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Tags: apress books publishing
Nearly three years ago, I got involved with Apress to contribute to two books. The experience went disastrously wrong. It was a profoundly unpleasant experience and I want to warn any other prospective authors to avoid this publisher, and encourage readers to buy from other publishers. Warning: this post is non-technical and something of a rant. If that's not your thing, please skip it and come back in a week when technical goodies shall resume their normal course.
My intent is not to air dirty laundry, although that's unavoidable. I initially wrote this post years ago and ended up shelving it and moving on. But Apress authors keep having the same problems, and I can no longer continue in good conscience without making my story public. My intent is simply that anyone considering writing for Apress know what they're getting into, and that anyone considering buying from them know how their authors are treated.
The story is long and involved, and I don't want to bore you with details. Instead, I'm just going to give a condensed timeline of events. Before I do that, let me give the major overall reason why I'm recommending that you avoid Apress: they do not pay their authors! My story is one of being paid months late and only after serious prodding.
Now for the timeline.
- February 2009 - Apress starts feeling me out as a potential author for Pro Objective-C for Mac and iPhone, and a contributor of a chapter to iPhone Cool Projects.
- February 2009 - I begin work on a proposed table of contents for Pro Objective-C, and on my iPhone Cool Projects chapter.
- February 2009 - I am sent a publication contract for Pro Objective-C. As it contains deadlines whose feasibility is completely unknown, I decline to sign it until further progress is made.
- March 2009 - I complete a first draft of my iPhone Cool Projects chapter.
- March 2009 - Work begins on Pro Objective-C.
- March 2009 - I am sent a new publication contract for Pro Objective-C, to reflect a new co-author who has been brought on to the project. As the feasibility of meeting the deadlines remains unknown, I again decline to sign.
- April 2009 - Work continues on both projects.
- May 2009 - I turn in the final version of my chapter for iPhone Cool Projects. According to Apress's standard multi-author book contract, my advance of $1,000 is now due.
- May 2009 - As a result of various communication problems, I terminate my participation in Pro Objective-C with first drafts of five chapters written by me.
- July 2009 - Apress brings in a new author to complete Pro Objective-C, and we agree that I will receive 25% of the payments to compensate for the work already put in to the book.
- August 2009 - iPhone Cool Projects is published. My $1,000 advance is now more than two months overdue.
- September 2009 - Having still not received my "advance" (which by now is very much not an advance) for iPhone Cool Projects, I contact Apress to find out why I haven't been paid.
- September 2009 - As no contract had been signed for iPhone Cool Projects, I am given one to sign now. This contract contains a deadline date that is before I even began work on my chapter, and a table of contents which bears no resemblance to the finished product.
- September 2009 - I sign the contract despite these problems and am assured that payment will be made soon. The payment is now four months overdue.
- October 2009 - Still having received no money, I contact Apress again. My contact is surprised that I have not been paid, and assures that it will be processed "as soon as possible". The payment is now five months overdue.
- October 2009 - A week later, still no money, I inquire again. I am told that the payment is "being processed with Accounts at the moment."
- November 2009 - Two weeks later, still no money, I send a somewhat nastier inquiry.
- November 2009 - A week after that, I am assured that I will receive my payment within one week.
- November 2009 - The week passes with no money or explanations. The following Monday, a $1,000 check arrives from Apress. This payment is six and a half months late.
- November 2009 - I contact Apress again to start the ball rolling to get my advance for my part of Pro Objective-C.
- December 2009 - I am given a contract to sign for Pro Objective-C. Like the contract for iPhone Cool Projects, it contains deadlines which have long since passed. It contains milestones required for the advance which I do not believe apply to me, because my work on the project is at an end. I refuse to sign, and suggest changes to the contract which will make it acceptable to me.
- December 2009 - I am told that my proposed changes will take some time to discuss, which will delay my payment. I am assured that the contract is "just a formality" and that if I sign it as-is, they will pay my advance in full immediately. I refuse this suggestion.
- December 2009 - After two weeks with no contact, I inquire as to the status of the contract. I am told that the editors are still discussing it. It is now over six months since I ended my work on Pro Objective-C.
- February 2010 - After another author kicks up a serious fuss, I receive a modified contract to sign. This contract still contains postdated deadlines and obsolete milestones. I request further changes.
- February 2010 - I am told that my concerns "simply do not matter", that "we don't modify the standard contract", and I am requested to sign it as-is. I refuse.
- February 2010 - Apress accepts my proposed changes to the contract, and we sign it.
- February 2010 - I receive a check for my full $2,000 share of the advance for Pro Objective-C, nine months after I finished work on it.
I wish you luck finding another publisher and I really hope this doesn't put you off technical writing.
My exp is similar although I stopped it long before getting entangled and burned..
Was to turn in several book proposals for android dev but Apress could not get their act together..so told them not to bother me until they could prove some professionalism
Also see: http://www.thedominoproject.com/
It gives more flexibility to authors and they have more controls.
This was courageous of you.
You know, they rely on people being afraid to share their bad experiences.
Do you know what happens next?
They'll try to intimidate you using their contracts and legalisms.
