Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Warning: Green Shore Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you've encountered Green Shore Publishing, you might be intrigued by an enterprise that describes itself as "The UK and Ireland's New Standard in Book Publishing," and touts both its success and (in the little video on its home page) its extreme selectivity.

But wait: Green Shore Publishing isn't exactly what it seems.

First clue: the Packages page, where you learn that you must pay between £300 and £1,500 for the privilege of publication. OK, so not really a publisher, then.

Misgivings growing, you move on to the Testimonials page, where three video clips from authors who provide neither their surnames nor the titles of their books carry an unmistakable whiff of canned ad script.

On to the Catalog page to check out the books. But wait--there's no catalog page, even though the home page verbiage, as well as the "testimonials", suggest that GSP has been releasing books for several months, if not longer. The only books that are even referenced on GSP's website (on the Publish With GSP page, ostensibly in order to demonstrate GSP's superior cover design and innovative marketing skills...hmm, not so much) do not appear to exist. In fact, if you search on the various Amazons, you will find that there are no Green Shore Publishing books at all.

Pay-to-play. Unverifiable (and probably fake) testimonials. Nonexistent books. Ready to run away?

Good. But you still don't know the worst thing about Green Shore Publishing, and that is this: it's run by Adam Salviani, owner of "thumbs down" vanity publisher Raider Publishing International.

In 2012, I blogged about the Raider complaints I'd received, and the many more that could be found on the Web (see examples here, here, and here). Since then, complaints have continued to mount, both in my Inbox and online. Authors--many of whom have paid four figures--report loooooong publication delays (as much as 18 months), lousy quality of finished books, nonpayment of royalties due, broken marketing and other promises, and total silence when they try to get the company to address their concerns. Authors have tried taking legal action, contacting the FBI, sending petitions to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, filing local police reports (despite his fondness for giving his businesses London addresses, Salviani is rumored to live in Newark, NJ), and speaking out (there's a whole Facebook page devoted to warning about Raider). None of it has made a difference.

At the time of my 2012 post, Raider had an "A" rating from the BBB. Now, thankfully, it has an F. I don't put a lot of stock in BBB ratings--that "A" is a good example of why--but people do check them, so I'm glad to see a rating that matches reality.

There are no staff names or other identifying information anywhere on Green Shore Publishing's website to link it with Raider or Salviani. So how do I know that GSP is him? Well, I have copies of contracts from both publishers (the GSP one was supplied by the author who tipped me off to GSP's existence--thank you!), and there's fair bit of overlap in language and terms. But the kicker is the signatures:*

Identical, right down to the dotting of the "i's". You'd think, if you were going to start a new author-fleecing operation to dodge the bad publicity over your old author-fleecing operation, you'd have the sense not to use a) the exact same scan of your signature, or b) your real name.

Salviani is no stranger to new startups. Previous satellite publishing ventures include Purehaven Press (which acknowledged the connection with Raider) and Perimedes Publishing (which didn't). Both are now defunct. As for Raider, it may be in trouble. Over at TIPM, Mick Rooney--who has been covering Raider and its offshoots since 2008--reports that only one book has appeared under the Raider imprint since November 2013, likely because Ingram has de-listed Raider from its catalog.

* To see the full contracts with the signatures, click here (Green Shore Publishing) and here (Raider Publishing).

Friday, July 18, 2014

On Trolls and Fake Bad Reviews

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

We've all read about the abuse of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I'm not talking about soliciting your friends to write glowing testimonials for your books, or buying five-star reviews in batches from paid review services. I'm talking about people who post bad reviews for revenge, punishment, or intimidation. And there's a lot of that kind of thing out there, from angry readers one-starring ebooks whose prices they deem too high, to academic authors employing fake names to slag their rivals, to (alleged) packs of bully reviewers on Goodreads (Goodreads actually changed its review policies in response to this perceived problem).

I recently had the chance to experience review abuse for myself.

On June 29, one- and two-star reviews started appearing on the Amazon page of my 2012 novel Passion Blue--nine in all, over a period of less than two weeks. (I've pasted in screenshots below.)

Beyond the unlikelihood of nine genuine one- and two-star reviews appearing in succession over such a short period of time (the most recent review before that was five months ago), my brand new reviews shared a number of characteristics that suggested fakery. None were from verified purchasers. Most were from accounts that never posted a review before or since. None included any details to suggest they'd read the book, but all were unanimous: it sucked horribly. I mean, it REALLY sucked. Two of the reviewers were so traumatized that they had to take to drink. One wished for death.

