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City Limits Publishing

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mrsmig

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Wow...it sure does look like a vanity press, although they state that "Fun Fact! There's no cost to publish your work!"

They appear to publish just about everything: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, photography books, etc. So that's one red flag. There's no staff listed on the site, although the website emphasizes "teams" in their "Publishing Process" section ("our dedicated team of designers," "our marketing team"). Another red flag. I looked them up on LinkedIn and could find only one employee, who's listed as their Digital Marketing Director, but graduated in 2018 from Pampanga State Agricultural University with a BA in English, and has only held three jobs since then, none in trade publishing. In an article on the website's blog, she states that she and Janet McMahan started the press only a few months ago. Janet McMahan is one of the four authors listed on the site. She is a composer/lyricist of children's musicals. So no trade publishing experience there, either. A HUGE red flag.

The "publishing process" section of the website is troubling. Apparently they'll accept authors whose work is complete OR at the conceptual stage. From the website:

If you’re submitting a concept, we’ll enroll you in one of our programs with a published author to help you through getting your work completed. With weekly check-ins and opportunities to have your work read by other authors, you’ll feel the creative vibe and put out your best work.

If you’re submitting a completed work, we’ll walk you through the editing and proofing process. Our editors and proofreaders will provide extensive feedback on your work, plus you’ll have the opportunity to have your project read by other published authors before moving on to the next phase!


I find the whole thing curious. And then there's this (bolding mine):

We’ll publish your work on all major print and digital platforms, distribute to bookstores and libraries, record your audio book, and continue to market your book for years to come. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and collect your paychecks!
Royalty checks are sent to authors monthly as long as the sales threshold, usually around $100, is met.



I had a look at one of their titles, and it's available on Amazon, B&N, Books-A-Million and IndieBound, as well as via their website. Regardless of what their website says, I doubt they're able to get their books onto brick-and-mortar shelves. I expect those books are available to order from certain stores, which is a whole difference ballgame.

They also have some contests going - one of which is for novels, with the first, second and third place winners getting a cash prize ($500, $200, $100) plus a publishing contract, free copies of their book and an "author branding package." The rules for submission are strange, since there's talk of inclusion in an anthology (an anthology? of novels?) and the dates are off, but given the sloppiness of that particular section, I think they just did a cut-and-paste from their short-story contest and didn't proof the results. All their contests have entry fees, ranging from $10-$20. And - oh boy - in their terms and conditions for the contests, there's this language (again, bolding mine):

Entrants will retain copyright in their submitted entries, however, by entering, all entrants license City Limits Publishing, LLC a worldwide royalty-free perpetual license to publish and use each entry in any and all media (including print and online) for publicity and news purposes. For novels and short plays, royalty agreements will be made with individual authors before publication. For short story, poetry, and short play entries, works will be included in anthology series and no royalties will be paid out to authors.


So - anyone who enters their contests has basically paid this press to publish their work, in perpetuity. (Think I'll drop a little note to Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware about this angle.)

My takeaway: signing with a brand-new publisher is sketchy enough, but all those red flags make me very, very nervous about the venture.
 
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Chris P

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There was enough similarity with a notorious and now defunct vanity publisher that I'm cautious. Hackles up, to be honest.

This caught my eye, and although not unusual for publishers employing this business model, is not author friendly:

Our marketing team will meet with you to put together your marketing strategy, identify your target audience, and develop your publicity plans. We’ll handle everything in your launch, including helping you put together a lunch party and book signing!

This reads to me like all the marketing and publicity legwork will ultimately be on you the author. They might do the listing on the online vendors, and make your book available to brick and mortar stores via special order (from what I understand, getting your book listed on certain distribution services makes your book orderable, even if they likely won't stock it on shelves), but in the end, this text often means you the author buy a truckload of your own books to sell at the launch parties, signing events, and other places. For publicity, it is the job of you the author to direct customers to the vendor sites through your social media and other ways. I am all for playing an active role in publicity and marketing, but to leave it all on me, with the publisher acting simply a printing press? Nah, not doing that (again!).

