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Check out this warning from a writer <a href="http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=read&group=sff.publishing.scams&art=8609" target="_new">at SFF Net</a>.
I can confirm that the information is accurate in that posting.
I actually spit milk through my nose reading that.
I went to Amazon to see if anyone has published with them before, and lo and behold, they have 55 titles listed.
55 * $25,000 = $1,375,000
Wow 55 suckers (sorry to be rude)? That tells you, if you sell crap someone will still buy it.
I purchased a Durban House book from an author at a writers’ conference last year. The book was a competently written, well edited, fairly attractive 250 page trade paperback for $15.95. I asked the author how he hooked-up with Durban House, and he said that he had been represented by the publisher’s wife who referred him. He said he was very happy with the publisher.
When I got home, I looked up the company’s website, and ordered a couple more of their books from the used book area on Amazon. After reading those books, I sent a query and three chapters of my novel to Durban House. I received a letter from the publisher in a few months explaining that my writing needed some work and offering to refer me to an editor with whom they do business. I’ll always entertain the notion that my writing needs help, but offering to refer me to an editor didn’t sound right. So my email reply only thanked the gentleman for reading my submission and for taking the time to write me.
The Durban House books I read were fairly good light reading, much higher quality than you would expect from a vanity press. Evidently the editorial service they refer writers to does a pretty good job. But putting a writer in a position of being whipsawed by an agent and an editorial service is not a very admirable thing for a publisher to do.
I would be interested to know if Durban House actually has any kind of distribution other than the writer himself, the company’s website and online book stores. I am going to forward this link to the writer I met and ask that he forward it to the publisher.
>>After reading those books, I sent a query and three chapters of my novel to Durban House. I received a letter from the publisher in a few months explaining that my writing needed some work and offering to refer me to an editor with whom they do business.<<
Interesting. The publisher's wife who is an agent? She's Karen Lewis, of Karen Lewis & Company, who appears to refer most if not all submitters to an editing service, possibly run by a family member. The sole sales claims I've seen for her are to Durban House.
>>I would be interested to know if Durban House actually has any kind of distribution other than the writer himself<<
There are claims on the Durban House website about Booksense recommendations and a complimentary assessment from Booklist, but since no specifics are given they're impossible to verify. A check of the books listed on the website does reveal one Booksense recommendation, as well as reviews by Booklist, suggesting at least some marketing to the book trade...interestingly enough, though, the only books with such reviews/recommendations are those by John Lewis, the company's president. Other books have blurbs from other Durban House authors, or quotes from review websites, but no apparent attention from industry review sources.
I wonder if perhaps there isn't a multi-tier system here, with some books getting the $25,000 offer and others getting a more conventional publishing deal.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
As a struggling author, I feel obliged to report this incident to the publishing industry:
Durban House Publishing Co., Inc. of Dallas, Texas has advertised in Writers Digest that it pays up to $2,000.00 up front to any author with whom they sign a contract. They also claim to be a member of PMA.
I submitted my novel to them over a year ago. Then, in May of this year, I was surprised to receive a personal call from Durban House President, Mr. John Lewis, saying how much his editor liked my three sample chapters and synopsis. He requested I rush my manuscript to his editor, Robert Middlemiss, in Vienna, VA.
In the course of the conversation, Mr. Lewis promised Durban House would develop:
A) My personal web page
B) Dust Jacket
C) Create and mail brochures to alert the trade.
D) Develop artwork and secure listing with leading Online’s (B&N, Amazon) plus (BookSense76).
E) Promotion at Book Expo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, adv. in all trade mags.
F) Send review sample to leading book reviewers.
G) Send signed first-edition samples to leading independent booksellers.
H) Libraries, radio talk shows, National Public Radio, and collectors of first editions.
I) Pay royalties of 50% - less reprinting and warehousing costs.
I talked to Mr. Middlemiss, confirmed his enthusiasm for what he'd seen of my book and mailed off my manuscript. Before it could have possibly have reached the editor, I received a packet containing three free copies of recent Durban House releases (including one of Mr. Lewis') plus a letter confirming the offer, even though his editor had not seen my manuscript, a Publishing Agreement, plus a Service Agreement. No mention was made of the $2,000.00 bonus.
