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The One Where I Get Catfished By a Publisher

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If you’re like me, you’re glued to your TV whenever Catfish is on. It’s a show where strangers find love online, but can’t seem to get their cyber partners to meet in real life. Enter Nev and Max, who somehow convince the reluctant party to not just meet the person they’ve been texting with for three years, but to do it on TV. I inevitably find myself yelling at my television set, wondering how anyone could be so stupid, but the thing is, I’m kind of being a hypocrite. Because I was Catfished once too. And not by one person pretending to be someone else for the sake of a relationship, but by a group of people pretending to be another group of people for the sake of “publishing” my book. Let me rewind.

Stupid Thing I Did # 1: Over a year ago, I entered something called Pitmad*, despite not having a completely finished manuscript. I thought hey, it’s almost done and honestly I didn’t think anyone would actually request it. I was doing it more as an exercise in pitching (don’t do this), but I didn’t think anything would come of it. I was so wrong. Two agents favorited my tweet (the equivalent of requesting to read more) and I sent my MS along, letting them know that it was not complete. Nothing came of those queries, but then I got another favorite from a little company that I had never heard of I thought hmm, couldn’t hurt, and let them know as I’d let the agents know that my manuscript was not complete. “That’s fine! Send it along anyway,” they said.

Stupid Thing I Did # 2: And I did. I sent my first few chapters to them. And then I let myself get excited. REALLY excited. Because here I was, a stupid and fairly green writer (I have a background in reporting/journalism but that’s a whole other ballgame) and there was an “actual publishing company” interested in MY work! How lucky was I right?ย  I couldn’t wait to hear back from them, and let myself be consumed with daydreams of being a bestselling author, or being in book stores, of living the dream. And then one day, they called.

Stupid Thing I Did # 3: I was in a meeting all afternoon, and when I went back to my desk there was the email. It almost sang to me from the screen. “Welcome to the family…” it read, inviting, warm and most importantly…a yes. I still had not gone through the horrors of querying, the rejections, the nights filled with ice cream and sad movie binges, but I was nervous as hell about them. My anxiety on turbo-fuck-up-my-life mode, I had worried more about the rejections to come than my actual writing (stupid thing 3.5) . I was scared to the point of second guessing my decision to submit anywhere in the first place, so when I got that yes, I thought I was in the clear. Free from having to experience the soul crushing process that most writers have to go through. Again, how fortunate can one girl get?

Stupid Thing I Did # 4: Instead of making a decision with a level head, I had already mentally accepted their offer. I had the contract looked over by a lawyer friend, and consulted with a few people I trust, but no matter what they said my mind kept telling me “I don’t care, I’m gonna say yes, I have a publishing deal!!!!” I reached out to one of the publishing company’s authors, someone who had several titles out by them and seemed to be doing well for herself.ย  She told me how wonderful they were, how much she loved working with them, how happy I would be with them. She agreed with my brain, I was going to say yes. The list of stupid things I did continued but here things get a little more complicated. I signed the contract, and began working feverishly on my book. I asked questions and emailed the publishing company owner, their marketing manager and cover designer, excited to have a team of people working with me. At the same time, other authors who had been offered deals approached me, and asked me if I thought they were legit. “They’re really small,” I admitted, “but seem like they’ve had success with their sole author and want to branch out.”

Before I knew it, the company had signed about ten others (probably more than that) and we were all on our way! (But not to where we thought we were). Plus, there was that one author, the one who had assured us all that they’d been great to her, that she was selling A LOT of books, and that she could not be happier. All evidence on Amazon pointed to this being the truth, she had lots of reviews many of them positive, and seemed to be selling a good amount of books if being on those pesky Amazon best seller lists all the time are any indication. A few weeks passed, then months, I had hardly any communication with them because my book wasn’t done so I was focused on working on it. Then I got an email, telling me their distribution had changed. Huh?

