Thursday, September 5, 2013

Writer’s Digest – the End of an Era

My writing journey has taken many twists and turns but, through the years, my constant companion has always been Writer’s Digest Magazine; and I was not alone. From the days of scribbling in college-ruled notebooks to the time when submissions were sent electronically instead of in padded envelopes, “Subscribe to Writer’s Digest,” was generally the first piece of advice given to any aspiring author. Every month, Writer’s Digest offered inspiration, instruction, insider views and the occasional chuckle as we navigated the long, lonely and tortuous path to publication. In good times and bad, Writer’s Digest was there, with calm words and sage advice. Writer’s Digest was our friend; they were on our side.

Sadly, those days are gone. In truth, they have been gone for some time, but it was only this month that my subscription to Writer’s Digest ran out and I decided not to re-up, after 40 years of continuous loyalty.

The reasons for this are a bit complicated and intentionally obfuscated by the companies involved but the long and the short of it is this: Writer’s Digest is no longer interested in helping writers; they have devolved into an advertising rag for the scummiest, scammiest, most predatory vanity publisher on the planet.

The business of a vanity press is diametrically opposed to the business of writing. In the writing business, money goes from the publisher to the writer. End of. No exceptions. If money goes from the writer to the publisher, you are dealing with a vanity press, an entity not in the business of publishing books, but of bilking money out of authors.*

On a whole, writers tend to be, shall we say, more hopeful than other people. This is largely because their chosen vocation is a lonely one, and they suffer a great deal of rejection. So when a company says they will publish their (stunningly brilliant) manuscript and promises them the moon and many stars in the process, a lot of writers are willing to believe. But once the contract is signed, the fees begin to add up, and up, and up.

There are many vanity presses out there, but the largest, slipperiest and most voracious of them all is Author Solutions. Author Solutions—in its many incarnations—has been the bane of writers for many years. They are adept at luring writers in with promises of profit, then the fees and hidden charges kick in and soon the writer is out thousands of dollars/pounds only to find themselves with an error-ridden, sub-standard book that they can’t sell. At which point Author Solutions will offer to sell the writer a marketing package, with more fees and hidden charges…

I could go on.

Suffice it to say, Author Solutions and its various hydra-heads are so good at sucking writers in, pressure-selling them useless services, ratcheting up fees and delivering next to nothing that a class-action lawsuit has been filed against them and their parent company, Penguin Publishing.

I have known enough to stay away from Author Solutions for some time, and have become increasingly disappointed in Writer’s Digest as more and more ads for Author Solution companies have crept into their pages. The only justification I could muster on their behalf was that these are tough times and you take what advertising you can get. Little did I know, they were a just a puppet of Author Solutions.

FW Media owns Writer’s Digest. Writer’s Digest runs a disturbing number of ads for Abbott Press, which is a Vanity Press that uses the same model and methods as Author Solutions. Turns out, FW Media also owns Abbott Press. And, interestingly, Abbott Press has the same address as Author Solutions and all of its many offshoots:

Source: Author Solutions website
Source: Writer's Digest Magazine
It is clear, therefore, that in the incestuous world of corporations, FW Media is in bed with Author Solutions and that the numerous ads for vanity presses in Writer’s Digest is not a case of temporarily selling their soul in order to stay afloat during these bad economic times. The ads are, in fact, the main purpose of the magazine, which is to lure their readers into giving money to any one of the many vanity presses they advertise (it doesn’t matter which one, they are all owned by the same company).

Writer’s Digest has no soul to sell; they are a shill for Author Solutions.

And so I must continue this writing journey on my own, without my life-long friend and companion by my side. The realization leaves me hollow and bereft, and feeling more than a little bit betrayed. It’s the same feeling I might get if I discovered that a long-time and much-admired entertainer turned out to be a pedophile, thereby tainting all the shared moments stretching back over the years.

Thankfully, there is very little chance of that happening.

* Self-publishing is not to be confused with a vanity press. Self-publishers may need the services of an editor and/or graphic designer but these services are hired on an as-needed basis and paid for with a one-time fee. The author remains the publisher and receives 100% of the profits. A Vanity Press acquires the rights to the book, becomes the publisher and receives all the profits, and makes the author pay for the privilege. Many vanity presses advertise themselves as “self-publishing” companies, but that is an egregious diversion from the truth.


  1. You have done your followers a great service by exposing this racket! It's so sad that there are people in the business of luring hopeful but inexperienced writers with false promises and ultimately dashing those hopes. What an ugly way to make a living!

    1. Yes, I really can't imagine working for a company like this, or even conspiring with them, like Penguin or FW Media. Takes all kinds, I guess. I'm just glad I'm not one of those kind.

  2. I didn't realise these connections existed but I have to disagree with you about WD as a whole. I still find a lot of the articles and short pieces very helpful, and often inspiring. I never ever look at the back pages though. I mean who on earth would sign up with a company based on an ad in a magazine? You have to do a lot of research, compare your options and then pick the one that suits your needs.
    Oh and, the bit about writers making money from the publishers? Hmmm... as someone who was first published by a fairly big publishing house, I made about $2 per book at the end of the day. Once you pay the publisher, your agent etc. (as you sign up to do) you don't make that much unless you're selling hundreds of thousands. That's the big myth about the traditional route.

    1. I do agree that WD still has some worthwhile articles; a writer can still get much use out of the magazine. But for me, personally, I just don't want any of my money going to fund such a shady company.

      Your point about your publisher makes my point: YOU made money. Okay, not much, but you didn't have to pay thousands up front to get that $2 per book, Also, "once you pay the publisher, your agent etc" is not technically correct: the publisher collects all the revenue and the publisher pays the writer and the agent, etc. The writer (and here is the big difference) does not pay anybody anything.

  3. I got my first subscription to WD when I was 11 years old and told my mom I wanted to be a writer. I've had them off and on, depending on my circumstances, since then, but I had noticed the shift in advertizing of late. Remember when the only vanity press ad was for Vantage and everyone knew to stay away from them? Oh, the good old days.

    I also published with iUniverse when it first started up, and it was a decent fit, but when AS took over and suddenly they were upselling me up the wazoo I had to break from them. Self publishing has done me very well since. I actually have made more money selling the same books as e-books in the last year they've been available than the entire TEN years they were in print under iUniverse. My outlaying costs are negligible; my biggest expense is the cover because I'm too lazy to learn how to Photoshop, but even then it's recouped on the first royalty check from Smashwords.

    But knowing that WD's become a tentacle of the AuthorSolutions-opus makes me sad. There is no way, no WAY that they will get another dime from me. TG for Writer Beware and other similar sites. They can offer the same, if not higher quality, writing advise and articles, and you can be sure there will be no AS shilling.

    Thanks for such a heartfelt and informative writeup. You did a good thing.

    1. Thanks! Glad to hear you got away from iUniverse.