They'll try to shame you and call you unprofessional for doing this.
They'll try to make excuses.
Don't take any of it.
I stood up against traditional publishing a bit back, and it's been hard on me. But I feel like we're on the verge of breaking through to these dinosaurs. This was my experience -
Thank you for your courage and transparency Mike. It's good to not be alone.
I think the key here is the contracts. Apress/Springer seems to have systems in place to "automatically" produce payments at key points in time if a contract is in place and the right editor clicks a button. My co-authors and I have maintained a pretty strict policy of not writing a word until the contracts are finalized, maybe that has saved us some grief.
Finally, onerous and self-serving as it may seem, I'd like to point out that boycotting or avoiding Apress books because of how they treat their authors will, unfortunately, probably hurt the authors more than it hurts Apress :(
Don't think that Apress is the only one. I've had unpleasant experiences with a several publishers, for a variety of reasons. The first solo book I worked on - I had co-authored a few books before that - had a similar problem, but I quickly stopped working when it was clear that the publisher was a swindler.
I have to agree with Mike that their accounting side is quite... lacking. Learn Objective-C on the Mac came out in 2008, and only late this year have royalty payments been on anything like a regular, unprompted schedule. (We've had to threaten lawyering in the past.) Last year I held a book I was reviewing hostage til I got paid for previous book I had reviewed, where the payment was months overdue. My message was along the lines of "if you see no reason to pay me for my prior work, I feel I have no obligation to continue this work". I was paid very quickly after that :-| .
Today I have no problem referring reviewers their way. You invoice them and they (tend to) pay. I've stopped referring friends for authorship, though.
Even that last bit may just be because two of the editorial staff we worked with on 2 books had children near the end of the book's release cycle...but a professional company can't let that change anything.
Anyway, I like them fine but I've seen similar behaviour second hand.
Beginning work without a contract was certainly not a smart move. They talked a good game but I still should have known better. However, I think I was still in a pretty good position, because it is that contract that gave them the right to use my work. I already had a reasonably popular technical blog that would have made a fine home for what I wrote if they had changed their minds.
In fact, this gave me quite a bit of leverage when it came time to get the Pro Objective-C contract amended. After they refused my amendments, I pointed out that they could not use my work without a contract, and that I would not sign anything that didn't have my amendments. They changed their tune with amusing rapidity.
The amendments I requested were fairly simple. Aside from fixing the dates, I struck out portions that required ongoing work from me, such as responding to errata, since I was no longer involved with the book.
The money involved was not large, for sure. In general, writing technical books doesn't pay well. There are good reasons to do it (exposure, fun, satisfaction, etc.) but money isn't one. I went into the project knowing that I wasn't doing it for the money. Given that, it might seem strange to have such a problem over money, but I don't think it is: even though I wasn't doing it for the money, I was still promised money, and I simply couldn't tolerate any crap over it.
For everyone talking about other publishers, I appreciate the sentiment, but I have moved into self-publishing. The Complete Friday Q&A is self-published and the experience was great. I intend to continue doing so in the future. I really don't see much of a role for traditional publishers these days.
This began a series of calls badgering me for material as I am attempting to pack, get a new apartment from 3000 miles away, get my car shipped, etc. When I got a call asking me why I hadn't sent any more chapters as I was trying to drive to a temporary apartment in a city I had never been in before, I quit.
The work I did do I never got credit or payment for. I was happy to just be shut of them.
With the same time and effort, I ended up covering a much wider range of more interesting topics, so I think that's a win.
Back in the 'olden days they had an editor and a project manager on each book with a careful plan and regular updates. They were responsive, they had an awesome marketing manager (hey Julie Miller!), royalties and advances appeared on time and generally things were rosy.
Then the dark times came. They dropped project managers in favor of coordinators who managed multiple books, were barely responsive, had ludicrous and unrealistic schedules (and berated you when you didn't make these schedules even when you told them you weren't going to), editors never got back to you, commercials were a disaster and the marketing department had to be hassled/cajoled into actually marketing the book.
My last book the tech reviewer didn't get paid for months after finishing work. I eventually had to threaten the CEO with paying her out my own pocket and publicly shaming them to get them to pay.
I'll never write for them again.
Thank you Mike for putting your experiences out there as a warning to others. I'll will certainly bear this in mind.
JD: I'm glad this post showed up at the right time. Warning potential authors and reviewers is the main reason I wrote this.
Ben: I'm looking into an FQA app. No promises, but it's definitely something I'd like to do.
John O'Conner and Andrew Davison: I'm glad you both had good experiences. Unfortunately, experiences such as mine are extremely common. I don't have hard numbers or anything, but every time I bring up this subject, I get a ton of messages from other authors who had similar problems. There seem to be dozens of them, with lucky folks like you in the minority.
As some people pointed out, it was mostly your fault. Yes you can blame them for playing that game, but you agreed to play.
While you said you recieved your money 9 months late, I would read it as: you got the money directly after signing the contract.
It's amazing that you still dealt with them even after they have delayed your payment for a very long time.
Are they paying you any royalty now? Can you track how many books they sold?
I'm guessing you won't want to bother with any of them in the end as you've got quite a following here.
