From D, Detroit, February 2005: Two years ago, I signed a contract with Book Builders to write articles for an encyclopedia they were producing; I only ever received partial payment, and that after a full year. I can understand that projects sometimes go slower than expected, but *all* my attempts to contact Book Builders regarding payment have been unsuccessful. They have not responded to my emails or returned phone calls, nor given any reason for their non-compliance. When I do manage to speak to someone at the company, I am given vague promises that they will "look into it" and get back to me; they never have. I personally know of at least five other writers and illustrators who have received similar treatment from this company. I want to add that in 20 years of freelance writing, I have never been treated so poorly by a company, nor have I ever taken such a step as this before to warn others. Book Builders' conduct has convinced me, however, that others need to know what they might be getting into if they contract with this company.
From B, New York, February 2005: I too had a situation with them. They ordered some work to be done, I delivered and submitted a bill for the agreed sum. Eventually I was told that the person ordering the work to be done was no longer with the firm, and should not have ordered the work to be done in the first place. I settled for a lower payment and moved on.
From C, College Station TX, February 2005: I have also experienced the same problems with Book Builders. I spoke to the new editor for the project last year and she blew me off. . . . I only received a signing bonus of $75 and the rest unpaid.
From J, February 2005: I have had an identical experience with Book Builders. I wrote 20 or so entries [for the Encylopedia] and have not received full payment and have also written letters and emails that have been ignored. I have more or less given up . . . . I did receive some payment--maybe 1/3 of what they owed me?
From G, New York, February 2005: Excerpts from the demand letter to Book Builders: "Dear Ms. Fedorko . . . . Ms G. has indeed been very patient but too many months have passed since she fulfilled her contractual duties without receiving payment in full. I note that according to the Sage and Amazon websites, the book has been published. A number of writers who have worked for Book Builders have testified in writing that delayed payment is the modus operandi of your firm and frequently results in never sending final payments. . . . I am requesting that a check for $200 be sent to Ms. G promptly. If this sum is not received in full by March 15, I will file complaints with the New York State Attorney General's Office and with Sage Publishers, and Ms.Garry will file suit at Small Claims Court in Manhattan." Adds G: They responded by asking if i'd like a copy of the book I worked on in lieu of cash, but i could have cash if i chose. I chose the book. We told them either book or cash must be received by end of march or we take action.
From M, Hartford CT, February 2005: I accepted a $700 revision job for Book Builders under tight deadline;so tight that I agreed to start working on it before I received my contract. To be true to the projec,t although I was already suspicious of the company, I did more than what they asked me to do and turned my work in on time; during that short period, I still didn't get a contract despite numerous requests; I was assured on more than one occasion that it was in the mail. Then they asked me to do a second revision, and I agreed going on faith, even though many of their requests contradicted what they asked me to do the first time. When I’d finished, I’d still not received the contract.
Then they asked me to do yet more work on it and I refused, patiently explaining my reasons. I showed up at their NYC office unannounced to get the contract, and even then was kept waiting for 20 minutes when they could've just printed it out in 20 seconds (or mailed it). The kicker—when my check came, it was for only $500. I called to right the situation but they said I did not complete the job! Despite my most diplomatic and persistent efforts, I was not able to get the remaining $200.
However, I did let them know that I would not tolerate such unprofessional treatment. Legal action for such a sum is not practical, so I did it through other means. I posted on two respected writer message boards; from that, I heard from over 20 other writers—and counting—with similar grievances, which I used to mount a case against Book Builders to the American Book Producers Association, Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and Authors Guild. I submitted a petition of first-person accounts of Book Builder's manipulative behavior to show that mine was not an isolated incident.
I happen to be friends with the president of the ABPA and he told me that Lauren Fedorko of Book Builders was infuriated that a writer complained about their practices. I was hoping that the ABPA would revoke their membership, but the ABPA is a small organization; while they sympathize with writers, they are without the power to police their members. I didn't like to hear that; however, the ABPA did put Book Builders on notice on a moral level. The SCBWI president also sent BB a forceful letter and copied me on it, warning Book Builders that their actions are not acceptable and telling them that they will discourage their members from working with Book Builders.
At least in the end, my smart ideas (fighting for my rights) outweighed my mistakes. I learned the hard way. If you’re new to Book Builders, don’t waste your time. Walk away now.
From M, Seattle WA, February 2005: I have had a frustrating experience writing for Book Builders LLC. I was initially contracted to write a set of articles for a three-volume encyclopedia in July 2002. The project was initially supposed to be completed by March 2003. Although I met all deadlines for submitting my work, the project was delayed because Book Builders delayed in returning my drafts to me for revision. I sent my final revisions in August of 2003. Every couple of months I would ask if they had been accepted so that I could submit my final invoice. Each time I was given some different excuse. Finally, in August 2004, I was told, “The publisher has one more batch of copyedits to send me before the encyclopedia goes to press.” At that time, I submitted my final invoice (August 2004). When I tried contacting them in October to find out why I had not yet received payment, my email repeatedly bounced back with an “invalid recipient” message. I tried phoning, and the number I had for them was “out of service.”
There are also points of contention with them about what they said they wanted, and what they required as far as length. This is especially relevant because the length of the article (short, medium, long-l1, long-l2) determines the amount paid. My initial drafts were all within the required word count. The requested revisions (some of which were very specific) increased the length significantly. For example, my contract states that a short entry is "100-400 (average 250)" words. After putting in the requested additional information, the average length of my "short entries" is 406 words. As the pay was low to begin with, it is especially egregious that they then want to force a longer article than they are willing to pay for.
From J, February 2005: I am still owed $600 for a book I wrote for the Heinemann State Studies series, and would be happy to warn anyone and everyone about this company.