A Cautionary Tale

An article this week in the San Diego Union Tribune about Martell Publishing, a vanity press scam that bilked authors out of thousands of dollars, should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who is considering paying to be published. The article reads, in part:

Ed Johnson operated Simon & Northrop Publishing, formed in 1998, and created Martell Publishing in 2005, according to state records. Both ventures were housed at different times in a one-room unit at 3333 Midway Drive, a complex that appears to be an old motel converted into offices.

Lynn Karstens, a former Martell employee, said Johnson purposely deceived potential clients about the scale of his one-room operation. He used pseudonyms when answering the telephone or in correspondence to potential clients to “make it seem like he had a staff.”

Karstens also said Johnson instructed her to tell clients who telephoned him that he was “on the other side of the building” so they’d think the company was housed in a large facility.

Karstens said she was hired as an office manager. But Johnson soon had her editing manuscripts, a job for which she had no qualifications, she said.

Most aspiring authors found the San Diego publishing houses on the Internet or by answering ads placed in small regional newspapers and out-of-state Yellow Pages.

[…]Johnson was unapologetic about taking money from Perry and others even as he failed to pay his rent and other bills.

“Is it a crime not to pay your bills? I tried to keep the company rolling and it didn’t happen,” Johnson said. “I didn’t try to cheat anyone. I sold some books for some people. Authors are all unhappy unless they have a best-seller.”

Sadly, scams like this are NOT the exception but the norm in the vanity press world. If you are still intent on throwing your money away, at least go with iUniverse or Lulu, which are about as reputable as you can get in the self-publishing POD business.

4 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale”

  1. On the contrary, scams like this are the exception, not the rule (that’s why they make the news). The fact is, for the great majority of would-be writers, self-publishing via POD is the only way they will fulfill their dreams of seeing their book in print. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Traditional publishers only print books by authors with a platform, and not everyone has $10,000 up front to pay for an off-set print run, nor the time, experience, or desire to do it right. Companies like iUniverse and lulu provide a service of conveneince, and services of convenience have a cost. Just ask your mailman.

  2. I strongly disagree. Just because more newspapers and magazines aren’t covering the story doesn’t mean aspiring authors aren’t being bilked by the vast majority of vanity presses. It’s just not a big story to the mainstream media right now. The San Diego Union story was a fluke…I wish there were more articles like it exposing the vanity press industry for the predatory fraud that it is.
    Of course not all vanity presses are scams designed to take advantage of aspiring writers…many are simply amateurish operations run by people (many of them aspiring authors themselves) who have no clue what they are doing. Quiet Storm is a good example.

  3. Oh, but I do agree with you about iUniverse and Lulu…they are the most reputable of the vanity presses. That said, iUniverse is behaving more and more like their sleazier brethren…and their new partnership with Authorhouse, one of the scummier vanity presses, isn’t a good sign.

  4. I also worked for Ed Johnson while it was Simon & Northrop. My experience was exactly the same as Ms.Karsten’s. I left with him owing me $1800 in wages. He is a crook.


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