Publishing in Chaos: Booktrope Jumps Ship Leaving Authors in the Lurch

Ever since publishing a book became as simple as uploading a Word file up on Amazon, Kindle, CreateSpace, or Ingram Spark, the scramble to be the next bestselling author has gone full throttle.

The new Gold Rush is at anyone’s fingertips. If you know basic grammar, have access to a computer and an internet connection, you can publish a book. If you are willing to spend time networking and promoting your work on social media, you can gather fans, make connections, and maybe even sell some books.

For many authors, dealing with the boring details of publishing seems overwhelming. There is also a stigma to self-publishing because there is no tastemaker who can put their stamp of approval on your book and say,

I, as certified art-seller now dub this book ART.

Many people see self-publishing as the equivalent of posting a selfie on Instagram. Big Box Publishing is getting your face photographed by Annie Lebovitz on the cover of a magazine. It’s official. A selfie is not art. It is gratuitous narcissism. A magazine spread means you are important, at least according to the editor of that particular magazine.

If Vanity Fair says that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are the most important and culturally relevant people in our society, then it must be a fact.

Art is being democratized and it makes the literary oligarchy squirm.

Believe it or not, there are many successful self-published authors. Yes. You can actually make a living self-publishing. You can even win awards!

The infamous Chuck Tingle, author of such meta-literary erotica masterpieces as Pounded in the Butt by my own Butt was recently nominated for a Nebula award for Space Raptor Butt Invasion, causing the literati to throw their hands up in the air like the choir in a Greek tragedy.

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Granted, his nomination was due to a ‘Rabid Puppy’ campaign led by Right-Wing Christian Science Fiction Author, Vox Day, with intent to destroy the supposedly overly left-leaning Hugo awards.

This is publishing today; in-fighting, Twitter wars, and defamation campaigns.

And like a perfect twister in the eye of the publishing storm rose Booktrope.

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Booktrope was supposed to be a new way of doing indie publishing. It was supposed to be the best of both worlds. You get a big company behind you without all the red tape of a lengthy submissions process. The goal of the company was to gather as many authors as possible. Contracts were flying out by the barrelfull into the eager inboxes of struggling writers. They had five imprints: Forsaken (Horror), Gravity(Trauma Survivors), Edge(BDSM & Dark Thrillers), Entice(Erotica), and Vox Dei(Christian). They had all their genre bases covered. A flavor for every taste in both print and e-book format. They made an alliance with Amazon so that Booktrope books could be part of Kindle unlimited. It seemed like a win win for everybody. Big business wins. Indie authors win.

The idea was that you get a whole team working together. Artists and editors get a percentage of every book they work on and the company teams writers up with cover artists and editors and project managers. Their business model was based upon publishing as many books as possible as quickly as possible. It was a crap shoot and a triangle scheme. Certain writers were successful and the rest just fell through the cracks, with Booktrope getting the lion’s share of all the profits.

Chances are, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

A company that promised to relieve authors of the stress and costs of self-publishing announced on Friday April 30th that it is shutting down operations effective immediately. This sudden shut-down is occuring after being open for only a little over a year and securing 250,000 in initial startup investments and acquiring an additional 215,000 in January of 2015, when they opened for submissions.

They will be taking down all published books, effective May 31, 2016. In addition to this sudden development, Booktrope is washing its hands of all upaid fees as of August 1, 2016, when they return the rights to the authors, even though they will continue to receive the royalties from already bought Kindle and Nook books that are being read.

To add insult to injury, the authors are still expected to pay royalties to the artists and editors who worked with them via Booktrope, if they chose to republish any of their books within the five year contract duration.

Excerpt from email from CEO Ken Shear to members of the Booktrope team:

Because we are returning rights to authors for their books, we will be asking for acknowledgment that authors will compensate creative team members appropriately as provided in applicable creative team agreements and principles of fair dealing.

This has many authors understandably panicked. Many complain that they have yet to even receive any royalties for the books they have already published and that they do not have the money to pay their editors and artists. The whole reason they joined Booktrope was because they could not afford those services.

Booktrope makes out like a bandit, leaving all the writers, artists, editors, and project managers to pick up the pieces of their lives and publishing careers.

So where does this leave new and aspiring writers?

You have four options and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.

1. Big Press: You can try to get an agent and try get published through a mainstream press. It is very tough to get an agent and an agent is going to be focusing not just on quality, but on marketability. If your goal is to get your book into bookstores and get an advance, then this might be your best option. You are going to have to keep the marketplace in mind. They are focused on books that can really sell to a large audience.

2. Mid-Size Press: This is a good option for authors because many of these presses have been around for a while and have the resources to promote your book. They are going to be a little more open-minded about publishing non-risk averse books and you tend to keep a larger percentage of the profits than you would if you went with a big press. They will have less in advance but for many writers this can be a great working partnership.

3. Small/Micro Press: They will pay for a good cover, and provide editing, and have relationships built already with readers. Chances are low they have any marketing budget or will promote anywhere besides Facebook and Twitter. The big benefits are that the editors will put in real time for your book. They often have a pool of talented and reliable artists that they use for their covers. They also format, copy-edit, and get everything set up. If you want a lot of freedom to just focus on writing, this can be a good path especially for beginning authors.

4. Self-Publishing: In this scenario, you are the publisher. You spend all the money and you keep all the money, and that is the beauty and the curse. Chances are you will lose money, as you have to pay for everything. You have total freedom, but with that freedom comes responsibility. People who write in highly marketable genres such as Romance, have a high success rate. Self-publishing is also a great fit for books that are just so weird and unmarketable that they go viral, like the fiction of Chuck Tingle, or Bizarro Erotica author Mandy De Sandra, who exploded onto the scene with Kirk Cameron & The Crocoduck of Chaos Magick, and followed up with her gleefully irreverent political satire, Ravished by Regansaurus.

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Publishing is not a Fairy Tale. There is no Goldilocks perfect publisher. But that does not mean that you cannot find the happy ending that fits your style. It is a journey, just like anything else. There are authors that will do all four kinds of publishing during the course of their career.

It’s the Wild West out there.

It’s time to be your own gunslinger.

 

 

Bio: Leza Cantoral is the author of  Planet Mermaid and editor of Walk Hand In Hand Into Extinction: Stories Inspired By True Detective. Find her essays on Luna Luna Magazine, her Bizarro flash fiction on Bizarrocentral, and more on lezacantoralblog.wordpress

You can find her on Twitter @lezacantoral

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