Before this, Passion Blue had two one-star reviews and two two-star reviews. One of the one-stars is kind of unfair, since the person admits they didn't read the book--but the reviews are all real, or appear to be. It never occurred to me to challenge them--or indeed, to respond to them at all.

Responding to genuine negative reviews is a mug's game. Bad reviews go with the territory; if you're going to put yourself out there for the reading public to judge, you've got to be prepared to deal with them--and that means letting them go and moving on. Authors who can't resist the urge to strike back are more likely than not to wind up looking like fools (there's a list of some of the more notorious incidences here.)

Fake bad reviews, though--that's another story.

Amazon's little "report abuse" button is useless, but if you contact customer service with a complaint (you can do that here), they are pretty responsive. I had an easier way to manage this than most, because I'm an Amazon Publishing author. The outcome wasn't totally satisfactory, since they left two of the reviews up--one that appeared after I made my complaint, and the first one, which is maybe the most over-the-top one ("[The book] would make the Devil himself cringe with horror") but also the only one that isn't obviously from a fake account (though most of this person's reviews certainly look fake).

So who's behind this review fakery?

Well, if you're a regular reader, you may know that I (along with other anti-writing scam advocates) have my very own troll. Trollbaby likes to target me directly, though lately they've been harassing my Twitter followers with spam tweets like this one:
I can't prove Trollbaby is my review faker, but fake reviews are certainly their style. (If I'm giving you too much credit, Trollbaby, please forgive me.)

Here's Trollbaby's "book," by the way. Aren't they clever punsters?

Product Details

EDITED TO ADD: Just hours after putting this post online, I heard from an author who was recently hit by a one-star attack very much like mine. She thinks that a scammer I did an expose on recently is behind the attacks, and what she says makes sense. I may have given Trollbaby too much credit after all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Agenty Advice to a Hopeful Writer, From a Non-Agent

 Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Dear Hopeful Writer,

Today I received your snail mail query, beginning:
Dear agent,

I am seeking your representation on my [title redacted] novel. It has 600,000 word count, with the theme: betrayal, revenge, suspense, la femme Nikita, romance, mystery, women fiction, detective and blackmail.
Please consider this well-meant advice.

- Oh dear. You formatted your query (and the chapters included with it) in Lucida Italic. Perhaps you thought this would make you stand out. Well, it does--but not in a good way. Agents expect standard formatting--which means, among other things, a standard font (such as Times New Roman). One glance at your italic opus will cause most agents to toss it aside without even reading.

- Imagine that you're approaching your dream agent, the one you'd most love to represent you. Why would you not address him or her by name? Starting your query with "Dear agent" strongly suggests that you're blasting out a form letter, and agents hate form letters even more than they hate italics. Any agents who looked past your nonstandard formatting will likely stop reading at this point, just two words in.

- 600,000 words? No, no, no. That's the length of four books, not one. For those few, intrepid agents who've persisted this far, your query is now flying toward the recycle bin. (Here--have this handy guide to optimum word counts for fiction.)

- As you query, so do you write. Bad grammar, weird sentence construction, "women fiction": yet more reason for an agent to stop reading. I'm sorry to be blunt, but if you're not competent at this basic level, you aren't ready to be querying.

- Last but certainly not least--and please forgive me if this sounds overly obvious--do make sure that the person you're querying actually is an agent. Approaching a non-agent  (me, for instance) for representation is simply not productive. I hate to think of how many stamps you've wasted this way (and by the way, most agents are happy to accept email queries). Also, just out of curiosity: did "Writer Beware" really strike you as a plausible name for a literary agency?

I hope these observations will be of assistance in your future querying.


Not An Agent

P.S. Here are some links to help:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Time to Bury the Hachette

 Posted by Michael Capobianco for Writer Beware

It’s a tough time to be an author advocacy organization. As you may or may not know, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has been catching a lot of flak about signing on to Douglas Preston’s letter asking Amazon to stop treating Hachette’s books differently from those of the other big publishers by refusing to accept pre-orders, refusing to discount prices, and slowing the delivery of Hachette books to Amazon customers.

