pegasus contract cancel

I love to write.

The act of bringing to life a story and characters glimpsed only in my imagination is something hard to describe. Every story starts with an idea. Sometimes it’s vague and obscure, other times it’s distinct and highly detailed. Regardless, if you’re doing your job as a writer, that idea eventually gives birth to surprisingly complex characters, places and events. By time you’ve spent months banging out the details and additional weeks editing them into a usable form, they become every bit as familiar and real as your own family and friends; the world they inhabit as rich and alive as any place you’ve ever visited. Sometimes even more so.

Freaky, but true.

I finished my first novel in 1995 – all 245,000 words of it. I later broke that monstrosity into two volumes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t salable at the time, so I wrote a stand-alone prequel, which I finished in 2005. That book is titled “Rise of the Dragons”, and up until a few days ago, it was slated to go to print later this month. More on that in a minute.

Anyway…

As many of you know, I spent the intervening years since 2005 attempting to publish my work, first seeking out interested agents and then contacting a few willing publishers directly. But the cold, hard fact of the publishing world is that there’s just way too many manuscripts and too few publishers (or readers, for that matter).

Given the massive volume of material available from all the writing hopefuls of the world, publishers and agents alike can choose at will from what they regard as the best of the best…while forgetting the rest, you might say. And of those lucky few who are able to publish, untold numbers remain unable to make a full-time living from their writing even after publishing multiple novels.

Because publishing success is so unlikely and monetary reward so slim, I’ve never had a driving “need” to be published. If it happened, that would be wonderful, but for me the more significant aspect would be the validation – a professional in the industry declaring my work worthy of an audience.

So I’ve bided my time, edited, re-edited, and re-re-edited. I’ve also studied the market and best practices for writing and submissions. And while the major publishers only accept agented manuscripts, more and more small publishers are opening their doors to direct submissions from new authors, which brings me to my encounter – and contract signing – with Pegasus Books (detailed in prior blog posts).

Hold that thought…

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I’m going to pause in this story just long enough to clue in the newbies and the uninitiated to a few key points concerning the publishing world. There are basically three broad ways to publish:

  1. Traditional Publishing – A publisher secures the rights to publish your work for a set period of time, invests in editing, packaging and marketing of your manuscript, and then pays you a royalty on sales. Unfortunately, in today’s market, an author will still be responsible for the lion’s share of marketing.
  2. Self Publishing – The opposite of traditional publishing. A writer packages and directly markets their own work, footing the bill for every aspect of the publishing process and providing for their own editing, cover creation, ISBN, distribution, formatting, etc. While there are many methods and avenues, this is a massive uphill battle that statistically yields little (if any) sales for the vast majority of writers pursuing this path. Hundreds of thousands of titles are published this way every year, often purely as ebooks.
  3. Vanity/Subsidy Presses – These are companies that will do the heavy lifting of publishing for a writer, but they typically charge hefty fees to do it. And while they often provide (or at least promise) marketing assistance, in reality such services are highly suspect because such companies make their money (or at the very least cover their costs) from selling services and books to authors, not necessarily by making book sales to the public (such sales are gravy, you might say).

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Okay, now that you’ve got the gist of publishing 101, back to my story…

Because there’s so much volume and so many people desperate to see their name in print, business is booming for any publisher throwing up a sign. Unfortunately, along with the many reputable small presses, there are quite a few charlatans and predators. I’ve run up against many of these over the years and rejected their overtures outright.

Some vanity presses provide a legitimate service, but many others masquerade as a legitimate traditional publisher. It’s only later, after all the paperwork has been signed, that the various fees and author requirements suddenly emerge. If you’ve already guessed that all of this perfectly describes my experience with Pegasus Books, then you guessed correctly. Read on…

The Pegasus Process

Before signing on the dotted line, I read everything I could on the company, examined every page of their website, read their blog, asked a lot of questions. Everything looked solid. They seemed genuinely interested in publishing my work and their contract had none of the red flags I’ve long since learned to look for. The only fly in the ointment was an article they sent sometime prior that encouraged authors to buy copies of their books, with a variety of reasons why this was both a good and beneficial thing to do.

Once we got into the actual process of editing, however, little things began to creep up…

First, their editing was rather haphazard. While my editor, Christopher Moebs, did a decent job of improving the work and explaining why he made the edits he made while allowing me to approve even the tiniest change, his work was often fraught with typos and mistakes, which required me to edit his editing. Fortunately, he was always forthcoming, gracious, and easy to work with.

Next, while they didn’t directly charge for editing (I later learned that they normally do), they recommended a third-party final galley polishing by a company they work with (Rumpelstiltskin Editorial Services) that costs $75. While I was put off by this – an author should never be charged for editing by a legitimate traditional publisher – it seemed a reasonable enough fee (which, to their credit, they later waved) and having a third party give the manuscript a final read seemed prudent.

Next, it turns out that my editor was also the company graphic designer. While that’s not terribly strange for a very small press, what was a huge red flag was the fact that he operates his own graphic design firm (Mebzart Illustration & Graphic Design) and through this third party they charge authors for the cover design – again, something that would never be done by a traditional publisher.

My cost: $150 (supposedly Pegasus pays $100 toward the cost and the author pays the difference after choosing from a variety of options).

Such ploys as third-party businesses within the publishing house – often operated by employees/owners of the firm – are the hallmark of vanity presses and incredibly unethical for the industry. The only reason I still considered moving forward was the fact that the graphic work was actually pretty good and the fee reasonable in the bigger picture. Plus, I had already signed the contract – in for a penny, in for a pound!

