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Wed, 09 May 2018 19:51:00 +0000
Vanity Publisher Alert: Novum Publishing, United P.C. Publisher

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Novum Publishing is an Austria-based publisher that has expanded into several countries, including the UK and the USA. It also does business as United P.C. Publisher, and is incorporated in Florida as WSB Publishing Inc..

Novum describes itself as the "publisher for new authors," whose purpose is to provide newbies with "a fair chance" in a publishing market that's rigged against them. It touts its service, quality, innovation, and experience. It claims to be a European "market leader".

This is not the whole story, though the inexperienced authors who are Novum's target of choice might be hard-pressed to figure that out.

What Novum goes out of its way to obfuscate is that it is pay-to-play. Its website includes just a single phrase acknowledging this fact. Its brochure is more forthcoming--but only in aid of encouraging writers to believe that because "[n]ew authors are ignored for the most part" by large publishers, and smaller publishers are "inundated with manuscripts," newbies' only chance "is in the form of publishers with cost sharing for the author."

First of all, this isn't true. Finding a publisher is hard, but that doesn't mean you're doomed to pay. Secondly, whether it's "cost-sharing" or "partner-publishing" or some other label meant to imply that your fees are only part of the cost, it's far more likely that what you're being asked to pay has been carefully crafted to cover not just the entire expense, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.

And Novum's fees are substantial, running from just over $2,000 (for a "pocket-size" book) to more than $8,000 (for a "premium" package with a hardcover book). Novum does promise a full refund once 750 books are sold (not, of course, including copies that authors buy themselves)--but as with most vanity publishers that promise refunds, this number has likely been chosen because it's comfortably above the lifetime sales of the average Novum book.

Novum's contract, which is printed in a tiny font that's a strain to read, is terrible. It demands an exclusive grant of rights (even the much-maligned assisted self-publishing services offered by the Author Solutions imprints have non-exclusive contracts), and claims a huge swath of ancillary rights (I could find zero evidence that Novum is capable of either exploiting or licensing such rights). There's also a "cancellation fee" for early termination (always a warning sign, because publishers can and do abuse such provisions).

The summary page included with Novum's contract indicates that royalties are paid on retail price--but if you read the (very) fine print, it's clear that they're actually paid on net income.  Novum also doesn't have to pay royalties at all until 500 books have sold (as with the refund benchmark, there's probably a good reason why they picked this number).


Also, royalties are issued just once a year--and though the language isn't clear, it looks to me as if authors have to invoice Novum in order to get them.


How many authors will read this miniscule print carefully enough to understand all of this? Certainly some of the unhappy Novum authors I've heard from didn't.

Unlike Novum, United P.C. Publisher (it's not clear to me whether this is a subsidiary or a d.b.a.) claims to provide its services "free of charge." However, in 2013 this claim got United P.C. in trouble with the UK's Advertising Standards Agency (my bolding):
The ASA noted that [United P.C.'s] ad used the terms "publish" and "publishes" and stated that that service would be free of charge. We noted that the complainant reported being asked to pay for corrections, designing the front and back covers and the additional cost of publishing an e-book. We asked United Publisher to comment on that and for details of the proportion of respondents who kept to the free of charge contract and the proportion that chose to pay for additional services, but that information was not forthcoming....Because United Publisher had not supplied information that showed other respondents had not incurred similar costs, we concluded that the claims that United Publisher published books free of charge were misleading.
Online complaints that post-date the ASA's finding suggest that United P.C. hasn't changed its ways.

Novum's moneymaking efforts aren't limited to publishing books. It also publishes anthologies that charge by the page.



 And at one point, it was attempting to sell franchises, at a cost of between ˆ75,000-125,000.


Writer Beware, indeed.

Thu, 03 May 2018 15:37:00 +0000
Trademark Shenanigans: Weighing In On #Cockygate

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you're a writer, and you hang out on Twitter and Facebook, you've probably heard about #cockygate.

If you haven't....An author named Faleena Hopkins has registered two separate trademarks for the word "cocky", which is used in all the titles of her multi-book romance series. One of the trademarks is a design mark (the word "cocky" in a stylized font, as seen above); the other is a word mark (just the word "cocky"). Both refer to “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance” and “a series of books in the field of romance.”

That description is significant. Because over the past week, Hopkins has begun threatening other romance writers who use "cocky" in their titles--even where those titles are not part of a series, or the word is not used in a series title--with legal action unless they re-title and re-publish their books.


Hopkins says (according to private messages that have been shared with me) that she's "not after people's livelihoods". She also doesn't think what she's demanding is a big deal, because taking down and re-publishing a book is "very simple. So easy." Of course this is a ridiculous claim--especially where writers have multiple editions on multiple platforms, not to mention financial investments in swag, advertising, websites, and other branding efforts.

There's been plenty of coverage of this bizarre incident. Legal experts have weighed in as well. I spoke with trademark attorney Brad Frazer, who provided me with some clarifying information on a complex and confusing issue.
Note that neither of [Hopkins' trademarks] is, for example, “a trademark on the word ‘COCKY’ as used in book titles.” The registrations cover a book series, and this is made evident if one looks at the 9-page specimen of use she submitted to the Trademark Office to support the registration: http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn87604968&docId=ORC20180416120311#docIndex=9&page=1. Note that “Cocky” appears in each of the titles in a manner that connotes that the book is printed as part of the “Cocky”-brand book series. Indeed, without the fact the word is used as part of a book series, it is unlikely Hop Hop Productions [Hopkins' company] could have obtained the registrations.

This is because--and this is critical--in order for a trademark to exist and be registrable and enforceable, it must perform a “source identification function.” Here, Hop Hop was able to convince the Trademark Office that it has, since June of 2016, used the word “Cocky” to indicate the SOURCE of a series of romance books, and thus it was able to get it registered. There likely had to be a series of books for Hop Hop to convince the Trademark Office that the word “Cocky” performed this source identification function—one book with “Cocky” in the title would likely not have been enough to convince the Trademark Office, especially given that Hop Hop has ostensibly used the mark for less than two years. Just like when people see “Harlequin” on a book, they think of Harlequin Enterprises as the SOURCE of that book because “Harlequin” indicates more than just a book title. It indicates the SOURCE. See http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn72184920&docId=ORC20081030112630#docIndex=10&page=1.

Because source identification is necessary to create and register a trademark, in order for there to be trademark INFRINGEMENT, as Hop Hop has apparently alleged in certain cases, the allegedly infringing “thing” must also be performing a source identification function. Thus, not all uses of a word perform a source identification function, and if there is no such use, there likely can be no trademark infringement.

For example, imagine I titled my book, “The Apple Tree and the Pheasant.” Would a consumer realistically believe that Apple Computer was the source of that book? No. Or, imagine I titled my book, “The Harlequin Pleased the King.” Based strictly on that use of the word “harlequin,” would a consumer think that Harlequin Enterprises was the source of my book? No, and thus no trademark infringement.

This is supported by what is called in trademark law the “classic fair use defense.” It is well-settled that you may use a third party’s trademark in the ordinary, English-language sense of the word, and as long as it was not performing a confusing, source-identification function, there is likely no trademark infringement. For example, if I wrote a story about King Neptune and his trident and I titled it, “King Neptune’s Powerful Trident,” if I got sued by the owner of the “Trident” trademark (see http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn71653425&docId=ORC20110315095116#docIndex=18&page=1), I would have a very good classic fair use defense in that lawsuit since I am using the word “trident” in its normal, English-language construction (see https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trident) and NOT TO INDICATE THE SOURCE OF THE BOOK.

Thus, if you have one book and it is titled, for example, “The Gardener was a Cocky Lad,” I invite you to ask: is your use of the word “cocky” performing a source identification function such that people would be confused into thinking that Hop Hop was the source of your book? Is it being used only in a classic fair use sense to describe the gardener in your story as cocky, as defined by Webster? (See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cocky)

Now, trademark law is very fact specific, and each case must be decided on its relative merits. There may be some cases in which use of the word “Cocky” in a book title does create a likelihood that a consumer would be confused into believing that Hop Hop was the source of that book. But that is the test. Without that likelihood of consumer confusion, proving trademark infringement is very difficult. But please consider these factors if you receive an allegation of trademark infringement as to your book titles.
Most legal commentary that I've read on l'affaire Cocky seems to agree that Hopkins' trademarks wouldn't stand up to a legal challenge. But authors who receive her threats--which admittedly are scary--may not realize this, or be able to afford legal counsel (at least some authors have already re-titled their books). Also, more concerningly, Hopkins is sending takedown requests to Amazon, which appears to be complying in at least some cases. Once Amazon takes down your book in response to a challenge, getting it reinstated is a nightmare.

Romance Writers of America is gathering information to consult an IP lawyer, and is asking that RWA members who've gotten a threat letter from Hopkins contact Carol Ritter (carol.ritter@rwa.org). Also, a petition has been filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Hopkins' word mark (the design mark, with "cocky" in a stylized font, is apparently a copyright violation by Hopkins).
And two lawyers at a prestitious IP law firm have offered to work pro bono on a legal challenge.

Meanwhile, the #cockygate hashtag has been joined by #byefaleena. And Hopkins is taking refuge in that old, old claim of Writers Acting Badly: I'm being bullied!

Let there be ridicule.

UPDATE: RWA has successfully interceded with Amazon, which has agreed not to take down any more books and to reinstate any that were removed.
UPDATE 5/30/18: Hopkins is doubling down: she has filed for preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders against Jennifer Watson, Tara Crescent, and Kevin Kneupper, claiming that Watson and Crescent are infringing her trademarks (Crescent is an author who uses "cocky" in some of her titles, and Watson is a member of the Cocky Collective, a satirical group that is producing an anthology called Cocktales: The Cockiest Anthology) and that Kneupper's petition to the USPTO to cancel the "cocky" trademarks is without merit.

The temporary restraining order has been denied. A hearing on June 1 will address the preliminary injunction.

Kneupper has posted the legal documents (in which, among other things, Hopkins claims that it's easy to cause consumer confusion in the romance field because "romance novel series consumers do not exercise a high degree of care", and compares the alleged infringers to "a pack of blood-thirsty wolves") on Twitter.

UPDATE 6/3/18: Thanks to the Authors Guild and RWA, Faleena Hopkins' motion for a preliminary injunction against Tara Crescent and Jennifer Watson has been denied. The judge in the case found that "Hopkins was not likely to succeed on the merits because the word 'cocky' is a common and weak trademark, there was no evidence of actual confusion, and romance readers are sophisticated consumers—meaning that they are not likely to confuse Hopkins’ and Crescent’s books."

Kevin Kneupper has been dismissed as a defendant in the case.

Courtney Milan has posted the transcript of the hearing--it makes for interesting reading.

This doesn't mean the case is over, unfortunately. Discovery must be completed by September 7, and a status conference has been scheduled for September 14. Lawyers for the defendants plan to move to dismiss prior to those dates.

Wed, 25 Apr 2018 16:37:00 +0000
Contract Red Flag Alert: Perpetual License for Derivative Rights
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

SFWA's Contracts Committee has recently been seeing a proliferation of contracts from small magazines, and a very few established markets, that license all derivative rights in perpetuity.

This is a red flag for a number of reasons, even if these rights are licensed non-exclusively. A derivative work is defined by copyright law as "a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted." This sort of rights grab is by no means normal; magazines generally only take very limited first publication and archival rights for a limited time. Licensing the right to create derivative works can and mostly likely will interfere with the author's right to exploit their right to create or license derivative works to others.

The risks of signing such contracts can be serious. To give examples of some of the negative impact of these rights grabs.

1) Dramatic rights are compromised, limiting the author's ability to sell works for TV and film use because the author can no longer offer exclusive rights to the story, which means movie or TV producers who want exclusive dramatic rights are not likely to be interested in the work. The best case scenario is that the author may end up having to give the publisher of the magazine a cut of any income.

2) Marketing rights are compromised, in that any marketing deal could be undercut by the publisher, who would also have the ability to market those rights.

3) The ability of the author to publish sequels is compromised. The Publisher could commission sequels to the work from another writer, in competition with the author. Even if the Publisher were required pay a fee to the author for a sequel written by another writer, the existence of such competitive sequels would likely seriously hurt the author's own sequels.

4) The author would have a de facto business partner for the rest of the author's life and beyond for the life of copyright. Whether or not a clueless publisher would even realize what they've acquired or have any idea how to exploit it, the specter would hover over the author's further use of any elements in the original story. In addition, if the publisher files for bankruptcy, any rights the publisher held would likely become part of its assets sold during the bankruptcy process. The author would then end up with a completely unknown business partner.

5) Even with a perfectly drafted contract, which seems unlikely with a publisher who would propose such a contract in the first place, it could easily take years of legal action to unscramble the competing rights.

To the beginning writer, it may seem far-fetched that these rights would ever be worth anything, but a perpetual rights grab can extend far into a writer's career. It literally doesn't end until the copyright on the work expires, and for the US, that is life plus 70 years. Writers should be wary of any perpetual licensing deal, much less one that doesn't limit itself to specific derivative rights. The only rights that a writer should even consider licensing to a publisher are those rights that the publisher has a better chance of exploiting than the author, and only then when the income split is in the author's favor.

Whether these rights grabs stem from ignorance of the business or from greed, we believe they are unconscionable and indefensible. We urge writers to ask that such clauses be removed from contracts before they sign them and to avoid signing contracts with this language.

SFWA Contracts Committee
contracts@SFWA.org

Legal Disclaimer: This contract alert should not be understood to be legal advice. The issues presented by aggressive rights grabs are complex, and if you are concerned about use of your material, you should consult a competent attorney familiar with the business of publishing as well as the law of the applicable jurisdiction for legal advice.

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 17:21:00 +0000
Author Complaints Mount at Curiosity Quills Press
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I first started hearing about Curiosity Quills Press in 2016, because of its unusual early termination fees. Not that early termination fees themselves are unusual (unfortunately): I see them fairly often in contracts I'm asked to evaluate (and they are always a red flag; here's why).

What makes CQ's fees unusual is that they're part of an annual event. This is outlined on CQ's website, and also in its contract:


On the surface this may seem like a publisher being flexible and author-friendly--a get-out-of-jail-if-not-exactly-free procedure that authors can follow in a guaranteed and orderly manner. In fact, such provisions often work to the detriment of both authors and publishers--publishers because escape clauses may incentivize early departure, including by authors they'd rather keep; and authors because the costs can be enormous (not to mention unverifiable, if the publisher charges a flat fee or provides no supporting invoices). Plus, publishers can and do abuse termination fees--for instance, by terminating the contracts of writers who've pissed them off and demanding the fee even though termination wasn't the writer's decision.

