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Posted at 2012-01-01 03:27 | RSS feed (Full text feed) | Blog Index
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Tags: apress books publishing
Avoid Apress
by Mike Ash  

Nearly three years ago, I got involved with Apress to contribute to two books. The experience went disastrously wrong. It was a profoundly unpleasant experience and I want to warn any other prospective authors to avoid this publisher, and encourage readers to buy from other publishers. Warning: this post is non-technical and something of a rant. If that's not your thing, please skip it and come back in a week when technical goodies shall resume their normal course.

My intent is not to air dirty laundry, although that's unavoidable. I initially wrote this post years ago and ended up shelving it and moving on. But Apress authors keep having the same problems, and I can no longer continue in good conscience without making my story public. My intent is simply that anyone considering writing for Apress know what they're getting into, and that anyone considering buying from them know how their authors are treated.

The story is long and involved, and I don't want to bore you with details. Instead, I'm just going to give a condensed timeline of events. Before I do that, let me give the major overall reason why I'm recommending that you avoid Apress: they do not pay their authors! My story is one of being paid months late and only after serious prodding.

Now for the timeline.

I will let you draw your own conclusions about what went on, but for me, this behavior goes beyond what can be tolerated. Many other authors had similar experiences. I'm no longer involved, but from what I hear, these problems continue. If you are a prospective Apress author, then you should strongly consider a different publisher. Likewise, if you are a buyer of technical books, I encourage you to patronize other publishers who are, one hopes, better about paying their authors what they're owed.

Did you enjoy this article? I'm selling whole books full of them! Volumes II and III are now out! They're available as ePub, PDF, print, and on iBooks and Kindle. Click here for more information.


Damn. Well as someone who over the past year has bought a whole bunch of Objective C / iOS titles from Apress I'm saddened to hear that authors have had such grief from them.

I wish you luck finding another publisher and I really hope this doesn't put you off technical writing.

Kind regards,


My exp is similar although I stopped it long before getting entangled and burned..

Was to turn in several book proposals for android dev but Apress could not get their act together..so told them not to bother me until they could prove some professionalism
Next time, try Manning. They are a bunch of pros who know how to do these things right.
That's a shame. I love the Apress book format & "get" the authors.
This is really sad; I am going to feel if I buy an Apress title after hearing this.
You should try something like: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/landing?ie=UTF8&;%2AVersion%2A=1&%2Aentries%2A=0

Also see: http://www.thedominoproject.com/

It gives more flexibility to authors and they have more controls.
Why did you keep giving them work without a contract or payment?
And I avoid them as a customer simply because of their terrible protection policy of insisting on password protecting their books. It makes it a right pain in the arse owning them. Thankfully other publishers don't seem to do that, and I took a dislike to Apress after buying my first book from them.
God is just. Turn the other cheek and laugh.

This was courageous of you.

You know, they rely on people being afraid to share their bad experiences.

Do you know what happens next?

They'll try to intimidate you using their contracts and legalisms.

They'll try to shame you and call you unprofessional for doing this.

They'll try to make excuses.

Don't take any of it.

I stood up against traditional publishing a bit back, and it's been hard on me. But I feel like we're on the verge of breaking through to these dinosaurs. This was my experience -



Thank you for your courage and transparency Mike. It's good to not be alone.
Yikes! I knew you had trouble with them, but never heard the full extent of it. I've had issues with late payments from them too (nearly every quarterly royalties payment in fact), but never more than a few weeks. I'm just trying to learn to count on nothing, so I can be pleasantly surprised when payment finally shows up.

I think the key here is the contracts. Apress/Springer seems to have systems in place to "automatically" produce payments at key points in time if a contract is in place and the right editor clicks a button. My co-authors and I have maintained a pretty strict policy of not writing a word until the contracts are finalized, maybe that has saved us some grief.