Next, I spoke with some other writers in their stable in the hopes that we could all cross-promote our work. Unfortunately, each of the writers I spoke with (chosen entirely at random) had horror stories of their own.

The first thing each of them asked me was whether I had already signed a contract as they were hoping to warn me away. Once they learned I had already signed, they then reported at length regarding a multitude of issues they had experienced. Two of them were already consulting lawyers. Their complaints included:

  • Coercion to buy copies of their books
  • Broken promises to market their work
  • Inaccurate and inconsistent royalty reporting
  • Innumerable missed appointments and phone calls
  • Belligerence, denials and generally unprofessional conduct

 

Not a pretty picture.

I also learned that, despite Pegasus passing itself off as a medium-sized publishing house, the company was entirely run by Christopher and a gentleman by the name of Marcus McGee, who is listed as the Editor-In-Chief, but who also handles the marketing. I spoke with him once by telephone and he was both hurried and rather unprofessional. He sounded more like a cliche used car salesman than an industry professional.

Even after all the above, I was still willing to move forward with the company. I figured I had come this far and they (i.e. Christopher) had been largely agreeable and professional in our dealings during the editing and design phase of preparing my book. However, I was becoming more and more disgusted with their ethics and practices. And the more I voiced my concern, the more defensive they became.

Next, they burdened my book with an overtly high retail price – $17.95 for a 262 page trade paperback. This was yet another red flag since it’s so widely advertised within the industry that vanity presses tend to inflate the price of their books because they earn their up-front money from sales to authors, not sales to the public. It’s also a fact that book sellers recognize this and tend to ignore such publishers.

After researching the market, I determined that a competitively priced fantasy novel would run no more than about $14.95. When I submitted my findings to Pegasus, they complained bitterly that I was inhibiting their ability to earn a profitable return, but finally offered a slightly lowered price of $16.95. They fired back that if this wasn’t acceptable, they would cancel the contract. Naively, I pushed on.

The last straw occurred just a few days ago. Christopher emailed invoices for book purchases in which the company made no bones about the fact that at least 75 books needed to be purchased (at a 35% discount) for the book to go to print. And the more books purchased, the more they promised to do in the way of marketing. Other paperwork describing the marketing they provide is highly conflicting and contradictory. This is, again, the textbook m.o. of a vanity press – a label they vehemently deny, if you can believe it.

When I said how distasteful this policy was – and reiterated that such practices were the mark of a vanity press – Christopher denied the allegation, said that I was antagonistic and uncooperative, and that Marcus had decided to cancel my contract. He did note that if I really wanted to continue, he’d try to change Marcus’s mind. Instead, I finally agreed that it was better that we part ways.

So that’s that.

It’s back to the drawing board for publishing my book, but I feel lucky for the experience. My book is improved, I have an attractive cover design that I own, I’ve learned a lot, and I come away wiser with my integrity intact and free ownership of my work without being saddled with a parasitic vanity press that may or may not live up to any of its promises. Were I to have continued forward, they would have owned the exclusive right to publish “Rise of the Dragons” for seven years. No thank you!

If you’re a new writer reading this story, I hope you come away better prepared to engage with legitimate publishers. If you would like further details on the industry and its many pitfalls, read this excellent article on the subject. And so that you’re not simply taking my word for it, here is a negative listing of Pegasus Books in an online directory. While there are three different companies going by the name “Pegasus Books”, the listing I’m referring to in the link above is the one that references their “.net” Internet address and refers to them directly as a “vanity press”.

And here’s another article with tips for avoiding publishing scams: http://critters.org/c/pubtips.ht?t1

Note: If you are a writer who feels you’ve suffered damages from either Pegasus Books or a similar predatory publisher, you can contact the following law firm to discuss your case:

Foehl & Eyre PC
Attn: Stacey Main
27 E. Front St.
Media, PA 19063
(610) 566-5926 ext. 117
stacey@foehllaw.com

UPDATED!

Because I am receiving so many emails and comments from other writers who feel they have been defrauded, I wanted to include this valuable article. Please read this so that you can begin to understand your rights and options if you feel your publisher (traditional, vanity, subsidy, etc.) has not lived up to their legal obligations: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/legal/

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Comments

Why I Chose Integrity Over a Publishing Contract — 55 Comments

  1. Excellent summary of the many pitfalls of modern-day publishing. I’m glad to see the charlatans exposed for the predators they are. Great post and great attitude, Michael!

    • It’s important for more people to see them exposed for who and what they are. I’ve been around the block a time or two, but they’re used to dealing with new writers desperate to see their name in print who don’t know how things are supposed to work. Those newbies trust these people when they tell them this is the “21st century version” of traditional publishing. It’s not, but it doesn’t stop the unsavory from saying such things.

      The publishing industry is structured the way it is so that a publisher makes an investment in an author. This avoids conflicts of interest, provides a filter on quality, and keeps them focused on selling books. Those companies that are transparent in this sort of behavior offer a legitimate service to those authors who wish to go that route. But it in no way changes the meaning of traditional publishing or the industry as a whole.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Great writing in your blog, Mike. I can’t believe how calm, factual and reasoned your writing is, after going through all that you have. Keep fighting the good fight, but most of all, keep experiencing the joy you get out of writing. You will be discovered and validated.