SFWA wasn’t alone in signing the letter. Various prestigious authors, including Stephen King, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, at least two past SFWA presidents, and a few hundred other authors, many well known, also signed. Although the letter claims to not take sides in the Amazon/Hachette contractual negotiations, it is addressed only to Amazon, and several sentences seem decidedly biased toward Hachette.

The reaction, both inside the organization and outside, was fast and intense. The letter was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an attack on Amazon, in which Hachette comes across as an innocent victim.

I’ve read the letter several times now, and I can see how it could be taken as being on Hachette’s side, but in my opinion the interpretations of it from both sides have been extreme. It’s almost as if a reader’s pre-conceived biases completely overshadow what’s actually in the letter. For example, there’s nothing in the letter that talks about self-publishing, but it has been taken by some as an attack on self-publishers. Admittedly, SFWA’s participation can be seen as continuation of a long-standing policy of excluding self-publishers, but still, self-publishing is not there in the letter, which, at least on its face, is pleading only for Amazon to change its policy towards Hachette books.

The traditional media, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, have portrayed Amazon as the bad guy here, hurting Hachette’s sales and authors deliberately as part of a negotiating strategy to get a better deal from Hachette. In a recent leaked proposal from Amazon floating the idea of a program to compensate authors hurt by the stand-off, Amazon seems to admit that it actually is doing in most of the things the Preston letter accuses it of, and could stop doing them if it so chose. Even that proposal is subject to reader bias, though. Many read it as a genuine offer, but others see it as a disingenuous ploy.

Hugh Howey, an author who has become a spokesperson to the self-published and who has studied the actions of Amazon and Hachette extensively, has put forward a compelling case that Hachette, in fact, is the bad actor here, and makes his case even more convincing by listing the worst aspects of the way Hachette treats its authors--and there are a lot of them, most especially the 25% of net digital royalty that it and the other big publishers force on their authors. He contends that Hachette is actually in the catbird seat, here, and has much less to lose than Amazon if the negotiations are not concluded successfully. Howey is also at least partly responsible for a petition on Change.org supporting Amazon that has garnered several thousand signatures at this point.

I think it’s safe to say that so far the Board of SFWA has tended towards the pro-Hachette position, but the organization’s primary purpose is to advocate for the Hachette authors, especially Hachette authors who also happen to be members. As a first approximation, the Preston letter at least seems to be doing that. Does the Preston letter make unwarranted assumptions about the battle between Hachette and Amazon? Who knows? The fact is, very few people outside those two companies know what’s really going on. Hachette could be the good guy, Amazon the bad guy. Or they both could be bad guys. Or both good guys. There’s an infinite smorgasbord of possibilities. How do you advocate for Hachette’s authors and remain completely neutral?

As I mentioned earlier, Amazon has put forth a tentative proposal to fix the problems in their ordering system that disadvantage Hachette authors, and compensate those authors for the harm done to them during the negotiations. Amazon offered to join with Hachette to pay the authors 100% of its proceeds for their ebooks while the negotiations continue, but only if Hachette agrees to also give all of its proceeds to the authors.

It sounds good, right? Amazon is clearly thinking of the authors, and is even willing to forgo its profit on those books. What could be fairer? Unfortunately, a closer look reveals the flaw: while Amazon would be sacrificing a small profit on a small percentage of its ebook sales, Hachette would be sacrificing a large profit on all of its ebook sales through Amazon (estimated as 60% of its ebook sales total in the USA, and even more in the UK). Hachette, not surprisingly, refused this offer in a matter of hours. Pundits opined that Amazon just made the offer as a publicity stunt, as a way to sway opinion to their side, at the same time making Hachette look like pikers.

No matter how it looks, I’m convinced that the proper course for SFWA and other author advocacy groups is to urge Hachette to negotiate a better, more fairly determined payment to the authors who have been harmed, or, if Hachette stonewalls, to ask Amazon to make good the harm independently.

Here’s an analogy: if you saw the most recent Superman movie, Man of Steel, you undoubtedly noticed how Superman and General Zod destroyed much of Metropolis during their battle at the end of the film. Should the people whose homes and business were destroyed accept compensation for the damage, even if it's offered by General Zod? What if you can’t tell who demolished your apartment building, Zod or Superman? What if you didn’t even know that Superman was the good guy?