I have never heard that CQ does anything like that. But, based on documentation I've seen--and also by CQ's own admission in correspondence with me--CQ's termination fees can top $700 per book, which, for authors requesting multiple terminations, may add up to several thousand dollars. Also, because CQ charges the entire production cost back to the author--even though, in most cases, some of that cost has been recovered through book sales--the fees yield not just reimbursement for unrecouped expense, but some degree of profit...especially where the fees compensate cash CQ never actually had to lay out in the first place, such as design and editing work done by CQ's owners, Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus.

I've also gotten complaints about inconsistent editing (there are some public posts about this as well). In general, though, complaints about CQ were few through most of 2016, and many authors reported being happy with the publisher.

In late 2016, however, things started to change. A trickle of reports of additional problems began to appear online: errors introduced into proofs, missed deadlines (CQ's contract includes an elaborate set of deadlines for editing, proofing, cover art, etc.), poor communications, and a lack of marketing support (reportedly a change from CQ's early days when it had an active marketing department).

By 2018, the trickle had become a flood. Authors began reporting not just the troubling issues mentioned above, but a host of others: revisions that never made it into published books, books published with uncorrected errors, typos on the covers of printed books, cover art received just days before the pub date, unanswered emails, book shipping problems, and late royalty payments, with some authors reporting that they hadn't been paid in months. A number of these authors had been with CQ for years and were reluctant to criticize it, but felt compelled to speak out because of the decline they perceived in quality, timeliness, and responsiveness.

Via email, CQ's co-owner and CTO, Eugene Teplitsky, told me that he was aware of the problems, which he attributed to "an overambitious release schedule and small, dedicated, but overloaded team". He says that CQ is working to improve things by hiring a new staff member and scaling back its new releases (based on a search at Amazon, CQ has averaged 73 releases a year for the past few years--a lot for a small press).

Eugene acknowledged the late royalty payments, but denied that they were tardy by more than a few days. When I mentioned that I've seen documented complaints of royalties that were late by months, he responded that "I can only go by what I see in our ledger," and invited authors to reach out to him for resolution. (Several authors who contacted me indicated that they had done this, and were not satisfied with the results.) To make accounting easier, Eugene plans to shift CQ from a monthly (!) royalty payment schedule to a bi-annual one (though I've been told by authors that other CQ promises to re-vamp its contract have yet to come to fruition).

I also asked why, when calculating termination fees, CQ bills authors for their books' entire production cost without factoring in money made on sales. Eugene gave me a couple of responses--most of the authors exercising the escape clause have low sales so production costs "were not even close to being recouped", the chargeback is less than what authors would pay if they commissioned the work themselves (!)--but didn't really address my question.

The potential for a secret profit isn't the only concern here. If an escape clause can make money for a publisher, the publisher may be tempted to encourage its authors to use it. For instance:


The screenshot above is from one of CQ's updates about its mysterious WishKnish project (more on that below). Authors are being told that they will be expected to shoulder a major amount of marketing for this project--and if they aren't happy about that, are being invited to leave. Which, of course, they cannot do without handing over quite a lot of money. Either way, CQ benefits: enthusiastic author-marketers or cash payouts. For authors, the advantages are less clear.

So what is WishKnish? It seems to have begun as an effort by CQ's owners to establish a non-Amazon marketplace for CQ sales, but has morphed into an e-commerce website where sellers of all kinds, including CQ authors, can establish storefronts and make "coin-agnostic" (i.e., cryptocurrency-friendly) sales and purchases (the "knish" is WishKnish's own currency token). There are also social media and crowdfunding components.

If you look through the jargon-heavy website, it's clear this is a major project for CQ's owners--and equally clear that it has nothing to do with publishing. Many of the CQ authors who contacted me fear that the problems they're experiencing are at least partly a result of WishKnish eating up CQ staff time (seven of eight CQ team members--including Eugene and his wife--are also listed as Wishknish team members). Eugene denies that this is the case. While his wife is working full-time on WishKnish, he says, "the vast majority of my time is dedicated to CQ," and CQ staff are not double-timing. They're only listed at WishKnish "because eventually we will be operating both sides of the coin jointly."

I don't know how comforting--or convincing--CQ authors will find this.

The complaints I've received and seen leave me in no doubt that there are serious problems at CQ. It's also clear that Eugene is aware of the complaints, and his responses to me indicate a willingness to address them--but he and authors aren't completely in agreement on the nature of the problems (for instance, on the late royalties issue), and I'm skeptical that WishKnish is as minimal a distraction as he claims. I'm also--as I have been since 2016--concerned about what I consider to be the exploitative nature of one of CQ's core business practices, the escape clause and early termination fees.

I hope CQ can turn things around. In the meantime, writers who are thinking of submitting to CQ need to carefully consider the issues outlined above.

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 17:06:00 +0000
Publishers Weekly Includes Two Vanity Publishers in its List of Fast-Growing Independent Presses
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Once again, Publishers Weekly's annual overview of fast-growing independent publishers features not only innovative indies, but publishers whose business model is largely built on author fees: Morgan James Publishing and Austin Macauley. Seriously, PW? Why do you  keep doing this?

----------------------------------

Billing itself as "The Entrepreneurial Publisher", Morgan James Publishing requires its authors "to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2." (Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that writers are asked for a "deposit" of up to $5,000 on contract signing; we've also had reports that additional fees may be due for editing and PR.)

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP falsely claims on its "compare" page that "Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release", and that even with self-publishing, "[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public." (It also--again falsely--suggests that "old school traditional publishers" take possession of authors' copyrights.)

Despite all of the above, MJP declares that "No Publishing Fee [is] charged, hidden or otherwise."

MJP has made PW's fast-growing indie publisher list several times in addition to this year, including 20162015, 20142013, and 2008 (when another pay-to-play publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, was also featured). Of all those articles, only the 2016 one mentions MJP's book huge purchase requirement.

--------------------------------

I've written before about Austin Macauley--and I'm not the only one: others have called AM out on its business model as well.

AM bills itself as a "hybrid" publisher*, and does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts. However, it presents itself as an "innovative independent trade publisher" and states that "we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal." This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer. But Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for, while we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers. Obviously this represents just a fraction of those who've submitted to AM; still, the proportion of non-fee to fee-based offers certainly suggests that the bulk of AM's business is fee-based.

Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from

Fri, 09 Mar 2018 17:45:00 +0000
Two Solicitation Bewares: Aimee Ann / Red Headed Book Lover Blog; Book Writing Inc.

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've gotten a number of reports of solicitation by the individuals/outfits below. Both are services you might want to avoid.

AIMEE ANN / RED HEADED BOOK LOVER BLOG

Back in December, I posted a warning about this blogger on Writer Beware's Facebook page. But she appears to be soliciting again, so I'm doing a wider warning here.

A woman calling herself Aimee Ann has been emailing authors, offering reviews on her blog, The Red Headed Book Lover Blog. Here's a sample email, with the recipient's information redacted:


If you've ever pitched book bloggers in hopes of a review, you know how much competition there is. It can be hard even to get a response. So you might find it refreshing for a book blogger to approach you. Note, however, how Aimee doesn't mention the title of the author's book, or indeed any specifics at all. That's because this isn't a personal approach from someone who is genuinely interested in the author's work, but a form letter that's being blasted out, spamlike, to large numbers of people.

Why is Aimee spreading such a wide net? Because she is running a pay-to-play scheme. Authors who respond to her solicitation discover that they must pay $75 for a review. (One author told me that when they protested, Aimee told them that she just forgot to mention it.) The existence of the fee (though not the amount) is revealed in the Terms and Conditions section of Aimee's blog--but how many authors are going to read the Terms and Conditions?

It's debatable whether paid reviews are worth the money--even when provided by professional venues like Kirkus--let alone whether it's worth paying a fee to some random amateur. And Aimee is definitely an amateur. Her rambling reviews are poorly written and mostly chronicle her personal reactions (with lots of exclamation points). Some are so generic that you wonder if Aimee actually read the book (shades of Harriet Klausner). Don't be impressed by the hundreds of comments sported by some of Aimee's reviews--she quadruples or quintuples the actual count by responding multiple times to each outside comment.

Aimee's latest enterprise is Book Editing. What qualifies her to do this, you might ask? According to Aimee, "I have experience with working with numerous publishers both in England and America, as well as this I have a degree in Classical Studies and Psychology which I like to think gives me a certain literary flair!" Note, again, the lack of specifics. Aside from how hard these claims are to believe if you've actually read Aimee's reviews, it's easy to sound impressive when you don't name any names.

Authors, don't pay for book reviews. Even if the reviewer is competent.

BOOK WRITING INC.

In February, a local chapter of Sisters in Crime received this solicitation:


SinC isn't alone; individual writers are being targeted also. (Here's what you can expect if you respond.)

Apart from the spam solicitation (reputable firms don't do this), the most obvious clue that Book Writing Inc. might not be the best investment is the mangled English that's apparent everywhere on its website--on this page, for instance:


Or this one:


Looks like these "top ghostwriters" need to invest in their own services. Another warning sign: the Terms and Conditions, which make it clear that getting a refund for late or substandard work will be an uphill battle.

But wait, there's more! A bit of digging reveals that Book Writing Inc. is just one head of a writer-fleecing hydra. Heads 2, 3, and 4: My Book in 28 Days, Ghostwriting LLC, and Ghost Writing. These sister sites--all of which are at least as English-challenged as Book Writing Inc.--look different, and promise somewhat different things, but they offer the same kinds of services, and--whoops!--their Terms and Conditions include identicaldistinctively-written content. They've also made a few goofs in the proofing process. From My Book in 28 Days:


And from Ghostwriting LLC:


Although there's some similarity here to the predatory Philippines-based Author Solutions spinoffs I wrote about in January, I don't think that Book Writing Inc and its brethren are Author Solutions copycats.

Domain registration information leads to a number of other websites that are not writing- and publishing-related, but hawk unrelated services: logo design, website building, tax and accounting, video animation, and Wikipedia page creation. Altogether, there are at least 30 websites in this complex, linked not just by domain registration info, but by the English-language errors that are present on almost all of them, and by shared content and design. Whoever is running this scheme is casting a wide net, and not just for writers.

ALWAYS be wary of out-of-the-blue solicitations.

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 18:23:00 +0000
Scam Down Under: Love of Books Brisbane / Julie "Jules" McGregor

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

It's a familiar story.

Entrepreneur sets up publishing company. Publishing company charges fees, but it's not a vanity publisher--certainly not! Authors are just investing in their own success.

But...oh dear. Authors receive proofs riddled with errors and finished books so badly produced they are unsalable. Some receive no books at all. Refunds, if promised, never show up; court judgments, if levied, are never paid. The entrepreneur gets aggressive with authors who complain, or simply doesn't respond to emails and phone calls. Finally the business collapses and disappears, or the owner sells it or transfers it to a third party who refuses responsibility for previous mistakes. Authors are left high and dry.

How often have I written about this?

Well, here's another example: Julie McGregor's Australia-based publishing services company, Love of Books Brisbane, a.k.a. Books Publishing Services Australia. According to this article in the The Sydney Morning Herald, McGregor has reportedly defrauded multiple clients to the tune of four and even five figures. From the article:
Disaffected clients claim they handed over sums ranging from $2000 to $12,000 since 2013 and as recently as late 2016 to entities including Love of Books Brisbane and Books Publishing Services Australia. The projects have ranged from historical research and commercial fiction to travel guides.

Another complainant is a Queensland debut novelist who unsuccessfully claimed a partial refund when the deadline for her fantasy fiction "was exceeded, my manuscript edited with no permission or tracking to show where the edits took place, no finished product and then I had to pay someone else to edit it again from scratch".

The writer says she is still owed $4000 and has not heard a word from McGregor since she was promised the refund in August 2016. At that time, she was not advised that McGregor was a bankrupt.
And that's not all.
McGregor...dealt exclusively with a Melbourne high school whose parents spent $10,000 to produce a cookbook as a Christmas fundraiser in 2016.

The school, which does not want to be named, paid a $4000 deposit raised from local sponsors plus a further $6000 to McGregor's business, Love of Books Brisbane, to print 1000 copies of recipe favourites.

To date the fundraisers say they have not received a single copy of the book, which was to have been delivered four weeks after the supply of artwork and content in September 2016.
Several of McGregor's authors have won judgments from the Queensland Civil Claims Tribunal, although only one author appears to have been paid (and only partially).

Publishing isn't McGregor's only fraud. In November 2017, she was convicted of an elaborate scheme to extract money from local businesses.
[A] Southport magistrates court convicted [McGregor] of three counts of dishonestly gaining thousands of dollars from three restaurants using fraudulent credit cards. She was handed a nine-month suspended sentence for what the prosecution said was a "calculated, fraudulent activity, not once but three times".

Acting magistrate Gary Finger described McGregor as "certainly naive to say the least" for her role in the complex fraud, in which she booked restaurant functions on fraudulent credit cards and then persuaded the restaurant owners to pay for non-existent florists and limousine services. A sobbing McGregor was told she would face jail time if she came before the courts again.
In 2016, McGregor transferred the Love of Books website and client list to Ian Lewis, who is currently operating the business under his own business number and a slightly different name: Love of Books Australia-Wide. According to McGregor, this change was spurred not by thousands of dollars owed to multiple authors, but by "high continuous bullying in many forms...lasting over 3 years by a sacked employee and his associates, along with the take over of the businesses clients and personal details by a greedy commercial operator in conjunction." (You can read a much longer and even more self-serving version of this screed here.) According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Lewis has disclaimed responsibility for reimbursing McGregor's clients.

Although Writer Beware never received complaints or reports about McGregor's company, I did have my own encounter with her. In 2015, she sent me an email with the angry (and mis-spelled) subject line: URGETN ATTENTION REQUESTED.


I always give attention when asked, especially when it is URGETN.


McGregor responded:


Well, that wasn't super-helpful, but I did what she suggested, and typed her name and URL into Google to see what I could see. Turns out that she was indeed mentioned on my blog...but not because anyone had defamed her. I thought it would be good to let her know what I'd discovered.


I wasn't surprised when I didn't get a reply.

Here's McGregor's comment that produced the websearch result:


UPDATE 3/11/18: Wow, that was fast. I got home last night from an event to find two emails threatening me with legal action: one from McGregor, and the other from Ian Lewis--purportedly, at least. Verbal clues suggest that both emails were written by the same person responsible for the posts on this blog devoted to extending McGregor's claims that she, in fact, is the victim.

