Publishing: Surviving the Scammer Minefield

Predatory Publisher Month at Indies UnlimitedBack in 2004, I began reaching out for an agent and or a publisher for my completed memoir, Surviving the Battleground of Childhood. Remember, this was still a time when the publishing industry was geared to snail mail and hard copy. Needless to say, we are talking about a turnaround time of six to twelve weeks or more for each query. After about a year and a half of what seemed like hundreds of rejections, I was feeling somewhat down about the whole publishing thing and, truth be known, I was probably a little desperate.

It was then that I came across the UK small press PenPress Publishers Pty Ltd, Publishing and Marketing. After sending the usual enquiry letter, I received a response expressing some interest in my book. They explained that, unfortunately, they were fully booked for the foreseeable future, but they would be interested in looking at my manuscript and, depending on the product of course, they would consider me for their partnership programme. Being pretty green, and did I mention desperate, at the time, I asked for more information regarding the ‘partnership programme’.

Basically, after a rundown of the costs involved in producing a quality paperback, the ‘partnership’ meant that I carried half of the cost for first print run of 500 books. For their part, they would distribute to all the major, reputable UK outlets, one of which was Waterstones, and through Amazon of course. Their marketing manager would set up a book signing tour in the UK and organise media coverage: newspapers and radio stations in the locality of each book signing venue. They also provided contact with a number of authors willing to endorse their claims.

I put the partnership/publishing deal on hold for a while and continued to send out queries. However, long story short, after more rejections, and very much against the advice of my wife and mentor Zoë, in 2007 I went ahead with the partnership/publishing deal.

I organised a mini book signing tour: three venues in Tasmania and two in Sydney, and received one hundred copies with which to do so. There was a major printing error in the first batch: a blank square where a photograph was missing. I should perhaps have realised then that I had made a mistake. Those books were sent out as ‘un-corrected, pre-release review copies’, and PenPress sent me another batch. Thankfully, the reorganised tour was reasonably successful.

In March 2008 I arrived in the UK to do a whirlwind tour; mainly around what used to be the coalmining areas I grew up in as a child: Glasgow in Scotland and Coventry in England.

First port of call was the publisher in Brighton, who had recently moved premises. They had downsized from the spacious, well-appointed building advertised on the website and in their brochure, to a large, terraced house. In absence was the CEO Lynn Ashman, with whom I was supposed to have a meeting. The marketing manager, Danny Bowman, talked briefly with me, assuring me that everything was in order and the books had been delivered to the venues for each of the book signing engagements, saving me the bother of lugging the books around. All I had to do was to ‘turn up’.

Second port of call was the Coventry City Centre branch of Waterstones. They were well prepared; the occasion had been effectively advertised in the local papers and on local radio. I spent a couple of hours signing a steady stream of books.

Third port of call was the Argyle Street Glasgow branch of Waterstones. I had anticipated that, with so many relatives and old friends in and around the area, this could be huge. I had travelled halfway around the world for this homecoming appearance…

No books had been delivered. I, of course, had no books with me. None of the Glasgow Waterstones branches had taken delivery of my books. At least I didn’t have to worry about disappointing an adoring public: there had been no local media coverage either. It was an unmitigated disaster.

I phoned PenPress – to say that I was irate would be somewhat of an understatement – to find out what was going on. An apologising Danny Bowmen blamed it on the courier company and the local media coordinator et cetera… pathetic! I could have reached down the phone and ripped his heart out. I considered racing down to Brighton, but I thought better of it.

I returned to Australia, with relations between myself and the publisher a little tarnished, to say the least. Then, a period of two years passed where I received no payment from any UK sales. PenPress Publishing Pty Ltd changed their name to ‘Indepenpress Publishing Ltd’, and when I enquired about sales and remuneration I was told that the initial batch I received, which I distributed and sold myself in Australia, should more than cover my cut of the minimal UK sales to date.

Quite apart from the fact that, according to contract, the publisher was supposed to provide an updated statement twice yearly, they had defaulted on the contract on a number of clauses, including the Glasgow debacle. I informed them via phone and email that, due to those contractual defaults, the contract was now null and void. However, following that exchange, my books were still available through the various outlets, including Amazon.

After consultation with a solicitor, I sent a registered letter to the publishers telling them that, after seeking legal advice, I was advising them to cease all sales forthwith, and the next letter would be coming from my solicitors. There was still no confirmation from the publisher but my books ceased being available from all outlets except Amazon, where to this day ‘used’ copies are still available. The solicitor told me that I would probably have to take them to court to stop them or to get any recompense, and that could prove to be a long and very expensive exercise.

In conclusion I’d just like to say – I know I’m not the first to learn the hard way and I’m just as sure that I won’t be the last – and I don’t think I can stress too strongly: if you have to pay anything to an agent or a publisher before you actually make any money from your book they are ripping you off. And if their morals are thus, you are stepping into a minefield, and it’s a certainty they’ll be cheating you all the way.

Author: T.D. McKinnon

Scottish author T.D.McKinnon ‘Survived the Battleground of Childhood’ in the coal mining communities of Scotland and England before joining the British Parachute Regiment at fifteen where he remained for five years. He has trained in the martial arts for most of his life and had five Karate schools in Scotland before immigrating to Australia. He writes across several genres and has completed five books that are all available as eBooks. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife. Learn more about T.D.McKinnon at his website and Amazon author page.