Like mrsmig, I noticed that the royalties are not paid until the "sales threshold" of $100 is met. Is this $100 in gross sales, $100 in net, or $100 in author royalties? Does this include sales to the authors themselves? (Usually not, from what I've heard about with other similar publishers). What happens to the royalties if the threshold is not met? Do they roll over into the next month, or what?

Looking on Amazon for two of the titles, the publisher is listed as "Independently published." I've not see that before, and I don't know what that means in Amazonspeak. Is that equivalent of "self-published"?

Another red flag for me is that of the seven titles they list, four are by the same co-author team, and are "how to write good" exercise books. If past experience is any teacher, it is possible part of the business plan is to make the company's money by selling writing how-to books to the prospective authors looking for a publisher. I can't determine if either of the two authors work for the company, as the LinkedIn page (thanks for the idea, mrsmig!) has two employees, one only showing as "LinkedIn Member," and the other not one of the authors.
 
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mrsmig

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Chris P, I think the two LinkedIn listings are actually for the same person - their Digital Marketing Director - in two locations (Central Luzon in the Philippines, and Nashville, TN). This may be because she works for the Nashville-based press but is actually located in the Philippines.

I noticed the "Independently Published" thing myself. Not quite sure why that is. You'd think the publisher would want their name on their books, wouldn't you?
 
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Chris P

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Yeah, the "Independently Published" thing makes me think Amazon sees this as a self-publishing service, and not a publisher. But I am willing to hold off that conclusion until someone with more knowledge than I can confirm or clarify.

I went back and checked something that looked unusual: the "Print at home" option for purchases. They charge the same as for the printed book, and not the ebook price. I don't think I've ever seen that before, and all I can guess is it's for people who don't like/want an e-reader for whatever reason, but who can't have the paper book shipped to them, or who who don't want the bound version for whatever reason. I've never tried to print an epub or mobi, but it seems odd that it's even an option or that why it would be the same as for the printed version.

At least the books are decently priced (unless they tack on a huge shipping and handling fee, which I know one publisher did).

That makes sense about the LinkedIn issue.

In my 11 years participating in AW, I've maintained that if an author can make this model work for them, go to it. It's just in 11 years participating in AW I've not heard any author say they have. Most have done much better with self-publishing.
 

Cassie Knight

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Independently Published

Yeah, the "Independently Published" thing makes me think Amazon sees this as a self-publishing service, and not a publisher. But I am willing to hold off that conclusion until someone with more knowledge than I can confirm or clarify.

It means that they are using Amazon's free ISBN service. I've never done that one digital books and have with an occasional one-off for print since digital is my focus. When I've used an Amazon-provided ISBN for print, it notes "Independently Published" instead of my publishing house. I suspect they have to do that.
 

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(Pedantic: I think the amazon number is technically an ASIN not an ISBN and the reason it matters, I think, is because an ASIN does not go into catalogs other than Amazon's own. In other words, I think the different numbers accomplish different things even though they are all identifiers.)
 

Cassie Knight

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Clarification

Interestingly enough, I assign an ISBN to all of my digital books and list in Amazon even though Amazon doesn't require it and they don't list that number. But for print, you can use your own or use theirs which is an actual ISBN assigned to that book but lists Independently Published. I just looked at one of City Limits and the 979 start on the ISBN for print is Amazon. Sorry, I know this is far afield of the publishing house.
 

veinglory

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I am wondering if publishing is free but other things they offer are not free? Like the mentoring by a published author etc. Without a profit center I am very skeptical about them soliciting people who just have a book "idea".
 

