Warning: Not-so Great Little Books

Posted on August 4, 2009

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Like most experienced writers, I do my best to steer clear of predatory publishing schemes and fee for services agencies. I’ve found the easiest way to discern those kinds of publishers and agents is to do a little research. Primarily, I go to their website and find out more about them. I also google their name to see if anyone has posted anything positive or negative about them. Preditors and Editors’ Book Publisher section is a fairly reliable online resource. They also post a list of Other Sites With Useful Warnings.

A year ago the name of a publisher, Great Little Books crossed my desk. I don’t remember the exact circumstances but I did my research and they checked out as what I considered a traditional publisher. By that I mean they pay advance plus royalties, or royalty only, or flat fee. In my opinion any publishing company that asks for payment from the author is a subsidy publisher or a publishing service, which is not a traditional publisher.

In August 2008, I submitted my picture book manuscript Mom Drives the Fire Truck to Great Little Books. In January 2009, my SASE came back from them with the following letter from Publisher and Executive Editor Barbara Worton:

Thank you for submitting Mom Drives the Fire Truck to Great Little Books, and please except [sic] my apologies for taking so long to get back to you. I have forwarded your story to another editor at Great Little Books, and we will be getting back to you shortly. Thanks again for your patience.

Who wouldn’t be encouraged to receive Ms. Worton’s letter? I certainly was. However in May I had still not heard from Great Little Books so I sent a brief letter (and another SASE) to inquire about the status of my manuscript.

Last week I received this letter in my SASE:

Thank you very much for your interest in Great Little Books LLC and for submitting your manuscript. Our editors have reviewed your manuscript and think it has promise. Right now, however, we are not able to acquire titles and absorb the cost of publishing and marketing them ourselves.

Currently, Great Little Books, LLC is a collaborative publisher. This means that we follow the traditional publishing model in terms of the production of our books – high-quality hardcover and paperback books distributed through retail and online outlets – and share the costs of the production and promotion of the titles with our authors.

For a novel or non-fiction title, those costs can include but may not be limited to editing, proofreading, cover and interior design, printing and marketing. For a children’s title, those costs can include but may not be limited to editing, illustration, cover and interior design, printing and marketing. We provide access to mainstream distribution, special sales channels, illustration, print production and editorial and marketing expertise

She also provided an email address where I could write to her personally. But her letter told me everything I needed to know. Evidently “collaborative publisher” is the new euphemism for subsidy publisher. In her article “Subsidy Publishing vs. Self-Publishing: What’s the Difference?”, Moira Allen says “any publisher that requests a fee from the author is a subsidy publisher”.

I understand these are hard economic times. Book sales are down. Some bookstores have closed their doors. Publishers are laying off or going out of business. Writers, editors, and agents are all scrambling for work. I haven’t had a regular paycheck in over 3 years. Difficult decisions are being made every day. Great Little Books, or any other company for that matter, has every right to choose whatever publishing model they see fit in order to stay afloat. What they ought to do is be upfront about it. I certainly don’t disparage any writer who chooses subsidy publishing. I’ve always said “there’s not one path to publication.” I do believe writers should be free to make that choice and not be tricked into it.

Barbara Worton of Great Little Books opted for a bait and switch scheme that wasted my time and hers. I’m sure I’m not the first writer and I won’t be the last writer who was duped. I think her tactics are deceptive, predatory, and unfair. However it is not my job to tell Ms. Worton how to conduct her business. But it is my job to inform other writers when I spot a scam.

Consider yourself warned. Great Little Books has scam written all over it.

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