It’s a jungle out there. For independent small presses and self-publishing authors, getting work shared/ published/ distributed is fraught with unexpected traps, pitfalls, and quicksand. If you’re thinking of using an “aggregator” (one-stop multi-service online self-publishing and distribution system) there are hundreds of them out there, from simple to complex, small-scale to full-blown vanity presses. To name a few of the biggest ones, BookBaby, Smashwords, Blurb, Lulu, diggypod, XinXii. Most take take 30% of net sales for books priced more than $2.49 OR 60% for e-works below $2.48) There are also countless “full-service” vanity presses like Balboa, SheWrites, OutSkirts, gatekeeper press. and others, that display large signs all over the index page using the word “FREE” a lot, but in the header menu there’s an item that says “Get a Quote.” These usually offer “expert” guidance, and make their money by hooking clients into expensive “professional” services.
Apple iBooks, Amazon, Ingram, and Barnes and Noble are direct publishing & distributing agencies, they are NOT aggregators. You can go to them in the first place, and cut out the middle-men. (Anyone can do this.) The message of this blog post is to tell as many writers as I can, if you are considering using a 3rd party aggregator you’d better think very carefully. Even before that, I recommend that you join a legitimate self-publishing group like Alliance of Independent authors.org. https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/ They and other author and publisher members on the group forum have helped me thru the ordeal I describe below. If I had known in the beginning the basic facts that I have learned now, this never would have happened. This is my nightmarish true story.
In the last year and a half, my little publishing team and I have been struggling with one of the minor giants of self-publishing and distribution. I will not use the name, because I’m still hoping to obtain some degree of justice.
It started several years ago with (what I thought was) a small company that promised free publishing and global distribution with a print-on-demand system. It was not a scam, and it has millions of users, but when I learned more about self-publishing, I decided to move my books to Ingram and Amazon directly, instead of using an aggregator like this one I had started with. I closed that account and “retired” all of my 5 books (they don’t allow you to delete anything, you can only “retire” a title. they keep your book and cover files forever.)
I didn’t discover until more than a year later, that they had continued to print and sell my books without my knowledge, consent, or any compensation to me, even though I was the owner of the copyright and ISBNs as author/publisher.
When I attempted to move my books to Ingram, they were refused because the ex-aggregators had locked my ISBNs. I sent emails to their support system for many months, they did nothing. Finally I had to fill out and sign a special “addendum” contract from Ingram issued to the © thieves.
Then they said that they had unlocked my emails. But that was not true. They only released them to Ingram, they continued to print and sell my books illegally thru Amazon. I din’t know until later when I tried to submit the books to Amazon’s distribution. Amazon refused, because they said the former (cancelled) aggregator claimed ownership of the books and ISBNs.
When I sent more support request emails (many, over about 7 months.) complaining of this again, they ignored them, and just sent back form-letters that said “First, Log in to your account, then click on…” BUT I had told them over and over that my account had been closed in Sept 2019. They denied any knowledge of anything.
I sent all kinds of hardcopy proof, screenshots of my book for sale sold on their own website bookstore, on Amazon, and others that I had not submitted them to.
I was advised that my only recourse was to cancel and to re-list all of the books on Bowker as “out-of-print” then re-publish them as second-editions, with new ISBNs, then search everywhere on the internet, in catalogs and any other place where each of these books were listed in any way, and do all the work of submitting the new 2nd editions and new ISBNs, so that even tho the illegal ones might still be there, at least I could compete with them by having another (authentic) listing on Ingram and Amazon, and at least stop promoting THEIR illegal sales of my books. I did this for 2 of the books, which took about 30 hours of work. Even with all this, the copyright thieves could still continue to print and sell my books.
Exhausted, discouraged, feeling trapped and victimized, I gave up. None of it made any sense, these were small books of essays and poetry. (I am no famous best-selling author.) why would they do this to me? And the answer was, “Because they can.”
Aggregators like this one have got your manuscript files, you can’t get them back. You are a drop in the bucket, and even if they only make a few $ from you (and a few million others) it adds up. But people like you and me are so small, we don’t make waves, and we usually give up.
In a previous email I had threatened lawsuit, which I would not have been able to do, financially or psychologically. So because of the endless extreme stress this was causing me, I decided to let them keep on robbing me, for the sake of my own mental health.
Then, astonishingly I got this email from them today:
“We want to apologize for this unfortunate situation. Please note that our retail partners take several weeks to remove books from sale on their online stores. It seems that they never received our original request to retire the books when you cancelled your account. (Read: We never sent one.) I can confirm, however, that Jessica has ensured the books are now marked as retired outside of Lulu and your ISBNs are available to you. Also, please keep in mind that any sale reported to us will be sent out to you via check.”
Whether they will or not, remains to be seen. (Probably not, because they have not done so up to now, and no longer have my account.) I have no reason to believe this is any less of a lie than all the rest of it has been, but at least they have admitted their crime, though blaming it on “our retail partners.” This has nothing to do with the retail partners,they are just following the federal rules. This is just one more bit of Trump’s new “GreatAmerica” standards and ethics. “Everybody lies.” I like the old way better, and I don’t plan to change.
In the ten years since I ventured into the wilderness of self-publishing, I have fallen into a few other traps and scams, but I have also stumbled upon some good things and good people. My heartfelt recommendation goes to Alliance of Independent Authors, and Draft-to-digital.com for e-books. These are mostly great people, very thorough, practical, author-compassionate organizations. D2d takes care of all Ebook distributors including Amazon if you want, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and some libraries. D2D is a nitpicker’s dream for user-friendly logical simplicity. They take a straight 10% of sales, nothing more ever. (unlike Amazon which takes 65%). Alliance of Independent Authors is a source of reliable true information, webinars, free How-Tos for navigating the self-publishing world safely and successfully. They seem to be genuine comrades on the same path as I am. That helps a lot. They have a membership fee of $100 a year, which is more than returned to you in benefits and publisher discounts, long before the year is up.
And so there went another week in a very chaotic world where honesty is a relic of the past, to some people, but not lost yet to some of us., like me, and if that’s you too, please know that you are backed up by the quiet but growing wave of a groundswell movement back to decency, humanity, and honesty in literature and in life.
If you should come across some other good resources, please mention them in the comments box! Thank you. United we are strong, and for sure, nobody can beat us for sheer courage and moxie. Write on.