    Dennis

    • Thank you, Dennis. I figure there’s no reason to be upset when I came out ahead and can maybe help another writer avoid a much worse mistake. I’ll be logging formal complaints with industry insiders and communicating with some of this company’s other writers. I know at least one was hoping to put together a class-action suit.

      Beyond that, my goal is to acquire an agent. Time will tell.

      Thank you for reading!

      Michael

  3. Few publishers, sure, few readers, not by a long shot.

    You need to take another look at self-publishing with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for the digital version and CreateSpace for the print version.

    You already have the cover and your MS has been edited, you’re ready to get your work to readers. You could have your book ready for sale immediately instead of holding out for validation from traditional publishing that just doesn’t make much sense in the current market.

    If you can’t format your manuscript yourself, hire them: http://www.polgarusstudio.com/ They do a great job and for around $100 they will format your manuscript for print and digital.

    Anyway, yes, the odds of having a runaway bestseller are slim, but you’ll never know until you try. I self-published two books and I’m closing in on 20,000 copies sold (between both books). It’s amazing. And the validation from readers beats any validation from some corporate drone at a publishing house.

    Good luck with your book.

    • Hi, Alec and thanks for writing in.

      I have a friend who has been an agent in the publishing world (nonfiction) for more than 30 years and she said she’s never seen the industry in such a state. Readership is down. Way down. People aren’t reading as much as they have in the past and there are simultaneously more books than ever to choose from. The very fact that most self published work never sells more than a handful of copies is reason enough to avoid the medium. I don’t consider self publishing real publishing. No offense, but there’s zero quality control. Any monkey with a typewriter can throw a manuscript out for the world to read without any professional oversight, editing or any of the usual filters. Unfortunately this is only driving away readers because the quality of so many (statistics suggest most) are drastically lacking. And since self-published works are hard to discern from professional works, it paints the entire industry in a bad light.

      While I’m glad you’re finding some success, it’s just not a path I have much interest in. Maybe that will change at some point. I certainly have no shortage of people offering help. I read an interesting article yesterday on the situation in the UK and Ireland, and that gentleman said that the publishing market had grown by a billion dollars since 2013, but that writer wages were lower than ever. His numbers showed that the average ESTABLISHED writer was earning only around 13,000 pounds per year and most writers were earning around 7500. Not a pretty picture.

      Your own numbers mean you’re making a decent living since you’re able to collect the lion’s share of your sales. Not many self-published people manage so many copies sold, but stories like yours keep people tempted and flooding into the market. Time will tell – if I can’t find an agent or publisher along the way this could be an option in the future.

      Best of luck in your publishing endeavors!

  4. Thank you Michael for sharing the shady aspect of the publishing industry. I am genuinely sorry that this has happened to you. But, I hope that your post will help other authors. There is so much dishonesty in publishing. I published two books with Simon & Schuster but also independently publish my work as well. There are so many ways to be empowered as an author. So, I encourage you to keep going and find opportunities for yourself.

  5. Thank you for sharing your unfortunate experience. Let’s hope that your honesty, and your understandable disappointment due to the deceptive and extortive practices of Pegasus, will help other aspiring authors avoid similar pitfalls in the future. The publishing industry is no longer what it was, and in my opinion, it’s life-span in it’s current form is spiraling towards extinction. It’s no coincidence that a major shareholder in one of the country’s largest book distribution chains sold virtually all his holdings shortly following Kindle’s appearance on the scene. That has got to tell you something…..

    To comment on the above….I don’t know where your publishing friend is getting her stats, but readers are probably reading more than ever…..just not reading hard copy books. I been an avid reader all my life, and while I realize that the internet makes everything easier to track, it’s also quite easy for things to go unnoticed, simply due to the volume of material. Of course the publishers are whining about lack of sales…..it’s quite hard to maintain the level of arrogance they’re used to, when they no longer have much fist in their glove. They can already hear the bugle blowing TAPS at their impending funerals, of course they’re defensive; of course they’re upset…..After hearing your story I must say I’m disappointed by how quickly you toss mud at self-publishing. I read incessantly…..I only read Ebooks. virtually all of the really good stuff is BEING SELF-PUBLISHED. All these sudden “New York Times Bestsellers” began as self-publishers! How can you write such ill-informed nonsense? Be careful…..from the looks of things you might find yourself a newbie self-publisher…..so why not drop the mud, wash your hands, and go find out what’s really happening on the horizon…..

    • Hello, Frank

      First off, I don’t believe that traditional publishers are on their way out. By most every standard, they are adapting and thriving. Many have sounded the death knell for everything from movie theaters to magazines, but there are more of each than ever – and growing! In fact, due to the massive influx of material into the marketplace, publishers have a vast treasure trove to choose from. The problem is that this mass of material surpasses readership. By some measurements, more than 3 million titles are published every year.

      The lady I was referencing has been an agent for more than 30 years and extremely intelligent, so I tend to take her at her word. People aren’t reading more books, they’re reading more social media and soundbites, unfortunately.

      As for self publishing, I stand by what I said. The fact that anyone without any sort of filter whatsoever can throw out whatever they want into the mass of literature already available dilutes the whole. Too many people use it as a shortcut and skip professionalism (such as third-party editing). It’s also a fact that the vast majority of self-published works sell almost nothing. Yes, there are plenty of success stories around, but that’s like saying there are plenty of actors making millions of dollars per year. There are, but that’s a very tiny minority compared to the vast numbers still bussing tables in L.A. while waiting to be discovered.

