Publisher’s Lunch, usually a reputable source, is reporting that “Ghostwriting and publishing services firm Scribe Media abruptly shut down yesterday, laying off its staff.” A second source that I trust received an email saying that Scribe had laid off most of the staff in preparation for a sale. Other authors are reporting no response to emails on their projects in process.
Since Scribe Media is one of the largest publishing services companies, whatever major changes are going on there will affect a lot of authors.
If you’re an author working with Scribe, I’m sorry that I have no definitive answers on what’s happening; closely follow reputable sources like Publisher’s Weekly and Jane Friedman. If you’re considering working with Scribe, I recommend seeking other alternatives.
Every publishing relationship includes risk. While major traditional publishers are unlikely to go under, small independent publishers, hybrid publishers, and publishing services companies like Scribe are worth vetting carefully. So today, let’s talk about what to check — and how to protect yourself as an author.
Vetting your publisher
Major traditional publishers are slow and hard to get interested. That’s why indie presses, hybrid publishers, and self-publishing services companies are real alternatives, but you have to be selective.
It has become very difficult to be certain who is a good publishing partner. In my experience, all authors complain about their publishers. In my upcoming book for business authors, I quote publishing expert Jane Friedman:
There are countless predators calling themselves hybrids, and the average person who’s new to the publishing industry cannot possibly filter out the good from the bad. . . . No one is policing the term ‘hybrid,’ and it’s not realistic to tell authors that hybrids work out great if you can only find a ‘good’ one. There is no qualified, vetted list of hybrids anywhere. So we have to live with the messy reality that some hybrids are predators and warn authors accordingly.”
But let’s not tar all of these companies with the same brush. I have personally worked with Amplify (publisher of my next book), Ideapress Publishing, Greenleaf Book Group, Page Two, and Wonderwell; I feel confident recommending them to others.
That said, I know several authors who worked with Scribe as well, and none reported major problems before now. Scribe is 9 years old and has published more than 2,000 books including 23 bestsellers. So it’s surprising that such a well established publishing services company would have a major disruptions like this.
If you’re considering working with a hybrid, indie publisher, or publishing services company, discuss your potential publishing partner with other authors who’ve worked with them and learn from their experiences. Learn to tell the difference between problems that were the author’s fault (low sales due to lack of promotion, for example) and the publisher’s fault (such as not printing the books on time, poor printing quality, or terrible page layout). Take complaints seriously. As with any other business relationship, look for complaints online to find patterns of bad behavior.
When working with an indie publisher, hybrid publisher, or publishing services company, you have a right to have a detailed description of how they will work with you and the stages your manuscript will go through. You also should ask about how the publisher is financed and who owns it.
When working with hybrid or publishing services companies, it’s typical to pay a significant portion of the cost up-front. This is their business model, and it should be accompanied by excellent service. Except in the case of print-on-demand books, the cost of printing is significant, and hybrid publishers charge that cost to you. But your payments should be contingent on the publisher meeting clear milestones.
Review your publishing contract carefully; you may want to retain a publishing attorney. Pay particular attention to what happens in the case of a publisher failing to continue with a project due to disruptions at its own operation, as is apparently happening now at Scribe. At hybrids and in self-publishing models, you typically retain all rights to your own content and ownership of any inventory. Check the contract for your ability to cancel the contract or go forward with other publishing options in the event of non-performance by the publisher.
Protecting your assets
It’s rare, but the situation with Scribe isn’t the first case I’ve heard of where a publisher going out of business encumbers an author’s work. In these situations, you need to carefully keep track of what matters and protect it. Here’s a list of the assets you’ll want to protect:
- Publishing rights. At hybrid publishers, you retain the rights to your content, which means you can publish elsewhere if the existing publisher is no longer living up to its obligations (but check the contract to make sure). Those publishing rights may include subsidiary rights, such as audiobook, ebook, and translation rights.
- Inventory. Unless your book is print-on-demand (as with Kindle Direct Publishing or Ingram Spark), your physical books are in a warehouse somewhere. But getting them out is likely to be neither easy nor cheap. And you probably don’t have a place to store thousands of books at your house. In any case, keep track of where books are stored and consider how you might use them in the future. And keep in mind that nobody ships books for free; you’ll have to pay to move them to another warehouse or to your home or storage.
- Content files. Meticulous authors retain copies of all work in progress with publishers, including manuscript files, copy-edit feedback, and a PDF of the final book. These source materials are valuable in case of a revision, for example, not just in case of publisher failures. But don’t stop with just the files you created. When the publishing process is done, you should get copies of the cover art, ebook files, Adobe InDesign (print layout) files, and audiobook content as well. These files will make it far easier for you to republish with another publisher, if that becomes necessary.
- Your Amazon book page. Use Amazon Authorcentral to claim your book. Then you can have some control over which publishers are permitted to list it.
Don’t give up on hybrids
Scribe’s disruption may sour authors on hybrid publishers. This would be a shame; hybrid publishing continues to be a productive option for many authors. Don’t be afraid to work with hybrids because of one company’s challenges. But don’t trust blindly, either. This disruption is a good reminder that authors must always be circumspect in choosing partners for publishing, promotion, and distribution of their cherished content assets.