Finally, onerous and self-serving as it may seem, I'd like to point out that boycotting or avoiding Apress books because of how they treat their authors will, unfortunately, probably hurt the authors more than it hurts Apress :(
It's far too late to help in your case, but for others reading this: there's some good advice for avoiding these situations in Mike Monteiro's talk at http://vimeo.com/22053820?utm_source=swissmiss
Sad, I bought, "iPhone Cool Projects" [one of my first iPhone titles, great book btw] at Borders in Atlanta about 18 months ago. My only take away from your posting is 'Apress, bad' from now on.
All due respect Mike, but why did you start working on a project before you got your first payment? I know that Apress tends to take on authors who haven't published before, and are a bit naive, and they take advantage of this. But any experienced author (I've written more than a dozen computer books, but none for Apress) knows not to start working until you have a signed contract and the first check. This doesn't excuse the behavior of Apress, but they took advantage of your inexperience and naiveté.

Don't think that Apress is the only one. I've had unpleasant experiences with a several publishers, for a variety of reasons. The first solo book I worked on - I had co-authored a few books before that - had a similar problem, but I quickly stopped working when it was clear that the publisher was a swindler.
I've had enjoyable experiences with Apress' editorial side, co-authoring one book, and tech reviewing a half-dozen others. The editors and authors I've worked with have been fun. (waves to Jack)

I have to agree with Mike that their accounting side is quite... lacking. Learn Objective-C on the Mac came out in 2008, and only late this year have royalty payments been on anything like a regular, unprompted schedule. (We've had to threaten lawyering in the past.) Last year I held a book I was reviewing hostage til I got paid for previous book I had reviewed, where the payment was months overdue. My message was along the lines of "if you see no reason to pay me for my prior work, I feel I have no obligation to continue this work". I was paid very quickly after that :-| .

Today I have no problem referring reviewers their way. You invoice them and they (tend to) pay. I've stopped referring friends for authorship, though.
That's why Kindle publishing these days growing fast.
I've been both a technical reviewer and a co-author for apress. While my personal experience was very good with them, one of my good friends is an author for them and his experiences mirror this very closely. His last 'advance' was paid roughly 5 months after the book was published, and is listed as part of his royalties (fair enough). At any rate, he seems to have found a way to deal with them meaningfully at this point. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that there are so many new/random people involved in apress projects, all the time.

Even that last bit may just be because two of the editorial staff we worked with on 2 books had children near the end of the book's release cycle...but a professional company can't let that change anything.

Anyway, I like them fine but I've seen similar behaviour second hand.
I'm seeing a few common themes in comments, so I figure I'll address them all at once. I'm writing this comment both for my blog and Hacker News, so please excuse vagueness etc.

Beginning work without a contract was certainly not a smart move. They talked a good game but I still should have known better. However, I think I was still in a pretty good position, because it is that contract that gave them the right to use my work. I already had a reasonably popular technical blog that would have made a fine home for what I wrote if they had changed their minds.

In fact, this gave me quite a bit of leverage when it came time to get the Pro Objective-C contract amended. After they refused my amendments, I pointed out that they could not use my work without a contract, and that I would not sign anything that didn't have my amendments. They changed their tune with amusing rapidity.

The amendments I requested were fairly simple. Aside from fixing the dates, I struck out portions that required ongoing work from me, such as responding to errata, since I was no longer involved with the book.

The money involved was not large, for sure. In general, writing technical books doesn't pay well. There are good reasons to do it (exposure, fun, satisfaction, etc.) but money isn't one. I went into the project knowing that I wasn't doing it for the money. Given that, it might seem strange to have such a problem over money, but I don't think it is: even though I wasn't doing it for the money, I was still promised money, and I simply couldn't tolerate any crap over it.