      Finally, your statement that “All these sudden ‘New York Times Bestsellers’ began as self-publishers” is hogwash. Where do you come by such statistics? The secret behind best seller status is pre-sales. Most people think a best seller comes from total numbers of books sold. In fact, it’s total number sold over a set period of time (not in total). That requires timing, pre-sales and pre-release marketing, regardless of the method of publishing.

      Time will tell whether I look seriously at self publishing. I may consider it for some of my short fiction, but would prefer to go the traditional route for my novels. Unlike most, my ego doesn’t crave publication. It’s a steep, uphill road regardless. A career as a writer that would allow me to retire from a “day job” would be my ultimate goal, and I think the traditional route has more merit in that respect.

      All the Best,
      Michael

  6. Dennis, take a look at the Alliance for Independent Authors. They create an annual guide to publishing, along with warnings like yours.

  7. Thanks for the article, Michael. Being an author who had a good experience in 1984/5 of being commissioned by a professional publisher KOGAN PAGE LTD., of London, to write a factual book (reprinted) and then another; plus updating two of their books, I must sing their praises and recommend them. They are still publishing today but only handle factual/’help’ and ‘Jobs in’ tomes.Fast forward a few decades, and oh the shock!I too love to write and have had many articles, poems and short stories published, but when it comes to books, what a different,sad and frustrating story! As a biographer, I was unpaid by the ‘adventurer’in the next book, plus let down by the publisher (life experience eh!). My fourth was generously published for me by a group I belong to as an 80th birthday present (WordPlay)…(a memoir) but the sales are pathetic; my fifth – a faction novel – also an ebook is struggling too. Mainstream publishers like Kogan Page are like gold dust. I am trying to find one for two further books I have recently written. A difficult task! I wish you the best of luck getting your book into print.

  8. I had a similar experience with Fireship Press in the USA. Although they had yet to publish the book,they claimed a breach of contract because I had posted it on Amazon, Smashwords etc. The proprietor was adamant that I had no rights whatsoever. Fortunately, the contract has now expired.

    • Hi, John

      That does sound like a sticky situation re: that publisher. Typically, a publisher claims exclusive right to publish a manuscript, with terms laid out in advance re: electronic and/or print versions (with audio books usually a separate right). In your case, had you already published electronically prior to signing with them, you would have needed to make that known and then they could – if they wished – claim print rights, leaving you the electronic rights. Not knowing which came first (your publishing or signing the contract), I can’t comment further. Something to remember for the future, I guess. Best of luck to you!

  9. Thank you Michael for the invaluable information you have shared re the publishing world. What amazes me, is the lack of industry watch-dogs, which exist in the magazine publishing world. There is Central Registry and Magazine Publisher’s Association (MPA)and they do a superb job benefiting both the industry and the consumer.

    It is disheartening to learn that most authors are unable to eek out a decent living from their craft. Pretty much the same as the art world. Again, thanks for sharing and to everyone else who has posted.

    • So true, Sandra! I’ve noticed over the years that how society values writers has degraded immensely. Ludicrously low wages for article writing coupled with the need to post everything RIGHT NOW means that writers are reduced to working at Third-World rates. I can’t tell you the number of ads I see for gigs paying 1 cent per word. Ten cents per word is a normal average for most freelance work I’ve seen recently, which is why I’ve largely given it up.

      The situation with book publishing is only getting worse as more and more predatory companies enter the fray. Any publisher that charges an author and sells overpriced books to those same authors has no incentive to make sales to the public – but it’s a terrific business model if you can get away with it. Imagine: Publishing with zero risk to the publisher. I just shake my head. It’s essentially a kind of pyramid scheme – the more authors they have buying books from them, the less they need to sell to the public.

      Despite this disparate situation, there are more people than ever clamoring to have their work published, which gives ample opportunity to the scammers. Even the legitimate houses are so flush with material that they have few resources to fully market newer authors, so the majority of marketing work still falls to the author. Not a pretty picture! It’s no wonder so many are tempted by self publishing and all its equally empty promises.

  10. Hi Michael.
    This is indeed a story of woe – but one with a wonderfully uplifting end-note which illustrates perfectly the stronger writer you have become because of the company you have now – wisely – left behind.

    I have been a writer since I was just seven and I am now in my fifties. I have had a lot of work published over the years but when I was young and starting out I was very nearly caught in a very similar trap that, for some years, made pursuing Writing as a full- time career seem almost impossible.

    Almost four years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to start a Creative Writing group for kids around my area. Starting the group fell just after I completed a book for children which I saw as a way to inspire them to try Creative Writing for themselves. Between 2011 and 2014, I approached all kinds of publishers, traditional, self-publishing – and a number of companies who listed themselves as self-publishing companies that also – rather like Pegusus – slipped up and made it clear they were just vanity publishers. One company offered to publish my book for free – and suggested a selling price of £14.95 – this was for a paper-back book running to less than 100 pages. My research into the prices of similar books for similar age groups showed an average retail price of £4.99 at the most. So I left them behind.

    When I could not even get an agent interested despite the fact I’d had two other books for children published and had a published track-record as long as my arm, I did publish the book myself with the help of Publish Nation for less than £200. The only extra charge was £40 for a cover illustration. But I went through at least five proof copies with them – all at no extra charge – and ok – I admit – have done most of the marketing myself. But the book was successfully launched in March this year and is selling (for £4.99) steadily through Amazon, Kindle and any book signings I do. So you see I finish with an up-lifting note, too.