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 17:38:00 +0000
How the Internet Archive Infringed My Copyrights and Then (Kind Of) Blew Me Off

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last month, I wrote about the Internet Archive's Open Library project, which has been scanning donated print books, creating PDFs and EPUBs from the scans, and placing the scans and the digitized versions online for public borrowing--all without seeking permission from authors.

Although the IA describes these books as being "mostly from the 20th century" and "largely not available either physically or digitally", numerous books in the Open Library collection are recently published, in-copyright, and commercially available. SFWA is among several writers' groups that considers the Open Library project to be not library lending, but direct infringement of authors' copyrights.

On hearing about Open Library, I of course checked it out to see if any of my books were included. I found four, each in multiple formats: a scan of the print book, a PDF (the photographic scan rendered page by page), an EPUB (an OCR conversion full of errors--weird characters, garbled words, headers included in the text, and the like), and a DAISY (an encrypted format for the visually impaired that requires a special key to de-crypt). All of these books are currently "in print" and available for sale.

Here's how my books appeared on Open Library, with the blue "Borrow" buttons indicating their availability for borrowing.


Passion Blue has a yellow "Join Waitlist" button because I borrowed and downloaded it to Adobe Digital Editions, to see what the digitizations looked like and also to check whether the borrows expired after 14 days, as promised. (They did.)


One of the questions that has concerned SFWA and other writers' groups is how the IA responds to DMCA notices. So on January 1, I sent one for Passion Blue.



No response. On January 9, I sent another.


Still nothing. On January 25, I sent a third DMCA notice.


Crickets.

Well, this was annoying, especially since, in a January 24 post to the Internet Archive blog, IA founder Brewster Kahle promised "prompt action" on DMCA requests. But hey, maybe the IA folks were just swamped with takedown notices and were working through a big backlog. I resolved to be patient.

Then, on January 27, author Virginia Anderson alerted me to her blog post about her experience with Open Library and the IA. Like me, she'd found one of her books available, had sent DMCA notices, and had heard nothing back. Frustrated, she posted a comment on the IA blog, indicating that she'd be seeking legal advice if she didn't get a reply (the IA blog is moderated, and Ms. Anderson's comment never appeared publicly). Within 36 hours, the IA responded in email, and the digitized versions of her book were taken down.

Well, I thought, I can do that. So on January 28, I hopped on over to the IA blog and posted this comment:


I made a screenshot because I was pretty sure it wouldn't be let through, and I was right. However, within 24 hours I got an email identical to the one Virginia Anderson received, ostensibly in response to my third DMCA notice.


On checking Open Library, I found not just that Passion Blue was gone, but the other three books had been taken down as well. (The encrypted DAISY versions are still available, but I have no quarrel with that; many publishing contracts allow publishers to grant rights to non-profit organizations that serve the visually impaired, without compensation to the author).

So why do I feel like I've been blown off? After all, I got what I wanted: withdrawal from public lending of unauthorized scans and digitizations of my books. Shouldn't that be enough?

Well, no. Look, I get that people have different views of copyright. My interest in retaining tight control of my intellectual property conflicts with others' vision of universal libraries and unfettered access to information. I'm fine with that. There are laws that enable me to take action if I feel my rights have been infringed, and I have no problem using them.

What pisses me off is how unprofessionally the IA handled this (and Virginia Anderson's experience makes it clear that I'm not alone). Over the space of nearly a month, I sent three DMCA notices, none of which got a response; but when I left a snippy blog comment, the IA got back to me within 24 hours. Clearly the IA is not too busy to take quick action when it wants to. It also irks me that, when the IA did respond, it didn't acknowledge my DMCA notices (other than the subject line), or any obligation to act on them. Instead, it provided a paragraph of exposition about DAISY, informed me that there's "no other access available" to Passion Blue as if that had been the case all along, and finished with a plug for its philanthropic mission. Basically, "no issue here, move right along"--while tacitly acknowledging that there is an issue by hastily removing public access not just to Passion Blue but to the three books I didn't ask them to take down.

Really, it's almost childish. The IA does important work that's worth supporting. It may not agree with me and others that Open Library is an overreach--but in my opinion, the way it has dealt with me and with Virginia Anderson is not worthy of its mission.

Has anyone had a similar experience? Or gotten a more prompt and professional response? I'd be interested to know.

******************

One question that often comes up when discussing this kind of infringement: Brick-and-mortar libraries lend out books for free. How is Open Library different? A few reasons.

- Brick-and-mortar libraries buy the books they lend, a separate purchase for each format (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.). The author gets a royalty on these purchases. The IA seeks donations, and lends those. Authors get nothing.

- Brick-and-mortar libraries lend only the books they purchase. They don't use those books to create new, un-permissioned lending formats. That's exactly what the IA does; moreover, one of its additional lending formats is riddled with OCR errors that make it a chore to read. Apart from permission issues, this is not how I want my books to be represented to the public.

- People who advocate for looser copyright laws often paint copyright defenders as greedy or mercenary, as if defending copyright were only about money. It's worth remembering another important principle of copyright: control. Copyright gives authors not just the right to profit from their intellectual property, but to control its use. That, as much as or even more than money, is the principle the IA is violating with its Open Library project.

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 18:58:00 +0000
The New Face of Vanity Anthologies: Z Publishing House and Appelley Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Like everything else, the schemes and scams that prey on writers have changed over time. Literary agent scams, for example--including fee-charging and kickback referral schemes--used to be the number one danger for authors, but these have become much less common in recent years, thanks to the growth of small presses and self-publishing options.

Another scheme that's largely fallen out of favor is the vanity anthology. It worked like this: writers were recruited via a free contest to submit a poem, essay, or story, with winners promised prizes and finalists and semi-finalists eligible for publication in an anthology of supposedly carefully chosen entries. Publication was presented as a prestigious literary credit, a worthy addition to a writing resume.

It was all B.S., of course. There was no careful choosing; everyone who entered received a publication offer, with no fee or purchase requirement but heavy pressure to buy the anthology and persuade friends and family to do so. A closed loop, in other words: contributors doubling as customers, and the anthologies never seeing the inside of a bookstore or library or even a listing with an online retailer.

Years ago, there were dozens of these anthology schemes. Most are gone now, including the granddaddy of them all, the International Library of Poetry, a.k.a. Poetry.com. But some remain, such as Eber & Wein--which, maybe to get ahead of all the negative reviews at PissedConsumer, not to mention an F rating at the BBB, is now calling itself Poetry Nation (for anyone who remembers the old Poetry.com, this website will look very familiar).

And just recently, I discovered two new ventures that add twists of their own.

APPELLEY PUBLISHING



Appelley Publishing, which started up just last year, offers a free-to-enter Student Poetry Contest (or a National Student Poetry Contest, depending on whether you're looking at its home page or one of its cheesy print-your-own certificates) for students in grades 3 through 12, with "over $4,000 in prizes" plus publication in an anthology of student work. The school with the "highest participation" wins a new computer.

According to the Appelley website, contest winners will be posted on April 6. But there are already multiple announcements of students who've been chosen for publication in the anthology. This is so that parents have plenty of time to come up with money, because, as Appelley's publication authorization form makes clear, ordering at least one copy of the anthology ($34.99 plus $5 shipping and handling, an amazing discount from the supposed "publisher's list" of $69.99) is strongly recommended. And what parent whose child has been honored by inclusion in a national anthology of student poetry wouldn't want to buy?

So far, it's a fairly standard vanity anthology scheme. But here's the twist: teachers can earn cash prizes too!
Participating teachers who submit their students [sic] work are eligible for one of three “Teacher’s Bonus” awards worth $500.00 apiece! Ballots are earned by the number of submissions made, so the chances of winning keeps [sic] going up!
Each "ballot" represents 10 student entries, and teachers can submit up to 19 ballots. How to get lots of kids to enter your vanity anthology contest? Give adults an incentive to steer students your way.

Parents and teachers probably assume that Appelley has some kind of vetting process in place, and that being selected for publication is an indication of merit. But to make money, Appelley needs customers, and since its customers are the young poets and their parents, it needs as many poems as it can get. Which is not a great recipe for selectivity.

Usually people don't discover this until they actually get the anthologies, which typically are cheaply produced books crammed with poor-quality poems in tiny print. This time, though, the internet got an advance peek when a student took to Twitter to describe how she dashed off a joke ditty in praise of Popeyes Chicken as part of a class project to enter Appelley's contest (you can see those teacher-focused incentives working here). Next thing the student knew, she'd been selected for publication. "As much as we would like to," Appelley wrote, "we simply can’t publish every student who writes to us, but in your case, we have decided that we would like to include your poem, ‘Popeyes’ in the Appelley Publishing 2017 Rising Stars Collection."

Boom. Quality.

Z PUBLISHING

Z Publishing (a.k.a. Z Publishing House) publishes a whole range of anthologies, with titles like California's Best Emerging Poets and Wisconsin's Best Emerging Poets and All At Once I Saw My Colors.

The company has submission calls on its website, but its primary mode of recruitment appears to be a heavy program of email solicitation, with writers' names harvested from such sources as school and college literary magazines and personal blogs. There are no submission or publishing fees, and also no payment for contributors, as Z's submission form makes clear. Z has pumped out 33 anthologies in the past year or so, with another six in the pipeline.

This is fairly standard vanity anthology fare: wide recruitment, no-fee submission, and books that probably will only be bought by the authors' friends and family and the authors themselves (and they do have to buy if they want print copies; contributors only get a PDF). Z maximizes whatever profit can be wrung from this business model by using CreateSpace to publish the books for free.

But here's the twist: an affiliate program that transforms authors not just into customers, but salespeople. From Z's publishing agreement:
12. Payment. Artist acknowledges that Company does not itself provide royalty payment. However, if accepted to one or more book, Artist will have the option to join Company's affiliate program, which is administered and run completely through the third-party site Refersion.
According to the Affiliate Program FAQ, affiliates earn "approximately 25% of each sale you make (this includes 25% of the shipping fee as well)." Z suggests posting affiliate links on social media, websites, etc. (you can see a bunch of these pitches on Z's Facebook Community page), but it wants prospective affiliates to know that the best method is spam:


Other initiatives also appear to be fodder for affiliate marketing, such as this Lifetime Membership offer for readers.

Z Publishing's domain is registered to a Zach Zimmerman in Wisconsin, but like the Author Solutions clones I highlighted in my previous post, its work appears to be largely outsourced overseas, with multiple "Author Research" and "Author Communications" staffers based in the Philippines.

Z has some grandiose plans--expanded hiring! A new headquarters! Exponential growth!--but my bet is that a year from now, a lot of the links in this post will have stopped working. As much as vanity anthologizing may seem like a lucrative scheme, with its built-in customer base and all the marketing on the front end, leveraging vanity into sales is not as easy as it appears--as scores of defunct vanity anthologizers and vanity publishers now know.

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:29:00 +0000
Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I don't think there's much dispute that the many "imprints" under the Author Solutions umbrella are among the most negatively regarded of all the author services companies.

From the predatory business practices that gave rise to two class action lawsuits, to the huge number of customer complaints, to the relentless sales calls and deceptive recruitment methods, to the dubious and overpriced "marketing" services that are one of the company's main profit sources, AS's poor reputation is widely known. Along with other factors, such as the competition from free and low-cost self-publishing platforms, this has pushed AS in recent years into steady decline.

Unfortunately, whatever gap AS's contraction has created has been filled by a slew of imitators. Why not, when hoodwinking authors is as easy as setting up a website and opening an account with Ingram? In some cases, the imitators have first-hand experience: they've been founded and/or staffed by former employees of AS's call centers in the Philippines.

Like AS, the clones rely on misleading hype, hard-sell sales tactics, and a lucrative catalog of junk marketing services. Even if authors actually receive the services they've paid for (and judging by the complaints I've gotten, there's no guarantee of that), they are getting stiffed. These are not businesses operating in good faith, but greedy opportunists seeking to profit from writers' inexperience, ignorance, and hunger for recognition. They are exploitative, dishonest, and predatory.

CLONESIGN: HOW TO SUSS THEM OUT 

On the surface, the clones don't look that different from other, not necessarily disreputable author services companies offering publishing packages and marketing add-ons. However, they share a distinctive cluster of characteristics that can help you identify them.

1. Solicitation. Like the Author Solutions imprints, the clones are big on out-of-the-blue phone calls and emails hawking their services. Often they'll claim your book has been recommended to them, or discovered by one of their book scouts. The phone solicitors frequently have foreign accents (many are based in the Philippines). The email solicitors use a recurring set of job titles: book scout, literary agent, Senior Marketing & Publishing Consultant (or Senior Publishing & Marketing Consultant), Executive Marketing Consultant.

2. Offers to re-publish authors' books. A big focus for the clones is poaching authors who are already published or self-published (often with Author Solutions imprints). They claim they can do a better job, or provide greater credibility, or even get authors in front of traditional publishers.

3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that don't check out. A clone may say it's been in business since 2006 or 2008, even though its domain name was registered only last year. It may claim to be staffed by publishing and marketing experts with years or even decades of "combined experience", but provide no names or bios to enable you to verify this. A hallmark of the clones' "About Us" pages is a serious lack of "about."

4. Poor or tortured English. The clones have US addresses, and purport to be US-based companies. Many have US business registrations. Yet their emails and websites frequently contain numerous (and sometimes laughable) grammar and syntax errors (see below for examples). Their phone solicitors appear to be calling from US numbers, but commonly have foreign accents, and may get authors' names or book titles wrong.

5. Junk marketing.  Press releases. Paid book review packages. Book fair exhibits. Ingram catalog listings. Hollywood book-to-screen packages. These and more are junk marketing--PR services of dubious value and effectiveness that are cheap to provide but can be sold at a huge profit. It's an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of the enormous markup, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times.

This is a page right out of the Author Solutions playbook. AS basically invented junk book marketing, and most of the marketing services offered by the clones were pioneered by AS. If you follow the links below, you'll see the same ones over and over, and if you hop on over to an AS imprint marketing section, you'll see them there, too.

Authors are often serially targeted by the clones. For instance, I heard from an iUniverse-published author who bought an expensive re-publication package from Book-Art Press Solutions, and shortly afterward was solicited for marketing services by Stratton Press (fortunately she contacted me before she wrote a check). Another author bought a publishing package from BookVenture, plus extra marketing from Window Press Club--both as a result of solicitation phone calls.

CLONE CLUB

Below are the clones I've identified to date (several of which I found in the process of researching this post--I actually had to stop following links or I'd never have gotten this written). The list includes a few that, based on their websites and other public information, I suspect are clones but haven't yet been able to document with complaints or solicitation materials.