On Page One, Paragraph Three, of the Service Agreement:
"In exchange for Author paying Publisher $25,000.00 in Dallas County, Texas, Publisher shall provide...." promotion services that, in Publishers sole discretion, may consist of one or more of the following…” (These consisted of the services which Mr. Lewis mentioned, both in his letter and by phone, would be provided without reservations)
Upon signing the Publishing Contract, author assigns exclusive rights to publisher for the “life of the copyright”. He also agrees to hold publisher “harmless” and waives any type of legal recourse against the publisher, except arbitration in Dallas County.
Author also promises, under threat of legal action, never to disclose any details of the contract.
I reported this to Writers Market. After reviewing my grievance, Ms. Katy Brogan, Editor of Writers Market, removed Durban House from their website byexecutive decision. For confirmation, please contact: Katy Brogan, Editor, WritersMarket@fwpubs.com
I can provide documentary proof of all accusations mentioned above upon receipt of your FAX number or your mailing address.
William M. Barnes
Author of "Nonesuch Chronicles"(Published) and "Just One More Boom, Lord", and "Running Slim Buffalo Woman." (Unpublished)
I think it would be a good idea to send a copy of that contract and their other correspondence to the PMA. If Durban is really a member, the PMA deserves to know that Durban is pulling a bait and switch.
I've just seen a copy of the Durban House publishing contract. Even if this publisher didn't charge $25,000--even if it paid an advance--I wouldn't advise anyone to sign that contract. It's that bad. It makes the PA contract look positively benign.
I'll post a few highlights in the next couple of days--too swamped to do it now.
To clean up any speculation, here are the facts.
Apparently Mr. Barnes misunderstood or misinterpreted our conversation and became angry over our editor-in-chief, Robert Middlemiss, rejecting his submission. Here’s what happened. A Durban House editor, looking for books with western themes, ran across a sample of Mr. Barnes’ manuscript (submitted September, 2003) in the slush pile. After reading the sample, I called Mr. Barnes to discuss his book that was set in New Mexico. I told him Durban House planned to produce several books with western themes. After a short discussion, I asked Mr. Barnes if he could do some of the usual things authors are expected to do, such as promoting his book through book-signing tours to key markets, talks to book clubs, libraries and civic organizations, attend book festivals, and writers’ conferences. He said because of his age he was unable to travel very far from Conroe, TX, the town where he lives. I told him for his book to succeed it was essential for him to be able to promote it, and that Durban House would have to pass. He asked if there were any alternative ways he could get his book published, given the fact he was unable to provide physical promotional support. I told him since Durban House planned several books with western themes, we might be able to do a cooperative effort, or joint venture, giving him a 50% stake in his book, if it was accepted for publication by our editor-in-chief, Robert Middlemiss. I reemphasized that before we could move forward our editor-in-chief had to first agree his book would be a good match for Durban House. Also, I explained if we moved forward this would be a comprehensive marketing strategy aimed at building a platform to introduce him to the book world in lieu of his ability to help market his book. A strategy that included: developing an author webpage; helping arrange television and radio talk show appearances, mailing hundreds of advance reading copies to primary and secondary reviewers, independent book stores, libraries, and foreign publishers; entering his title in appropriate contests; trade advertising; full color mailings twice a year to bookstores and libraries in the US; promoting his books yearly at the Book Expo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and London Book Fair, the largest book shows in the world. I estimated such a campaign would cost around $25,000.00. We discussed how his joint venture contribution would be returned if the project got launched. Fifty percent of the wholesale cost (less reprint costs) would be paid back to Mr. Barnes on each of his books that were sold. Mr. Barnes asked to see some material. I agreed to send, for his information only, a letter summarizing our conversation, several DHP books, catalog, sample postcards, a modified blank publishing agreement, and a service agreement I would prepare the next day. I told him based on my and our editor’s initial read of his sample material I thought his book would make a good fit. However, as a caveat, I warned Mr. Barnes again that I was making no promises and his book first had to be accepted by our editor-in-chief, Robert Middlemiss, who had final say on all titles Durban House published. Mr. Barnes said he understood and sent a copy of his manuscript to Mr. Middlemiss. A short time later, Mr. Middlemiss informed Mr. Barnes and me that his book would not be a good match for Durban House because the western theme books he had in mind involved cowboy characters, which were not part of Mr. Barnes’ title. Shortly after receiving Mr. Middlemiss’ rejection, Mr. Barnes made his post on the internet.
