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Metal Lunchbox Publishing?

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mrsmig

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Here's a link to their website: Metal Lunchbox Publishing

I have no experience with them, but off the bat, I can see several warning flags.

1. They're using Wordpress to host their site, which generally points to a low-budget, DIY, part-time operation rather than a professionally-run publisher.

2. Their street address is a UPS store in Frederick, MD.

3. While they get points for actually listing a staff in their "About" section, the only two that aren't listed as "authors" are their two most-published authors, SF "Sam" Varney (Publisher) and Ellen Parry Lewis (Senior Editor). Neither has any actual publishing experience listed in their bio. Perhaps they can edit, but can they market? promote? The lone employee listed on the company's LinkedIn page is Mr. Varney, who works in retail jewelry. (See "part-time operation" above.)

4. Across the board, their covers are amateurish, bordering on awful. (The publisher, Sam Varney, also appears to be their cover designer.)

5. Their publishing schedule is...erratic, with maybe one or two books released per year over the past five years or so. Their most recent book came out in January 2021 and isn't even listed on the Bookshelf page.

So...you have to ask yourself: have I ever seen any of MLP's books in a bookstore? Do I know anyone who's published with them? Have I ever heard of any of their books or authors? More important: what can this company do for me that I couldn't do on my own via self-publishing, - and keep all the profits for myself?
 
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CherylK

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Here's a link to their website: Metal Lunchbox Publishing

I have no experience with them, but off the bat, I can see several warning flags.

1. They're using Wordpress to host their site, which generally points to a low-budget, DIY, part-time operation rather than a professionally-run publisher.

2. Their street address is a UPS store in Frederick, MD.

3. While they get points for actually listing a staff in their "About" section, the only two that aren't listed as "authors" are their two most-published authors, SF "Sam" Varney (Publisher) and Ellen Parry Lewis (Senior Editor). Neither has any actual publishing experience listed in their bio. Perhaps they can edit, but can they market? promote? The lone employee listed on the company's LinkedIn page is Mr. Varney, who works in retail jewelry. (See "part-time operation" above.)

4. Across the board, their covers are amateurish, bordering on awful. (The publisher, Sam Varney, also appears to be their cover designer.)

5. Their publishing schedule is...erratic, with maybe one or two books released per year over the past five years or so. Their most recent book came out in January 2021 and isn't even listed on the Bookshelf page.

So...you have to ask yourself: have I ever seen any of MLP's books in a bookstore? Do I know anyone who's published with them? Have I ever heard of any of their books or authors? More important: what can this company do for me that I couldn't do on my own via self-publishing, - and keep all the profits for myself?

Yes, I did notice all of these things, but really appreciate your input. I was one of the authors burned by Robert Martin at CLP, and my options are limited, as not many publishers will be interested in republishing a book that's already been published (CLP published mine in June). So I could self-publish (which I have never wanted to do, mostly because I have neither the time nor the knowledge to tackle it), or I could try to find an indie press willing to take it on. MLP has been around since 2009 and are in QueryTracker, so those are plusses to me. I also like that the publisher has a successful "day job," like a lot of us writers;
 

mrsmig

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Yes, I did notice all of these things, but really appreciate your input. I was one of the authors burned by Robert Martin at CLP, and my options are limited, as not many publishers will be interested in republishing a book that's already been published (CLP published mine in June). So I could self-publish (which I have never wanted to do, mostly because I have neither the time nor the knowledge to tackle it), or I could try to find an indie press willing to take it on. MLP has been around since 2009 and are in QueryTracker, so those are plusses to me. I also like that the publisher has a successful "day job," like a lot of us writers;

Yes, I saw your post in the City Limits thread, and am truly sorry that happened to you.

I have to ask, though: what are your goals for this particular book? Are you hoping to make a little money? Get your book onto bookstore shelves? Create a readership for your next books? Because I don't see any of that happening with Metal Lunchbox.