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Interestingly enough, I assign an ISBN to all of my digital books and list in Amazon even though Amazon doesn't require it and they don't list that number. But for print, you can use your own or use theirs which is an actual ISBN assigned to that book but lists Independently Published. I just looked at one of City Limits and the 979 start on the ISBN for print is Amazon. Sorry, I know this is far afield of the publishing house.

(Still afield)

That's odd--I tried to find my book in catalogs using amazon's number as well as the ISBN I assigned to the Amazon copies (e book and print) and none of them pulled up anything.... When I published on IS with a third ISBN the book finally showed in catalogs. It's all very confused to me, but I am a neophyte. And much about this whole area is confusing to me, so there's that.

(Back in the ballpark), I scanned the titles at City Limits. Regardless of the category you look at, (I scanned four categories) you are looking at a book of haiku in various formats. Haiku riddles, Haiku workouts, etc.

I would not submit.
It looks like a one man show.
Red flags have risen.
 

Chris P

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I am wondering if publishing is free but other things they offer are not free? Like the mentoring by a published author etc. Without a profit center I am very skeptical about them soliciting people who just have a book "idea".

That could be, the model of selling special "services" a la PublishAmerica, or Tate's "publicity package" or whatever they called it. [For anyone new to this discussion, PublishAmerica and Tate were infamous scammers that roped in literally thousands of authors.]

Although I wonder if the business model is to publish almost everything they get, including the ideas, then sell the books to the authors who then are saddled with doing the bulk of the retail selling?

I've no evidence they are doing either of these two things, but these are things to watch out for and avoid.
 

ctripp

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They look enough like a Vanity to just avoid to be on the safe side. Publishers don't state things like "We are ready to bring your writing to print. Have an idea and need help with development?"
On twitter they invited a writer to submit their Illustrated Picture book. The writer asked how to send it (as it's complete text and art/dummy book) They answered that one option is the writer could send HALF of it. Now that is NOT how you submit a pb, ideally made up of 400 to 500 words. You have to sub the entire thing!
Then there's the blog, first post! Laid off of work during Covid, the publisher thought maybe she and her writer friend would start a publishing co.

We’re not just launching a platform to sell books. Anyone can do that. We’re launching an organization with the tools and resources authors of all levels need to bring their work to the masses, including publishing, design, and writing workshops to help develop ideas and turn them into long-term income opportunities. Our one goal and mission is to help our writers find their voice.

Maybe they are just well meaning but naive, or maybe it's something worse but either way it's not my idea of publishing.
 

mrsmig

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I gave Victoria Strauss a heads-up about this press, specifically about the rights grab language in their contest terms, and she had this to add to the conversation:

The contest language isn't the only thing suspicious. One of their author photos is a stock photo, another is tied to an author with a different name and bio, and all the books published so far are by the same two people, either individually or as co-authors.
 

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I gave Victoria Strauss a heads-up about this press, specifically about the rights grab language in their contest terms, and she had this to add to the conversation:

The contest language isn't the only thing suspicious. One of their author photos is a stock photo, another is tied to an author with a different name and bio, and all the books published so far are by the same two people, either individually or as co-authors.
That is extremely odd. In checking out the bios once again, I noticed that "Cameron Jackson" is referred to as Clayton twice in his bio and once in his photo caption. "Clayton St. Andrews" is the name of the author with the stock photo.

I wonder if it's actually one person with two pen names, or maybe just two completely made-up personas.
 
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mrsmig

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That is extremely odd. In checking out the bios once again, I noticed that "Cameron Jackson" is referred to as Clayton twice in his bio and once in his photo caption. "Clayton St. Andrews" is the name of the author with the stock photo.

I wonder if it's actually one person with two pen names, or maybe just two completely made-up personas.

Or just more sloppy cut-and-paste stuff. In either case, my confidence in this press has dropped even further.
 