For everyone talking about other publishers, I appreciate the sentiment, but I have moved into self-publishing. The Complete Friday Q&A is self-published and the experience was great. I intend to continue doing so in the future. I really don't see much of a role for traditional publishers these days.
Thanks for this entry. I can really resonate with it. I wonder, though, whether much of this is just in the tech arena. I have published two books, one in the humanities and one on programming. The first was through a subsidiary of HarperCollins; the second was done through Packt. The first publisher has consistently treated me like pure gold; they are a great company. On the second, as the book development progressed, the publisher treated me increasingly poorly. I am a very well-credentialed author who was born, raised, and educated in native English-speaking countries, attaining my credentials in English. Yet, Packt's (Indian?) proofreaders perverted my English so badly that my writing sounded like it came from a non-native English writer. Further, they introduced technical errors into the manuscript, as well. When I brought my observations to Packt, they didn't care. They went ahead and published the book with the boneheaded, non-native speakers' changes anyway. As they require you to sign over the copyright of the book ahead of time, there was little I could do. Not only did I see the problems but I have been slammed in reviews for them as well. In the public's eye, I have all responsibility but, in reality, have no authority to affect change in the book. So I have added Packt to my list of publishers to avoid.
I think the saddest part of the whole story is that we never got to see the finished product of what might have been an excellent book, had the clowns at Apress not screwed up a good thing. I hope Mike does decide to write a similar book with a different publisher one day. I think we all could benefit from such a book, which would probably have a very different feel than NSBlog or "The Complete Friday Q&A" as a single continuous work. Keep up the great work Mike, I'm sorry you got screwed.
I had a fine experience writing a book for Apress in 2008.
I had a similar experience; they drafted me to help with a book at the request of the original author. I gave them an outline of what I thought I could contribute, and let them know I had just received an offer of employment across the country in the next couple weeks, would be moving, and that I would need more time if they really wanted "the best book ever" on the subject.

This began a series of calls badgering me for material as I am attempting to pack, get a new apartment from 3000 miles away, get my car shipped, etc. When I got a call asking me why I hadn't sent any more chapters as I was trying to drive to a temporary apartment in a city I had never been in before, I quit.

The work I did do I never got credit or payment for. I was happy to just be shut of them.
Scott: I think the glass is really half full in this case. The book, as managed by Apress, never had any hope. Without Apress, I never would have started on it, so it wasn't happening either way.

With the same time and effort, I ended up covering a much wider range of more interesting topics, so I think that's a win.
I'm glad to see that someone has publicly taken Apress to task. I've been involved in five books for them and I will no longer write anything for them. They don't market their books worth a shit, I have yet to make any royalties on the books I spent months on, and some of their production errors have been an embarrassment.
Apress contracted myself and another author to write a book. We submitted a very clear summary and table of contents that outlined what book we were writing. Half way through the book they come back with a "what about X, Y and Z"</'i> and the interesting thing was that in the summary we specifically said we were "not covering Z at all". They canceled the contract and left us hanging with a book that never will exist.
I purchased Pro Objective-C from Apress as part of their alpha program. I really enjoyed the chapters I read, and I wish there was more. Based on the email Apress sent me ("We regret to inform you that, despite completing nine chapters, the author has decided not to continue writing the book..."), I assumed you had just flaked out on the book because you were too busy. Very interesting to hear the other side of the story now.
This sounds awfully familiar.... Sadly it's a recent thing too - they used to be excellent. I've written five books for Apress - first three when they were based out of SF and acted like a real publisher. The last two after they moved to NYC and started acting like idiots.

Back in the 'olden days they had an editor and a project manager on each book with a careful plan and regular updates. They were responsive, they had an awesome marketing manager (hey Julie Miller!), royalties and advances appeared on time and generally things were rosy.

Then the dark times came. They dropped project managers in favor of coordinators who managed multiple books, were barely responsive, had ludicrous and unrealistic schedules (and berated you when you didn't make these schedules even when you told them you weren't going to), editors never got back to you, commercials were a disaster and the marketing department had to be hassled/cajoled into actually marketing the book.

My last book the tech reviewer didn't get paid for months after finishing work. I eventually had to threaten the CEO with paying her out my own pocket and publicly shaming them to get them to pay.