    You are a remarkable man for bringing this story to the fore and I can imagine that many many aspiring and newbie writers will learn and benefit from your experience. I wish you all the best for the future.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Jilly!

      I just read an article on the plight of writers in the UK and Ireland. A new report said that the average ESTABLISHED writer there earns around 7500 pounds while the average writer earns around 4000 pounds. Those numbers boggle my mind.

      As for publishing and finding an agent, don’t give up! Continue what you’re doing and keep submitting because the better your track record, the more agents and publishers take an interest.

      Best of luck!

  11. This story is almost identical to my experience with Publish America, who has now changed their name (which I can’t remember unfortunately). The only difference is, I refused to pay them a dime because their ads referred to them as “traditional publishers, we don’t ask for money, we pay you” which turned out to be crap. I was really dumb then, signed a 7 year contract and if you think your costs were bad, you should see what they put on a children’s book–outrageous price and it’s been 5 years now and not one copy sold of course. And I can’t sell the book, and when I complained, they said they’d release it back to me for $100!! I told them where they could stick the book and I hoped it hurt. When I said the price was outrageous, they said if I bought 1,000 copies, they’d lower the price!!! And, there was only 40% off of the outrageous price to authors! I signed onto lawsuit with others against them, and they “went out of business” so the suit was dropped. And I’ve recently seen them in another name, and they’re not even trying to hide who they are; one ad even said ‘previously Publish America”. I don’t know how they get away with this stuff and very disheartened to hear that it’s rampant out there. I’ve seen Pegasus publishing and always thought it was legit! I wonder if they’re all like this now, and no honest publishing house out there. I wrote a children’s book about koalas, and an Australian company is interested…wonder if this kind of corruption is worldwide? I admire you for not going on with them; I did the same although I sure hated losing that book. Best of luck to you Michael, from a kindred spirit.

  12. GREAT JOB MICHAEL!! I LEARNED A LOT FROM YOUR WRITINGS. I AM ABOUT TO PUBLISH A TECHNO-THRILLER CALLED KNOCKDOWN AND WILL BE SELF-PUBLISHING IT. I HAVE TENTATIVELY PICKED BOOKBABY TO BE MY PRINTER/PUBLISHER, ETC…WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BOOKBABY??

    • Richard – Unfortunately, I have no input on self-publishing or self-publishing companies. It’s not something I’m interested in at the moment, nor am I terribly knowledgeable on the nitty gritty of best practices. I am curious, though – what made you decide to self publish? Have you had your work professionally edited? Did you attempt to submit to agents or traditional publishers before deciding to self publish? Just curious.

  13. I am so sorry to hear about your terrible experience! I published my first book with Rowman and Littlefield and they were not too bad, but now that my second book is just about to come out with Thorntree Press I see how much better Thorntree is and wish I had done my first book with them as well. Luckily, Thorntree Press does not pull any of the crazy crap that you experienced with Pegasus. Reading your blog made me feel like I had dodged a bullet by choosing Thorntree! Thanks for sharing your experience, I hope your next attempt goes better for you.

    Cheers, Eli

  14. Sad, sad tale. Perhaps you stayed a little too long at the fair. Sounds like a lot of red flags went up before you parted company. I think your description of self-publishing was a little harsh. It is a viable and very popular option for aspiring authors, but the key is marketing. You have complete control over quality and marketing. I would look into it a little more before you write it off.

    • The red flags all coming due occurred only after the contract was signed, so it appeared I was at their mercy. Fortunately, I made enough of an aggravation of myself that they did me the service of dissolving the contract (something they flat out refuse to do for anyone AFTER going to print).

      As for self publishing, the vast majority of authors going this route see little in the way of sales and virtually nothing in the way of prestige. It’s just not something I’m game for at this time. Yes, marketing is absolutely key (though to be fair that’s also key even when going the traditional route). Without a wide network, most authors will never get beyond the “friends ‘n family 50” when going it alone.

      The other major obstacle is that self publishing requires the author to do the work of a host of professionals at a traditional publishing house (editors, graphic artists, publicists, marketers…the list goes on and on). Few authors are that multi-talented. And if they’re not, then they have to pay for those services on their own, again reducing the potential for profitability from their efforts.

  15. Thank you for the insight.
    Being an inspiring writer myself I seek this type of information so I can avoid the pitfalls other writers have endured on their path to publish.

    Great information sir.
    thank you,

    Keith,

  16. Michael thank you so much for the information on vanity publishers and especially on Pegas. We writers need to stick together and put a value on our work. I have been published by well known small publishers in the past and choose to self-publish this time. I have sort of been looking around for an agent, or a small publishing company but actually my book is doing very well, both ebook and hard copy, considering my lack of time for marketing. I really appreciate reading all the comments you have invoked with your blog. It is quite helpful to hear of other people’s experiences. Evelyn

  17. I too have had issues after having two books published by Pegasus publishers. But not http://www.pegasusbooks.net. The company I used was http://www.pegasuspublishers.com, based in Cambridge in the UK.
    They charged me what was in hindsight a high fee to have my two books published, then did little if any marketing. Then they blamed me for the lack of sales because I had ‘done no marketing.’
    I now discovered that although I am now listed as an author on their web site, when you click on the links to my books, they go to a page unconnected to my books. If you do a web search for my books the same thing happens. When you click on the book it goes to an unrelated page.
    So if anyone was interested in buying my books they will not be able to purchase them.
    They have also told me that my book has only sold eight copies, yet I have seen my books advertised on book sites in about 17 countries, many have second hand copies for sale that (by my estimate) comes to 50 books.
    I have written to them about the issues with buying my book on their site, but to date I have not had a reply.