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The photo is captioned Clayton Cameron in the image's URL. The URL for the cartoon says Martin St Andrews. It sounds as if they were trying out pen names. (FWIW, Something St Andrews is trying too hard as a nom de plume.)
 

mrsmig

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Three days ago I received a polite and businesslike email from Robert Martin, President and Chief Editorial Officer of City Limits. He has seen this thread and was "disheartened" by the comments, but says he has taken the feedback to heart, has joined AW and expects to be posting here once his account is approved. I responded immediately with a summary of my issues with how City Limits has presented itself, but haven't heard back from Mr. Martin.

I had a look at the website today, and some changes have, indeed, been implemented. The two questionable author bios are gone. There is now a FAQ which reiterates that CL is not a vanity press, and tries to clear up some of the confusion regarding its services. Regarding coaching on unfinished works, it states:

We do require you to have a work in progress before submitting your piece, and we expect it to be reasonably close to finished before submitting. However, if you’re just stuck on that last little piece of the puzzle, we’re happy to review your work and offer feedback and advice prior to entering into a publishing agreement. Again, this is at no cost to you.

There's also a section in the FAQ regarding reversion of rights in the event of CL's closure, although the wording is a bit strange:

We certainly hope this never happens, but it’s written into our contract that if City Limits Publishing were to ever close, publishing rights immediately terminate back to the author. Since we do not hold the copyright to any part of the piece, we don’t retain that if we close, either.

And while they say this about their contests:

The only instance we would publish a piece without paying royalties is in the circumstance of short story and poetry contests and the anthologies produced with submissions. And even then, we require your permission to include it, so the choice is yours. Novels and theatrical pieces are exempt from this and always require a publishing agreement with a royalty payment contract in place. We would never publish without approval from any author.

the clause I took issue with above is still in their contest Terms & Conditions. This means the rights grab is still in place. Technically, an author would be paying a fee to give worldwide rights in perpetuity to City Limits. The clause would prevent an author from publishing their contest entry - even a non-winning one - elsewhere, forever. In my response to Mr. Martin, I stated very strongly that this clause is predatory and should be removed immediately, yet it lingers on.

Regarding the $100 threshold for royalty payments, the FAQ states:

If your monthly sales dips below $100, we wait to send your royalties until it’s reached $100. We do have a caveat to this in our contract that states we will never hold your royalties for more than six months regardless of the dollar amount below $100.


There's still no staff list/bios in their "About Us" section.

ETA: as of yesterday afternoon, the predatory clause in the contest T&C has been edited to read:

  1. Entrants will retain copyright in their submitted entries, however, by entering, all entrants grant City Limits Publishing, LLC the license to publish the title and/or quotes or excerpts from entries in any and all media (including print and online) for publicity and news purposes only.
 
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ctripp

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There's still no staff list/bios in their "About Us" section.

Robert appears to be the founder and 1 of the 2 Authors listed. The co-founder, Janet, is the other Author. At least that's my assumption from the web site. (and you know what they say about assuming but without any info to the contrary, it's all one can do)
 

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In retrospect I really wish I had seen this post before submitting my work to them. Victoria Strauss did a blog post about them recently, and they are shutting down, but as you can see in the comments many writers, including myself were never paid prize money or royalties.
 

mrsmig

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I am so sorry you got stung, poetryebook.

We've seen this scenario played out over and over: well-intentioned but inexperienced and naive individuals decide to start a press, sucker in authors with promises they can't fulfill, and then fail, taking their authors' work down with them. It makes you want to shriek after a while.

I hope you got your rights back, at least.

ETA: The comments on the Writer Beware article are heartbreaking. What bothers me is that - Robert Martin's protestations of transparency aside - the operation of this press has been devious from the beginning. When a press tries to puff itself up by using fake names and bios to give the appearance of a larger stable of authors, it's a clear indicator that its principals are prepared to be less than ethical to get what they want. I'm just sorry so many authors got snookered.
 
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poetryebook

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Thank you for your kind and empathetic reply, mrsmig.

I sent multiple requests for the form to get the rights to my piece back. Mr. Martin has stopped responding to me all together. Luckily, in my case it was only one poem.