I'll never write for them again.
Wow, this post is incredibly timely for me. I was just yesterday contacted by an author asking me to be a tech. reviewer on an Apress book. Having never worked with Apress before, but having read (and been unimpressed) with some of their titles, I googled "Apress author experiences" on a whim and this came up.

Thank you Mike for putting your experiences out there as a warning to others. I'll will certainly bear this in mind.
"I will certainly bear this in mind", rather.
Just make a Friday Q&A app and publish on App Store. I'd love to buy it.
While coauthoring "Java 7 Recipes", just published by APress, I got my advance before finishing my chapters. I was treated well. You had a horrible experience, and I hope that isn't common.
I've written one book, and co-authored another, for Apress, and been happy both times. The royalties turn up regularly, so no complaints there either.
Daniel: Yeah, by the time it was actually canceled, "the author" wasn't even me anymore. Is it true that they didn't give you your money back, but only gave credit toward another Apress book? That's what I heard, but it's hard to get hard data about anything over there.

JD: I'm glad this post showed up at the right time. Warning potential authors and reviewers is the main reason I wrote this.

Ben: I'm looking into an FQA app. No promises, but it's definitely something I'd like to do.

John O'Conner and Andrew Davison: I'm glad you both had good experiences. Unfortunately, experiences such as mine are extremely common. I don't have hard numbers or anything, but every time I bring up this subject, I get a ton of messages from other authors who had similar problems. There seem to be dozens of them, with lucky folks like you in the minority.
My experience writing for them was ok. Deadlines were indeed interesting, but it worked out. Advance payment was advance and royalties seem to be recorded correctly (I cant really check how many copies are sold :-)).
As some people pointed out, it was mostly your fault. Yes you can blame them for playing that game, but you agreed to play.
While you said you recieved your money 9 months late, I would read it as: you got the money directly after signing the contract.
No, I got the money months after signing the contract. Feel free to criticize me here, but at least keep your facts straight when doing so.
Hi Mike,

It's amazing that you still dealt with them even after they have delayed your payment for a very long time.

Are they paying you any royalty now? Can you track how many books they sold?
You can always try selling it yourself as an e-book, then if you really want publishers tell them you want to keep your copyright 100% and keep full copyright.

I'm guessing you won't want to bother with any of them in the end as you've got quite a following here.

I think you'd be able to pull off your own book and do quite well.
Yeah, you're correct -- Apress didn't give me my money back. Just credit for another book. But for a couple months I got nothing... I went to my account one day to see if there were any new chapters ready and I noticed the book was totally missing from my account. Sent them a support email and they responded saying they were having technical difficulties. Still nothing after 2 months so I sent them an email asking what was up. 3 days later I got the email offering a free book credit since the project was cancelled.
Fadi El-Eter: Yes, they still send me royalty checks, although not large and not frequently. I could presumably translate that into number of books sold, at least approximately, but I haven't bothered.

Johann: I already sell my collected Friday Q&A as an e-book, and I plan to put out a second volume sometime this year. It's doing well enough, although I'm certainly not getting rich off it. I definitely have no plans to ever publish a book through a traditional publisher again.

Daniel: That is some major bullshit right there. They cancel a book and you don't even get your money back for it? I guess there are reasons to avoid buying from Apress besides troubles paying authors: they screw their customers too!
My experience with Apress has been mostly positive. I'm the author of Learn Cocos2D Game Development (http://www.learn-cocos2d.com/store/book-learn-cocos2d/).

I've only had one late payment and that was one third of the advance, which Apress simply paid with the first royalties check a few weeks later as opposed to when the book was published. No biggie, I just wished it had been communicated.

I started writing in May 2010, the first edition was published in November 2010. I spent 4-5 months writing full-time, knowing full well it's not going to pay that much. The writing experience was great, and my contacts at Apress were outstanding, and the money was a lot more than I expected (roughly $15k over 13 months). Payment has since been issued regularly once every quarter.