After three and a half years of selling books, Durban House has achieved some remarkable results. Among them are: international distribution; named by Booklist as one of the top four new mystery imprints; a Ben Franklin book of the year award, seven titles selected as finalists for book of the year awards, and numerous Booksense76 recommendations. Durban House writers have appeared on national and regional cable news programs, multiple regional and national radio and television shows related to books and travel. The company has had a dozen titles licensed for foreign rights. This kind of success could not have happened without total dedication from the Durban House staff, writers, and promotional people to achieve excellence. Hardly the track record of a vanity press.
It has never been a Durban House policy to accept books based on an author’s ability to provide promotional consideration. Every title considered for publication is carefully vetted for originality and consumer appeal. Once a title is accepted it goes through a comprehensive editing process, insuring the highest quality of writing before going to the printer.
Placing fiction in today’s market is a daunting task. Here is but one indicator about how bad conditions are: If you took the top 100 bestselling fiction (not necessarily best written) books between 1986 and 1996 you’ll find that 63% of these titles were written by six writers. A recent television book show talked about the “Crisis in Publishing.” Mid-list writers spoke about how their publishers gave them little or no promotional backup. Many hired publicist to promote their book(s), and most had to pay their own expenses to booksignings and book shows. Buyers at major chains increasingly look for hard hitting marketing plans to support titles they order. So, in reality, it doesn’t matter how good a book is if it winds up as a spine out in a genre section. It could be the best written book of all time, but it won’t sell if no one knows about it.
The staff at Durban House passionately believes in producing quality books that connect readers with new, exciting writers. Durban House is proud to have launched more than 40 outstanding writers’ careers. Some with two, three and four books to their credit. We have fought to overcome obstacles of payment and distribution that plague the entire entertainment industry. I invite you to see the quality of a Durban House book, inside and out. Email email@example.com and you will be sent a complementary copy. If anyone wishes to directly discuss the prose and cons of this post or our mission statement, please feel free to call me at (214) 890-4050 and I’ll be happy to speak with you. If for some reason I’m out of the office leave a convenient time for me to return your call.
I'm going to respond to Mr. Lewis's post, but not tonight--my brain is mush.
No need to rush, Victoria. I just sent you some additional information that Mr. Lewis told another source which doesn't jibe with what he's stating here. I would have sent it to you sooner, but it was buried and I had to find it first.
I changed the subject line because this doesn't really have anything to do with Durban House Publishing. This may very well be what they told the author and their reason for originally taking a pass.After a short discussion, I asked Mr. Barnes if he could do some of the usual things authors are expected to do, such as promoting his book through book-signing tours to key markets, talks to book clubs, libraries and civic organizations, attend book festivals, and writers’ conferences. He said because of his age he was unable to travel very far from Conroe, TX, the town where he lives. I told him for his book to succeed it was essential for him to be able to promote it, and that Durban House would have to pass.
But... There are lots of authors -- oodles of them, really -- who never ever attend booksignings, travel to book clubs and other organizations, etc. Is it common to have a contract that forces authors to do this? It doesn't make sense. There are reclusive authors (someone mentioned Bentley Little in another post on this board). There are also disabled authors who would not be able to travel. (IIRC V. C. Andrews had a spinal injury and would not have been able to go to booksignings, yet she sold oodles of books.)
Also, I know authors who would rather spend their time writing books that readers want to read rather than spending their time (and money) on marketing, whether that includes doing signings or printing bookmarks. Because they believe that cute bookmarks are often a waste of money.
Who are you, AnneMarie?
My problem is with Durban House Publishing Co., an obviously crooked scam outfit.
Are you a member of that scam, AnneMarie?
You have already lied before the internet world when you said you even talked to me. Are you just another schill (sp?) for just another crooked publisher?