So I emailed them. No response. Called, still nothing. Finally after a few emails, they sort of responded by telling me the same thing that was in the first email, their distribution had changed. The thing was, I was starting to do my research, something I SHOULD have done before signing with anyone (but still not before finishing my book, idiot). I knew that the distribution they were switching to would mean I could not be in bookstores. This was the thing that began to really bug me. What was the point? I could distribute myself via Amazon I thought, but still I stayed on because they were going to edit for me, and design my cover and market on my behalf. But then other things started happening. I made a Pubslush Campaign to raise money for my book launch at New York Comic Con and approached the publisher about contributing to this, they declined. They didn’t even donate $5, not even a retweet of the campaign link…weird. At this point, I was 100%, truly and assbackwards lying to myself.

My boyfriend who is smarter than me, kept telling me something wasn’t right, something seemed off and they should be paying for your book launch not just donating money to it. As it sometimes happens with the hairy truth, it took a long time for me to admit it to myself. But I finally did. I knew that there was something heinous going on, and when a fellow author who had a book released through the publisher already began having problems (like not receiving her shipment of books on time for her book signing) I knew I needed to go. And so I emailed them with a list of concerns, not asking to be let out of my contract, but asking if they could clarify certain things for me (including the distribution question which they still had not addressed).

Part of our contract promised graphics and promotional material ahead of book launch, yet more than one of their authors had reached out to ME to design things for them like bookmarks. I am pretty good at that kind of thing and they had no doubt seen my graphics on Facebook but still, shouldn’t the publisher be handling that? They also changed their policy of shipping review copies out prior to the book’s release, which I knew would really hurt our chances of getting reviews in before the sale date and went against another point in the contract. Lastly, that warm, welcoming tone from my offer email had jumped out the window and taken a one way plane to the land of Oz. Everything I got from them was short, terse, borderline mean. I expressed all of my concerns professionally and kindly, and their response to me was along the lines of “Since you’re so unhappy with our company, we will let you out of your contract.”

While I never asked to be let out of my contract, this is what I was hoping for, and that’s when I did smart thing number one: I left. I watched as other authors contemplated leaving and then, they all received an email releasing them collectively from their contracts. There were I believe four authors who “got lucky” and they kept on, but the rest were kicked out on their asses, including one person whose book release was coming up in just a few days. We began comparing notes, and the more we found the more horrible it became. It seemed this company was not only just a husband (the cover designer) and wife in their apartment somewhere, but that author? The one who had reassured us that we were making the right choice? We started noticing that her pictures were kind of…mysterious. And so we did some more digging and found out that not only was she not the person in her pictures, she was indeed the owner of the publishing company herself. So while we were trying to find out if we should sign with her company, the owner of said company was reassuring us that yes we were making the right decision, while pretending to be one of her own authors. She admitted as much in a text message to me and it really sucked. I mean, I knew I had made a lot of mistakes in this whole process, I made ALL the mistakes, but being Catfished? I did NOT expect that.

It turned out that other authors under the company were also the publisher, using a pen name to write different genres and the marketing manager was one of her friends. None of this was obvious or told to us upfront, it all came out after we became suspicious which in hindsight, we all should’ve been from the beginning. Little by little, we began picking up the pieces to our almost careers. Some people self published, some queried, one got a book deal with an actual publisher, but we all learned a big lesson from the ordeal. Just because someone has a website, and a logo, even if they have an author who seems to be doing well, it doesn’t mean they’re a legitimate company and it especially doesn’t mean that you’ve made it. We also forged a friendship, we all talk to one another almost daily, supporting each other and our projects, and once in a while, remembering what brought us together in the first place. As for me, that book I still hadn’t finished is still not done, but not because I gave up on it. In fact, I’ve been working my tail off on it to make sure it’s the best book it could possibly be. Not rushing or trying to meet some imaginary deadline I imposed on myself, I am giving it the work and attention it needs so that when it’s done I can get an agent (fingers crossed) and then not a “publisher” but a PUBLISHER (toes crossed).