I feel for the authors who are missing royalties and have had entire books go out of print because of this.

Edit: I finally received a response regarding the rights to my poem, and I can reprint it, so that’s good.
 
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CherylK

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Wow...it sure does look like a vanity press, although they state that "Fun Fact! There's no cost to publish your work!"

They appear to publish just about everything: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, photography books, etc. So that's one red flag. There's no staff listed on the site, although the website emphasizes "teams" in their "Publishing Process" section ("our dedicated team of designers," "our marketing team"). Another red flag. I looked them up on LinkedIn and could find only one employee, who's listed as their Digital Marketing Director, but graduated in 2018 from Pampanga State Agricultural University with a BA in English, and has only held three jobs since then, none in trade publishing. In an article on the website's blog, she states that she and Janet McMahan started the press only a few months ago. Janet McMahan is one of the four authors listed on the site. She is a composer/lyricist of children's musicals. So no trade publishing experience there, either. A HUGE red flag.

The "publishing process" section of the website is troubling. Apparently they'll accept authors whose work is complete OR at the conceptual stage. From the website:



I find the whole thing curious. And then there's this (bolding mine):




I had a look at one of their titles, and it's available on Amazon, B&N, Books-A-Million and IndieBound, as well as via their website. Regardless of what their website says, I doubt they're able to get their books onto brick-and-mortar shelves. I expect those books are available to order from certain stores, which is a whole difference ballgame.

They also have some contests going - one of which is for novels, with the first, second and third place winners getting a cash prize ($500, $200, $100) plus a publishing contract, free copies of their book and an "author branding package." The rules for submission are strange, since there's talk of inclusion in an anthology (an anthology? of novels?) and the dates are off, but given the sloppiness of that particular section, I think they just did a cut-and-paste from their short-story contest and didn't proof the results. All their contests have entry fees, ranging from $10-$20. And - oh boy - in their terms and conditions for the contests, there's this language (again, bolding mine):



So - anyone who enters their contests has basically paid this press to publish their work, in perpetuity. (Think I'll drop a little note to Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware about this angle.)

My takeaway: signing with a brand-new publisher is sketchy enough, but all those red flags make me very, very nervous about the venture.

FYI to anyone wondering. City Limits (which is now closed) was not a vanity press, BUT the publisher was a crook. He stopped paying his staff in February, and many of his authors haven't seen a dime in royalties. My book published June 15th, and three weeks later, the publisher announced its closure. There are investigations going on, lawyers involved, and we're even trying to get the Nashville police involved so this crook can't get away with this crap. I now have to figure out what to do with my book. It's a mess. Oh, and Victoria Strauss did post about it, just as the excrement was starting to hit the fan.
 

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I got a short story published in an anthology with them. They said I would get all rights back June 1st of 2021. I did, but I'm not sure if I got the whooping five dollars they promised for getting in the anthology. Reading through this thread, I am disgusted by the publisher's actions. 😡

I'm sorry that this is happening to authors. I wish I had read this thread sooner. I wouldn't have even considered working with them if I knew all of this was happening.

Since I did get all my rights back, I plan on expanding the short story I got published through them and making it a novel-in-stories.

I wish you all the best.
 

mrsmig

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FYI to anyone wondering. City Limits (which is now closed) was not a vanity press, BUT the publisher was a crook. He stopped paying his staff in February, and many of his authors haven't seen a dime in royalties. My book published June 15th, and three weeks later, the publisher announced its closure. There are investigations going on, lawyers involved, and we're even trying to get the Nashville police involved so this crook can't get away with this crap. I now have to figure out what to do with my book. It's a mess. Oh, and Victoria Strauss did post about it, just as the excrement was starting to hit the fan.
Yes, if you look at the more recent posts in the thread, you'll see commentary about CLP's collapse. I'm so sorry you were one of the victims.
 

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