The Authors Guild, perhaps predictably, is firmly on the side of Hachette. They’ve been issuing warnings about Amazon for years now, and there’s some indication that their failed settlement with Google was at least partly aimed at addressing Amazon’s dominance. Roxana Robinson, president of the Authors Guild, commented to the NYT: “If Amazon wants to have a constructive conversation about this, we’re ready to have one at any time,” she said in an email. “But this seems like a short-term solution that encourages authors to take sides against their publishers. It doesn’t get authors out of the middle of this — we’re still in the middle.”

If there is a better example of publisher-centric author advocacy, I haven’t seen it. Maybe Amazon’s offer doesn’t get the authors out of the middle, but at least it compensates them for the inconvenience. There are precedents for this type of compensation, too. Amazon and Macmillan reached a similar deal to pay authors a “Kindle Outage Adjustment” back in 2010, after Amazon temporarily disabled the “Buy” buttons on Macmillan books during a dispute over ebook pricing. SFWA’s approach to Amazon’s offer should be to urge Hachette to negotiate and do everything possible to facilitate such payments. It should insist that any compensatory payments will not be counted as royalty income and will be paid directly to the authors, above and beyond any unearned advance.

While the main thrust of this advocacy should be aimed at Hachette, at least initially, I can see also urging Amazon to make a fairer offer in which the payment to authors is more evenly shared, and, if Hachette doesn’t budge, it would be reasonable to approach Amazon about paying out these moneys directly to authors, bypassing Hachette entirely. If Amazon acknowledges that it has harmed these authors and wants to make them whole, surely it would have no problem paying them directly.

Wishful thinking? For over a year, Amazon’s subsidiary Audible directly paid authors one dollar for every audiobook of theirs sold if they signed up for the program. This was not a royalty. It was unrelated to whatever contractual arrangement the author had to his or her publisher. It was an honorarium; a gift. So Amazon definitely has the technical ability to do it again with Hachette authors. If some authors didn’t register for the program, either the Authors Registry (run by the Guild, so they might not be interested) or the Authors Coalition’s Individual Author Distribution system could be used to find and pay them.

I hope that this approach would be viewed as pro-author, neutral towards the combatants, and would help to reassure those who thought SFWA’s participation in the Preston letter was siding with Amazon.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Writer Beware Has a New Logo and a New Look

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Introducing Writer Beware's brand-new logo! It was designed by awesome artist James F. Beveridge, and hopefully will help us to build more of a brand identity. After sixteen years, it's about time, right?

Over the next few weeks, I'll be updating Writer Beware's various online presences to include it.

I've already re-designed this blog, within the limits of available Blogger templates (while I would love to switch to Wordpress, I can't figure a way to do so without losing all our wonderful followers). I hope you find it more attractive and readable.

Comments, as always, are welcome!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

American Writing Association: A Service Writers Don't Need

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Recently I've gotten a number of questions about the American Writing Association (note the .org suffix, implying altruism and good will), a group that describes itself thus:
We are a group of professional writers and editors that are committed to helping people become published writers. We work with a wide range of people - from the every day writer with a story to tell, to the experienced writer looking for the big publishing contract. Whatever your goal is, we are dedicated to helping you achieve fulfillment from the time and effort you have put into your writing.
What exactly does that mean? Well, if you ignore the abundant red flags and submit your writing, you receive an offer like this:
If we do feel the book has the potential for success, then we would offer to represent you. That includes:

1) Writing a Query Letter to represent you and the book
2) Offer to copyright the completed book if necessary
3) Our attorneys will represent you when signing contracts
4) Submit you directly to Literary Agents in our expansive network

This requires an investment of $699. Again, past that there are no other fees other than the 5% Commission, but we will not surprise you with any hidden fees within our business. We are very up front about what we plan to do.
In other words, American Writing Association is a new iteration of a very old scheme: the literary agent middleman.

For a savvy writers, AWA should set off multiple warning bells based just on its particulars: the lack of substantive information about staff; the vague promises about connections and networks; the last-names-missing testimonials; the non-verifiable success stories on its Twitter feed. Not to mention the big fee and the 5% commission.

But there's a bigger issue here as well. Literary agents are the ONLY recognized middlemen in the publishing business. And you don't need a middleman to approach a middleman.

Unfortunately, services like AWA--which can carry fees into the four figures--have a fatal appeal for writers frustrated by the research and query process, not to mention multiple rejections. The concept even makes superficial sense, in a hall-of-infinite-reflections kind of way: since you need an agent to get the attention of publishers, why wouldn't you need an agent to get the attention of agents?

