Copied here with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, by Will Johnson
Dear Author:I am at my wits end...
If you are an aspiring author looking for someone to help you distribute your product, you would be well advised to avoid Atlas Books unless you have endless money, endless time to waste, and don't mind someone else sucking it all out of you behind your back and without your permission.
Allow me to provide some background. Atlas Books is a division of BookMasters, Inc. in Ashland, Ohio. My wife and I selected BookMasters to print her book in 2009. From the beginning of the relationship with BookMasters, our sales rep made it very clear that we should sign on with Atlas Books because they had all of the connections we "needed" in order to effectively distribute her work. From Amazon to Baker and Taylor and beyond, Atlas Books purportedly had connections with all the "big names" in the book business. While it was never assured, we were definitely given the impression that Atlas would easily be able to move a couple thousand copies of the book and therefore that's what we ordered from BookMasters.
Like most folks in this economy, it's not like we have thousands of dollars lying around so we went to a local credit union and took out a loan using our family vehicle as collateral. We figured that with what we had been told about Atlas Books, it would only be a few short months before we'd be able to pay off the loan from the sales of the book. A year and nearly $10,000 later, the reality has been starkly different.
The service from BookMasters was really quite good. Our sales person Rod was generally responsive and seemed to be open and helpful anytime we had a question. Once we signed the contract for Atlas Books distribution, however, everything changed. It's impossible to get even the most basic information, the statements provided from the company are incomprehensible, and there is absolutely nobody willing nor available to provide any explanation.
If that were all there was, it could be chalked up to a very expensive bad decision. However, the problem gets significantly more complicated and, I believe, crosses the line into criminal behavior.
Before we signed the contract, we read through it very carefully, though regrettably we did not have it reviewed by a legal advisor. One thing that stood out as being unusual was the high return charges ($5 per copy). Unfortunately, we agreed to the contract despite these concerns.
Here's how it works: Atlas "ships" a box of, say, 20 books to a company and almost immediately after processes a return of the 20 books at $5 per copy. Guess what? You just lost $100 without even knowing it. More concerning, Atlas provides no compelling evidence whatsoever that the books ever moved off the pallet. They do this again and again and again and before long any profit you might have made has been completely sucked up by return charges.
Simultaneous to this you're also paying shipping charges for shipping your book to all these outlets - again with no evidence of actual shipping - as well as storage of the books, and a bunch of other incomprehensible administrative charges totaling $100 or more per month. If you've had any actual sales you'd never be able to tell based on the information provided by Atlas Books and additionally, no sales funds are available on your account until months later. Meanwhile, Atlas continues to process returns and accrue countless fees and charges.
Don't even think of disputing the charges; after signing the contract they own you and won't let you buy out of the contract, nor will they even consider talking to you about the fees. Once you agree to the terms in that contract, they have - and repeatedly leverage - everything they can to fiscally destroy you and your project and there isn't a thing you can do about it.
You could contact the Ohio Attorney General or Better Business Bureau, as we have done repeatedly, but as long as Atlas Books has that contract, they own you and they can rape you in any way they want and there is nobody who will stand up for you or your rights. Make no mistake about it, once you sign that contract you're well on the way to being bankrupted by Atlas Books.
Of course, you could cancel the contract but there is a 10 month waiting period following the cancellation of the contract during which time Atlas Books will continue to fiscally violate you and your work until you're completely out of money and energy. Once you tell them you want out of the contract, Atlas Books terminates all access to your online information to leave you completely in the dark, THEN they issue returns against EVERY COPY that has been "sold" to ensure that the only thing you're going to get out of the deal is a massive expense.
After all this you will likely want them to ship you your books, but once they've accrued all these fees and charges they won't release a single copy until you've paid them everything they've billed to your account (whether legitimate or not). Even then, don't let them set the shipping prices for the return, as they'll charge you an arm and a leg to get your own property back! In our case, even getting them to tell us the number of copies of the book was so difficult at that time I didn't believe that the books actually existed.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Just because you're out of money doesn't mean they stop taking it. Early on in the relationship with Atlas Books we authorized a ONE TIME ACH transfer to pay for some charges. Since then they have taken our ONE TIME approval and have used it for THREE withdrawals, the last two without approval and the final one overdrawing our account and incuring overdraft fees. DON'T EVER GIVE ATLAS BOOKS ANY BANK ACCOUNT INFORMATION; THEY WILL TAKE FROM IT AT WILL WITHOUT YOUR APPROVAL OR NOTIFICATION.
So if you think that creating this website is a bit drastic, like I said at the beginning, I'm at my wits end. We could file a lawsuit, but Atlas Books has bankrupted this project and there's no way we could afford an attorney to fight on our behalf. If the Ohio Attorney General won't do anything, what hope is there that any other competent attorney would be any different?
Yes, I signed the contract, and it was the worst thing I've ever done against myself, my wife, and my family. While are stuck in this terrible contract for several more months, the least I can do is inform others of the awful things that Atlas Books has done to us and hopefully help others avoid the same pain, suffering, and immense financial losses.
If you have had a similar experience with Atlas Books, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can post it here. I am hoping that with enough support we can initiate a class action suit against Atlas Books.
Rocky Mountain Publishing House