Our Trade: When A Publisher Tries To Scam You

Last year at the Game Developer’s Conference, I bumped into one of the best known daily games reporters in the business. Like me, he is also an author. He  knew I had a book that was about to hit, and he kindly suggested that I get in touch with a French publishing representative called Jean-Marc Demoly.  The writer mentioned that Demoly would be publishing one of his books and that Demoly was looking for compelling tomes about videogames that were first published in the United States. The writer looked happy about the prospects, and had good things to say about the publishing professional he had recently met.

After an introduction via email, I got in touch Jean-Marc, and I suggested that he move quickly. After an excerpt appeared in Vanity Fair online, there was a small buzz surrounding All Your Base Are Belong to Us. In fact, another French publisher had made an offer for French rights. Jean-Marc, however, offered substantially more money. But the other company had a track record of publishing literary books and even had worked with my friend, Nick Tosches.

After reading the book, Jean-Marc seemed the most enthusiastic. To my agents, I said, “Let’s go with the house that knows videogames best.” In other words, “Let’s go with Jean-Marc.” My agent was wary because he’d never heard of MCES Publishing. He suggested that we add a line to the contract that stipulated all money be paid upfront. I agreed since I had never heard of the house, either.

Once Jean-Marc received the contract, his emails to me became less frequent, and soon, non-existent. Then, he wouldn’t respond to my notes, either. Via Facebook, I tried to contact the publisher himself. In a short note, he wrote that he wasn’t involved in the company any longer. And he said he didn’t know where Jean-Marc was.

It was completely frustrating, not only because I’d been scammed, but because this happened in the book industry. One of the things I consider when I think about book publishing as compared to print journalism and online journalism is that the people involved in books have often been more collegial, perhaps because there’s more at stake. A book could and should have a long tail. It should sell for years, not for just one month, one day or one hour.

What I didn’t know is that Jean-Marc did the same thing to my well-known writer friend.

Jean-Marc made him an offer.

And then he disappeared.

Who knows how many other authors have been fooled by this man?

Thankfully, my agents were savvy enough to curry interest again with the respected French publisher. They made a deal which, I’m told, should bring me royalties for years to come.

So what is the takeaway here? If even seasoned journalists can be fooled by a gregarious charlatan, how do you protect yourself when your tome is offered for sale around the world? The only thing to say here is to forget charm and enthusiasm when it comes from an unproven entity. Listen to reasoned arguments from your agents. And stick with the company with the proven track record.

-Harold Goldberg

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