I have to be brutally honest. The fact that this press has been around since 2009 isn't necessarily a plus, nor is being listed on QueryTracker an indication of their quality, nor is Mr. Varney having a full-time job elsewhere a desirable trait in a publisher. The operation is clearly run by amateurs - well-meaning amateurs, perhaps, but amateurs nonetheless. I hear your anxiety about trying to find another publisher (I went through a similar situation with my own series), but the best advice I can give you is to aim as high as you can. MLP is definitely at the low end of the scale.
 
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frimble3

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Yes, I did notice all of these things, but really appreciate your input. I was one of the authors burned by Robert Martin at CLP, and my options are limited, as not many publishers will be interested in republishing a book that's already been published (CLP published mine in June). So I could self-publish (which I have never wanted to do, mostly because I have neither the time nor the knowledge to tackle it), or I could try to find an indie press willing to take it on. MLP has been around since 2009 and are in QueryTracker, so those are plusses to me. I also like that the publisher has a successful "day job," like a lot of us writers;
Why is having a 'day job' a plus? Not just the publisher, but several employees have day jobs as well. Which, in my mind, makes publishing a hobby, not an actual priority when it comes to a time crunch, or general allocation of resources.
Also, I read the 'See Inside' of the publisher's first book 'Karate Dottie' and apparently what time he does spend on publishing is not spent in editing.
 

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Yes, I saw your post in the City Limits thread, and am truly sorry that happened to you.

I have to ask, though: what are your goals for this particular book? Are you hoping to make a little money? Get your book onto bookstore shelves? Create a readership for your next books? Because I don't see any of that happening with Metal Lunchbox.

I have to be brutally honest. The fact that this press has been around since 2009 isn't necessarily a plus, nor is being listed on QueryTracker an indication of their quality, nor is Mr. Varney having a full-time job elsewhere a desirable trait in a publisher. The operation is clearly run by amateurs - well-meaning amateurs, perhaps, but amateurs nonetheless. I hear your anxiety about trying to find another publisher (I went through a similar situation with my own series), but the best advice I can give you is to aim as high as you can. MLP is definitely at the low end of the scale.
What was your situation? Did you find another publisher for your series?
 

CherylK

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Why is having a 'day job' a plus? Not just the publisher, but several employees have day jobs as well. Which, in my mind, makes publishing a hobby, not an actual priority when it comes to a time crunch, or general allocation of resources.
Also, I read the 'See Inside' of the publisher's first book 'Karate Dottie' and apparently what time he does spend on publishing is not spent in editing.
I don't know, I just saw his endorsements on LinkedIn and thought it looked like he's an honest, hard worker, as opposed to my previous publisher's crooked non-working self.
 

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It's easy to ignore red flags when you've been burned as bad as you have been, but frimble and mrsmig are right. Because they have day jobs, selling your novel isn't their top priority. It's a hobby. It may be a long-running hobby, it may be an honest hobby, but it's still a hobby, something to be done in free time. Your work deserves better than being someone's side-gig.
 

frimble3

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I don't know, I just saw his endorsements on LinkedIn and thought it looked like he's an honest, hard worker, as opposed to my previous publisher's crooked non-working self.
No way to tell if he's "an honest, hard worker" unless you go to his workplace, talk to his boss and watch him work. It's hard to serve two masters: he's either dogging it at work, or he's not spending enough time on publishing.
I have worked for 40 years, and seen a lot of employees come and go. Having a job and being an honest, hard worker can be very different things.
 

Marian Perera

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It's hard to serve two masters: he's either dogging it at work, or he's not spending enough time on publishing.

Exactly. And if, say, there's a sudden increase in work at the day job, or a crisis at home, chances are he's not going to neglect either his day job or his family. So publishing will come third (at best) in line.

Also, you can be an honest, hard worker and yet I wouldn't think this makes you a good publisher or lawyer or doctor. I'd want to see actual experience in those fields before I trusted you with my manuscript or will or pancreas.
 

mrsmig

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What was your situation? Did you find another publisher for your series?
I did not - and I had an agent trying to place it. I ended up republishing the series on my own.

