Heard About This Thing Called “PANDAMOON”…


Image posted under fair use copyright… thing.

…and I was like, “wtf is that?”
Well, loyal readers, I did a bit of digging to try to understand them and I’ll sum it up for you. This is a very in-depth article, so if you don’t want to read it all, I’ll summarize it here:

I have more questions after reading the whole site than I had going in, and that doesn’t fill me with confidence about an agency. We authors have to look out for each other, so if you want to submit to Pandamoon, do a lot of research, carefully weigh your options, and ask them a lot of questons before you do.

If you’d like to check out their website I recommend starting with their FAQ. The front page doesn’t have a lot of information apart from, “these are some books.”

After browsing for a long time, it was on the FAQ that I finally found out Pandamoon is a PUBLISHER. Good! Those are instrumental in the whole ‘book-industry-thing’ where we get our books and where Hollywood gets its plots for the movies they ruin.
Of course, if I had looked at the header image, I’d have seen their logo reads “Pandamoon publishing.” So I’m human and I miss things.

Now one thing which is apparent on every page of their website is that Pandamoon is different. They say that, pretty explicitly in many places. But how—aside from having a bright website and declarations of difference–are they different?

And why is it important we understand Pandamoon’s publishing process? Because sadly, there are many places in the world looking to take advantage of authors and artists like you and I. One way we can protect ourselves is to do our homework and thoroughly research any agent or entity with whom we go into business with or submit work.

To that end, I dove into the Pandamoon website to figure them out. Now gentle reader bear with me (no pun intended). At times I may seem dispassionate in my dissection of the Pandamoon website. I AM dispassionate, but I am doing my best to be unbiased and present only observable facts as of 7/19/17. I encourage you, at every turn, to form your own conclusions by reading the Pandamoon website.

I read on to find out, according to the FAQ, that:

“[Pandamoon is] different in that our management team has decades of invaluable experience in publishing and other technology and consumer industries and we bring the best practices of each to the publishing realm.”

Well, they’re certainly not the only publisher to have decades of experience in publishing, so they must be talking about the ‘other technologies etc.’ and best practices.

“Best Practices” is a phrase I saw often while perusing the site’s content, but I never saw it paired with any substantive statements about what those practices are or how they’re best.

A very important note on the FAQ addresses the question: How does Pandamoon Compensate its authors?

We cover all the upfront expenses for editing, producing, author marketing training, and creative marketing tools for our author’s books. Rather than giving our authors an advance on future sales, we invest those funds into strategic marketing tools for the book, thus creating a more profitable and long-term success for all of us. We then pay our authors a fair royalty based on gross receipts, right off the top of what we receive from our distributors.

This seems ok, but be aware of two important things: A work of fiction from a freshman author needs to be complete and as perfect as it can be in submitting to an agent or editor. If you’re a true writer, you’ll know that a single book can take years to write. This is time an author spends working UNCOMPENSATED until the book is sold. An advance can help offset the cost of devoting so much unpaid time to this work of craftsmanship.
Secondly, (and I’d love to hear input from some inside the publishing industry on this) I believe most publishers invest little to nothing in marketing or training for their books, save the ones which have already proven successful. I’ve also read of authors who independently choose to spend their advances on marketing. ALL reputable publishers I know of, however, cover costs of editing, cover design and production.

This ‘no advance’ policy is something to be studied because, if it takes off, it could set a precedent. If writers cannot expect compensation for years of unpaid work, quality and effort put into manuscripts goes down. Who can afford to work for free for years and then KEEP working for free? And b) if it catches on, more publishers could adopt this model, meaning fewer choices in earning for authors.

For a little bit of reference, an advance is money you’re paid up front which you will work for until you’ve earned it all. You get an advance without selling any books. After you’ve sold enough to have earned the advance, the royalties start. Here’s a good article about book earnings for some perspective.

As far as I am aware, ALL legitimate publishers pay what they call a fair royalty to the authors.

So the above information comes to one thing:

DO Pandamoon’s “strategic marketing tools” work to sell more books and thus earn authors more royalties? That will be hard to answer, unless Pandamoon can provide details on what those techniques are.

I dug further.

The Page Labeled, “Writing for Us” under the heading WRITER’S CORNER has a small box with the heading  “BEST PRACTICE METHODOLOGY.”  It reads:

We have a proprietary publishing process that we created to help ensure the success of our authors and their hard work. It’s multi-step best practice thinking that starts with our receipt of your manuscript and actually never ends as we apply a continuous improvement methodology to all of our projects.

This best practice approach works exceedingly well in many industries and we are the first publisher to employ this methodology in the publishing process. We believe in this process and know that following it gives both our authors and our company the highest return on our mutual investment. In a nutshell, this is what you can expect when you work with us…”

The box ends there and the next contains a 10 point list. For brevity’s sake, I’ll highlight only what is relevant to my questions about “best practice methodology,” but I strongly encourage you to read the page for yourself.

#2-

“Comprehensive MARKETING AND INDUSTRY TRAINING  is provided to author and staff members at no cost.”

– The ‘no cost’ part isn’t entirely true—this is more work you have to do for free until you start making royalties.  It costs you time, which is valuable.  It also comes instead of an advance, but an advance is money you must earn anyway.

Only you can decide if the training is worth the cost of your time but more specifics regarding their program of marketing and industry training would make that easier.

#5-

“Extensive author platform development that focuses on ways for our authors to actively seek and engage with their readers.”