AnneMarie was quoting John Lewis' earlier post regarding his converstion with you. Just look a few posts up (he's listed as "johnl").
Not to mention she kept pounding 'em out from the grave.(IIRC V. C. Andrews had a spinal injury and would not have been able to go to booksignings, yet she sold oodles of books.)
I apologise, AnnMarie.
I didn't stop to realize you were simply quoting Mr. Lewis.
I am a 75 year-old man; in good health, perfectly able and certainly willing to go on a book tour (I should be so lucky!)
I do not need nor do I want, any kind of subsidising by a sleezy vanity press.
Responding at last to John Lewis's post.
First, in addition to Bill Barnes's report, I've received another report from a writer who was also asked for $25,000 to publish with Durban House (this offer was made through Mr. Lewis's wife's literary agency--more on that below). So Mr. Barnes's experience isn't an isolated one.
Second, Mr. Lewis's report here of the marketing offers he made are somewhat undercut by Durban House's Service Agreement, which obligates the publisher only to perform "one or more" of several marketing services. Since Clause 9 of this agreement states "This agreement supersedes any prior understandings or representations or written or oral agreements between the parties", any marketing promises expressed verbally or in an accompanying letter are basically worthless. So the author who pays $25,000 in hopes of a smorgasbord of publicity services might receive only one. They're basically buying a service whose scope is not defined.
Third, Durban House's contract. It's an author-unfriendly contract that I wouldn't advise anyone to sign as is, even without a $25,000 price tag attached. Some highlights (obligatory disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, and this is not legal commentary, just observations based on my experience and research--also, it's possible this contract is negotiable to some degree, and the offending clauses could be modified or stricken):
- Durban House claims exclusively not just publishing rights, but all subsidiary rights, including the right to create derivative and successor works at will. A small publisher that isn't actively marketing subrights (Mr. Lewis says that foreign rights have been sold for some DH books, but doesn't provide specifics) shouldn't claim them, or if it does, should claim them on a non-exclusive basis.
- The author must pay for copyright registration.
- The warranty and indemnity clause is one of the worst I've seen. The author not only has to indemnify the publisher, but any seller of his/her book, against any loss or expense incurred by "any claim that said Work violates any rights whatsoever". An indemnity clause should involve only the publisher, and should obligate you only in regard to the warranties you've made (such as that you are the owner of the work) and then only if the claims are upheld in court.
- One clause, which states that the publisher will publish within not more than 18 months of approval of the ms., is contradicted by the very next clause, which states that the publisher will publish within 24 months of acceptance.
- Royalties are set at 50% of the wholesale price (which in many cases is 45% of the cover price), less a list of items including unspecified warehousing costs. The author has no real idea, therefore, of what his/her actual royalty percentage might be. Conceivably, it might be zero. Also, reputable publishers pay royalties on cover price, not the publisher's net receipts.
- The author's share of subsidiary income is also paid on "net sums" (with "net" not being defined). Again, such payments should be made on the publisher's gross income.
- DH claims the right to edit without the author's approval. They do say "such editing or alteration shall not materially change the meaning of the work", but that covers a lot of ground.
- There's a very restrictive noncompetition clause that bars the author from publishing "any material in book or pamphlet form based on the material in the Work or which, in the opinion of the Publisher, is reasonably likely to injure its sale" during the entire term of the agreement. Noncompetition clauses, if they appear (and they're not a universal feature of book contracts) should be limited to the period prior to publication and a brief period after, say 6 months. Conceivably, this could prevent a writer from publishing a short story based on his book.
- The option clause is not one of the worst, but THE worst I've ever seen. It claims the option to publish the author's next two books on the same terms as the current contract; the author is barred from writing a book for any other publisher until his option books are completed. A next book option clause should never cover more than one book, and ideally it should apply only to the author's next book in the same style or genre. An option clause should NEVER prohibit an author from writing for another publisher, nor should it bind the author to the same terms as the current contract. Yikes!