Publishers want first publication rights. They want "new," not "used." Sure, you can find publishers out there that will republish an author's backlist, but most are going to look at how the books sold in the first place. Since your book was out for such a short time, its sales were probably not stellar. That wasn't your fault, or the book's fault - but publishers don't care about that. Publishers are in business to make money. They will look at your book and ask themselves: "Can I recoup the costs of publishing this book, and be able to turn a profit as well?"

My publisher went belly-up because it was undercapitalized, under-experienced, understaffed - and everyone who worked there had other, full-time work. including the owner of the business. She had no marketing plan other than to make the book available via the usual online markets (Amazon, B&N, etc.). She had no promotional plan other than to schedule a virtual blog tour for each of her releases, and lean heavily on her authors' social media platforms to advertise the books. Consequently, sales followed the pattern typical in publishing: initial sales were good, but then dropped off sharply after the first month. (Big publishers generally have enough capital and marketing clout to survive this pattern, but small publishers do not.) My publisher could not recoup the costs of producing its books, which translated to the owner being unable/unwilling to cough up the royalties due her authors. Her solution was to sign even more authors, and use the profits from one author's initial release to cover the publication costs of the next author's book (this is called an "author mill").

About this time, the owner began experiencing "health issues" - either genuine and probably brought on by worry over the failing business, or faked to keep angry authors off her back. In either case, the release of my third book was marred by delays and miscommunication, and the release of the fourth was an utter disaster. I pulled the series three weeks later. The publishing company went belly-up a month or two after that. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

The ONLY advantage I can see to Metal Lunchbox is that they only put out one or two books a year, so at least they know their limits and aren't overextending themselves. If all you want is for someone to publish your book, and you're okay with making very little money, having no bookstore presence, no promo, no marketing and a sub-par cover, then maybe you'll be happy with Metal Lunchbox.
 
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CherylK

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I did not - and I had an agent trying to place it. I ended up republishing the series on my own.

Publishers want first publication rights. They want "new," not "used." Sure, you can find publishers out there that will republish an author's backlist, but most are going to look at how the books sold in the first place. Since your book was out for such a short time, its sales were probably not stellar. That wasn't your fault, or the book's fault - but publishers don't care about that. Publishers are in business to make money. They will look at your book and ask themselves: "Can I recoup the costs of publishing this book, and be able to turn a profit as well?"

My publisher went belly-up because it was undercapitalized, under-experienced, understaffed - and everyone who worked there had other, full-time work. including the owner of the business. She had no marketing plan other than to make the book available via the usual online markets (Amazon, B&N, etc.). She had no promotional plan other than to schedule a virtual blog tour for each of her releases, and lean heavily on her authors' social media platforms to advertise the books. Consequently, sales followed the pattern typical in publishing: initial sales were good, but then dropped off sharply after the first month. (Big publishers generally have enough capital and marketing clout to survive this pattern, but small publishers do not.) My publisher could not recoup the costs of producing its books, which translated to the owner being unable/unwilling to cough up the royalties due her authors. Her solution was to sign even more authors, and use the profits from one author's initial release to cover the publication costs of the next author's book (this is called an "author mill").

About this time, the owner began experiencing "health issues" - either genuine and probably brought on by worry over the failing business, or faked to keep angry authors off her back. In either case, the release of my third book was marred by delays and miscommunication, and the release of the fourth was an utter disaster. I pulled the series three weeks later. The publishing company went belly-up a month or two after that. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

The ONLY advantage I can see to Metal Lunchbox is that they only put out one or two books a year, so at least they know their limits and aren't overextending themselves. If all you want is for someone to publish your book, and you're okay with making very little money, having no bookstore presence, no promo, no marketing and a sub-par cover, then maybe you'll be happy with Metal Lunchbox.
All of that sounds VERY familiar! I assume that's pretty common with small publishers. I've also found that this industry is so predatory, with people trying to scam us all over the place. I probably would be much better off self-publishing this book (and the sequel I've been planning), but man I hate this. It really stinks.
 