–This reads to me like the authors are going to have to do a lot of their promotion footwork themselves. I own that my interpretation may be false, but I also understand MOST authors (aside from the wildly successful ones you already know about) have to do this anyway. That wouldn’t be different from other publishers, but if we could find specifics on “marketing and industry training” it might shed a little light on the value to you as a submitting author.

The rest of the list seems like standard stuff a publisher OUGHT to be doing, but I’m not an expert, so I could be wrong. Once again, read for yourself.

At this point in my research, I resolved to go over the site once again and see if I could find more substance regarding their ‘proprietary best practice methodology marketing and industry training.’

The term “best practice” is defined thus on dictionary.com:

a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption.

Well, fair enough but that doesn’t really answer my questions. I’m sure EVERY Publisher thinks their practices are the best practices—who would run a business saying, “We don’t need the BEST practices. GOOD ENOUGH is our strategy!”

Again, I sought more information.

The page “Way of the Panda” under the heading PANDAVERSE contains a box headed, “Author Training.”

All authors who become Pandas are afforded a unique experience within the publishing industry. Because of our staff’s extensive background in marketing, sales, and business development, we approach the publishing business very differently than any other publisher out there. We share this valuable knowledge with our authors in no-cost interactive online training sessions.

​As a new Panda, you will be placed into a group with your fellow Pandas that have been acquired during the same period. Each of these weekly classes are your direct peer group within Pandamoon, and you will be learning all of the above and more with them.

Our goal with this training is to provide the most confident, experienced, and trained authors possible by the time their first Pandamoon book launches. This is the solid foundation upon which their author platform is built and is only available at Pandamoon Publishing.”

A few key phrases leap forward: “you will be learning all of the above” in paragraph two is most likely referring to “marketing, sales, and business development” in paragraph one.

Paragraph three leaves us one specific thing authors will learn: Platform building.

As far as I know, no other publisher does teach platform building (or marketing, sales, etc, for that matter.) But I could find no explicit descriptions of these classes, so I’m just guessing. I would hope to see some sort of syllabi, or breakdown, or at least a bulleted list.

Would you sign up for a college class with the above description? Would you do so knowing it comes in exchange for an advance? To be fair I believe Pandamoon implies you will, in theory, earn equivalent monies through increased sales via their best practices.

But again, I could find no information describing royalties, sales numbers or anything which might help make this arrangement more clear.

There was still one avenue open to me for the information I needed. The Author training box mentions the “staff’s extensive background in marketing, sales, and business development.”

Under the PANDAVERSE heading we can find the page “Meet the Pandas” (sounds like a Meet the Parents sequel I would pay to see) where we can read the staff bios and hopefully find some credentials.

The staff are broken up by department but no department describes their staff as teaching the classes. I omit some staff, like the art director and art department as Pandamoon does not promise to teach authors to create their own illustrations. I also omit the authorial and editorial teams as, according to the description, authors are likely to be IN the classes.

 

  • Their founder, Zara Kramer lists her marketing and entrepreneurial skills as defining in her life. She briefly describes, but does not list the names of the companies she has founded.
  • The Director of Operations, Allan Kramer, lists experience in executive management and mentions ‘lean manufacturing processes.’ No company names are listed.
  • Dir. of Sales and Marketing, Don Kramer, again describes a series companies he founded (in the games industry) without naming any. His bio describes certificates in business and game development and a degree in 3D animation.
  • Editorial Coordinator Rachel Schoenbauer lists degrees in Computer Science and Theater from The U of Colorado Boulder, and experience in the software industry.
  • Acquisitions Manager Cheri Champagne lists a degree in Applied Business Technology from Kwantlen Polytechnic U as well as “years of creative writing and English courses.”
  • IP Sales Coordinator and Publicist Alisse Lee Goldenberg lists experience working with three theater companies.
  • Global publicist Christine Gabriel lists skills such as TV content creator, and bestselling author.
  • Global Publicist Elgon Williams lists degrees from Purdue University in Mass Communication and The University of Texas at Austin in Marketing.
  • Publicity/Media Sponsorship Coordinator Meg Bonney describes a specialization in contract writing and acquisitions as well as freelance entertainment writer.

 

Again, I don’t have a really good grasp of the value Pandamoon is bringing the author. Each of these positions sounds like a full-time engagement, but none mention teaching or training.

My lack of adequate answers may only mean that their website is not doing its best to get its message across. It could also indicate some problems within the organization, but all new companies have problems, and hopefully Pandamoon will address some of these concerns on future builds of their website.

I want to know more about Pandamoon so I intend to email them the following list of questions:

  1. What specific topics does the author training cover?
  2. Who teaches these classes and what are their qualifications?
  3. How long can authors expect to attend these classes?
  4. In what specific ways will these training classes benefit your authors?
  5. Are there other places authors could take similar classes and how does the value there compare with your classes?
  6. Are the classes optional for authors who feel they do not need them or haven’t time?
  7. Knowing that your best practices methodologies are proprietary, I wouldn’t ask you to share them explicitly. What concrete information can you provide authors to show them some measure of your methodology’s success?
  8. How do these measures compare with those of other firms in the publishing industry?
  9. What percentage of royalties can authors expect from sales of their books? Is there a rate structure and if so, how does it change?
  10. How many sales have some other authors made as a result of your methodologies?

 

I hope to hear back from them and post a followup on the blog.

As always, thanks for reading. And if you have something to share about Pandamoon or the publishing industry in general, please comment and join the discussion!

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