A Tale of Six Publishers – Part 1

Never do business with someone who threatens you

My novel publishing journey began in 2016. I’d had stories and articles published before then, almost all of which were business or neuroscience oriented. A few fiction pieces here and there, and only enough to keep me in the game, so to speak.

Prior that that, my publishing experience came from back in the days of Print (note the capital “P” Print). The late 1980s-early 1990s were my heyday, and specifically for trade-technicals (it was the height of the PC boom. Technical publishers offered book deals to anybody who knew how to program and could put two words together) and science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories and novellas.

My strengths were a powerful, engaging, authoritative voice, and a deep knowledge of my subject material.

These two things carried over into my fiction writing. I’m repeatedly told I have a unique, engaging, authorial voice and a deep knowledge of what my characters are experiencing (when the PC book market collapsed, I studied a variety of things. At one point people referenced me as a world-class neuroscientist, mathematician, … I heartily denied then and deny still all such appellations. What is does mean, though, is when my characters talk neuroscience, it’s real neuroscience, when a scene involves AI, it’s real AI, when my characters do anthropological excavations, it’s based on real anthropological excavations, …).

What all this comes down to is I had some expectations about the publishing industry. Said expectations focused on three critical issues I learned from my previous publishing experience:

  1. Marketing – how would the publisher get word of my book out to potential readers?
  2. Distribution – how would the publisher get my book into potential readers’ hands?
  3. Career Development – what would the publisher do to help me become a better author?

What I share now is how deeply erroneous those expectations were (although each was firmly rooted in my previous publishing experience), and why.

I’ll be covering five publishers who failed (and not due to unfulfilled expectations, due purely to a lack of business expertise, management skills, and, in two cases, downright deceit) and one who succeeded unexpectedly. I’ll post one per week starting today.
Continue reading “A Tale of Six Publishers – Part 1”

Copyrights – How I got screwed out of $30k because my publisher didn’t fulfill their contract obligations

Long story short: When you see a line in your contract something like

Copyright shall be taken out by the PUBLISHER in the name of AUTHOR in the United States of America, and in foreign countries as the PUBLISHER and AUTHOR may deem advisable.

make sure your publisher takes out the copyright.

US-based self- and indie-publishers should go to Copyright.gov (non-US authors – look up the copyrighting organization for your country). Copyrighting your work is far less expensive and more profitable (in the long run) than having attorneys deal with publisher malfeasance.

I’ve attended classes and readings by “established” authors (ie, someone who’s written more books than you), publishers, and editors, and encountered something like

4. Don’t Talk About Copyright
Never say you have copyrighted your book with the Library of Congress. Your book is copyrighted the moment you put the words on paper. To have it done officially dates your material – forever.
Let the publisher do that.

Some of that advice is reasonable: Don’t say you’ve done it.

Want to know why?

Because most agents, acquisition editors, and their associated first readers aren’t lawyers, have no legal training, and to them this signals you don’t know what you’re doing.

Because when it comes to this, they don’t know what they’re doing.

Or, having copyrighted your work is a clear sign they can’t take advantage of you later on.

But the rest of the advice is dreck: Your work isn’t copyrighted simply because you’ve written it. Want a cheap alternative to Copyright.gov? Print out your work and USPO (or whatever mail service is in your country) mail it to yourself. Receive it and never open it…until an issue like this arises. You’ll still need a lawyer and the USPO’s processing mark because that mark shows the date your package passed through their system. You have proof of when you finished your project and a little evidence goes a long way when your publisher’s an idiot.

Read on for the details of my plight and an actual attorney – who deals specifically in intellectual property law – said about it.

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The bottomline here is obvious, me thinks: Copyright your work.

You don’t have to tell anybody.

Until you see them in court.

For a Friend

If you can lift someone’s spirits, you can lift mountains out of the earth.

A friend’s response to But it’s a Lovely Tree caught me by surprise. He wrote

I don’t think that anyone works harder & more consistently than you do, good sir. I hope that you and your wife are both happy, healthy, and doing well. I have been out of the writing scene for some time now after a series of disheartening events. I wish that it had all turned out differently. In any case, I hope that you enjoy an adventurous weekend doing whatever you’d like

Considering the tone of the post and the tone of the response, I was concerned.

The meaning of the message is the response it elicits.

“The meaning of the message is the response it elicits” is a truism from the psychotherapeutic world. In all things, this aphorism applies because it considers the world of the person receiving the message more than the person sending the message, and if you want to be understood, you have to be aware of how the person receiving your message interprets it.

A close second truism is “The first message must be instructions on how to build a receiver.” People reading or hearing this for the first time often make a “confusion of levels” error. Take it alongside the first and it’s easy to figure out (let me know if you need a hint. took me a while and once I got it, it locked in).

In any case, I have enough training to know that response signaled someone in distress, so I reached out.

No response.

Concerned, I reached out again.

No response.

My concern increased. No response from someone in distress is a danger signal so I reached out again and this time I got a response, and I promised my friend I’d get back to him.