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CherylK

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It's easy to ignore red flags when you've been burned as bad as you have been, but frimble and mrsmig are right. Because they have day jobs, selling your novel isn't their top priority. It's a hobby. It may be a long-running hobby, it may be an honest hobby, but it's still a hobby, something to be done in free time. Your work deserves better than being someone's side-gig.
Very good points. It's also easy to fall back on the "I have to settle because I don't have many options" thinking.
 

CherylK

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No way to tell if he's "an honest, hard worker" unless you go to his workplace, talk to his boss and watch him work. It's hard to serve two masters: he's either dogging it at work, or he's not spending enough time on publishing.
I have worked for 40 years, and seen a lot of employees come and go. Having a job and being an honest, hard worker can be very different things.
That's why I said "looked like." Thanks to my former publisher, I'm leaning toward believing the worst about people, but I don't want to be that way. I want to keep believing the best and being optimistic.
 
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lizmonster

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That's why I said "looked like." Thanks to my former publisher, I'm leaning toward believing the worst about people, but I don't want to be that way. I want to keep believing the best and being optimistic.
Optimism is good for your health. I've learned enough about publishing to believe it's not good for your career. ;)
 

mrsmig

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All of that sounds VERY familiar! I assume that's pretty common with small publishers. I've also found that this industry is so predatory, with people trying to scam us all over the place. I probably would be much better off self-publishing this book (and the sequel I've been planning), but man I hate this. It really stinks.
It does. My agent tried for six months to find another home for the books, but I knew the chances were slim that she'd succeed. I used that time to educate myself about self-publishing, but it was still another six months before I was able to get the books back on the market. It's hard not to feel desperate - but the scammy outfits feed on that desperation, as well as authors' hopes and dreams.

Fortunately, some of my fellow authors and I had banded together to compare notes and share info as our publisher started to circle the drain, then went on sharing info and encouragement as we ventured into self-publishing. All of us would still like to be trade-published one day, but now we know the questions to ask and the red flags to look for. If you're going to pursue finding a trade publisher for this book, it's vital that you educate yourself about how publishing works. You might find the subforum Publishing FAQs and Resources to be helpful.
 

Marian Perera

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I want to keep believing the best and being optimistic.

Being optimistic isn't incompatible with educating yourself and being careful. You can consider your employer a good person, but you'd still check your pay stub to make sure it includes the overtime you worked two weeks ago. You could be confident your doctor will do a good job treating you for Harrelson-Liu Syndrome, but you could also read up about Harrelson-Liu Syndrome so you have a better idea of what's going on.

You don't need to go into every publishing-world encounter wondering if this person will scam you or disappear. But if you know what red flags to watch out for, you're less likely to be burned. It's the same as dating. You don't go on a date wondering if this person will turn out to be an axe murderer, but if he spends a lot of time talking about edged weapons and this isn't a mutual interest, you know there's a potential problem.

As the saying goes, "Trust in God, but row away from the rocks."
 

frimble3

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All of that sounds VERY familiar! I assume that's pretty common with small publishers. I've also found that this industry is so predatory, with people trying to scam us all over the place. I probably would be much better off self-publishing this book (and the sequel I've been planning), but man I hate this. It really stinks.
I suspect that publishing is no more predatory, on the whole, than any place else.
It's just that if you're a writer, you're right up close and directly involved so you notice it more. (And, with luck sooner - you notice in the early stages, unlike the guy who doesn't realize he's hired a bad roofer until the rains set in.)
 
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frimble3

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"Her solution was to sign even more authors, and use the profits from one author's initial release to cover the publication costs of the next author's book (this is called an "author mill")."
Which is only a variant of the ol' Pyramid Scheme, for those who like to recognize that some scams are universal. Especially obvious if the publisher asks you for the names of friends and family to sell to, a marketing plan, and encourages you to 'support' your fellow writers.
 
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