One thing you'll notice if you follow the links is how similar the clones' websites are. It's not just the characteristics mentioned above: the same terminology, menus, and products appear over and over again, as do distinctive English-language errors (many of the clones urge authors to "avail" of services, for instance). Also, of  the 13 companies I looked at, ten are less than two years old, and seven started up in the past year. It really made me wonder, especially after I discovered that two apparently separate clones are in fact the same outfit, and two others appear to be connected.

I have no doubt there are many more clones out there. If you've encountered any I haven't listed below--or if you've had an experience with the ones featured in this post--please post a comment.

LitFire Publishing is the first Author Solutions clone I ever encountered, and the one that alerted me to the phenomenon. My 2014 blog post takes a detailed look at its false or unverifiable claims, its illiterate solicitation emails, its plagiarism (it's still doing that), and its Philippine/Author Solutions origins (its phone solicitors sometimes claim AS imprints are "sister companies"). See the comments for many reports of solicitation phone calls.

LitFire is a good deal more sophisticated now than it was in 2014, with a flashy website from which the English-language errors that marred it in the beginning have largely (though not entirely; its blog posts could use some help) been culled. But it's still a solicitation monster, and its Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services are still a major ripoff. Take a look at its insanely marked-up Kirkus Indie review package (you can buy reviews directly from Kirkus for less than half the price).

LitFire claims it's headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and it is actually registered with the Georgia Corporations Division. Possibly to get ahead of negative discussion, it has admitted--partially--its Philippine connections. It's also aware of my warnings about it, and has responded with some fairly incompetent trolling.

*****

Legaia Books is also a solicitation monster. It heavily targeted authors of Tate Publishing right after that disgraced vanity publisher collapsed.

Legaia offers publishing packages, but its main schtick is Paperclips Magazine, an online rag that consists primarily of ads, reviews, and interviews sold to authors at gobsmackingly enormous prices, interspersed with plagiarized general interest articles and illiterate feature pieces written by Legaia's English-challenged staff. Legaia's website is full of howlingly funny (or cringingly awful, depending on your perspective) English-language mistakes. Keeping to its penchant for plagiarism, and incidentally acknowledging its roots, it has copied much of its FAQ from Author Solutions.

My blog post on Legaia goes into much more detail.

Like other members of clone club, Legaia claims to be headquartered in the USA, with a street address in Raleigh, North Carolina. But there's no trace of any North Carolina business registration. When the Better Business Bureau attempted to contact it by paper mail, the mail was returned by the post office.

*****

Stratton Press claims to offer "an experience that is one of a kind for both novice and veteran authors". Oddly, it doesn't display its publishing packages on its website; you have to go to its Facebook page to see them. Named after famous writers, they start at $1,800 and go all the way up to $10,500.

The website is replete with vague claims ("our team's eight-year experience in the publishing industry), shaky English ("Since every book is unique and every story is special, it is just but right to have a team of experts behind your back."), and plagiarism (here's "How to Write a Novel" by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest. Here's "How to Write a Novel" by "Chuck Subchino" of Stratton).

Stratton is the one of the only clones I found that doesn't actively try to conceal its Philippine/Author Solutions roots. A Cebu City address also appears on its Contact page; and per his LinkedIn page, Stratton's co-owner, Aaron Dancel, worked for three years as a Sales Supervisor for Author Solutions' Cebu call center.

Stratton claims to be located in Wyoming, where it does have a business registration. However, despite its A- rating at the BBB, there's also this:


*****

ReadersMagnet describes itself as "a team of self-publishing and digital marketing experts with more than 10 years of combined experience". Its motto: "Your Success is Our Delight!" So is your money.

You can pay as much as $29,999 for a Premium Color Adult Book publishing package. On the junk marketing side, you can shell out $6,299 for an Online Brand Publicity campaign, or $2,799 for a Premium Dynamic Website, or $4,999 for a 90-second Cinematic Deluxe video book trailer.

In true clone style, ReadersMagnet is a tireless and prolific phone solicitor (hence the many complaints that can be found about it online). I've heard from many authors who have been repeatedly called and/or emailed by this outfit; one author told me that she got so annoyed that she blocked the caller's New York number, only to be contacted a couple of days later by another ReadersMagnet solicitor, this time with a California number.

Writers have also told me that callers have foreign accents and Spanish surnames. A search on LinkedIn turns up two Philippines-based ReadersMagnet staffers. Oh, and ReadersMagnet apparently had a lovely Christmas party last year...in Cebu.

ReadersMagnet's current website reads okay, with occasional lapses. But its original website, which came online in mid-2016, was full of howlers. Compare this early version of its About Us page (courtesy of the Internet Archive) with the current iteration, which isn't high literature but at least is more or less grammatical.

The company hasn't worked as hard to clean up its correspondence. Here's a snippet from a recent solicitation email--it's really kind of a masterpiece.



ReadersMagnet originally claimed a New York address. Now it says it's located in California. As far as I can tell, it has no business registration in either state.

*****

Toplink Publishing bills itself as "the global leader in accessible and strategic publishing and marketing solutions". It boasts every one of the warning signs identified above: SolicitationRe-publishing offersUnverifiable claims about staff and experienceTortured English. Lots and lots of marketing.

Toplink's publishing packages are categorized a la Author Solutions (black and white, full color, children's book, etc.), and neither they nor the marketing packages provide any prices; you have to call to find out. Hard-sell sales tactics work better on the phone.

Also, no prices on an author services company's website is nearly always a giant clue that they're super-expensive. Here's the marketing proposal one author received--note how Toplink wants the author to believe that the ridiculous amount of money he's being asked to pay for his "compensation share" is more than matched by Toplink's "investment" (a classic vanity publisher ploy).



Toplink claims addresses in North Carolina and Nevada, but there are no business registrations for it in either state. A number of complaints about it can be found online, including at its Facebook page. It also has an F rating from the BBB, based on its failure to respond to consumer complaints.

*****

Book-Art Press Solutions (not to be confused with the graphic design company of the same name, or with Book Arts Press) and Window Press Club present as different companies, but in fact they're two faces of the same ripoff.

My recent blog post about this two-headed beast goes into more detail, including the identical website content that gives them away.

Book-Art Press employs an exceptionally deceptive approach to authors, portraying itself not as a self-publishing provider but as a group of "literary agents" who want to re-publish authors' books in order to give them the "credibility" needed to "endorse" them to traditional publishers. The cost? Only $3,500! Authors are encouraged to believe is all they'll have to pay. In fact, as with all the clones, the initial fee is just a way to open the door to more selling.

BAP/WPC is a pretty recent venture, with domain names registered just last year. BAP claims it's in New York City, although its business registration is in Delaware. WPC doesn't provide a mailing address, but its domain is registered to Paul Jorge Ponce in Cebu, Philippines.

Here's one of BAP's solicitation emails, reproduced in its entirety. It really tells you everything you need to know.


*****

Westwood Books Publishing, which claims a Los Angeles location, registered its domain name in March 2018.

If you're wondering how I could predict an event in March while writing this post in January, that's because I've updated this section to reflect the fact Westwood Books Publishing is a brand-new name; the company, which started up last August, was originally called Greenberry Publishing. (Hmm. Could they have seen this post? Or maybe they just wanted to ditch their F BBB rating.)

To confuse matters further, Westwood/Greenberry also appears to have recently started doing business as Authors Press. (A few examples of the links between these three entities: a book listed as both Greenberry and Westwood; a book listed with all three companies; also, as of this writing, nearly every book listed at Authors Press shows on Amazon as published by Greenberry.)


Greenberry/Westwood/Authors Press's M.O. is clone-standard. Out-of-the-blue solicitations (also see the comments, below). No names, vague claims (and check out Westwood's hilarious, unlinked About Us page). Shaky English ("ideal for manuscripts that needs more work on sentences structure and grammar"). Re-publishing offers (see the Greenberry solicitation below, which I'm reproducing because I think it's so funny; what genius, looking for an enticing photo of a published book, thought it was a good idea to pick one in Cyrillic?). Budget-busting junk marketing.


Greenberry's business registration shows a Pittsburg CA address, and lists its owners as Maribelle Birao and Aaron Gochuico; Birao and Gochuico now appear to reside in California but are originally from Cebu. Westwood's business registration, filed in April 2018, claims a Los Angeles address and does not list owners' names. Authors Press doesn't appear to have filed a registration yet, but according to its website is located in--surprise!--Pittsburg CA.

*****

BookVenture started up around the same time as LitFire, in 2014. It's got all the identifying characteristics of a clone: phone solicitations, no meaningful information about the company or its staff, a range of Author Solutions-style publishing packages with goofy names, a dizzying array of marketing, publicity, and add-on services.

Equally predictably, these are seriously overpriced: $2,399 for a Kirkus Indie review, which would cost a mere $575 if you bought it from Kirkus; $199 for US copyright registration ($35 if you DIY); $4,199 for a half-page magazine ad that actually costs $1,400. See also this angry blog post from Self-Publishing Review, which discovered in 2016 that BookVenture was offering its review services without permission and at steeply inflated prices.

BV's website doesn't display the same level of English-language lapses that are a giveaway for other clones--but someone should have done a better job of vetting its Publishing Guide.


Or this editorial services pitch:

Like other clones, BV claims a US location--Michigan, to be precise--but a search on LinkedIn turns up a lot of Philippines-based staff (who in some cases are Author Solutions alumni/ae). Although BV doesn't acknowledge its parentage, I've gathered enough breadcrumbs to be certain that it is owned by eFox Solutions Inc. (formerly Yen Chen Support Corporation), which is registered in Wisconsin (where it's listed as "delinquent), but is actually based in Mandaue City, Philippines.

eFox also owns notorious book marketing spammer BookWhirl, which in terms of hard-sell solicitation tactics and overpriced junk marketing services has been giving Author Solutions a run for its money since at least 2008.

BV has racked up quite a number of complaints about quality, timeliness, and customer service. The one complaint I've received about this company is very similar. I've also received reports of telephone solicitations (BookWhirl is infamous for phone soliciting).

Check out BV's referral program--you can earn $150! Also its Author Solutions-style shill sites, which pretend to be independent but are actually author recruiting tools.

*****

Okir Publishing says it started out as "a marketing services provider" in 2006, and transitioned to book publishing later--but according to its Wyoming incorporation data, its initial filing was just last September, and its domain was registered in October 2017 (to add to the confusion, its Terms of Service are governed by California laws).

Okir has overhauled its website since I started researching this post, and has scrubbed it of most of the English-language lapses, but clonesign still abounds: phone solicitation by "literary scouts" with re-publishing offers, an About Us page with, basically, no "about", a large number of junk marketing services (check out the eye-poppingly costly BookExpo programs). As with so many clones, there are verifiable Philippine connections. There's also this, from the BBB:


"Are your [sic] ready to publish your book?" asks ADbook Press. "Grab this once in a lifetime oppurtunity [sic] and get yourself started by availing of the package and service that is a bang for your buck." Registered in Nevada but claiming to be based in California, ADbook sports all the clone signs and signals. Its publishing packages carry no prices (and you know what that means). It offers a full complement of junk marketing, including the Author Solutions favorite, the Hollywood Book to Screen package. In fact, ADbook's Hollywood package is an exact duplicate of Author Solutions'.

And look here. ADbook Press and Okir Publishing appear to be good buddies. Check out the logos behind whoever that is. I strongly suspect that many other clones are similarly interrelated.


*****

In the course of researching this article, I ran across several companies about which I haven't received any complaints or other documentation, but whose websites and other publicly available material strongly suggest they are clones.

Zeta Publishing is incorporated in Florida. English-language errors are apparent throughout its website, and the About Us page includes the usual non-information. There's a full raft of Author Solutions-style marketing and add-on services, all insanely marked up. You can get your copyright registered for $189 (or do it yourself online for $35). You can pay $4,150 for a half-page ad in Bookmarks Magazine (or you can contact Bookmarks yourself and buy the ad for $1,400). You can also buy a 10-minute radio interview with internet radio personality Stu Taylor, who just happens to be Author Solutions' favorite radio talk show host.

Clonesign is there as well at Everlastale Publishing: no concrete info about the company or staff, whimsically-named Author Solutions-style publishing packages, the familiar range of overpriced junk marketing services. Everlastale's President, Don Harold, is an alumnus of BookVenture/BookWhirl, and Everlastale's publishing agreement has been substantially copied from BookVenture's.

It's a revealing demonstration of how these predatory companies seed imitators.

UPDATE 1/26/18: As noted above, LitFire Publishing is miffed at what I've written about it, and has been persistently (if infrequently and not very competently) trolling me. Here's its latest English-challenged salvo, posted today in the comments section of my original article about it. Bad blogs, bad blogs, whatcha gonna do...



Thu, 11 Jan 2018 17:00:00 +0000
Solicitation Alert: Book-Art Press Solutions and Window Press Club
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I'm getting a lot of questions from authors who've been solicited by an Author Solutions-style author services company called Book-Art Press Solutions.

Book-Art Press's website dangles the carrot of free publishing ("Why spend thousands when you can publish your book for free?"), but this is less a yummy vegetable than a poison pill. BAP's publishing packages are really just a way to steer writers toward a smorgasbord of junk marketing services (book trailers, paid review packages, press releases), questionable editing services ("A thorough editing...is applied for the material to be professional written, yet retaining the author’s voice"), and add-on services of dubious value (illustrations, data entry, and more).

BAP's website is full of questionable grammar and syntax ("What the authors feel and assured of is the press club’s transparent journey and reliable sources of publishing channels in every step of the way"), which should be a major red flag all on its own. Also, there are no prices anywhere on the site; you have to call to get that info. This is nearly always a big clue that the fees are huge; plus, forcing people to get on the phone is a classic hard-sell sales tactic. It's a lot easier to hook victims if you can talk to them directly.

BAP's solicitations are even more egregiously dishonest than is typical for this type of service. Its "Executive Consultants" present it as a "literary agency" that has stumbled on the author's absolutely brilliant book and wants to "endorse" the author to traditional publishers. There's already substantial interest, but first, the author must re-publish in order to gain "credibility". From one of BAP's emails (read the whole thing here):
We are not a self-publishing company. We work as a literary agency that will endorse your book to be acquired by a traditional publishing company. We have inside contacts with major publishers and we know which of them are most likely to buy a particular material. So you won’t need to hire literary agents to promote your book to major publishers as we’ll do the endorsement for you.