You don't. In fact, you're far less likely to get a favorable response than you are with your own query letter. I've seen a number of these middleman-to-the-middlemen schemes over the years, and they all have one thing in common: literary agents hate them. You don't have to take my word for it--here's the recent reaction of two successful literary agents to a middleman approach--one that I'm betting was a lot more professional than AWA's:
So who's behind AWA? Its website offers no clue; those highly-touted "professional" writers and editors and attorneys aren't named (though I did manage to find one of AWA's editors; I'll let you judge her level of experience), and the URL is anonymized.

I was able to find several names that appear to be associated with AWA: Bruce Allen, AWA "Vice President"; Jerry Moore; and Adam Goldson. AWA alleges that it's located in Downers Grove, Illinois (home, perhaps not coincidentally, to Silver Screen Placements, a fee-charging agency about which I got a number of complaints in the mid-aughts). A toll-free number on the website thanks callers for contacting AWA and invites them to dial staff members' (non-existent) extensions.

However, the phone number included in the AWA emails I've seen belongs to something called Big Rock Florist Concierge in Big Rock, IL, just down the road from Downers Grove. I called that number too, and was routed to Adam Goldson's voice mail. So he, at least, appears to be a real person, though I was unable to find out anything else about him--leaving open the question of how being a florist concierge, whatever that is, qualifies you to have anything to do with writing and publishing.

Writers, don't waste your money on a needless "service" like this.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Start Media Responds to Questions on Purchase of Whiskey Creek Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Shortly after I posted my article about Whiskey Creek Press's purchase by Start Media, and the new contract terms being offered by Start, I received a response from Jarred Weisfeld, President of Start Publishing.

I think it clarifies some of the concerns expressed by WCP authors--including what, for me, was a major question: what will happen to writers with current WCP contracts who don't choose to sign Start's letter of agreement. That, by the way, is information that should have been provided by Whiskey Creek Press in its letter announcing the sale. In my opinion, WCP was seriously remiss in not addressing that issue.

The cut in royalty rates is still going to be hard for authors to swallow (it was a major sticking point when Start took over Night Shade Books). While 25% of net is--regrettably--"standard" for larger houses, it's not typical for small presses.

I also question why, if Start is saying here that rights reversion is automatic for books that fall below the minimum sales threshold, they don't simply include that language in the new contract.
UPDATE, 7/16/14: I incorrectly assumed that Jarred's assurance (below) that "there will be no termination fees in the new Whiskey Creek Agreements" meant that termination fees would be waived for existing Whiskey Creek authors who requested early termination. I provided this interpretation in email to at least one Whiskey Creek author. In fact, I've learned, termination fees will not be waived for existing Whiskey Creek contracts. It's only new contracts, going forward, that won't include them.

My question: who is getting the money, Start or the Womacks? Either way, it seems awfully petty for Start to keep imposing this crappy contract requirement (termination fees suck, and their appearance in a publishing contract is always a red flag).
With permission, I'm reproducing Jarred's email in its entirety below.
We're very excited by the opportunity to develop lasting relationships with Whiskey Creek Press's many talented writers. We have received an overwhelmingly positive response from the authors with whom we've spoken and as we have gotten to know many of these authors, we're impressed with the body of work they've cultivated and their knowledge of their audience. We're looking forward to learning from them and working with them to reach even greater milestones than they have done thus far.

We wanted to address the questions regarding the new terms we have offered WCP's authors to help avoid any confusion.
  • Both the royalty rate and the length of copyright terms we are offering are very common, typically considered "standard" in publishing. Our view toward licensing a work for the term of copyright is that we have an opportunity to continue supporting title sales well beyond what might otherwise happen if the terms were to end after only a few years. As our marketing capabilities continue to grow in scope and complexity, we'll look forward to extending the active life of titles many years beyond their initial release. We're excited to be able to do this with such engaging titles and looking forward to finding innovative ways to market them.
  • For those authors who prefer not to sign on under the new terms, that's absolutely fine and we'll continue to honor the terms of their contract as they already stand. When their license has expired they are free to go elsewhere if they wish. They're also free to exercise their termination clause if they'd like to get out before the end of the license period. (Please be advised there will be no termination fees in the new Whiskey Creek Agreements)
  • Any titles with licenses that expired previously whose authors don't want them to remain with Whiskey Creek Press will likewise be released as per the contract stipulations.
  • If you do not sell the number of copies in our reversion clause you will get your rights back immediately.
  • Please note, we have given authors non-recoupable advances as part of this process. The amount of the advances has varied per author and sales and was a significant amount in aggregate.
We've had great phone calls and emails with some of the authors who had questions about the arrangement going forward. We will continue to engage in this type of dialogue and welcome any concerns any authors may want to bring up to us. We want to make sure all of our authors are happy to be in a partnership that we're excited to begin. We're looking forward to creating a lasting brand and connecting new, engaged audiences with Whiskey Creek Press's authors' dynamic content.