It seems like every day, there’s a new batch of publishing companies being formed and with the facility of eBook and print on demand distribution, “publishing companies” has also become a loose term. Don’t be like me, make sure you investigate to the point of being a stalker.ย  After all, your hard work is on the line and it’s not worth the thrill of having a publisher, if all they’re going to do is something you can do for yourself. All I wanted was to see my book in bookstores, and although that dream kept me from seeing the things that were right in front of me, it’s also fueling me to keep going now, and finally in the right direction. *Pitmad is not one of the stupid things I did, in fact Pitmad is awesome. Just be sure you know who you’re submitting to ๐Ÿ™‚

Update: I kept working hard on that manuscript, and in May of 2016 I signed with the very awesome Michelle Richter & Laurie McLean of Fuse Literary! Yay for happy endings โค๏ธ

If you’re thinking of entering #Pitmad or any other online pitching contest, watch my video with advice from authors and agents on how to make the most out of your pitches!

 

 

Author:

Young adult fantasy author.

28 thoughts on “The One Where I Get Catfished By a Publisher

  1. I had my own experience with a “publisher” who was actually a vanity press looking to charge me tons of money to do what I could do by myself. I waited for six months for this “agent” to shop my manu to a couple of conventions but she ended up losing touch with me after I kept e-mailing her. I even had a phone convo in the beginning where she and her husband said “Oh your manu is so good. Here’s what you could do to make it better…etc.” There are so many scam artists out there masquerading as publishers and agents. I prefer to publish myself, promote myself, and follow some inexpensive channels to get my book in front of readers. It’s worked for me!

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    1. Hi Roger, yeah I have heard so many similar stories and it’s really a shame when people play on the dreams of others this way. I do blame myself in part for not being more diligent in my research of the company, but there was nothing to research at the time, and really I was just too excited to think it through clearly. I also self published since the incident, a smaller companion novella and while it was a lot of work I really did enjoy it AND I did not have the stress I did with these people. Thanks for commenting! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s so easy for people to play themselves up online. Live and learn… which you did… and I’m sure anyone reading this will think twice about an offer like this. Glad it all worked out though and you got out of that contract!

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  3. What was in it for them, any idea? If they were just going to drop the authors anyway, what was the point of such an elaborate scam?

    I’ve had “offers” from a scam agent and a scam publisher through #pitmad. Not saying #pitmad is to blame, but it does seem to attract some trolls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think they set out to scam anyone, I do think their intention was to publish the authors they signed. The issue is the way they went about convincing authors to sign with (faking identities etc) and that they probably took on more than they could handle. They did and still do publish many books for their sole author aka the owner and design covers but I think once they realized having ten or so authors at once was too much they jumped ship. Any online contest that’s sort of unregulated in terms of who can participate attracts trolls, on the Author side too, that’s why it’s important to do research. I would totally do pitmad again but I’d only submit to agents I already know of. Thanks for commenting and btw there’s a new pitmad coming up Dec 4th ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. http://www.absolutewrite.com is a wonderful place to start checking out any publisher, not just new or small ones. The aggregate wisdom is wonderful! http://www.pred-ed.com is another great resource! And remember, if anyone – agent, publisher, manager – asks you for money up front or money to defray expenses, or money with any other phrase following that word, run in the opposite direction! All the best to you wonderful authors! โค

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankfully I’m much more informed on the writing world and how to research potential agents and publishers but I made sure to include a writer resources page on the blog for others just in case ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for commenting !

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  5. I guess this is why I’m so scared to even put my books online, someone coming along and scamming me. I want to be published and I dream of having a hard cover book in my hands almost every day, but I’m scared someone out there will steal/scam me. its so easy for someone to come along and steal your ideas and claim them as their own. Almost happened once, wasn’t going to let it happen twice. Am I being too safe? or paranoid?