- Clause 23 is the most interesting, and I'll reproduce it here in its entirety:
"Author acknowledges that for a period up until the signing of this agreement, John H. Lewis, Karen Lewis and or Karen Lewis and Company jointly or separately may have been acting as Author's employees of Publisher. Author hereby waives any claims of conflicts or conflicts of interest arising therefrom. [DH's emphasis]
I'm not surprised to see this clause, given that Karen Lewis & Company claims sales to Durban House (and as I noted above, the other report I've received of DH's $25,000 charge comes from someone working with Karen Lewis and Company). This really is a conflict of interest, and this clause certainly suggests that DH is well aware of that fact.
Anyone know if they've cleaned up their contract? http://www.durbanhouse.com/site/index.html
Achievers strive for excellence. Perfectionists drive themselves to extinction. -- A Grapple A Day
I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage. -- Charles DeSecondat
II 2015: 2016:
I believe that those contracts requiring $25,000 contribution are still being used, despite Lewis' claims to the contrary
Let me get this straight:
-- The publisher gets all rights, exclusively, including all subsidiary and derivative rights, for the life of the copyright. That is, the publisher can do anything they want with this book (including doing nothing at all), and the author can never, ever get it back.
-- The author has no right to approve or disapprove of editorial changes. Among other things, this means that if they publish your book without proofreading it, or otherwise make a hash of your text, you have no grounds for complaint.
-- Royalties are paid on net, or on wholesale price minus a bunch of costs known only to the publisher, rather than cover price.
-- The option and noncompetition clauses are extraordinarily author-unfriendly, but the worst they can do is make it impossible for you to have any further writing career. They're still less frightening than that warranty and indemnity clause.
Victoria, is there any vestige or trace of a reversion clause in that thing?
-- Clause 9 of the Service Agreement reminds me of nothing so much as Item 23 in the PublishAmerica contract, which I wrote about last year.
-- Clause 23 of Durban's contract is like nothing I've ever seen before. You're expected to waive any conflict-of-interest claims if your supposed "agent" turns out to have been acting as an employee of the publishing house when she sold them your book? What an amazing piece of effrontery! It's like Durban's pinned a great big button on their collective lapel that say "Hi, I'm a Crook -- Ask Me How!"
-- And all this can be yours for only $25,000!
Mr. Lewis, you are dishonest and exploitive. Don't tell us that you meant well, or that there were extenuating circumstances, or that we don't understand what you've been doing. I hope your operation crashes and burns, and that when it does, you lose both your reputation and your shirt.
More or less. There's a fairly detailed description of the steps the author must take to trigger reversion, but they're rendered more or less moot by the rest of the clause, which begins: "If the Publisher fails to keep the Work in print..." and later states: "...if the Publisher shall determine that there is not sufficient sale for the Work to enable it to continue its publication and sale profitably..." That's all the mention that's made of discontinuing print. So "out of print" really is not defined, and reversion is left entirely to the discretion of the publisher. It's a bad clause.Originally Posted by HapiSofi
God, I just saw something else.
According to Clause 7, "Within twenty-four (24) months of Publisher's acceptance of the Work described above, it shall publish the work at its own expense in the United States unless delayed by circumstances beyond its control...In the event Publisher does not publish the work within that time period, Author shall have the right to place the work with another Publisher upon one hundred twenty days written notice, provided Publisher has not begun publishing within that time period. In the event that Author places the work with another publisher pursuant to this clause, Author shall have no claim against Publisher."
And Clause 17: "Publisher shall not be obligated to exercise or license any rights herein granted."
So Durban House can take the author's $25,000 and never ever publish his book. And if Durban House doesn't publish his book, the only way the author could conceivably get free (and since no mention is made of actually returning rights, it isn't clear that the author really would be free) is if he places the book with another publisher (and how interested is another publisher going to be in a book that's tied up by another contract?)...in which case, he can't bring action against the publisher to get his $25,000 back.
In a previous post, John Lewis, President of Durban House, claims that one writer's report of a $25,000 fee was a misunderstanding. Elsewhere, he has said that while the company did charge fees as a startup strategy, it no longer does so.
Writer Beware recently received a Durban House contract and Service Agreement, with a mid-2005 date, that levies a five-figure fee. I don't want to say exactly what the fee is for fear of identifying my source. It's not quite as much as $25,000, but it's still a substantial chunk of change.
So obviously Durban House is still charging fees, despite its President's claims to the contrary.