Start Media Buys Whiskey Creek Press, Imposes New Contract Terms

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Edited to add: Jarred Weisfeld of Start Media has responded to this post, clarifying some of the issues raised below.

In early June, Debra Womack, owner of Whiskey Creek Press, announced in a letter to authors that the publisher was in the process of being acquired by Start Media (a company that has recently acquired two other small presses, Night Shade Books and Salvo Press).
As part of the acquisition process, Start is asking all current WCP authors to agree to and sign an offer of new terms as follows on page two below. We are offering you the non-refundable sum of $1 and other good and valuable consideration, payable to you if and when the sale of the company to Start is completed (expected to be by the end of June 2014). Upon closing you will also receive a payment from WCP of current royalties and/or advances or any other sums owing to you by WCP for sales up through and including April 30, 2014.
Writer Beware has received a few reports about WCP over the years: a setup fee for taking books to print (a policy that was apparently discontinued some time ago), and a $500 fee for early termination of its 3-year contract (always a red flag, since such fees don't benefit either writers or publishers, and can be used abusively). Per the discussion at this anti-WCP blog, some authors have also apparently had recent trouble with substandard editing, missing royalty payments/statements, and poor communications by the company.

Even so, WCP seemed relatively stable. So the abrupt announcement of a sale--with no explanation as to why--came as a major shock to authors. So did the terms offered by Start Media.

WCP's contract includes this clause:
If the Publisher sells its assets to another publisher who does or plans to market and promote books of the type and genre of the Work, the successor publisher will be bound, as a minimum, to the same terms delineated in this agreement.
In direct contradiction to this, however, the letter of agreement Start Media is asking authors to sign imposes some substantially different terms. WCP's contract term is 3 years from publication; Start Media's is life-of-copyright. WCP's ebook royalties are 35% of the net download price; Start Media's are 25% of net ("all monies actually received"). There's also a troubling gap between April 30, when WCP ceases to pay royalties, and July 1, when Start Media's new royalty rate kicks in. What happens to books sold in May and June?

Understandably, WCP authors are upset and angry. Many are refusing to sign--despite the fact that no explanation has been provided, either by Womack/WCP or Start Media, of what will happen to their rights if they don't. (I've contacted Ms. Womack to ask this question; I haven't heard back yet, but if I do I'll update this post.)

One of the things WCP authors are most concerned about is Start's life-of-copyright grant term. I've heard from authors worrying that Start is asking them to actually transfer their copyright, and from others outraged that Start will hold their rights until 70 years after their deaths.

I do understand that life-of-copyright sounds scary. But it is also the subject of a lot of misunderstanding. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, life-of-copyright grants are extremely common in the publishing world, particularly for larger publishers, though small presses use them as well. I don't consider them ideal for small press or digital-only contracts--a limited term of 3 to 7 years is preferable--but, leaving all other issues aside, Start Media isn't out of the mainstream in asking for a life-of-copyright grant term.

The intent of life-of-copyright contracts isn't to seize authors' rights (no transfer of copyright is involved, unless that's specifically stated) or to hold them in a death-grip until long after authors are dead (how likely is it that a single publisher will even be in existence 70 years after you kick the bucket?). Rather, life-of-copyright is intended to enable the publisher to to continue publishing for as long as a work sells in decent numbers. Once sales diminish--as, for most books, they inevitably do a few years after publication--the contract should be terminated and the work taken "out of print".

In the old days of print only, publishers had a strong incentive to take books out of print and off the market, because they didn't want the expense of holding boxes of non-selling books in their warehouses. Nowadays, though, books don't need to have physical existence in order to be available for sale--so it's actually in publishers' interest to keep them available indefinitely. If a publisher has a deep backlist, they can make money even from books that sell only a handful of copies.