We have done a preliminary endorsement to 50 traditional publishers and 6 out of the 50 have shown high interest in your book. However, they’re quite hesitant since your book is self-published and it has not been doing well when it comes to sales.

We have made a strategic plan for your book. Before we can endorse your book to traditional publishers, we will need to build your book’s credibility and your brand as an author. Because, as of now, you are still an unknown author. We can’t afford any flaws once we endorse your book.
To take advantage of this amazing deal, all authors have to do is agree to pay for "at least 500 copies of your book (priced at $6 per book -- $3,000 total) to be distributed to physical bookstores across the globe for circulation".

Here's the closer. BAP may be English-challenged, but it has an excellent grasp of author psychology:
With a self-publishing company, your book’s success depends on how much money you are capable of investing; which almost all self-published authors are unaware of how this delays the success of your book. Delaying your success is more practical for their business. Because, the longer your success is delayed, the more services they can sell to you. Your pocket will be exhausted until it becomes empty because that’s how they earn as a business and how sales agents get commission from-- the more services they are able to sell, the bigger commission they get. And eventually you get exhausted as well and so you get discouraged to move forward because you have invested so much effort, time and large amount of money and you haven’t seen any progress with your book yet. Which probably what you feel now. And that’s the worst thing that can happen to an author -- despair. Your book is too great to be left sitting online among millions of books available in Amazon. It’s like a grain in a bucket of sand. Almost impossible to be noticed. Our goal for your book is to make its success faster and that’s by directly endorsing your book to executives so you can land a contract with a traditional publisher.
It's all lies, of course. There will be no 500-copy  print run. No brick-and-mortar bookstores will be approached. No publishers will be pitched. Instead, once authors have ponied up the initial $3,000, BAP will do exactly what it pretends is not its business model: solicit writers to "invest" even more money in additional marketing services.

Given the amount of casual plagiarism I've found in investigating similar services (for instance, LitFire Publishing and Legaia Books), I always do a phrase search. That's how I discovered Window Press Club. Like BAP, it's an Author Solutions-style publishing/marketing service. But although it has a different name, and a different logo...well, see for yourself. Here's WPC's home page...

...and here's the exact same text on BAP's home page.


There's plenty of other stuff that's identical, from the About pages to the marketing product descriptions to the "free publishing" promise and the absence of prices.

So did BAP plagiarize WPC? WPC's domain registration precedes BAP's (though both were registered just last year), and at first that's what I thought. But...they have the same phone number (though this appears to be an oversight, since a different number appears on BAP's Contact page). They filed the same press release for the same book on the same day last November. There's also this: a pitch for WPC that was once on BAP's website. It's been de-linked, but is still Google-able. Oops.

So it's pretty clear what's going on. WPC and BAP are one operation, posing as different companies in order to maximize their customer base.

BAP and WPC's domain registrations are both anonymized, but WPC's wasn't always. Originally, it was registered to Paul Jorge Ponce from Cebu City, Philippines, where the Author Solutions call centers are located. A connection? Looks likely.

Always, always beware of phone or email solicitors promising gifts.

UPDATE 1/25/18: Book-Art Press/Window Press Club is one of a growing number of similar companies that appear to be Author Solutions imitators, staffed and, in many cases, started up by ex-Author Solutions call center employees in the Philippines.

These companies share a cluster of characteristics, including aggressive solicitation, re-publishing offers (often to authors who've used the various Author Solutions imprints), claims of skill and experience that don't check out (or can't be checked because they're so vague), websites and written materials full of English-language errors, and an emphasis on selling junk marketing services (which is where these outfits make the bulk of their profit).

For more information, see my blog post: Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats.

Wed, 03 Jan 2018 17:02:00 +0000
Alert: Copyright Infringement By the Internet Archive (and What You Can Do About It)


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has issued an alert on copyright infringement by the Internet Archive. Other professional writers' groups taking notice include the UK's Society of Authors, which has posted an alert on its website, and the USA's Authors Guild and National Writers Union, which have alerted their members.

I've reproduced SFWA's alert below. Although this seems to be the first time widespread attention has been paid to it, IA's massive scanning project is not a new endeavor. See this 2013 article from Teleread's Chris Meadows.

I've commented on my own experience at the bottom of this post.

--------------------------------------------


From the Legal Affairs Committee:

INFRINGEMENT ALERT

The Internet Archive is carrying out a very large and growing program of scanning entire books and posting them on the public Internet. It is calling this project "Open Library", but it is SFWA's understanding that this is not library lending, but direct infringement of authors' copyrights.

We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books. An extensive, random assortment of books is available for e-lending—that is the “borrowing” of a digital (scanned) copy. For those books that can be “borrowed,” Open Library allows users to download digital copies in a variety of formats to read using standard e-reader software. Unlike e-lending from a regular library, Open Library is not serving up licensed, paid-for copies, but their own scans.

As with other e-lending services, the books are DRM-protected, and should become unreadable after the “loan” period. However, an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users’ devices (iPads, e-readers, computers, etc.) and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection. SFWA is still investigating the extent to which these downloadable copies can be pirated.

These books are accessible from both archive.org and openlibrary.org. If you want to find out if your books are being infringed, go to Internet Archive's search page and search metadata for your name. You have to register, log in, and "borrow" the books to see if they are there in their entirety. A secondary search on Open Library's search page may turn up some additional titles, but will also show books that are in the Open Library database that have not been infringed.

If you believe that your copyright has been violated by material available through the Internet Archive, you can provide the Internet Archive Copyright Agent with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice. Alternatively, you can use the SFWA DMCA Notice Generator to create a DMCA notice for you. As a temporary measure, authors can also repeatedly "check out" their books to keep them from being "borrowed" by others.

A DMCA notice must include:

• Identification of the copyrighted work that you claim has been infringed;
• An exact description of where the infringed material is located within the Internet Archive collections;
• Your address, telephone number, and email address;
• A statement by you that you have a good-faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law;
• A statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the above information in your notice is accurate and that you are the owner of the copyright interest involved or are authorized to act on behalf of that owner; and
• Your electronic or physical signature.

The Internet Archive Copyright Agent can be reached as follows:

Internet Archive Copyright Agent
Internet Archive
300 Funston Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Phone: 415-561-6767
Email: info@archive.org

------------------------------------------

Here's my personal experience with the Internet Archive and Open Library.

Four of my books have been scanned and are available for borrowing. All four are in copyright, "in print", and available for purchase in digital, print, and/or audio formats.


When you borrow a book from IA or Open Library, you can either read a photographic scan of it on-screen via the Internet Archive BookReader, or download it as an EPUB or PDF. The "borrows" are said to expire after 14 days.

On January 1, to test all of this, I borrowed and downloaded Passion Blue. The PDF is the photographic scan rendered page by page (rather than double-paged, as in the on-screen reader). The EPUB is an OCR conversion and is full of errors--weird characters, garbled words, page headers and footers in the text, and the like.

I also sent a DMCA notice for Passion Blue. I emailed the notice on January 1, and a second notice on January 9. As of this writing (January 11), I've received no response.

I'll update this post as I get more info.

UPDATE 1/25/18: Internet Archive's Brewster Kahle has responded--sort of--to the controversy, offering what Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader dubs a "good works" defense.

According to Kahle, the IA's mission is to preserve books "for the long term". It's digitizing books "mostly from the 20th century" that "are largely not available either physically or digitally" including "many...books that libraries believe to be of historical importance such that they do not want to throw them away, but are not worth keeping on their physical shelves". For creators who object, there's "a well known 'Notice and Takedown' procedure....The Internet Archive takes prompt action and follows the procedure, generally resulting in the work being taken down."

Kahle does not address the IA's scanning of 21st century books that are in-print and commercially available. According to a recent update from the Authors Guild, feedback from members and authors' groups has "confirmed that a massive number of in-copyright books, some quite recent, are available in Open Library, as well as through the Internet Archive itself."

As for that well-known takedown procedure and the IA's "prompt action" in response...I have still not received any reply to my two DMCA notices, the first of which was sent nearly a month ago.

Tue, 26 Dec 2017 18:47:00 +0000
Book Promotions International, or, How Not to Get Your Book Into a Library
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Hot on the heels of the infamous Christmas writing contest spam comes another spam solicitation aimed at separating writers from their money.


The link leads directly to PayPal.

So if you're not already ROTFLing at the sheer chutzpah of this, um, offer, why would it be a terrible use of money?

First and most obvious, because once you sent your payment, you'd have no way of confirming that a) this person had actually bought your book, or b) actually donated it.

And second, because this is not how books get into libraries. Some libraries don't accept donations at all (my local library among them; when I was doing book reviews, they declined my offer to donate brand-new direct-from-the-publisher hardcovers). Even if they do, there's no guarantee they will actually shelve the donations, especially if the books aren't professionally packaged. Where donated books will probably wind up is in the annual Friends of the Library book sale.

So is this a scam? As cartoonish a ripoff as it seems, it's hard to say--the line between scammery and simple cluelessness can be difficult to discern. G.E. Johnson does seem to be a real person; her activities as a book promoter appear to consist of posting book cover images on Facebook and Pinterest, and offering vaguely-described "marketing":


As with the library spam, the link goes directly to PayPal. Ms. Johnson's webpages don't include testimonials, but I did find this, from a discussion thread on Goodreads--I'm guessing it was unsolicited...


UPDATE: Did you think that Ms. Johnson's attempt to sell authors a completely unverifiable promise of a book purchase was just a one-time, ill-advised spamstravaganza? You would be wrong.



Here's the diamond:


Rock salt, anyone?

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:17:00 +0000
How Not To Promote a Writing Contest: The NY Literary Magazine
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Congratulations!
You have been nominated for the "Best Story Award".
That's the message some writers found in their inboxes on Christmas Day, from a publication called The NY Literary Magazine:


Could there be a better Christmas gift? Recognition by a "distinguished print and digital magazine"! The chance to "add to your bio and credentials that you are a Best Story Award 2017 Nominee"! An award recognized by the New York Times and Writer's Digest!

Well...not exactly.

Anyone who clicked the email link discovered that this isn't so much a nomination as a solicitation (for a monthly writing contest; winners get a "distinguished award seal"), and not so much an unexpected holiday gift as a rather deceptive buying opportunity (the entry fee is $19.95, discounted to $14.95 for, you know, Christmas). As for those impressive-seeming pull quotes,
In fact:
Just a teeny bit misleading, wouldn't you say?

Above, I say "some writers". It's actually "a crapload of writers". NYLM seems to have engaged in a truly massive spam campaign to promote this contest.
Absolute Write members got hit up, too.

So what is NYLM? Basically, an obscure literary magazine with a very high opinion of itself (check out how often it uses "distinguished" as a descriptor). It's the brainchild of Camille Kleinman, girl genius (just read her bio). It runs free contests and doesn't appear to charge reading fees for submissions--but it does have several money streams. There's the monthly Best Story Award that's the subject of this post. There are anthologies, which no doubt are heavily marketed to contributors. And there's an "Editorial Book Review Service For Authors", which sells for $99. (Supposedly conducted by "experienced, professional Editors", the reviews are touted for their brevity--just two or three sentences long. Authors may want to save their money--the NYLM reviews I was able to find online are not only generic, many of them sound suspiciously similar.)

NYLM has gotten wind of the not-exactly-enthusiastic response to its spam campaign. I got an email this morning from "Amanda" (no last name or title, but NYLM's masthead lists an Amanda Graham as Editor) lamenting "a torrent of angry, hateful messages which shocked us and which we feel are unjust". Because, you see, it was all a terrible mistake:
We outsourced our marketing to an Asian service to help us spread the word about our Best Story Award contest. That is why authors received the marketing email from nyliterarymag.org (which is not our main website) on Christmas night, and at such an unexpected time in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, it appears they chose the wrong terminology when inviting authors to our contest. We're very sorry that being told they were nominated for the Best Story Award offended, insulted, angered, or disappointed so many authors.

We have fired this agency and will monitor each marketing action any one of our team members does extremely closely from now on.
I'll leave it to you to judge how plausible this is.

Amanda also admitted something that I'm sure won't surprise anyone: the goal of the Best Story Award is "to finally become profitable and support our magazine." I'm not a fan of contests, even where they're reputable; but profitmaking contests are nearly always a waste of money. For why, and how to steer clear, see my 2015 post: Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize and Avoid Them.

UPDATE: Digging themselves deeper into an already pretty big hole, the folks at NY Literary Magazine are now attempting to excuse their blunder with a non-apology apology. Those shifty Asians are again invoked. Click the link below.
UPDATE 12/27/17: NY Literary Magazine has sent out another mass email, a cri de coeur of tragically injured innocence that again attempts to shift the blame (oh, those dastardly Asians), decries the evils of cyberbullying by mean folks like me, and proves once again that they just don't get it. They claim to be closing down for good. If you want to read the whole screed, here it is; if not, here's a taste.
We are completely devastated and shattered from the extent of hate mail, comments, messages, tweets, lies and false accusations that were posted online which have totally blackened our name and destroyed our magazine - all based on a single email with one wrongly-worded sentence.

It's shocking how many people have posted blatant lies which weren't based on any facts and how many more people have shared, retweeted, and quoted those lies without ever checking to see if it's true or at least visiting our website....

This has been a heartbreaking Christmas.

We hope those people who spread the lies and worked so hard to destroy honest people's lives are now satisfied.
We have closed our contest. Refunded everyone who entered.
There will be no more free-to-enter contests. No more free-to-read anthologies.
No more articles. No more anything.

We had the heartbreaking task of firing our team of loyal, hard-working employees. 10 people are now jobless after Christmas.
If there were 10 paid jobs at NYLM, I'll eat my hat.

As of this writing, NYLM's website is still online, but NYLM's founder, Camille Kleinman, has shuttered her website (it's "Under Maintenance") and removed all mention of NYLM from her LinkedIn profile.

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 17:22:00 +0000
Author-Agent Handshake Agreements: Should You Be Wary?

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've recently gotten a number of reports about a literary agent with a major agency who is offering representation with a "handshake" deal: representation based on a verbal commitment, rather than a binding author-agent agreement or contract.

There are a number of reasons why authors should be wary of such offers.

1. A handshake is not today's professional standard.

Decades ago, so-called handshake deals were common in the agenting business. You and your agent agreed that the agent would represent your work to publishers; once your work sold, the agent's right to receive commissions and to act on your behalf was formalized in the agency clause of your book contract. Before publisher consolidation created the mega-houses, before the digital revolution and the array of new rights and markets it has spawned, before authors' backlists became valuable, most authors, agents, and publishers deemed this to be enough.

