New Authors as Shark Bait: Steve Alten's A&M Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
UPDATE: Shortly after publication of my and Chuck Wendig's posts about A&M Publishing's New Author Program, all information about the program was removed from the A&M website, and replaced with a submission form that makes no mention of fees. For a limited time, you can see a cached version of the original A&M New Author Program page here.
A Writer Beware reader alerted me recently to A&M Publishing, a new venture from author Steve Alten. Alten is best-known for his bestseller Meg, about a prehistoric shark menacing modern-day waters.

How about sharks menacing modern-day writers? A&M's list so far consists of three of Alten's own books (one written under a pseudonym). The company is clearly hoping to add to its author roster, though, via its New Author Program--but, authors, don't get too excited, because this is pay to play. Big, big pay.

For a suite of services that will be familiar to anyone who has ever investigated a self-publishing service--story and copy editing, interior and cover development, ISBN assignment, and ebook setup and distribution--A&M charges a truly jawdropping fee: $7,995.

And that's not all. If you want to see your book in print, you must order and pay for it over and above the basic fee. ("Average Printing Costs: Paperbacks $2.25. Hardbacks $3.85. Prices do not include shipping and handling.") What if you want your print books distributed? Well, A&M doesn't exactly seem to work with a print distributor, but it will "attempt to leverage Steve Alten’s presence in bookstores in order to place the new author’s books." Now, there's a novel distribution strategy! For full disclosure, A&M kindly reminds you that "no publisher can guarantee this service."

A&M has your back with marketing, too: book trailers, press releases, social media campaigns. Trailers cost between $1,000 and $1,500 (check out the examples at Alten's website and draw your own conclusions). A month of press releases "used to garner radio, TV, press and reviews" will set you back $1,000 (unless they're aggressively followed up on, press releases are among the least effective of all book marketing strategies). Other publicity services can be accessed, billed to you directly by either of two PR firms, one of which is owned by an A&M principal (can you say "conflict of interest"?)

It's A&M's example of authorial success that really says it all, though.

This is a lot like the "Potential Profit" sheets that old-fashioned print vanity publishers used to give out, intended to convince nervous authors that, by selling a completely unrealistic number of books, they could make a profit on the huge amount of money the publisher was demanding. (Though I can't quite figure out A&M's revenue calculation, which appears to assume a hardcover price of $6.80 and a bigger ebook royalty than the 75% of net A&M promises.)

Should you beat the odds and manage to sell more than a handful of books, A&M's got you covered there too. "In the event your book takes off and you’d prefer to work with a big publishing house, we’ll be happy to represent you as a literary agent to negotiate the best deal possible." For a commission, no doubt.

A&M reminds me of Jerry Jenkins' expensive pay to play venture, Christian Writers Guild Publishing, which made a similar play for beginning writers, with similar scary warnings about the difficulty of getting published and similar promises of unique and special nurturing. Jenkins' experiment closed down less than two years after launching--in part, I'm guessing, because of its $10,000 price tag. The problem isn't a lack of rich suckers--there are plenty of those, not to mention naifs who are willing to pauperize themselves for a shiny promise--it's that by offering only a single high-priced option, you narrow your customer pool in a potentially unsustainable way. Especially since, somewhat paradoxically, there's a lot of competition at these high price points. To survive at this level, you need to provide a really premier service.

New authors, if you want to pay to publish, there are many far more cost-effective options (see Writer Beware's Self-Publishing page for a full discussion and links). And don't forget that when you purchase publishing services, you are not an author contracting with a publisher, but a customer buying a product. Be a smart customer: shop with your head, not your heart.

I'll close with Alten's own explanation of A&M's pricing rationale.
So why do we charge you? We’re charging you for services required to launch an unproven author – services that I still pay out of my own pocket. For every novel I hire the same editor, P.R. person, book trailer guy – that’s the cost of success. My job is to teach you the business of being an author so that you ACCOMPLISH your goal; the other guys are more interested in selling you a package of ACTIVITY. Lots more activity in that Diamond package! Pass the bullshit repellent.

UPDATE: Chuck Wendig has also blogged about A&M, and Steve Alten has responded--you can see his comments starting here.

UPDATE 3/8/16: When I put this post online, A&M's "Our Team" page included Michelle Colon-Johnson, owner of 2 Dream Productions, one of the PR services to which A&M authors apparently are referred (see the screenshot below). Following my post, in which I pointed out the conflict of interest inherent in such referrals, Ms. Colon-Johnson was removed from A&M's website. I very much hope this isn't part of an effort to conceal the connection, and that authors who are referred to 2 Dream Productions will be informed that one of A&M's owners will benefit from their purchase of services.

2 comments to New Authors as Shark Bait: Steve Alten’s A&M Publishing

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