    What are my rights as a author to have my books printed by another publisher if I do not feel they are even being marketed effectively by this company? The copyright of the book belongs to me.

    • Hi, Michael

      While I’m no lawyer and can’t offer you legal advice, I think it’s pretty safe to say that you have a case against them when it’s so obvious that they aren’t even doing the very basics of marketing (that is, providing a sales outlet for your work on their site). I’m hoping you’re keeping comprehensive records of your attempts to reach them. If they aren’t responding, it’s time you spoke with a lawyer. Without seeing your contract with them, I can’t comment on your rights, though typically a publishing contract grants a publisher the exclusive right to publish your work in various formats, which should be stipulated (i.e. print, electronic, foreign rights, etc.), for a set period of time while you maintain the copyright and thus actual ownership over the work. Royalties should also be stipulated in your contract and you should be paid accordingly.

      My advice is to immediately take your case to a lawyer. Provide them with your contract and all the details of your attempts to communicate with the publisher, promises that were made, marketing that has (and hasn’t) been done to date, etc. I have a law firm listed above in this blog post that you can reach out to. Additionally, a writer friend of mine has had similar troubles to your own and is working with a firm out of Miami that lends legal assistance to artists of all sorts. Privately, I will drop you an email with his information.

      Best of luck to you!

  18. I am entirely new to this process and just have been able to self publish my little book so this information is very welcome. Thank you so much for sharing it. I appreciate your insights on what a book that size should cost. This is what is killing me on my self publishing with Blurb. They did a beautiful job on the book with all the photos I supplied. But when it comes down to the cost to the consumers I am just in shock. I only make approx $2 per book sold but their cost is ridiculously high, it is unaffordable.
    I would welcome any advice on this I can get from those who have done this for a while.
    Thank you again for your insight and best wishes on your book.
    Lorin

    • Hi, Lorin

      Firstly, thank you for the best wishes re: my book. Progress continues.

      Secondly, if the company set the price of your book, then you didn’t self publish – you vanity published. When you self publish, you determine every aspect of your book. A high retail price is the hallmark of a vanity press because they make their money from selling books to authors, not selling books to the public.

      While I have no idea the details of your agreement with them, I encourage you to take back control and cut them out of the process. A company like this can help you edit and package your work, but they are not typically motivated to sell your work because their business model is built around selling services, not publishing and marketing books to the public. If uncertain of your rights, consider speaking with the law firm whose information I included within the article above.

      Best of luck to you!

  19. I had a similar experience of an offer back in 2000/2001, although I backed out when I read the details of the contract. Then earlier this year the company approached me to review a book produced by them by another author. It was dreadful and I was aware my work would likely be reported to him as part of their ‘marketing’. I refused to do the review as it would have helped no-one.

  20. Michael, thanks for the exposé.

    I have alerted UK authors to this via the SoA, as follows:

    Dear Society of Authors,

    I thought I would let you know about a scam which I discovered recently. Apologies if you already know about this.

    It concerns Pegasus Books who are an American outfit (by a curious coincidence their UK namesakes in Cambridge are of a similar stripe, it appears). I am a published author, so I have some experience of publishers and publishing. I recently sent Pegasus the usual submission. They then sent me a rejection slip regretting that they were unable to publish my novel as it required ‘significant editing’. But this was no ordinary rejection slip, no. It was a conditional rejection slip and Christopher Moebs the Associate Editor/Associate Publisher was ‘kind’ enough to direct me to a website where I could pay to have my typescript proofread, edited, including a final polish etc. He copied one Marcus Magee in to the email. Once I had paid for the ‘necessary adjustments and resubmitted the manuscript …we promise to do the very best to provide your book its best chances for success’.

    There was only one problem – my typescript had already just been edited proofread, etc., by an (American) editor with a considerable reputation who had satisfied at least one very strict UK publisher with her previous work, and satisfied me with her proofreading of three of my novels. There was another problem, actually: I recoiled instinctively at the ugliness of the language they had used in their reply.

    My suspicions greatly aroused, I did a check on the Internet: guess what I found. A report by Michael Morning on Pegasus/ Rumpelstiltskin/ Mexbart, naming Christopher Moebs and – goodness me, Marcus McGee also! – by an author ‘disgusted with their ethics and practice’. Some quotes from Michael Morning.

    “Some vanity presses provide a legitimate service, but many others masquerade as a legitimate traditional publisher. It’s only later, after all the paperwork has been signed, that the various fees and author requirements suddenly emerge. If you’ve already guessed that all of this perfectly describes my experience with Pegasus Books, then you guessed correctly. Read on…

    Before signing on the dotted line, I read everything I could on the company etc., etc. … the company made no bones about the fact that at least 75 books needed to be purchased (at a 35% discount) for the book to go to print … this is … the textbook m.o. of a vanity press

    Such ploys as third-party businesses within the publishing house – often operated by employees/owners of the firm – are the hallmark of vanity presses and incredibly unethical for the industry.