But the present-day publishing landscape is far, far more diverse and complicated than it was then. There are more rights, more avenues to sell and re-sell them, and--at least potentially--much more money. In this increasingly complex environment, a simple, informal handshake and an agency clause are no longer regarded as sufficient. While there may still be some long-time agents who work on a handshake basis, author-agent contracts have become the professional norm.

2. A handshake doesn't protect you.

Oral contracts do carry weight--if they can be proven. For authors, though, the concern isn't so much proving the relationship exists as it is setting out the terms of it.

As noted above, publishing is far more complicated than it used to be. As a result, so is agenting. Myriad issues need to be addressed when agreeing to representation--from commissions and payments, to expense reimbursement, to termination provisions, to what happens after termination or if the agent goes out of business.

It is very much in your interest--and also in the agent's--to clearly and precisely lay all of this out at the outset of the relationship. Otherwise, you not only lack a clear understanding of what the agent can and will do for you, you have severely diminished recourse to demand accountability or to take action if the relationship goes bad.

3. A handshake may be a warning sign.

And not just of a lack of professional knowledge or practice. Putting it bluntly: a handshake deal makes it easier for an agent to get rid of you.

Maybe the agent doesn't want to bother with clients whose work doesn't sell in the first submission round. Maybe the agent isn't all that enthusiastic about you and is hedging their bets in case there are no offers (and if there are offers, is this really the agent you want representing you?). Maybe the agent has one publisher in mind and is up for a quickie sub but not a longer-term commitment. Maybe the agent only offers contracts after a manuscript finds a home, so they can disavow the authors they aren't able to sell and look like they're batting a thousand. (Be especially concerned if the agent works at an agency where contracts are the norm--as is the case with the agent I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.)

Over the years, I've gotten complaints from authors who've experienced all these things as part of a handshake deal. As these authors know, it's incredibly hard to walk away from an offer, even if the offer isn't a good one. But if the offer is a handshake deal, you just might want to make that very tough decision.

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 16:10:00 +0000
Alert: Blue Deco Publishing, Christian Faith Publishing
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

BLUE DECO PUBLISHING


Writer Beware has received multiple documented complaints from authors at Blue Deco Publishing.

Problems cited include late or missing royalties and royalty statements, broken marketing promises, and difficulty reaching or getting responses from the owner, Colleen Nye. To explain these issues, Ms. Nye has reportedly offered bizarre and elaborate personal excuses that authors tell me they believe are either made-up or exaggerated. (For an example of the kinds of complaints I've received, see here.)

Frustrated with the situation, a group of seven Blue Deco authors took the unusual step of creating an online petition to demand payment and reversion of their rights. (Given that Blue Deco only had 16 authors, including Ms. Nye herself, that's a big hit, over 40% of its list.)


I'm told that attorneys from the Authors Guild also contacted Ms. Nye. To her credit, she has been responsive. All the petitioning writers have received rights reversions, and all but two have been paid (both believe they have sales, but Ms. Nye says they don't; they've decided to chalk it up as a loss and move on).

To any regular readers of this blog, all of this will be very familiar. Blue Deco's shortfalls aren't unusual; in fact they're endemic to the small press world. Often the problems don't stem from dishonesty or malfeasance, but simply from the fact that the people in charge don't know how to run a business.

The Blue Deco story also illustrates why it can be risky to get involved with publishers that are primarily one- or two-person ventures. With the best will in the world, a single personal crisis or health problem can derail the entire company.

CHRISTIAN FAITH PUBLISHING


I get a lot of questions and complaints about a lot of different pay-to-play publishers and publishing services. But there are certain companies I hear about over and over--all of them savvy, well-packaged outfits that aggressively recruit authors with slick websites, print and digital advertising, and direct solicitation. One of these is Christian Faith Publishing.

As its name indicates, Christian Faith Publishing targets Christian writers: "to discover and market unknown Christian-based authors who aspire to craft the greatest spiritual impact imaginable via the written word." It describes itself as "a full-service book publisher"--a misleading claim because, in fact, authors must make "a minimal investment". How minimal? Well, that's not really explained.
While the investment required of our accepted authors to bring a book to the world-wide market varies based upon the intricacies of each book, all of our authors are fortunate enough to undertake the production, distribution and marketing of their book via a short-term, affordable monthly installment plan which is to be recovered by the author from book sale proceeds before we are entitled to any royalty compensation whatsoever!
Writers be warned: this kind of coyness on pricing nearly always indicates excessive fees. I've heard from authors who were asked for anywhere from $3,500-$5,000 up front; for $495 up front plus installments of $295 per month for 10 months; for $950 up front plus installments of $380 for 10 months. Marketing is an add-on: for instance, $3,400 for a package that includes a "High-Definition Video Trailer", a press release, and a page on CFP's website. (This is not marketing. It's junk. It's not worth one cent, let alone four figures.)

What do authors get for these enormous fees? Basically, an assisted self-publishing-style service that's little different from the packages offered by companies like Outskirts Press or the imprints in the Author Solutions family. Naive writers may not realize this, though, because CFP is careful not only to style itself a "publisher", but to promise that it is "very selective" and that authors will have "availability" in "retail...sales outlets". Its salespeople call themselves "Literary Agents." Its TV commercials and web ads never mention money. And though its website does disclose that authors must pay, this is buried in the FAQ section and thus easy to miss. Put these misleading elements together with the fact that Christian writers are more likely to trust a company that self-identifies as Christian, and you have a perfect honey trap.

Does this business model remind you of anything? Maybe a certain Oklahoma-based Christian vanity publisher that recently went bust amid thousands of complaints of non-payment and other malfeasance, and whose owners were subsequently charged with multiple felony counts, including embezzlement?

If so, it may not surprise you to learn that CFP's founder and President, Chris Rutherford, is a Tate Publishing alumnus. He has held various titles with the company, the most recent of which, per his LinkedIn profile, is Chief Business Development Officer (though note the strategic omission of Tate's name):


Rutherford seems to have left Tate in the fall of 2013--at which point there were plenty of complaints and indications of problems at the company, though nothing like what started coming out in 2016--and started CFP in 2014. CFP doesn't seem to have published anything until mid-2015; it put out just eight books that year, according to Amazon, but ramped up production in 2016, which is when I started getting questions about it.

Unlike Tate, CFP seems to deliver what its clients pay for. Authors searching for positive reviews will have no problem finding them: at the BBB, for instance, or the abundant testimonials on CFP's own website.

However, like all vanity publishers, CFP relies on misdirection and ignorance to recruit authors who may not realize they're not actually signing up with a "full-service book publisher", or that they could get what CFP offers elsewhere at a lower cost, or that, whatever else it may be, CFP's declared Christian mission is a form of advertising to which Christian authors are uniquely vulnerable.

Christian authors, take note: there are as many schemes, scams, and deceptive services in Christian publishing as there are in other markets. Just because an individual or company proclaims its faith doesn't mean it will treat you fairly or offer you a worthwhile service at a reasonable price. In fact, in terms of marketing and distribution, faith is beside the point. Companies like CFP offer only junk marketing, and use the exact same distribution channels as everyone else.

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 18:10:00 +0000
Scam Alert: Fraudsters Targeting Freelancers With Fake Job Offers
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Fraudsters are reportedly conducting a phishing scheme aimed at freelance writers.

Individuals using the names of editors and senior management for The Atlantic magazine have sent out numerous fake job and interview offers, using multiple email addresses and made-up domain names. The goal is to obtain personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and other sensitive data. More than 50 writers have reported being targeted by the scheme.

From a memo sent to The Atlantic staff by General Counsel for Atlantic Media:
The perpetrators have gone so far as to conduct job interviews by phone and gchat; to require signature on employment agreements, direct deposit, and tax forms; and to mail fake checks to individuals (in the hope that these “advances” would be cashed, thereby providing the perpetrators with bank account information and/or credit card information). To date, we’ve been contacted by more than 50 would-be victims, and the names of at least six of our top editorial leaders have been used.

Unfortunately, scams like this one are very common in today’s landscape. We are actively working with law enforcement and are directing any intended victims to do the same. We are also making information available about the scam on our websites and in the magazine.

If you discover that you or any of our colleagues are being impersonated, please provide details to FraudAlert@AtlanticMedia.com, which will route the information to the IT department. Likewise, if you receive any inquiries from potential victims asking you to confirm the veracity of an email purporting to have come from The Atlantic, forward those inquiries to FraudAlert@AtlanticMedia.com. IT will connect with any would-be victims to advise them of the scam and to refer them to law enforcement.
Be careful out there!

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 16:15:00 +0000
Small Press Storm Warnings: High Hill Press
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

There's trouble at High Hill Press, a once well-regarded small press "created to offer writers a small niche between the huge New York publishing houses, and the often high-priced print on demands."

Both to Writer Beware and in a private Facebook group, High Hill authors report publication delays, non-payment of royalties, non-provision of royalty statements, hundreds of books ordered and paid for but never received, books released full of errors that the publisher refused to correct, and serious, ongoing difficulty with communications--from angry responses to questions by the owner, Lou Turner, to threats of legal action, to no response at all.

These issues, which reportedly began in 2016, have only gotten worse. High Hill's Facebook page has been dormant since last October. No books have been published since December 2016. Lou Turner has been MIA for months, with emails and phone calls going unanswered, including attempts at contact by the Authors Guild.

In a May post to the High Hill authors group, someone identifying herself as Turner's sister claimed that Turner was having "health problems" and that family members were stepping in to manage her affairs. A BBB investigator who visited Turner's home in July in response to a complaint was reportedly told the same thing by Turner herself. But there's no sign of any management at High Hill Press, where authors are desperate to terminate their contracts and move on. By all indications, High Hill Press is dead--but until there's an announcement or authors' rights are officially returned, all authors can do is wait.

Meanwhile, High Hill Press is still open for submissions, with a fully functional website (the bookstore is password-protected--which doesn't make a lot of sense unless you figure that it caters mainly to High Hill authors).

Writers, beware.

UPDATE 9/9/17: High Hill Press now has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, due to failure to respond to complaints. There are 3 complaints...so far.

UPDATE 9/27/17: As noted in a comment below, the High Hill Press website is gone. As far as I know, there's still been no communication with authors.

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 17:05:00 +0000
Solicitation (and Plagiarism) Alert: Legaia Books / Paperclips Magazine
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

When the late, unlamented Tate Publishing & Enterprises went belly-up a few months ago, I started hearing from Tate authors who were being contacted by self-publishing companies and other for-profit enterprises looking to recruit new customers. Some of these were straightforward, reasonably reputable (if overpriced) businesses. Others...not so much.

Very active trying to snag Tate authors was Legaia Books.


Here's how Legaia describes itself (bolding and errors courtesy of the original):
Legaia is a book publishing company created to aid writers in seeing their works in prints. Whether you’re a beginner or a published author, and whatever is the genre of your work (memoirs, fiction, non-fiction, children’s book, or even poetry collection), it is always our pleasure to be working with you. Legaia has no reservations to anything in particular other than those that contradict what is in the terms and services. With the application of new technology and information, we are able to accommodate our clients and are maintaining this accessibility for a better relationship.
The whole website is written like this, which should be a gigantic clue that things aren't kosher. If that's not enough, consider the eye-poppingly expensive publishing packages (which don't offer anything that's not available elsewhere for much less money), the hugely overpriced "online media publicity campaign" (based largely on cheap-for-the-provider services that can be sold at an enormous markup), and the nebulously-described "Online Retail Visibility Booster", which costs $6,499 and wants you to believe that's a fair price for something called a Booster Tool that supposedly gets you more reviews on Amazon.

You can also buy advertising in Paperclips Magazine, which among other "opportunities" encourages authors to pay $1,999 for a book review or $4,999 for a "Paperclips Author Article." According to the Legaia website, Paperclips is "a social online magazine that showcases books and author experiences in the publishing industry"; according to email solicitations like the one above, it has "over 2 million subscribers worldwide" (a bit hard to believe, given the mix of terrible writing, puff pieces, and ads that make up most of its content).

What both website and solicitations fail to mention: Legaia and Paperclips are one and the same, a fact Legaia admits on its LinkedIn page. This is the kind of profitable closed loop that allows an author-exploiting enterprise to hit up its victims multiple times.

As for Paperclips Magazine, it's...interesting. Not just for the amount of money that must have been generated by all the author articles and ads. Not just for the insanely awful writing by the "Editorial Team" (screenshot at left).

No. For the plagiarism and the intellectual property theft.

The Paperclips website includes numerous short articles with the byline Chloe Smith. Much of this content actually belongs to other authors. For instance, a piece called 7 Active Reading for Students: here it is at Paperclips, under Chloe's name. Here's the original, attributed to the real author: Grace Fleming. How about 10 Keys to Writing a Brilliant Speech? Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original, by Bill Cole. Ditto These Are the 8 Fundamental Principles of Great Writing. Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original (with a different title), by Glenn Leibowitz.

I could go on. There are lots more examples. And that's just the Paperclips website. The magazine also includes stolen content. At least Why Print Books are Better than eBooks, and Ways to Improve eReaders bears the name of its true author, Greg Krehbiel...but Greg has confirmed to me that Paperclips published it without his permission. (It originally appeared here.) (I also reached out to two other authors included in the same issue, but as of this writing I haven't heard back.)

Any bets on whether Paperclips got permission to use images of Dr. Seuss characters on the cover of its latest issue? Or asked George R.R. Martin if it was okay to re-publish his August 2016 blog post--complete with original artwork from the illustrated anniversary edition of Game of Thrones?


A bunch of other things don't add up.  Legaia/Paperclips has a North Carolina address, but it's a virtual office. Legaia's LinkedIn page claims the company was founded in 2008, but its domain wasn't registered until late 2015. Similarly, Paperclips' LinkedIn page says it started up in 2012, but its domain wasn't created until November 2016 (I also couldn't find any issues of the magazine earlier than December 2016). I've been able to locate only two actual human staff members (neither website includes staff names, and the two names I've seen on Legaia's author solicitations, Emily Bryans and Serena Miles, appear to be wholly imaginary); both are based in the Philippines, and one formerly worked for Author Solutions.

Between these things, the English-as-a-second-language writing, the overpriced and exploitive "services", the plagiarism, and just the general sleazy feel of it all, I'm strongly reminded of LitFire Publishing, which has a very similar business model and M.O, and was established by Author Solutions call center alumni in the Philippines as a sort of low-rent Xlibris-AuthorHouse-iUniverse-Trafford clone. Are LitFire and Legaia the same operation? Probably not. But it wouldn't surprise me if Legaia has the same provenance.