I think you'd be able to pull off your own book and do quite well.
Johann: I already sell my collected Friday Q&A as an e-book, and I plan to put out a second volume sometime this year. It's doing well enough, although I'm certainly not getting rich off it. I definitely have no plans to ever publish a book through a traditional publisher again.
Daniel: That is some major bullshit right there. They cancel a book and you don't even get your money back for it? I guess there are reasons to avoid buying from Apress besides troubles paying authors: they screw their customers too!
I've only had one late payment and that was one third of the advance, which Apress simply paid with the first royalties check a few weeks later as opposed to when the book was published. No biggie, I just wished it had been communicated.
I started writing in May 2010, the first edition was published in November 2010. I spent 4-5 months writing full-time, knowing full well it's not going to pay that much. The writing experience was great, and my contacts at Apress were outstanding, and the money was a lot more than I expected (roughly $15k over 13 months). Payment has since been issued regularly once every quarter.
What I read out of this blog post is two pieces of advice:
1) don't attempt to amend or modify the contract (with any big publisher for that matter)
2) set the deadlines yourself according to your estimations, or decline the job (goes with any job for that matter)
1) Attempting to change a standard contract is a difficult process if the other side is part of a big corporation. They would have to run your changes and amendments by their lawyers, then run the corrections by you. Repeat until all sides are satisfied. That's costly and unlikely to happen unless you pull a lot of weight (ie your name alone guarantees x-thousand copies sold, or you're a big business yourself).
2) I'm not sure how in this case the deadlines were set, and why their feasibility was "completely unknown".
What I did is to estimate that I would require 1 week (~40 hours) to complete a chapter. Some chapters took more, others less, but overall 15 weeks for 15 chapters turned out to be feasible - even though at the time I didn't have detailed knowledge about each chapter's contents. Sometimes I had to cut corners, other times I had to come up with additional material that fits the chapter's context.
If the deadlines are unclear because of other work, then prioritize. You can't reasonably schedule two or more projects at the same time. Although it seems quite common I believe it's a huge mistake to try and work a regular job during the day, then trying to write a book in the off hours. In particular if you have a life, a family, or simply like to hold on to your sanity. If you have a potential job coming up but don't know when, and can't commit to deadlines for the book, then you'll have to set priorities. It's as simple as that.
My point being: not agreeing to deadlines because their feasibility is unknown is not a reason to decline a contract. Either you can somehow manage to hit the deadlines (with sacrifices if need be), or you don't. And then there's always the option to re-negotiate deadlines (it happens all the time).
FWIW I missed my deadlines for the second edition by about 2 months. It didn't cause any issues, subsequent dates were arranged by email. The delays were an accumulation of events like an illness at Apress, late deliveries of others, and adding another author to the book.
When it comes to attempting to modify the standard contract, I agree that this is probably going to be difficult. However, you should sign the standard contract with no modifications if and only if you are satisfied with every clause of that contract. They will tell you that certain clauses don't matter and can be ignored, but you must not accept this, as such statements have no legal standing. I may have misunderstood, must you seem to be implying that one should accept the contract even if there are problems with it. Those problems can come back and bite you in the ass, so that's a bad approach. If the standard contract is acceptable, then go ahead and sign it. But if there's anything about it that's unacceptable, you must not sign it as is. Either try to negotiate or give up working with this publisher.
For deadlines, I had never written a book before, the contents were not really set yet, and I have no idea how I'd be expected to figure out a realistic deadline under those conditions when I have no idea how quickly I can actually write a book. In my opinion, it makes no real sense to have hard deadlines on a book project, at least not one that's anywhere close to when you expect to finish. IIRC, the first proposed contract had the finish date a mere two months in the future. I could perhaps sign something that says two years, with the understanding that this is an absolute last ditch deadline, not what you're actually aiming for. What if your one week per chapter estimate was wrong, and it turned out that you required two weeks to complete a chapter? That standard contract you don't want to negotiate probably does not have favorable terms, if any terms at all, for what happens when you miss your deadline. The idea of signing something that says you will finish by such a date, then later on go back and re-negotiate it from a position of very little power, does not strike me as a good idea.
A lot of people write books as a side project. While I can see why you advise against it, most people don't have the ability to dedicate 4+ months to nothing but writing a book, especially given what technical writing typically pays. We would have a lot fewer quality technical books to choose from if people took that approach.
In short, it may not be possible to negotiate a publisher's standard contract, but you simply cannot sign it as-is if there are any problems with it. If negotiating it is not an option then the only reasonable course of action is to walk away. Publishers love to set unrealistic deadlines, or deadlines of unknown realism, and while they will generally be flexible with them, you shouldn't count on that unless you have it in writing.
Nine months is a long time to wait for payment, period. But as a vendor to many businesses you can expect anywhere from 30-120 days net. And if you don't politely remind your customer what they owe you, you are not going to be paid.
Its crazy but that is how business is done in the US.
I did politely remind them, then not so politely. The response was always "next week".
Now I am in the search for another publisher but also considering self publishing options. I have in mind a couple of additional book proposals but I will never consider them as a publishing option again.
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