. We don't force people into buying anything; we don't trick authors. We say, hey, here's a list of everything we can do for you in straightforward terms, and here's the price...interested? Given that we publish hundreds of authors per year, that we've been in business for almost a century, and that we only have a tiny handful (albeit vocal) number of critics, well, I'd say we're doing something right. And for the record, not only do we actively distribute and promote authors' books (which generally results in a tangible boost in sales), we take considerably less of those sales. You publish through CreateSpace, so based on my research, I'm assuming they take 40% of your sales through Amazon? We take a fraction of that. So not only are we helping authors sell more copies, but they also make more money back on each copy sold! It's a fantastic return on investment. And that's what it is ¬– an investment. If an author is willing to invest in their own work, then you better believe that we will pour our hearts and hard work into making sure his/her book does well.

We're a business. Period. In terms of your view that we "troll" for authors on the copyright registry, to be frank, I find it quite ridiculous. Do you think the copyright office would give us these leads if we weren't a reputable company? We're accredited with the Better Business Bureau, and we have no "claims" or "cases" open against us. We offer publishing, book promotion, ghostwriting...we help people achieve their publishing dreams on a DAILY BASIS. I'm actually angry at myself for even bothering to answer this email, because that's 15 minutes that I could've spent helping someone else. You ask how I sleep at night? I'm a person, Sariah. I'm a person with my own life outside of work, and my own passions and hobbies and people I love. I also have a job that affords me the opportunity to help writers each and every single day. I have a group of coworkers that are consistently making me laugh and smile. And yesterday, I helped a man realize his publishing dream of writing a book about his late wife. He and I cried together over the phone after I told him we'd love to help him write his book. You ask how I sleep at night? I sleep like a baby.

I apologize that I didn't listen when you said "Don't contact me back," but sometimes, it's worth it to speak out. Had I said nothing, I would've felt like I substantiated what you said. In this case, I could not let that happen. But don't worry, Sariah, I put you on our unsubscribe list and I marked your account as dead. You will not hear from us ever again.

I hope you feel better getting that off your chest. I know I do.

All the best,
Jamie Novak
Publishing Services Consultant

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(As one aside, I'm not sure Paula Deen is your best bet for "look how great we are!" because I'd bet that Ms. Deen is not able to get a traditional contract right now given the publicity surrounding her.}

What kills me in this letter is the "it's not a scam if I tell everyone about all the various fees up front." I'm pretty sure that if a robber walks into a bank and announced he's robbing them, he will still go to prison for theft. Just because you inform someone about the crime you're going to commit against them doesn't make it not a crime.

Of course I responded because I'm me, and because this kind of lowlife, scummy behavior gets my dander up.

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I'm so glad you feel better. Lying and rationalization will do that for a person. Defend it all you want, but your company (and all your various subsidiary publishing companies you hide behind, i.e., Whitmore Publishing, Rose Dog Publishing, etc.) is listed as a vanity press that no actual author would use, which is why you have to go to the copyright registry (which is public information, by the way, so I find it hilarious that you justify having that information as a sign that you're a reputable business) to find fresh victims. I think it says a lot about what kind of person you are that you "sleep like a baby" after scamming tens of thousands of dollars from desperate people. People so caught up in fulfilling their dream that they sob when you extend them the unbelievable offer of putting their book into print for the low, low price of $10,000!!!

If you were truly a publishing professional, you would know the number one rule of publishing. Money ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS flows TO the author, not away from them. ALWAYS. If an author has to pay anything at all ever to a publishing company, it's not actual publishing. It's, like you, a vanity press preying on people's hopes and dreams to keep itself afloat. You're actually ruining the chances of these people to ever get legitimately published, because nobody in the industry works with an author who uses a vanity press.

I would say that I hope someday you're able to get a legitimate job again, where you really help authors instead of stealing from them, but you obviously enjoy scamming people and are deluded enough to believe the lie.

Since you replied with lies, justifications and excuses, I'll be sure to badmouth you every place and every chance that I get. It'll be fun to get this online and see what the writing community thinks about it. Thanks for that!

And I'll be sure to put @dorrancepublishing.com on my auto delete list because you have no idea just how uninterested I am in your pathetic attempts to justify what you do for a living.

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Predators like this just infuriate me. I hate when people who know better use their knowledge and position to prey on those who are unaware or uninformed.

When I tell people I'm an author, 95% of the time what they say to me is, "I always wanted to write a book." It's an interesting phenomenon, because I'm guessing that when people meet singers or painters they don't say the same sort of thing. It seems to be true only with writing, and I think it's because we're drawn to storytelling. We just know we have a book inside us. And there are some people for whom it will always be a pipe dream and never come to fruition. There are others who decide they want to do it, and will spend the time joining professional organizations and researching online how to do things right.

And then there are those people who will wander in blindly, who don't know what they don't know, and will get a letter like this, and will be so thrilled that they will be a Real Writer that they will throw away thousands of dollars for the privilege of having their unedited, unsellable books rotting away in their garage/basement. It doesn't matter what a vanity press promises you, they will not deliver and you'll be left feeling like a fool.

Please don't do this. A vanity press cannot get your book reviewed by a major publication. They can't get you in bookstores. They can't get you in libraries. No one will take you seriously because there is a stigma with vanity publishing, and that stigma is that you're not good enough to be published. Don't be drawn in by their flattery or sales pitches.

If you've always wanted to write a book, drop me an email and I'll point you in the right direction. Don't let a company like Dorrance Publishing take your money.

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