"Emily Bryans" is currently soliciting authors for something called Paperclips Magazine's Author Circle, which is supposedly arriving this October and will feature "celebrity authors and multi-awarded literary contributors" (wonder how many of them know they're included?) No word on how much it will cost to join up, but I bet it's a bundle.

Writer beware.

UPDATE 12/15/17: Just found this, from the Better Business Bureau listing for Legaia. So much for the company's claim to be located in North Carolina (or the USA):


UPDATE 1/25/18: Legaia is one of a growing number of similar companies that appear to be Author Solutions imitators, staffed and, in many cases, started up by ex-Author Solutions call center employees in the Philippines.

These companies share a cluster of characteristics, including aggressive solicitation, re-publishing offers (often to authors who've used the various Author Solutions imprints), claims of skill and experience that don't check out (or can't be checked because they're so vague), websites and written materials full of English-language errors, and an emphasis on selling junk marketing services (which is where these outfits make the bulk of their profit).

For more information, see my blog post: Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats.

UPDATE 4/19/18: Legaia is still at it. A solicitation from "Frank Parker, Senior Publishing Consultant", just received by an author I know:



Tue, 25 Jul 2017 16:38:00 +0000
Lawsuits, Liens, and Lost URLs: The Latest on America Star Books / PublishAmerica
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
This post was written in August 2017, and chronicles the abrupt disappearance of PublishAmerica/America Star Books. It has now been over six months since the company vanished. Writer Beware thinks it's safe to conclude that PA/ASB is permanently out of business.

Unfortunately, ASB didn't terminate contracts or return authors' rights. ASB books have vanished from all retailers' sites but Amazon, where they are still for sale, especially in Kindle editions.

Efforts to get law enforcement to look into the situation haven't been fruitful. Despite scores of complaints from ASB authors, many of whom paid for services that were never rendered, the Maryland Attorney General's Office considers the author-publisher relationship a business-to-business matter, and therefore not something their Consumer Protection Division is willing to investigate. The AG's criminal division hasn't even bothered to respond.

Currently, this is what Writer Beware is suggesting that ASB authors do (and keep in mind that we are not lawyers, so this isn't legal advice). As we see it, you have two options.

First, you can wait out the term of your contract. The one silver lining in this situation is that ASB contracts are time-limited, not life-of-copyright, ensuring that authors can get free if they are willing to wait.

Or, second, you can file copyright complaints with online retailers to try and get them to take down your book listings.

Amazon's copyright infringement reporting form is here: https://www.amazon.com/report/infringement. In the Additional Information box, state that ASB has gone out of business (you can mention that this has been confirmed by the Maryland Attorney General's office) and is no longer issuing royalty statements or making payments, and that continued sale of your book is therefore copyright infringement.

For Barnes & Noble, here's the procedure and contact info to send an infringement notice: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/h/copyright-policy. Don't bother with snail mail; use the email address that's provided. You can use this handy DMCA notice generator to produce a notice in the proper form: http://www.sfwa.org/2010/07/sample-dmca-generator-for-authors/.

I've heard from some ASB authors who've had success with this method. Keep in mind that Amazon may not remove listings from third-party sellers--but these sellers rarely actually have copies of the books they list. Please leave a commment, or contact Writer Beware directly, to let us know how you fare.
This post has been updated.

It's been a while since I wrote about America Star Books, n

Thu, 04 May 2017 16:48:00 +0000
Infringement by Galaktika Magazine: Authors Guild and SFWA Reach Settlement
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On July 20, the Authors Guild and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced that they had together reached an agreement with Hungary-based Galaktika Magazine.

For at least a decade, Galaktika re-published stories by multiple authors without seeking permission or remitting payment. Galaktika claimed that, since the stories had been published online, they were in the public domain--which is contrary to copyright law.

From the joint press release:
Under the terms of the agreement, Metropolis Media, Galaktika’s publisher, promised to seek permission for any works they use in the future and to compensate the authors whose works were published without permission. Galaktika has agreed to pay each author whose work it infringed fair compensation, with the fee to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis....

The agreement comes as a result of efforts by the Guild, SFWA, literary agents, and authors to hold Galaktika’s publisher accountable for reproducing copyrighted works in print and online issues of the magazine in violation of the authors’ rights.
Complaints about non-payment by Galaktika date back to at least 2006, and infringement complaints go back to at least 2012.

The problems didn't get wide exposure, however, until March 2016, when journalist Pint

Thu, 16 Feb 2017 18:00:00 +0000
The Law Finally Catches Up With Tate Publishing & Enterprises

This post has been updated.

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Today, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed eight felony charges and one misdemeanor charge against Ryan and Richard Tate, respectively CEO and founder of vanity publisher Tate Publishing & Enterprises, for alleged fraudulent business practices.

According to local news station KFOR,
The charges include four felony counts of embezzlement, one felony count of attempted extortion by threat, two felony counts of extortion by threat, one felony count of racketeering and one misdemeanor count of embezzlement.

Since the businesses ceased operations in January, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit has received 718 complaints from authors or musicians who contracted with the companies.

Complaints from customers range from failure to deliver products and services that had been previously paid for; failure to pay royalty earnings, per contractual agreement; and refusal to return files unless the customer agreed to pay a $50 processing fee.

“The means by which Ryan and Richard Tate conducted business to defraud individuals from across the country is unconscionable and a blatant disregard for those who entrusted them to produce their work,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “I appreciate the dedication and hard work by the agents and the attorneys in the Consumer Protection Unit, who put this case together.”
Among other findings, investigators discovered that money received from authors was routed, via Tate's business accounts, directly to the personal accounts of Ryan and Richard Tate.

The Tates have been apprehended, with bond set at $100,000 each, and ordered to surrender their passports.

There's more coverage at the Journal Record.

This is good news. Tate is one of the most unscrupulous vanity publishers Writer Beware has ever tracked, and its callous disregard for authors, staff, and creditors was on full display long before it closed its doors last January, amid mountains of debt, hundreds of author complaints, and multiple seven-figure lawsuits. Just days before the Tates' apprehension, Tate Publishing had unexpectedly risen from the dead, claiming to be ready to "once again lead the publishing industry."

For a detailed account of Tate's deceptions, failures, sudden demise, and unexpected resurrection, see my previous blog post.

In a press conference on May 4, Attorney General Hunter promised that his office would seek reparations for Tate authors (though with the multi-million dollar judgments against Tate probably taking priority, I think it's unlikely that much, if anything, will turn out to be available). He also said that Tate Publishing's apparent re-boot, as well as the possibility that the Tates were working on starting up a new venture (possibly another publisher called Lux Creative, about which there have been rumors for some time) were factors in the timing of the arrests. Overall, it's clear that the AG is taking this very seriously.

Ryan Tate, buttonholed by reporters on his way to his arraignment, unsurprisingly declared his innocence.
“We’re looking for our day in court and fighting them and we’ll make sure the truth wins out,” he said.

When asked about the countless victims, he said, “That’s not true, we went out of business for about three months but we have about a thousand authors total so most of them are very, very happy."
Worth noting: in a January interview, Richard Tate was claiming 39,000 authors. I'm guessing that was a teeny bit inflated, but I'd also bet dollars to donuts that Ryan is lowballing. Even if he isn't...we know that 718 Tate authors have complained to the Attorney General since the beginning of this year. So if Tate does have only 1,000 authors, clearly most of them are nowhere close to happy.

The Tates are out on bail at present, and a preliminary hearing is set for September 6. They apparently now have an attorney (two previous attorneys quit for lack of payment).

What can Tate authors do now? You've already done a lot; your complaints to the Attorney General were instrumental in leading to Ryan's and Richard's arrests. The AG has heard from authors not just in the USA, but from all over the world.

But there's still more to be done. The AG is still looking for Tate victims. If you haven't yet filed a complaint, consider doing so now--more complainants will give the AG's office more to work with in building its case against the Tates, and you'll also get your name on the list for restitution, if there is any.

Here's the form to fill out to file your complaint with the AG's Consumer Protection Division. You can also visit the Attorney General's website at https://ok.gov/oag/.

And if you hear any news, please email me or post it here.

UPDATE 8/31/17: The preliminary hearing for Ryan and Richard Tate has been pushed back to November 27. Officials need additional time to investigate author and musician complaints, which right now stand at 1,674.

If you're a Tate author or musician and haven't yet filed a complaint with the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, you can still do so.

Lightning Source has reportedly stopped pursuing collection of the nearly $2 million Tate owes it, but Xerox is continuing its efforts to recover a similar amount.

UPDATE 11/27/17: The preliminary hearing has been pushed back again, to allow time for "investigation, discovery and negotiations." The new date is February 21, 2018.

You can follow the progress of the case--motions, continuances, etc.--here.

UPDATE 2/18/18: Once again, the preliminary hearing for the Tates has been pushed back, this time to May 16. No explanation was offered for the delay.

According to the Oklahoma Attorney General's office, nearly 1,900 complaints had been filed as of the end of 2017, and they're still coming in.

A FURTHER UPDATE, 2/18/18: Will you laugh or will you cry when you learn about the new entrepreneurial endeavor, excuse me, ministry from Rita Tate, mother and wife of the two alleged felons who ran Tate Publishing into the ground and left its authors high and dry?

Through the Fire Inspirations is a collection of inspirational tchotchkes featuring Rita's own writings and craftings, such as The Cross of Nails (in regular and heavy) and the Corporate Inspirations series, (framed uplifting quotes for businesses suffering, well, setbacks; do any come to mind?)

Rita explains that it was her "recent difficult trials" that moved her to found Through the Fire.
Our family was not exempt from facing the most trying times of our lives recently. Who hasn't had to cope with challenges beyond our control when you want to shout to God, "Is this how You love us?" I have been there ... perhaps where you are today. The difficult trial hurt and wounded my spirit, but then a wonderful transformation took place in my heart as I daily sought God for comfort, hope and victory.
I'm sure the hundreds of Tate Publishing and Tate Music Group victims, whose own difficult trials cost them money, time, and dreams, will find this deeply comforting.

UPDATE 3/11/18: You really cannot make this stuff up. An Oklahoma couple is accusing Ryan Tate of conning them into buying a dud car. The car apparently broke down just a few days after purchase, and Tate was unresponsive to the couple's requests that it be repaired.
Over the phone with News 4, the LaGrange's told Ryan Tate they wanted their money back.

“Uh, no. We've been probably talking to them for two weeks about this,” Ryan Tate responded.

Finally, the LaGrange’s gave Ryan Tate one last option.

“We were promised our mechanic could do the work. You don't want my mechanic to do the work and pay for it, then we would like a replacement or our money back. One or the other, that's it,” said La Tasha.

A few hours after our interview, Ryan Tate paid the LaGrange’s back their $1,900 for the car.
UPDATE 5/17/18: The preliminary hearing for the Tates has been pushed back again, to August 29.

Additionally, five Tate-associated properties are going to auction on June 11. From The Journal Record:
The properties come out of a lawsuit filed in October by BancFirst Corp., which is seeking to pay off mortgage default balances worth nearly $700,000. BancFirst convinced the District Court of Canadian County to give the bank’s mortgage liens priority over claims by Jostens Inc., Lightning Source LLC, Xerox Corp., Stanley Perl, Tom Blundell, Darla Mae Dudley, Magnolia Trace Property Owners Association Inc. and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
The properties reportedly have been appraised for $1.12 million.

Consumer complaints lodged with the Oklahoma Attorney General now number more than 2,000.

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:50:00 +0000
Red Flag Alert: Loiacono Literary Agency, Swetky Literary Agency, Warner Literary Group
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


In the late 1990s, when Writer Beware first started up, the digital revolution was just peeking over the horizon. Traditional publishing was still the only path to publication, and literary agents were the principal gatekeepers.

As a result, there existed a huge and lucrative subculture of dodgy literary agents, who fed on writers' hunger for publication and turned the (false) promise of access into money. Upfront fees, editing referral schemes, vanity publishing scams: the list was endless.

No more. With the enormous growth of small presses and the expanding number of self-publishing options, agents are no longer the be-all and end-all of a writing career, and fewer writers decide to seek them. Writers are also more savvy these days about proper business practice. This has been bad news for the predatory agent subculture, which has shrunk to a sickly shadow of its former self. Fee-charging agents, once the most common of all literary pitfalls, are now relatively rare.

That's not to say they don't still exist.

LOIACONO LITERARY AGENCY

There's an impressively large list of book placements on the website of Loiacono Literary Agency (motto: "Where 'can't' is not in our vocabulary!"). In this case, though, size isn't everything, because apart from a handful of sales to larger publishing houses, most of the books have been placed with small presses that don't require authors to be agented. For most of the publishers Loiacono has worked with, the authors likely could have placed the books on their own and saved themselves a commission.

This isn't why you hire an agent. Another thing you don't hire an agent for: hooking you up with vanity publishers. A very large number of books on Loiacono's list have been placed with Argus Publishing. Argus, which has also done business as A Better Be Write, A Book 4 You, and A-Argus Book Better Book Publishers, has offered "investment" contracts requiring up to four-figure fees (Writer Beware has received a number of documented complaints). Its owner is a former tax preparer who in 2005 was permanently enjoined from tax preparing by the US Department of Justice, which found that he had filed fraudulent returns.

Despite all of the above, I probably would not have bothered to post a warning about Loiacono, had it not been for a recent change in its author-agent agreement. From the email Loiacono sent to authors at the end of December:
In the current contract, the only charges are for any expenses that may incur (postage, foreign exchange, etc.), $250.00 per year, which has not been used for any author so far, and a $500.00 cancellation fee should the author wish to terminate contract before it expires or the publisher cancels, which breaches the LLA contract.

In the new contract, for any new Work(s) there will be an administrative fee of five hundred dollars ($500.00), made payable to the Agency upon signing. This is a one-time fee, unless the Work(s) do not contract with a publisher and require renewing after one year. Renewals are two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00) per year. Upon publication of the Work(s), only the LLA 15% shall apply.
Charging administrative fees is old-school predatory agenting. But the "cancellation fee" is a new wrinkle. I've gotten a lot of complaints about publishers that force authors to pay to terminate their contracts early (this is a potentially abusive practice)--but this is the first time I've encountered an agency that penalizes its clients for such termination--and does so even where the termination is not the author's fault. Wow.

Upfront fees, contract termination penalties, multiple placements with a vanity publisher: the Loiacono Agency is a trifecta of "writer bewares".

(Literary agent Janet Reid has also weighed in on Loiacono Literary.)

SWETKY LITERARY AGENCY

The 25 or so book placements claimed by The Swetky Literary Agency (don't you love that dawn-of-the-web vibe) is much, much smaller than the list claimed by Loiacono.

