Writer’s Digest has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions. Abbott Press – the imprint launched by Writer’s Digest, parent company F+W Media, and white-label vanity press provider Author Solutions – is still operational, but all ties to Writer’s Digest have been cut.
This post is from 23 June 2014. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links, but it’s important to preserve these older posts on author exploitation and the comments remain open.
It appears that Abbott Press will now be run directly as yet another Author Solutions brand but Writer’s Digest and F+W Media will have no further connection with it.
(If you are unfamiliar with Author Solutions and its awful history, this will bring you up to speed.)
Writer’s Digest and F+W Media refused to comment, despite being given several opportunities, but I’ve had this news confirmed by multiple sources. As Author Solutions only tends to allow early termination of partnership agreements if the partner signs a series of non-disclosure agreements, a formal announcement or comment is unlikely.
However, it’s clear from the websites of Writer’s Digest and Abbott Press that all links between the companies are in the process of being severed.
Abbott Press has removed “A Writer’s Digest Company” from its masthead and logo, and Writer’s Digest is in the process of scrubbing links between its site and Abbott Press, although you can still find several older articles touting the vanity imprint’s virtues – like this shill piece from Writer’s Digest staffer Chuck Sambuchino.
While this is a welcome development, it’s important to note a few things before this entire episode is airbrushed from history.
Author Solutions aggressively pursues strategic partnerships to lend credibility to its scammy practices. More importantly, these partners help keep the pipeline of email addresses and phone numbers flowing. As I detailed two weeks ago, Author Solutions needs huge numbers of leads because it only converts 5% of queries into customers.
Author Solutions first floated a partnership in 2010, but Jane Friedman – then publisher of Writer’s Digest – was unhappy with the idea and the direction the company was taking in general, and resigned.
Her successor, Phil Sexton, announced the partnership in January 2011. We can only speculate as to why Writer’s Digest made the decision to terminate this agreement, but it’s clear they were aware of the dangers ahead of time. Away from the constraints of a corporate press release, Phil Sexton was more open with his thoughts in the comments of this post criticizing the deal. He acknowledged the issues when he said:
We’re well aware of the dangers here, particularly given who we are. It’s a scary line to be walking, particularly if we don’t handle it properly… The last thing any of us want to do is screw up a 90 year old brand.
It’s hard to know if Phil Sexton, Writer’s Digest, or F+W Media had a Damascene moment or whether they simply calculated that the vanity press income was not worth the reputational damage. Personally, I wonder if Writer’s Digest was surprised at the blowback from their misguided self-publishing survey, and the depth of ill-feeling towards them that existed among self-publishers (an increasingly important market for companies like Writer’s Digest and F+W Media).
While I’m happy that this step has been taken, I’m not hurling garlands in their direction. You don’t get off the hook for bad behavior just because you stop doing it, particularly if the motives are unclear and which could be just as self-serving as the original decision to partner with Author Solutions.
And, of course, it’s not the only shady behavior that Writer’s Digest engages in. If it truly wants to clean house, it also needs to do the following:
- Drop advertisements from Author Solutions and its subsidiaries – ads which are aggressively upsold to Author Solutions customers at eye-watering prices, using high pressure sales tactics explicitly mentioned in the class action papers.
- Refuse advertising from all dodgy providers (like Outskirts Press, which has a full-page ad in a recent issue of Writer’s Digest). You have a really bad reputation in this area.
- Stop spamming subscribers with 90s-era internet marketing crap.
- Ban scammy providers (such as Author Solutions) from your conferences where they prey on inexperienced writers.
- Start actively warning writers away from predators (instead of partnering with them, accepting ads from them, and delivering victims into their clutches).
So while I’m not lauding Writer’s Digest, we can certainly celebrate the news.
This is a huge partner for Author Solutions to lose – the biggest so far by some stretch. Kevin Weiss had this to say about the original deal when he was CEO of Author Solutions, “This is a landmark alliance, as Writer’s Digest has been the relied-upon source for support and education for writers for more than 90 years.”
That was 2011. Three years later, Writer’s Digest ditching Abbott Press is a milestone in the fight against Author Solutions. But there are many more partners – huge names in traditional publishing like Simon & Schuster – who won’t address the issue at all.
We must keep up the pressure, especially now that we know it’s having an effect. The news media refuses to cover this story. It’s down to us. And there’s a lot of hard work ahead.
These strategic partnerships are crucial to Author Solutions, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they are working very hard right now to replace Writer’s Digest. We must remain on guard and keep pressing the existing partners to reconsider their position.
And if you want to read a breakdown of just exactly how this scam with partners works, then pour yourself a stiff drink and read Author Solutions & Friends: The Inside Story.
Warning: it’s grim stuff.