(My friend’s response to me is in normal type. My response to my friend is in italics)

I haven’t written any new material in probably close to 3 years. Being published through TFP left a worse than bad taste in my mouth that I still can’t get over. I worked incredibly hard to get published, but once the nonexistent royalty checks started rolling in, it gave me pause.

No idea who TFP is or was and I understand. Your story is not unique in the modern publishing world, and it is unique to you. I’m sorry this happened to you and glad you learned it now with a publisher that doesn’t matter.

I’ve gone through five publishers before finding my current one and each of the five failed in multiple ways.

I also know knowing someone else has a broken arm doesn’t help much when you’re humerus is poking through your skin.

I was doing all the legwork promoting & trying to get people to buy my book, but they were not paying me accordingly.

Sorry to say I’ve heard this from more people than not.

Even when my book launched & everyone was buying it, the highest check I saw was about $75, & it was only downhill from there. Eventually, I wasn’t getting any royalties at all.

Again, sorry to say I’ve heard this from more people than not.

Honestly, the fact that my book ended up failing wasn’t the publishers fault, but the fact that they never paid me for what I was owed was.

Books fail for any number of reasons. Some are the author’s, some are the publisher’s. The real problem (to me) is when the publisher doesn’t live up to their words and their contract. FWIW, one publisher I went with didn’t follow through on their contract and I lost out on lots of royalties. I asked my attorney if what they did was actionable. Well, it was but pursuing it would probably end up costing me as much as I’d make, hence wasn’t worth persuing.

In your case, a publisher not paying owed royalties is something I’d post on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Substack, … Personally, I’d nail those f?ckers to the wall. Not paying what is owed is a statement about them and their attitude towards you.

Remember, their act isn’t a slight to you, it’s a statement about them. Please don’t let an idiot take your success away. You wrote a book! Respect and honor that even if they don’t.

I could just no longer see the value in it. I spent upward of 5 years of my life carving and crafting that novel to make it perfect & nobody cared.

Incorrect. You cared. You cared enough to spend five years of your life working on it. What happened is a question of audience, marketing, and the publisher’s failure to act, not you or the quality of your work.

If writing is in your blood, is what puts life in your limbs and powers your heart, if writing is the air you breathe, then WRITE! Write because not writing is dying.

Anybody who’s creative, regardless of the direction their creativity flows, creates for themselves first, others second (a firm belief of mine). Marketing comes in when the creative wants to share their creation with others.

Find the correct “others” and then find the best “others” from the correct ones. Experience tells me this takes time. Great! Excellent! It took you five years to get your story down on paper. Who knows how long your nonconscious mind was piecing it together?

So for dear god’s sake, HONOR YOUR CREATIVENESS!. Long before I got my fiction published I took part in a meeting (not involved in writing), and mentioned I was working on what would become The Augmented Man.

If you don’t share your stories, they’ll be lost forever.

When the meeting was over, one woman came up to me and told me “You have to share your stories. If you don’t, they’ll be lost for ever and that will be a crime against yourself, against others, and against the Universe.”

I’ll put it to you, my brother and friend, are your stories so minor, so meaningless, so meager that they don’t deserve to be put out there? If not via an honorable publisher, then through a blog, serialized on Facebook, LinkedIn, Substack, Medium, …?

I have too much respect for you to believe your work should be hidden. Especially if hiding it is killing your soul.

I guess I’m just hurt about it all, and haven’t discussed any of it with anybody other than my wife & now you.

I’m honored to be in such worthy company.

I did mention the pay issue to Jonesy, but she never addressed it.

Don’t know who Jonesy is.

Now the publisher is out of business, my novel is no longer in publication, and I didn’t even receive a proper notice of what was happening. I figured it out myself that the company went belly up when I was trying to show people my book online.

Sadly, this happens more often than you’d think.

I suppose you can’t stay in business very long when you’re not compensating the people you employ.

Strangely, taking people’s good effort and giving nothing in return is a regular occurrence in many startups.

I was supposed to be getting paid 30% of the cost of the book, but then I’d sell 5 or 6 copies & get a royalty check for $1.70. It didn’t make sense to me & it finally just crushed my spirits.

I appreciate your spirits being crushed. And I’m curious; are your dreams so meaningless you’ll let them remain crushed?

Since it all went down, nobody has reached out to me personally to tell me anything, but I also have not tried. I built many friendships over the years & I was a member of a good community of authors. I feel saddened that it’s all gone now & that I’ve lost my heart for it.

I, too, am saddened. So a question for you: Is your heart worth finding?

I have a lot of respect for you because you’ve been such a consistent hard worker in your craft.

Oddly, consistent, hard work is the only way I know how to accomplish anything.

When we had our last company, the US Patent&Trade Office fought us regarding our original patent. They wouldn’t grant us that first patent because “If we grant you this patent, you will own the field” to which our IP attorney said, “Isn’t that what patents are for?”