In other ways, though, it's similar. There's a handful of placements with reputable independent and specialty presses; the rest are "sales" to vanity publishers (Koehler Books) and small presses that authors can work with on their own. Also, even if every one of Swetky's book placements were impeccably reputable, 25 sales over the nearly 15 years the agency has been in business is a pretty sad track record (this blog post from a publisher to whom Swetky offered a completely inappropriate book offers some possible insight as to why).

The agency's apparent lack of commercial success is certainly reason for caution. But it's not why I'm posting a warning.

I've heard from multiple writers to whom Faye Swetky offered representation or the possibility of representation, and then told them that their manuscripts needed editing. Fortunately, she knew a terrific editor who might be willing to work with them: David J. Herda, a much-published author of nonfiction.

It's no secret that Swetky is Herda's agent; that info is right there on the agency's website. What is a secret--at least from the writers who contacted me with their stories--is that Swetky and Herda are either married or romantic partners. Among other things, they share an address (the image below is public record; note that it matches the address on the Swetky Agency logo, above):


This connection was not acknowledged to any of the writers who contacted me. To make matters worse, Herda charges enormous fees (I've gotten reports of up to $40,000; here's one writer who was told Herda's fee would be "no more than $45 thousand"), and some of the writers I've heard from have not been satisfied with his services.

This is a textbook editing referral scheme--common in the old days, but something you almost never see anymore.

UPDATE 1/13/18: Swetky has overhauled its website (though the old version is still around) to make it look a bit more current. The list of recent works includes titles with 2012 pub dates.

WARNER LITERARY GROUP

Sarah Warner, principal of the Warner Literary Group, has an impressive background as an acquisitions editor. It would seem to be the perfect set of qualifications for a successful literary agent.

And yet, Warner's track record is tiny. Since the agency's founding in 2011, she appears to have made just 12 deals. Seven of these are with solid publishers--but the rest are books by agency clients that have been placed with the agency's own publishing division, Hedgehog & Fox. In fact, with the exception of one book authored by Ms. Warner herself, the whole of Hedgehog & Fox's miniscule list appears to be made up of agency clients.

Something else agency clients have in common: lawsuits. Warner Literary Group has been sued by three of its authors--a huge percentage for such a small agency.

In 2012, Derek B. Miller sued for, essentially, what he described as substandard representation (his very detailed complaint can be seen here); he later won a motion for declaratory judgment terminating Warner as his agent (she had refused to allow him to cancel the agreement). Firoozeh Dumas sued in 2016 for similar allegations (her complaint can be seen here); ultimately the arbitration clause in Warner's agency agreement prevailed, and the parties were directed to arbitration. A third lawsuit filed last October is from client Karla M. Jay, whose books Warner published with Hedgehog & Fox. Jay alleges that Warner withheld royalties "in order to pay other expenses of WLG", and, as with Miller, refused to allow her to terminate the agency agreement.

That agreement, by the way, has a problem. Here's the first sentence of the agency clause that's supposed to be inserted into any book contracts the agency negotiates (my bolding):
The Author irrevocably appoints Warner Literary Group, LLC, as the Author’s sole and exclusive agent (the “Agent”) with respect to the Work for the life of the copyright (and all renewals and extensions thereof)
This is known as an "interminable agency clause," and it entitles the agent to represent a book not just for as long as a contract is in force but for the whole duration of the book's copyright (in the USA and most of Europe, the author's lifetime plus 70 years). Major authors' groups warn about such clauses; I've written about that here. This is red-flag language; you do not want to find it in an author-agent agreement.

Fri, 30 Dec 2016 17:25:00 +0000
The Continuing Decline of "Assisted-Self-Publishing" Giant Author Solutions
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A little less than two years ago, I wrote a blog post that focused, in part, on Author Solutions' declining share of the so-called assisted self-publishing market.

According to a report by Bowker on ISBN output in the self-publishing market between 2008 and 2013, the number of ISBNs issued by AS dropped 15% between 2011 and 2013, from an all-time high 52,648, to 44,574.

(ISBN output is not a meaningful method for assessing the self-publishing market as a whole, because so many self-publishers don't bother with ISBNs. But it is an effective way of tracking Author Solutions' activity, because all AS publishing packages, even the ebook-only ones, include ISBN assignment.)

At the time, I speculated:

We'll have to wait for 2014 stats to know whether this trend will continue, but my guess is that it will. In part, ASI is reaping the fruits of its poor reputation and the large amount of negative publicity and commentary it has received in the past few years (see, for instance, David Gaughran's The Case Against Author Solutions). Beyond that, though, I think that its business model--print-centric, high-priced, with outsourced operations (much of ASI is based in the Philippines) and an extreme emphasis on upselling--is simply becoming less and less relevant in this age of free-to-cheap digital self-publishing solutions.

Well, Bowker recently issued another report, Self-Publishing in the United States, 2010-2015*--and boy, was I right. Here's a screenshot of part of the special section devoted to Author Solutions (Archway Publishing, which AS runs for Simon & Schuster, is missing from the list, but is included in the bigger listing of self-pub platforms):


Total Author Solutions ISBN output for 2015, including 657 Archway ISBNs not shown in this section: 24,587.

2015 output did grow slightly at WestBow, by 275, and at Archway, by 37. And Wordclay, defunct for years, inexplicably popped up again in 2015 with 14. But for all other AS brands, including its very first "imprint," AuthorHouse, issued ISBNs fell by hundreds or thousands. Overall, AS's 2015 ISBN output was less than half its 2011 high point, and represents a 45% drop over 2013.

Even allowing for some inconsistencies in the data, that is a really precipitous decline. Pearson, which bought AS in 2012 for the surprisingly low price of  $116 million (surprising because then, as now, AS was the largest of the assisted self-pub providers, and by all appearances was still growing), unloaded it in December 2015 to a private equity firm. Looks like that was a good decision.

Meanwhile, DIY platform Createspace--where authors don't have to use ISBNs or can provide their own--continues to be king, with 423,728 ISBNs issued in 2015, an increase of 131,545 over the previous year.

-----------------------------

* Thanks to Jane Friedman for alerting me to this report, via her excellent article Looking Back at 2016: Important Publishing Developments Authors Should Know.


All Romance eBooks' Sudden Closing: Many Questions, Few Answers
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This post has been updated.

On Wednesday, December 28, All Romance eBooks--a romance-specific ebook distributor and publisher that also distributes general fiction and nonfiction through its OmniLit imprint--dropped a bombshell. In mass emails to customers and authors, ARe's owner, Lori James, revealed that her company was closing, and that in lieu of full payment, authors and publishers would be offered a fraction of what they were owed.

The exact why of the ARe closing remains a mystery (the emails make generic references to losses and poor financial forecasts, but provide no specifics). As to the what, here's what we know so far.

- The ARe website is going dark at midnight on December 31, 2016. Customers were given just four days to use their credits, download their purchases, and backup their libraries. Authors were given just four days to decide whether to accept ARe's offers of "settlement".

- ARe is offering just 10 cents on the dollar to authors whose books it distributed. Per the email, "We will be unable to remit Q4 2016 commissions in full and are proposing a settlement of 10 cents on the dollar (USD) for payments received through 27 December 2016."

- ARe is offering no payment at all--zip, zero--to authors whose books it published. In a different email, published authors are offered rights reversion on condition that they consider this "a negotiated settlement of your account to be 'paid in full'.

- In order to receive these settlements, ARe is requiring authors to waive their right to pursue legal redress. They must agree that "no further legal action be taken with regards to the above referenced commissions owed."

- ARe is staying open until December 31, but is offering settlement only on payments received through December 27. Romance Writers of America, in a statement on the closing, calls this four-day no-payment zone "unconscionable."

- ARe is saying nothing--publicly at least--about reimbursing 2017 advertising purchases. Just days before the closure announcement, ARe sent out an email soliciting ad buys. Many authors took advantage, or had already bought ads.

- ARe is doing all of this because, it claims, it wants to avoid filing for bankruptcy. "It is [our] sincere hope that we will be able to settle this account and avoid filing for bankruptcy, which would undoubtedly be a prolonged and costly process." Yes, it would--and it would also make ARe accountable to its creditors.

I've been contacted by a lot of ARe authors over the past couple of days. By all accounts, the company's implosion came completely out of the blue. Some authors did tell me that they'd noticed sales declines and ad price increases over the past year, but others saw their sales go up, and there were none of the classic warning signs--no late payments, no payment errors, no communications problems, no website glitches. Until Wednesday, ARe authors and customers had no reason to suspect there was anything wrong.

It looks like there is a lot of money involved. ARe claims close to 1.2 million titles across its two retail sites, and works with hundreds of publishers as well as individual authors. A few authors told me that they are owed relatively little--less than $100--but the majority of those I heard from are owed in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. For many, ARe was their largest source of sales after Amazon.

I've also heard from a publisher that used ARe to distribute its books; it told me that it is owed five figures, and is planning on making its affected authors whole out of its own pocket. A number of other publishers are reportedly planning to do the same.

It's worth remembering that editors and other staff are caught up in the implosion too. As are readers, whom ARe will not reimburse for purchases or pre-orders. Some authors and publishers are offering to honor pre-orders or purchases themselves, for readers who send them receipts.

Many of the authors who've emailed me plan on refusing ARe's settlement offer on principle--even if it means they get nothing, or risk having their ARe-published titles assigned to another publisher, as Lori James has apparently said she may do. On a private Facebook group, ARe refugees are talking, among other things, about the possibility of legal action.

So what to think about all this?

Even if we give ARe the benefit of the doubt--assume it is really in dire financial straits, and that its pennies-on-the-dollar offer is a good faith effort to provide at least some payment, rather than to stockpile cash by lowballing authors--it has handled the situation in a notably arrogant and unprofessional manner. I'm reminded of Booktrope, which also went out of business abruptly with few signs of trouble beforehand, leaving its authors high and dry--but Booktrope at least gave authors and customers a month to tie things up.

Can we give ARe the benefit of the doubt, though, considering that it's proposing to pay its published authors nothing (this, which hasn't been much noted in the general outcry, is for me one of the most disgraceful aspects of the whole affair), appears to be ignoring the issue of ad buy reimbursement, is expecting authors to waive their right to legal redress without knowing any of the reasons behind the closing, and is giving them less than a week decide whether to say yes or no? Not to mention that troubling four-day gap during which ARe will continue to sell books, but will not remit payment.

I am not saying there is dishonest intent here. We don't know that. But the lack of professionalism and care is really troubling.

----------------

The ARe author private Facebook page: P*ssed Off (former) ARe Authors

ARe authors are collecting data on money owed to authors and publishers. You can fill out a survey here. You can see results here; amounts range from less than $5 to more than $14,000.

UPDATE: SFWA members with books at ARe are urged to contact Griefcom at griefcom@sfwa org.

Other coverage of the ARe closing:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
The Digital Reader
Lilith Saintcrow
Mary Winter
Liana Brooks
KT Grant
Marilyn Vix

UPDATE 12/30/16: I don't know what this means, or if it means anything, but in March 2015, ARe co-owner and CFO Barbara Perfetti sued Lori James for a variety of causes, including breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment, alleging that James had improperly forced her out of the company in November 2014. Among other things, Perfetti alleged that James started paying herself a salary shortly after Perfetti was locked out of the company (previously, Perfetti and James had taken distributions, but had not drawn salaries).

According to court records, James never responded to Perfetti's complaint, and the case was dismissed in August 2016 for lack of prosecution.

The complaint can be seen here. To see the full court record, click here, select All Case Records Search, and enter the plaintiff's name: Barbara Anne Ulmer.

UPDATE 1/2/17: Just days before the closure announcement, Lori James contacted multiple ARe authors with an offer to market their foreign and audio rights (another "click here if you agree" email), and was also contacting agents about representing those rights at book fairs. These really don't seem like the actions of a company on the verge of shutting down. Curiouser and curiouser.

UPDATE 1/3/17: At least some authors report receiving full refunds for 2017 ad purchases. And the story has spread beyond the writing/publishing community: the Guardian did an article today.

UPDATE 1/14/17: A class action lawsuit on behalf of writers and publishers has been filed in the Circuit Court in Pinellas County, Florida, against All Romance eBooks and its owner, Lori James, by the law firm of Byrd Campbell P.A. The press release is below; you can read the complaint here.


UPDATE 1/23/17: The Tampa Bay Times covers the ARe story.

David Vandagriff, a Utah lawyer who represents writers around the world (none selling on All Romance), said...authors are probably out of luck if they think James was legally obligated to avoid commingling royalties with business accounts.

"That would certainly be a good business practice," he said. "But it's not required.

"What happens in these cases, the owners have a good quarter, so they assume the next quarter is going to be as good or better and they pre-spend money they don't have yet," he said, acknowledging he has no firsthand information on All Romance.

UPDATE 1/31/17: Multiple sources are reporting receiving the following email from Lori James (reproduced exactly as sent):
I wanted to take this opportunity to update all contracted publishers on some key elements involving the winding down of All Romance eBooks, LLC. First, we have completed the process of refunding all 2017 Pre-orders and Advertising. Next, all book files and images have been deleted. On Saturday, February 4, 2017 the remaining server content will be wiped. Once the server content is erased, you will no longer have access to the publisher portal (https://www.allromanceebooks.com/publishers/index.php). Please make sure to log in and download any reports you might need prior to that date. We remain on schedule to remit payments by February 28, 2017 of payment of the settlement amounts for those who agreed to accept our 10 % settlement offer. Finally, those who are due to receive a 1099 for the 2016 tax year will be receiving them via the post. Those who are due to receive a 1042 for the 2016 tax year will be receiving password-protected files via email. We will be sending a password protected document to the email address we have on record. The password to unlock the document will be sent via a separate email. As per our terms of agreement, we will be using the information that was in our database as of December 31, 2016. If you need to update any information for the 2017 tax form distribution, please send a request to allromanceebooks@mac.com.
Sincerely,
Lori James
All Romance eBooks, LLC
UPDATE 9/25/17: Recently spotted: re-issues of some of Lori James's books (under pen names Samantha Sommersby and L.J. Harper) through a publisher called Morpho Press LLC. Morpho has no website, but a business entity search shows that it is registered in Sheridan, Wyoming by Cloud Peak Law Group, P.C.

Meanwhile, the ARe lawsuit is proceeding. James has moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. A hearing is scheduled for January 9, 2018. (To see court documents, click this link, click "All Case Records Search," search on James, Lori, and click on Case No. 17-000247-CI.)

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