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    1. I think it’s always good to research a platform or website before you upload your book but honestly you’ll be okay. Don’t worry about anyone stealing your work and in terms of scamming, just look up anyone you plan on working with or submitting to beforehand and you should be fine. Thanks for commenting !

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      1. To be honest, I’m researched out. I’ve checked almost every site out there for ways to publish and what to do and what not to do and what you need and don’t need. The whole shabang. Its almost gotten to the point of thinking its not worth letting anyone read my stuff. (a few people have and asked for more) But I’m still nervous about it, and like you pointed out in your post, very green when it comes to putting it up anywhere. Plus it has to be finished, which it is. But it’s not finished being revised. (there’s over 700 pages here to revise) ๐Ÿ™‚

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      2. Research is part of the process. There really aren’t any short cuts. If you use absolute write or pred-Ed.com you should be good. If you can’t find anything on them they’re probably too new to have any feedback and that’s a huge risk. Submissions also vary from agent to agent and editor to editor, if you can’t find the motivation to research till you find the right fit and are still too nervous to submit I’m not sure how I can help. One thing I will tell you is, finish your book first, *completely* and 700 pages is way too long for a debut. See if it can be split into two, good luck!

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      3. oh ya, it’s being split into two, just finding that middle point is the hard part because I don’t want the readers to miss out on anything important. ๐Ÿ™‚ and I agree, research plays a huge part of finding that right person. Not saying that I don’t want to do the research, I’m just saying that after a week of looking at sites, reading everything and stuff like that, you tend to go a little blind after a while. But you are right about who will take what and how much. I will agree with you on that one.

        the absolute write and the other site, I’ve never heard of. Guess I should go check them out to see what they are. And thank you for the replys, not many would take the time to do that. So thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Definitely look up those two sites and also if you don’t have a Twitter account make one and follow the #amwriting tags and become part of the writing community. You will learn a lot and get some great advice as well, I am more than happy to help!

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    1. A lot of good came from it, and I learned many lessons in a short period of time so it’s okay. I am glad I get to help other writers avoid the same as well! Ty for commenting, will look for the tweet! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Thank you for sharing, Claribel. I’m glad everything worked out in the end. Congratulations on finding an agent! I’m about to start the querying process and will participate in the Sept PitMad. I will definitely do as much research as I can before submitting. It’s amazing the way people can trick you and use you for their own means.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Delise! I’m happy to share. I am sure you will be fine! Researching and knowing these kinds of companies are out there is the most important thing in terms of making sure you don’t get taken advantage of. If you ever have any q’s please feel free to ask me! Glad to help ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sucks that this happened to you. A similar thing happened to me too. I was very new to the publishing industry as well, and wasn’t at all looking forward to the rejection emails i’d so often heard about. The second place I submitted to was this small, obscure company called RamRamPublishing/RRPI on a #pit2pub list. As they were on the list I assumed they were reputable (silly me). I submitted to them and they offered to publish my book! It was the BEST feeling ever. Here I was getting published by the second publisher I submitted my manuscript to! But… I learned very early on that the managing director (aaron hughes) was a jerk (I wrote a very painful post on the awfulness of it all), but luckily they went bust not long ago (yay!!) I’m very cautious now after seeing this ugly side of the publishing industry and I think I might just self-publish my first novel. I’m just so thankful that I only ever gave them my first 3 chapters! I’ve bonded with a few other authors that RRPI dumped (in very nasty ways) before they closed, so at least something good came out of it – that and my tougher skin.

    I’m so glad you managed to get out of your contract. Looks like you got that happy ending you very much deserved! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Hi Millie, thanks for your comment. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with this as well, it happens way too often which is why I wanted to share my story with others. It definitely shows the importance of researching companies thoroughly and I understand your hesitation with trusting other publishers but I will say there are many great companies out there with amazing track records. Querying literary agents is also a good option as they make sure you’re dealing with reputable companies and submit on your behalf. Thanks for reading and best of luck with your books!

      Liked by 1 person

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