It was quite the long haul. One of the junior lawyers quoted Calvin Coolidge when telling others about me:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. – Calvin Coolidge

Flattering that, and I put it against something I said to a dorm brother when he told me “You are steadfast, and steadfastness is a quality of the Lord.”

I replied

A person’s steadfastness depends on social distance. I’m steadfast, you’re stubborn, he’s too stupid to know any better.

Put more succinctly, don’t give up your goal, change your path to your goal. That publisher didn’t work out. And you still completed a novel and got it out there!

You are running laps while 99.999% of the people are still on the couch!

I just wanted to say that you are an inspiration. I intend on publishing again one of these days, & I will self-publish when I do.

At some point I’ll tell you about Northern Lights Publishing, the little company that not only could, it did! In short, you don’t have to self-publish, you do have to perform due-diligence when selecting a publisher. There are more sharks out there than anything else, so caveat emptor.

I appreciate it, my friend. My wife has offered encouraging words, but it just never seems to be enough to make me sit back down at the computer again. I really was writing because I loved it. I didn’t care if I ever became rich or famous from it, but getting financially screwed is a whole different thing.

Give yourself time to heal.

And while you’re healing, work at your craft.

Just a suggestion.

I know I’m going to get wounded. I can either focus on the wounds and watch my blood flow out or I can do what is necessary to heal those wounds.

When it comes to healing wounds, everybody’s different. Find what heals you and let healing happen.

Imagine going to work at a day job that only pays once every 3 months. You go to work for 3 months & your company gives you $100 as compensation. Would you continue working there? Apparently, I did

Yeah, okay, and chalk that up to a learning experience, not a death sentence.

I made more money trading crypto & selling silver coins than I ever made from writing and publishing. I wish that wasn’t so.

Haven’t explored crypto or coins. Maybe I should?

I sent an email back to him with “It’s long, yes. I didn’t edit it before I sent it. Could be a blathering idiot, and so it goes.”

He replied, “You certainly didn’t sound like a blathering idiot. I appreciate the heartfelt response & the time you took to draft it. I have much to consider. You may have just saved me from squandering away my talent into the sands of time. Thank you!

If you can lift someone’s spirits, you can lift mountains out of the earth.


I can make you an Amazon !!!BestSeller!!!” (definition confusion)

Two different “experts in Amazon marketing” have contacted me over the past few months. Their promise was the same: they could make me and/or my book an Amazon !!!BestSeller!!!.

One fellow said he’d need at least six weeks lead time, the other five days. The former charged only 12k$US, the other 6k$US.

And because I’m an evil prick bastard, I asked for the titles of the books they’d worked their magic on and the names of the authors of these books.

The first gent gave me three pages of recommendations.

Which only contained three books.

The last two pages were for the same book which had multiple contributors.

And proving I don’t understand things, I checked the Amazon numbers.

None of the books were bestsellers. At least not by my definition of bestseller.

Noun: bestseller
1. A book that has had a large and rapid sale.

But no, no, no, Joseph! That’s not the correct definition of an Amazon BestSeller!

No, no, no!

An Amazon Bestseller merely means it reached “bestseller” status on Amazon.

And it doesn’t have to stay there.

One hour is enough.

And don’t worry about being in a recognizable, easily identifiable category!

Ohhh no, no, no!

And the book can be for free!

Because it doesn’t matter if you make money!

Only that you hit that #1 spot!

Evidently there’s a lot of…individuals…who are thrilled to boast on their bookcover they had an Amazon BestSeller. Doesn’t matter how many books they actually sold. Or how obscure the category. Or if there’s competition for the #1 spot or not.

So long as they can boast about being an Amazon #1 BestSeller!

Sad, me thinks. I thought being a bestseller meant lots and lots and LOTS of people purchased a copy and genuinely liked it.

Idiot Moi!

The first fellow’s titles, when I looked them up, were far from in the bestseller leagues and lightyears away from the top 100 sellers…in any category.

And category is the key.

I realize now that often these book marketers create a category in which there’s no competition (or find a category with little to no competition) and promote your book there.

One of the second fellow’s titles was yep, a bestseller.

In a category in which only one other book existed.

And both were free.

Most of these books don’t survive bestsellerhood much longer than a few hours.

Just long enough for the book marketer to take a page snapshot of the “BestSeller” emblem so you can show it off.

And just think! For only 6-12K$US!

For bragging rights!

I’m sorry.

It must be exhausting for people to support an ego like that.

Or perhaps I’m wa-a-ay off base?
Having been in marketing for many years, I suddenly realize what’s actually being purchased for 6-12k$US!

Yes, these people are amazing salespeople and marketers!

They’ve managed to convince lots of people (according to their claims of satisfied customers) that getting a #1 spot on an obscure Amazon category where there’s no real competition for one hour or less means they and/or their book is a bestseller!

That’s what they’re selling!

(Idiot moi!)^2

Oh, and by the way…
Just so we’re all clear on what my bottomline is, none of these authors made back their investment with book sales. After market – classes, lectures, speaking gigs, … – I don’t know.

But in sales?

Definitely not!