To prevent this, a good life-of-copyright contract should ensure that the author can demand--and receive--termination of his or her contract once sales fall below a specific minimum (for instance, fewer than 50 copies sold in the previous 12 consecutive months). With such language, a life-of-copyright contract is acceptable. Without it, a life-of-copyright contract is a "beware."

Here is Start's reversion language.
2• Revision [sic] of rights: If the Work shall be declared out-of-print, or sell fewer than twenty five (25) copies in all formats in any calendar year, or the Publisher shall have stopped selling the Work in all formats, including reprints or editions licensed to other publishers in the United States and if, within six (6) months of a request by the Author the Publisher fails to inform the Author in writing of a plan to reprint, repackage, do a new edition, or license an edition to another publisher in the United States, then this Agreement can be terminated by the Author in writing. After receipt of the termination letter, Publisher shall have an additional two (2) weeks to reconsider its options (a total of 6 months and two weeks) and notify the Author of its decision. If the Publisher still fails to inform the Author of an intention to keep the Work in print in the United States, all rights shall revert to the Author, subject to any grant of rights made by the Publisher prior to the termination date, and any third party licenses will remain in effect for the duration of its contract and Publisher shall be entitled to collect its royalties.
So there is a minimum sales threshold, below which authors can demand reversion. However, this is qualified by two things: the publisher's ability to slap a new cover on the book (or something similar) and call it a "repackage"; and, more problematic, its ability to "reconsider its options" once it has received a termination request. In effect, whether to honor the 25 copy minimum sales threshold is left entirely to the publisher's discretion. Authors, therefore, can't count on low sales triggering reversion.

Even if there were no other issues, this makes Start's agreement a "beware," as far as I'm concerned.

Unfortunately this analysis is largely moot, since WCP authors' deadline for signing up with Start was June 23 (I wish I'd written about this sooner, but I've been out of the loop for much of June, as you can tell from the absence of posts here, and only heard about the WCP sale this week). I'll be interested to hear from WCP authors--both those who signed up with Start and those who didn't--either in the comments here or via email.


As a side note, WCP's recent contracts include this ominous clause:
XVI. Defamation. Should the Author, or Author’s agent, defame Whiskey Creek Press, Publisher has the expressed right to remedy the matter in a court of law. The Publisher also has the right to terminate this agreement, in part or in full, if defamation is proven. The Author will be responsible for full payment of damages and customary legal fees as a result of legal action stemming from defamation. This does not apply to any issue between Authors.
Writers, where you see a clause like this in a publishing contract--and I've seen a few--it all but guarantees that complaints about the publisher exist.

Friday, June 06, 2014

A Visit to BEA 2014's UPublishU

 Posted by Michael Capobianco for Writer Beware

For the last several years, as part of an effort to include self-published and “indie” authors, the annual BookExpo America has included a program called UPublishU.

While attending something like this is not something I’d ordinarily be interested in, scammers of various stripes have used BEA to add a veneer of legitimacy to their services, and this program appeared ripe for this sort of thing. So Victoria and I decided that I would sign up and attend as many of the programs as possible. The cost ($115 before a certain date, $215 after) seemed a little high, but it was all in the interest of Writer Beware.

I also figured if uPublishU turned out to be everything it promised, I might pick up a few interesting tips and tidbits. I am the de facto publisher of A.C. Crispin’s StarBridge books, and recently went through the process of publishing her last book, Time Horse, so I think I probably am in the demographic they are trying to reach.

I got there a little late, and the location and lack of signage concerning UpublishU made me even later. It was tucked into a far corner of the cavernous Javits Center, and I swear that it was almost as if the Powers That Be at BEA were trying to hide it. I finally found it after following directions to “go through the Food Court.”

Unfortunately, I missed most of the first panels, so I had time to make a circuit of the closely packed tables housing the “sponsors” of the event. Most I didn’t recognize, although some--Nook, Kobo, Lulu--I was familiar with. I noticed Mark Coker at the Smashwords table, but he was running off to speak, so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him then. Notably missing was Amazon.

It’s easy to make fun of the names of many of these companies: Nook, Vook, Bookbaby , Bibliocrunch, Pubslush, and my favorite, Bublish. (Why not Publicious? Xook? Booklish? Boopuck? I could go on, but probably you get the idea.)