What I read out of this blog post is two pieces of advice:
1) don't attempt to amend or modify the contract (with any big publisher for that matter)
2) set the deadlines yourself according to your estimations, or decline the job (goes with any job for that matter)

1) Attempting to change a standard contract is a difficult process if the other side is part of a big corporation. They would have to run your changes and amendments by their lawyers, then run the corrections by you. Repeat until all sides are satisfied. That's costly and unlikely to happen unless you pull a lot of weight (ie your name alone guarantees x-thousand copies sold, or you're a big business yourself).

2) I'm not sure how in this case the deadlines were set, and why their feasibility was "completely unknown".

What I did is to estimate that I would require 1 week (~40 hours) to complete a chapter. Some chapters took more, others less, but overall 15 weeks for 15 chapters turned out to be feasible - even though at the time I didn't have detailed knowledge about each chapter's contents. Sometimes I had to cut corners, other times I had to come up with additional material that fits the chapter's context.

If the deadlines are unclear because of other work, then prioritize. You can't reasonably schedule two or more projects at the same time. Although it seems quite common I believe it's a huge mistake to try and work a regular job during the day, then trying to write a book in the off hours. In particular if you have a life, a family, or simply like to hold on to your sanity. If you have a potential job coming up but don't know when, and can't commit to deadlines for the book, then you'll have to set priorities. It's as simple as that.

My point being: not agreeing to deadlines because their feasibility is unknown is not a reason to decline a contract. Either you can somehow manage to hit the deadlines (with sacrifices if need be), or you don't. And then there's always the option to re-negotiate deadlines (it happens all the time).

FWIW I missed my deadlines for the second edition by about 2 months. It didn't cause any issues, subsequent dates were arranged by email. The delays were an accumulation of events like an illness at Apress, late deliveries of others, and adding another author to the book.
Steffen Itterheim: I appreciate you telling your side of things, but I have to say that I find some of your advice to be dangerous.

When it comes to attempting to modify the standard contract, I agree that this is probably going to be difficult. However, you should sign the standard contract with no modifications if and only if you are satisfied with every clause of that contract. They will tell you that certain clauses don't matter and can be ignored, but you must not accept this, as such statements have no legal standing. I may have misunderstood, must you seem to be implying that one should accept the contract even if there are problems with it. Those problems can come back and bite you in the ass, so that's a bad approach. If the standard contract is acceptable, then go ahead and sign it. But if there's anything about it that's unacceptable, you must not sign it as is. Either try to negotiate or give up working with this publisher.

For deadlines, I had never written a book before, the contents were not really set yet, and I have no idea how I'd be expected to figure out a realistic deadline under those conditions when I have no idea how quickly I can actually write a book. In my opinion, it makes no real sense to have hard deadlines on a book project, at least not one that's anywhere close to when you expect to finish. IIRC, the first proposed contract had the finish date a mere two months in the future. I could perhaps sign something that says two years, with the understanding that this is an absolute last ditch deadline, not what you're actually aiming for. What if your one week per chapter estimate was wrong, and it turned out that you required two weeks to complete a chapter? That standard contract you don't want to negotiate probably does not have favorable terms, if any terms at all, for what happens when you miss your deadline. The idea of signing something that says you will finish by such a date, then later on go back and re-negotiate it from a position of very little power, does not strike me as a good idea.

A lot of people write books as a side project. While I can see why you advise against it, most people don't have the ability to dedicate 4+ months to nothing but writing a book, especially given what technical writing typically pays. We would have a lot fewer quality technical books to choose from if people took that approach.

In short, it may not be possible to negotiate a publisher's standard contract, but you simply cannot sign it as-is if there are any problems with it. If negotiating it is not an option then the only reasonable course of action is to walk away. Publishers love to set unrealistic deadlines, or deadlines of unknown realism, and while they will generally be flexible with them, you shouldn't count on that unless you have it in writing.
I love your work, you are a terrific author.