    Next, I spoke with some other writers in their stable in the hopes that we could all cross-promote our work. Unfortunately, each of the writers I spoke with (chosen entirely at random) had horror stories of their own.
    The first thing each of them asked me was whether I had already signed a contract as they were hoping to warn me away. Once they learned I had already signed, they then reported at length regarding a multitude of issues they had experienced. Two of them were already consulting lawyers. Their complaints included:

    • Coercion to buy copies of their books
    • Broken promises to market their work
    • Inaccurate and inconsistent royalty reporting
    • Innumerable missed appointments and phone calls
    • Belligerence, denials and generally unprofessional conduct’

    I pointed this out to Pegasus, who replied by showing me ten pages of their ‘editing’ of my novel. It consisted of preferential alterations (‘that’ for ‘which’), a blitzkrieg on adverbs (regardless of the functionality of the adverb), arbitrary trivial formatting amendments, and, generally, the modernisation and Americanisation of English speech and writing of a passage in the novel written in the first person by an 18th Century Bow Street Magistrate! Quote from Michael Morning: Their editing was ‘fraught with typos and mistakes, which required me to edit his (the editor’s) editing’.

    Most of these companies are disappearing from the UK market, thankfully.

    Regards,

    • I have just had an almost identical experience with Pegasus. I received a similar email advising me that my manuscript required significant editing and once fixed, they would like me to re-submit. I replied saying that I was quite surprised that they thought the MS needed major editing as it had been edited by a highly qualified professional editor with 30 years of experience. However, the email awakened doubt in me that the MS did, indeed require much more revision and that I should request editorial services from the company Pegasus works with. Pegasus replied saying that my MS was actually clean and had merit but the problem was my use of the present tense (historic present) in narrating about past events.
      Thanks to this informative thread, I can now see that I have stumbled upon another vanity press (the first one was Pegasus, Cambridge) and am very grateful to Michael for initiating this stream if helpful comments.

  21. I have just realised that I ought to make clear that the company I am referring to is NOT the Pegasus Books Company of BROAD STREET, NEW YORK who are a reputable firm, and I do hope no confusion has arisen.
    SD

    • I think the article is pretty clear on this point. There are several different companies using the Pegasus name, but I cite the company website of the one I dealt with, which is PegasusBooks.net

  22. Michael,

    I was just put on to your blog and loved it. I had exactly the same experience as you and am in the process of trying to get my rights back. Pegasus made so many promises to me I thought they were running for President. None of the promises were fulfilled. And they definitely run a scam on ordering books and charging for the cover. In my case, I was unaware of the cover charges until way late in the process. As for editing, it was a joke. They misses 17 typos which tells me they did not spend the time necessary for real editing.
    To be fair and balanced, they did a great job on my cover and did get me on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s websites, but not one book is in stores (in spite of great reviews on line). Marcus had promised to “get me in every major book store in the country.” Hah!!!

    • Hi, Dick

      I’m so sorry to hear of your bad experience. I can’t tell you how many writers have contacted me with similar stories, most of them boiling down to a lack of marketing follow-up. It’s proof positive that this is a scam whereby “publishers” (using the term very loosely) turn publishing into a zero-risk endeavor whereby actually selling books becomes a secondary revenue stream. Turn all of your authors into your sales team and who needs to work for a living? Everything they did for you, you could do yourself via self publishing.

      One writer I know couldn’t figure out why his book wasn’t in Barnes & Noble. After weeks of waiting on Marcus, he placed 1 phone call to B&N and learned that his book was listed as nonreturnable. He fixed the problem and then was berated by Marcus for being proactive.

      As for getting them to return your rights, it won’t happen. According to their standard contract, writers must go through arbitration. The best you can hope for is that they follow through on their marketing promises once you put the heat on them via arbitration. Their brochures and explanations as to what they do for marketing varies wildly and often hinges on how many books you buy…the fewer you buy, the less they say they’ll do (and even then it’s hard to get them to do what they promise).

      I wish you luck!

      • Michael,
        Thanks for your reply. I got the Author’s guild attorney to write a termination letter to Pegasus on my behalf. so far no reply but fear not, I’m going to pursue this and get my rights back either through arbitration or a lawsuit. I am a retired attorney and know what I’m doing. I will shortly be filing a complaint with the California Attorney General’s office and am thinking of going to the FBI or US Attorney General as I have no doubt Pegasus is running a fraudulent and possible criminal enterprise.
        I received a call from another Pegasus Author whose experiences mimicked our own. I may need to get affidavits from other Pegasus victims to prove my case or a criminal case should the Attorney General agree to pursue one. Would you be willing to testify if that becomes necessary and could you email the people who have already contacted you and ask them if they’d be willing to testify and/or possible join in a civil lawsuit. Please email me your reply. Thanks,

        Dick

        • Hi Dick
          Turns out I’ve joined that select community of authors who’ve been grossly misled by Pegasus. I’ve written asking for my contract to be cancelled but have been met by the usual wall of silence. I live in Australia so finding a way through the arbitration process is nigh on impossible. Have you made any progress on the legal front?
          Duncan

  23. Thank you Michael for the invaluable information you have shared regarding your nightmare with the publishing world. I was very close to contacting Pegasus Pub. to work on my children’s book.Fortunately for me, I came across your article. Sorry you had to experience this, but I am grateful to you for sharing your story. Could you possibly recommend any other small publishing companies in which an agent is not needed. If you could recommend any it would be greatly appreciated. Thank You and best of luck in all of your writing endeavors.

    • Hi, Ralph

      I’m glad you were able to avoid signing on with Pegasus; quite a few writers haven’t been so lucky and are highly regretful of the decision. Actually, I have yet to speak with a single author who is pleased with their decision.

      As for recommending a publisher, I’m afraid not as there are so many different genres and, literally, hundreds of publishers from very large to very small. It requires a great deal of research to dig through those that are looking for what you have to offer.