21 thoughts on “Publishing: Surviving the Scammer Minefield”

  1. Yours is a very different twist on an all too familiar story. I’m sorry this happened. Thank you for sharing.

    And to those who think only the gullible or lazy get caught, the majority of these stories come from savvy people who have done their “due diligence”.

    1. Thank you, Yvonne, and of course you are right, anyone can get caught even when they think they have done their due diligence. That is why we are baring all and telling these cautionary tales. However, one line in the last paragraph, if adhered to, will keep everyone out of trouble: ‘if you have to pay anything to an agent or a publisher before you actually make any money from your book they are ripping you off.’

      Thank you again for dropping by and contributing, Yvonne.

  2. Alas, there is nothing new in this story. Wherever there is a fast buck to be made, you can guarantee that an unscrupulous arsehole will be there to take advantage.

    Best of luck in the future, TD.

    1. As you say, Kerry, there is no shortage of unscrupulous arseholes out there just waiting for that (I won’t say gullible because I don’t really think I am) trusting soul to stumble into their web of deceit.

      Thank you for dropping by and commenting today, Kerry.

  3. I think most of us might feel that the good experience of publishing our first book just might be worth paying out a few bucks, but going through the disappointment of broken contracts, undelivered books and disaster signings is something else entirely. Many times we assume that since we’re dealing with “professionals,” all will go well, but obviously not so. Thanks for sharing, TD. A cautionary tale for sure.

  4. Yes, Melissa, precisely how I was thinking at the time, in regard to getting a publication, and there were not the opportunities for indie publishing (eBook or otherwise) that there are today. With the variety of eBook and POD distributors around today, and of course sites like Indies Unlimited to fill in any gaps in knowledge that the newbie indie might have, those slimy, predators are fighting a losing battle.

    Thank you so much for taking part in today’s discussion, Melissa.

  5. And this is how they get away with it: “The solicitor told me that I would probably have to take them to court to stop them or to get any recompense, and that could prove to be a long and very expensive exercise.” Makes me want to tear my hair out.

    Thanks for your story, TD. And thank the gods we don’t have to do it the old-and-busted way any more!

    1. Your right Lynne, but it makes me want to tear someone else’s hair out. It seems that once anyone has, by whatever circumstances, allowed themselves to be manoeuvred into one of these situations, unless they have money to burn, the best and only course is to step back and consider it one of life’s lessons. And don’t ever do it again of course!

  6. T.D. McKinnon what happened to you is terrible. You could write a book 😉 with the tension and drama you went through. Sorry it happened but thanks for sharing about it here, and warning others about the trap.

    1. A book… now there’s a novel idea! Sorry Elizabeth, I couldn’t resist that. But, seriously, on reading your comment, and remembering how I felt at the time, a whole storyline sprung to life in the caverns of my mind: one in which I acted out my base, gut reaction, rushed down to the publishers and inadvertently killed someone… Definitely a story there.

      Thanks for dropping by, Elizabeth.

  7. Ouch, T.D. Knowing how little traction my writing has with real life family and friends, I truly feel for your Glasgow debacle. That must have been incredibly painful. And then to be taken for a ride on top of everything…

    Thanks for telling us about your experience. All too often we know about dangers but think, ‘it’ll never happen to me’.

    Every real life story proves that it /can/ happen to us.

    1. Yes, AC, painful indeed; too hard to hold onto in fact. You just have to let it go (the futile, gut wrenching anger and frustration), either that or go and kill someone. It was certainly a lesson in humility. You have to deal with it the way Mr Spock would have… ‘Live long and prosper,’ AC.

  8. I feel for you, TD. Thank you for sharing your experience. Thankfully, that’s in the past and you won’t be taken again innthe future.

  9. How right you are, Dale, I suppose my step into that particular quagmire is less likely all around these days, but as Kerry said, “Wherever there is a fast buck to be made, you can guarantee that an unscrupulous arsehole will be there to take advantage.” So, no, it won’t happen to me again; hopefully, through me baring all, there are more people it won’t happen to.

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Dale.

  10. Thank you for putting this out there. If it helps just one person from making the same mistake then it is so worth it. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. Seems like you handled it with pure grace. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. ‘If it helps just one person from making the same mistake then it is so worth it.’ That is so true, Brenda, that is exactly why, and that is the reason IU is such a great community: the one thing that we all have in common, apart from being writers, is that we all care.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Brenda.

  11. Thanks for sharing this, TD. I wonder if they realized just who they were messing with? Tearing their hearts out through their throats wouldn’t have been much of a problem for you 😀

    1. If they didn’t know before, perhaps they have got the picture since then; it warms my heart to think that I might have caused them even one sleepless night, and perhaps initiated the beginnings, the slightest twinge, of conscience. Nah! Who am I kidding… these people have no conscience. Nice to dream though, DV; picture the scenario where, not only am I a fully proficient killing machine, I also have no conscience.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, DV.

      1. My pleasure and I so agree. We do care and so does Indies Unlimited. Such humanity! Warm wishes T.D.

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