I paid Balboa Press almost $500 to reject my book. I'm writing this to spare others from the expensive mistake that I made. If you Google Balboa Press, before you give it money. you'll find a boatload of bad reviews — some sound an awful lot like my cautionary tale.
If you’d like to know more, here are the lessons learned.
Lesson 1: if you are writing a memoir that exposes abusive people, or groups, Balboa won’t publish your work. It will take your money, first, though. My book combines my experience in a secret cult, interviews with other ex-cult members, and academic research about cults. It then offers education on red flags and a template for recovery.
Balboa is the self-publishing arm of Hay House Books, you know, Louise Hay, affirmations, self-help, etc. Hay House seemed like the type of publisher that would welcome and support a book that warns, educates, and empowers, so I wrote a book proposal.
Lesson 2: read websites before writing proposals: Oops, Hay House only accepts submissions from agents OR those who join the Hay House Writer’s Community, which requires signing up for a workshop. I was disappointed. The website served up a form to sign up for a “waiting list.” I filled it out, thinking “it can’t hurt.”
The next day, I got an email… a live workshop starts tomorrow for $310.48! I rolled my eyes. But then, I signed up. Hay House is a legitimate business, after all, maybe this was lucky timing, or a sign! Either way, I would learn about publishing and submit my proposal into Hay House’s annual book publishing contest.
The workshop was informative, but the main takeaway was that if I found a traditional publisher, it could take up to two years to release my book. So, self-publishing seemed like the best option and, conveniently, Hay House has Balboa.
Lesson 3: don’t fall for clever marketing: I assumed that Balboa, as an arm of Hay House, would be ethical and helpful. I slapped a $900 installment on my credit card, for the time-limited, special “Inspire Package” (at the reduced price of $3500). I read the contract. My husband read the contract. A lawyer friend read the contract. It seemed standard. I verified with Balbao I had 90 days to cancel. I signed the contract and submitted my manuscript.
Lesson 4: don’t assume every publishing company has a backbone: Balboa started the content evaluation and I was on the hook to pay for each service performed, whether I got a book at the end, or not. When the content evaluation tagged it as a legal risk, I learned that Balboa would not work with me to mitigate risk. The evaluator should have said, “this book is too risky for us.”
Instead, when I offered the following solutions:
• Fictionalizing all the names.
• Getting written permission from my interviewees.
• Fictionalizing specific locations and details enough to obscure the identities of those who aren't going to give me permission (my recruiter, cult leaders).
She responded with non-options: “You will need to write from a pen name, or you’ll need to remove all potentially libel statements/ receive notarized permission.”
Its rigidity and unwillingness made it impossible for me to continue:
1) The pen name: Secrets are a toxic social poison. Secrets empowers this group to exploit people. I posted a blog eleven years ago about this cult. I never hid my identity. I won’t start now. My recovery came from speaking the truth and then standing by my word. Additionally, a lawyer informed me that pen names do not protect writers from lawsuits.
2) Removing all “potentially libel statements”: Based on the content that Balboa considered libelous, this would wipe out the book. While I’m willing to take steps to mitigate risk, there's no point in rewriting the entire book.
3) Receive Notarized Permission: Chasing down the cult leader to get “notarized permission”, is akin to requiring a rape survivor to get permission from the rapist to expose their abuse. It’s obvious that no one would do that.
So, I told the evaluator and the coordinator that I wanted a refund. The coordinator said that the Refund department would contact me within 24-48 hours. It did not. So, I called. The refund person immediately said that I was not eligible for the refund. Having read the contract, I corrected her.
She emailed the sales rep who sold me the package, who apparently had to process the cancellation. I asked her to cc me on the email. She told me that she could not, but gave me the sale’s associate’s email address. I immediately wrote to the sales associate who did respond that she needed to “inquire into the status of the project” and “work with the refunds department.” I offered to forward her the email exchange between myself, the submission coordinator and the content evaluator to expedite the cancellation. She informed me that she’d already “reached out.”
The next day I got this email: “I did find out that you have started the process of publishing and the Content Evaluation was performed. …The cost for the Content Evaluation of $400 will be deducted from the funds as well as the nonrefundable Payment Fee of $75.00.’”
So, basically, I paid them to decline to publish my book. Though I regret giving Balboa my money and my trust, it could have been worse. I'm glad that I didn't waste more time and money.
Aspiring book-writer, beware, be careful and stay away from Balboa Press.