      Lots of bloggers have posted comprehensive lists of publishing houses. It then falls to you to dig through each publisher, check their submission guidelines and then submit what it is they want in the form that they want it. And then wait several months for a response. That is the way of it. Avoid any publisher that says they are a “hybrid” or that “partners” with an author. Anyone who says they’ll package your book, but wants you to pay for (“invest in”) the marketing is to be avoided.

      Alternatively, you can submit to agents, though this also takes an incredibly long time and a lot of research, submission and waiting.

      Best of luck to you!

  24. Pingback: Small Press Storm Warnings: Pegasus Books, Realmwalker Publishing Group, Spectral Press, Tickety Boo Press – Review Journalists

  25. Pingback: Small Press Storm Warnings: Pegasus Books, Realmwalker Publishing Group, Spectral Press, Tickety Boo Press – Journalist Reviews

  26. Michael,
    I really appreciate you taking the time to inform other authors of your experience. I had submitted my novel to a company that seems to be a different Pegasus, but after looking into it further it also has some negative reviews. Now, I can be sure to avoid scams. You have given some good information on what to look for, and you seem to really have a passion for writing and helping other aspiring authors. This is much appreciated. I am wondering what the best practices for new/aspiring authors are to get noticed by a more traditional publisher. Unfortunately, the forecast looks bleak for breaking into the novelist world. Is there a decent chance for budding authors, or should we just consider alternate careers?

    • Hello, Alisha

      Thank you for writing in. Getting published is a huge battle. I usually say that publishing a novel is roughly 1/3 writing the manuscript, 1/3 editing and 1/3 publishing. Unfortunately, just based on sheer numbers of people all dying to get their work in front of an audience, that last part is getting harder and harder.

      As for getting noticed by a traditional publisher, you just have to put in the work. You can go through an agent or try to market directly to smaller publishers that allow direct submission. Regardless of which route you choose, here’s my list of “Must Dos”:

      1) Even if this is your first published work, be PROFESSIONAL. Know your genre, know what it is you’re trying to sell (i.e. what genre it falls into, what other books or writers it emulates or might remind readers of), and know your market (audience). You need to be able to verbalize what it is you’re trying to sell and to do so in an eye-catching way.

      2) Edit, edit and edit some more. If you can afford it, pay a professional editor to edit the manuscript. If you can’t afford a line-by-line editing, pay a professional to give it a once over and provide you feedback on things to be mindful of or to work on. There are a variety of editing services that can be done, depending on your needs, other than basic proofreading. Yes, a publisher will do their own editing of your work if they accept it for publication, but when you’re a new author you need to be as close to publishable as you can manage when you first submit so you stand out from the masses who aren’t.

      3) Make sure your manuscript is properly formatted. There are plenty of online how-to guides that will explain best practices on spacing, margins, font, slug lines, page numbering, cover page, etc.

      4) Do your research to put together a professional query letter, a 1 page synopsis, a detailed (3-5pg) synopsis, and an “elevator pitch” of 1-3 sentences. A general outline of the blow-by-blow of your story might be good, though I’ve rarely seen this required by any recent publishers or agents. Your synopsis shouldn’t be like the back cover of a book (i.e. marketing material), but rather a detailed explanation of what the story is about, including the ending. Be creative with these; work on them with the same gusto you wrote your actual manuscript because these are the tools that will sell it or sink it.

      5) Make a list of publishers that allow direct submissions by unagented authors that fit your genre. If you’re submitting to agents instead of publishers, be sure you not only have a list of agencies accepting your genre, but a specific agent within that agency (many large agencies can have a dozen or more agents, each with differing likes and dislikes).

      6) When submitting your work, be sure you review the agent’s/publisher’s submission guidelines and follow them exactly. Disregarding them marks you as an amateur desperate for someone – anyone – to take a look at your work. Agents and publishers are flooded with material, so don’t leave a bad taste in their mouth by submitting materials or genres they don’t work with.

      7) Be prompt and professional in all your communications.

      8) Be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. Agents and publishers can take months to get back to you. I’ve had replies to queries come back almost a year after I submitted them. Yes, that’s extreme, but 3-5 months isn’t uncommon – and that’s if they respond at all. Many are so busy they’re not even responding unless interested in reviewing more of your work.

      So there you have it. The down ‘n dirty guide to getting published. I’m sure I’ve left out a few minor things, but these are the biggies. Skip these at your own peril.

      Finally, you asked whether we should all just get other jobs. The answer is yes, you should. Very few writers earn enough to live on their writing. Many either have “day jobs” or do freelance work or something similar to actually pay bills. “Starving artist” applies to writers just as much as any other artistic effort. It’s a sad fact, but writing has become incredibly competitive, and it’s been this way for many years.

      When I was young I went to a writing seminar at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore. The gentleman giving the talk had published 3 detective novels and had been a writer for many years. However, he worked there at the store specifically because it just didn’t pay enough to write full time. That was 20 years ago, so things have only gotten tougher. Not that I’m trying to discourage you, but rather just wanting you to be practical. Don’t quit your job to write your novel. Do both! Paying bills by working a job may not leave as much time for writing, but at least the stress is removed so that the writing can just “be” without the pressure of sales.

      The goal of a writer should be first to get published and then to build up an audience and a body of work that will someday breach that critical mass that will allow you to write full time. Look at it as a long-term effort and you’ll live a happier life in the meantime.

      Good Luck!

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