Nine months is a long time to wait for payment, period. But as a vendor to many businesses you can expect anywhere from 30-120 days net. And if you don't politely remind your customer what they owe you, you are not going to be paid.

 Its crazy but that is how business is done in the US.
If they want 30-120 days net, they can put it in the contract. Other places do. That may be standard, but so is telling people about it.

I did politely remind them, then not so politely. The response was always "next week".
Thanks for sharing this experience - your good intentions shine much brighter than the sour grapes. One thing is for sure ... the current crop of books coming out of Apress are a far cry from what I've come to expect... From where I sit, they peeked from 2007 - 2009 and what you experienced was the shitty result of moving operations from West -> East coast... Not only that, but book sales just aren't what they were in the '90s. Have you been to the computer section at a B&N lately? Quite sad, actually.
I have also had a bad experience with Apress. It all started pretty well, accepting my proposal at once and being very excited about my books' topic (combining embedded programming and cloud computing). They approved the first 3 chapters right away and even sent the royalty advance quite fast. I keep on delivering chapters at the predefined schedule and just before I provide the final 2 chapters (out of 11 in total) they announce me that they are canceling the book because "the content does not mesh" with what they need for that particular topic line!
Now I am in the search for another publisher but also considering self publishing options. I have in mind a couple of additional book proposals but I will never consider them as a publishing option again.
I'm sorry to hear of your frustrations with Apress and will consider taking my business elsewhere. Just curious, does your contract include any royalties or any revenue stream from each book sold whether in print or online?
Yes, I get royalties. Aside from one year where they inflated my royalty income by a factor of about 4 when reporting to the IRS (!), it has been mostly trouble-free. It's not a large quantity, though.
I never knew that a publishing house could treat authors so poorly. Thanks for making public your experience with them. I hope you find a much better publishing house for your next book. Have you looked into Amazon as a self-publisher? I purchased a few electronic books from Apress because I could read them on my Kindle. Does that mean one gets less royalty for an electronic book than for a print book? I've seen some writers sell their own kindle books and just thought this might be an avenue for you.
I am an apress author - same experience. I'm so done with them. Still waiting for my last payment, but not going to work with them anymore. Writing books is a LOT of hard work. The payment is absolute pittance. And these hassles make it SO NOT WORTH IT!
Thanks for sharing this experience!
I am finishing up my second book with Apress. I have no complaints. I have an editor and project manager whom I like and find easy to work with. Payments seem to arrive reasonably. I understand publishers can be hard to work with and miserly, but I've had no problems.
How much a technical reviewer should charge at Apress?
I think that its great that at the end of everything you got your proposed changes, and contracted accepted for services, having a contact at apress and still waiting, getting the partial payments, its always good to make sure that your working with a reliable company that provides high quality services. So you can have a excellent experience, I think your a great author by the way!
I wanted to share my opinion with Manning since they were recommended above.

I had an absolutely horrible experience. As a first time author, I really was worried about finding the right publisher and after reading positive experiences with Manning I went with them, but had similar experience as Apress.

They refused to pay my advance. They kept raising the bar trying to get me to do work for no money. They told me all reviewers need to have positive reviews of the book to get paid. Marian Bace the publisher is duplicitous and extremely stingy so don't assume that you will get paid ever.

I had to fight to get my book rights returned to me and it took months. I would avoid Manning. No starch press and pragmatic bookshelf seem great. I really wish I went with them.
It appears that many people in here had an unpleasant experience with Apress. Luckily for me, I did (do) not share that experience. I've completed two books for Apress, and in the process of negotiating my 3rd and fourth. My editors were very professional and friendly. The contract was in order, the payment milestones for the advance was clear, and the payment came ahead of time (days ahead of time).

I have a couple of projects in mind, and I actually wanted to consider going to Manning for this; not that I don't like Apress, I love them in fact, but it might be healthy to try out other publishers. Seeing the last commenter's remarks, it really gives me pause.

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