There were three tracks of programming, but none of the titles seemed all that intriguing. I picked the program items that seemed most specific. What I got, for the most part, was sponsors doing subtle and not-so-subtle advertising for their products. Example: a gentleman from Bowker strongly suggesting that authors should purchase their ISBN’s directly from Bowker or else they wouldn’t have complete control over their metadata. Not mentioning, of course, how buying a few ISBN’s at a time is extremely uneconomical. I can’t say for sure that the panels I didn’t attend were as uninformative as the ones I did, but I think it’s safe to say that no one was revealing any secret handshakes or other ways to get rich quick as an indie author.

Was there encouragement and congratulations for those who were smart enough to “become their own CEO?” Yes, more than a little. This culminated with the keynote speaker, publicist and consultant Cyndi Ratzlaff, whose presentation was titled, appropriately, “Brand YOU: Creating a Rock Star Personal Brand for You and Your Books.” Unfortunately, this presentation was also lunch, so I listened for nearly an hour to a rah-rah speech that boiled down to “be on lots of social media services,” “post a lot,” and “be yourself, only better.” I did eventually leave after I had finished my ham sandwich, potato chips, and cookie, even though the presentation wasn’t quite over; so there might have been something else more valuable at the end (but I doubt it.) Ms. Ratzlaff’s presentation left me feeling that the UPublishU organizers had exceptionally low opinions of the authors who had signed up.

So were there any shady businesses there? I missed it the first and second time around, but eventually I realized that Archway Publishing was, in fact, one of the many “imprints” of Author Solutions. Interestingly, Archway’s rep, Keith Ogorek, recognized my name and I recognized his, since he had interacted with Victoria and me a number of years ago. Keith is Senior Vice President, Marketing for Author Solutions. CrossBooks, another imprint associated with Author Solutions, also had a table.

Fortunately, the Alliance of Independent Authors also had a table, and they were debuting a valuable guidebook titled Choosing a Self-Publishing Service. (Disclaimer: Victoria wrote the Introduction for the book.) We’re discussing hosting a SFWA/Writer Beware table at UPublishU next year. There’s no question that it’s needed.

Toward the end of the day, BookCon, another program of BEA that allowed readers to attend panels of their favorite authors, overwhelmed the space devoted to UPublishU. The hallway was packed with BookCon attendees, which at times made it difficult to even get to the exhibitor tables. Although there were certainly some good services represented there, it was probably just as well.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Bait-and-Switch for Self-Published Authors

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Recently I heard from a self-published author (let's call her Author) who received an alarming email from a reader--or at least, someone claiming to be a reader (let's call her FauxReader).

FauxReader said she loved Author's book, but was distressed by the large number of errors in it--wrong tenses, mis-spelled words, and grammatical mistakes on nearly every page. Not only did this make reading less pleasurable, FauxReader was worried that it might result in bad reviews.

Author was shocked. She works with an editor, and carefully prepares her manuscripts. She didn't think it could be formatting glitches, because those wouldn't insert mis-spellings and grammar snafus. All she could guess was that she'd uploaded the wrong file.

When Author asked FauxReader where she'd purchased the book, and to provide a few examples of the mistakes, FauxReader became cagy. She did eventually offer a retailer's name, and also identified a few typos--but nothing like the major errors with which, she'd claimed, Author's book was riddled.

By this time, Author was suspicious. She did some research--and to make a long story short, discovered that FauxReader had recently hung out a shingle as a freelance editor, apparently undeterred by the fact that she had zero qualifications. Author was being set up; if she'd continued interacting with FauxReader, she probably would have received an offer to fix the "errors"--for a fee, of course.

This is at least the fourth (and most brazen) bait-and-switch scheme targeting self-publishers that I've heard about in the past couple of years. They all seem to operate similarly: the author gets an out-of-the-blue contact from someone claiming to have found text mistakes, or cover art problems, or even metadata deficiencies. The mistakes and problems may or may not be real. The person presents as a Good Samaritan, just trying to help the author out--but always, in the end, there's an offer of a fix for money.

That's one of the "beware" issues here. The other, of course, is the problem of unqualified service providers. Unskilled and less-skilled editors may seem appealing because they're often cheap compared to pricey skilled professionals, but they haven't the skills to do the job and may actually make things worse.

This isn't a new problem: Writer Beware has been receiving complaints about unqualified editors (both freelance and, unfortunately, employed by small presses) for almost as long as we've been in existence. But the boom in self-publishing has really given it legs. Scammers, con artists, and predators go where the opportunity is--and right now, there is huge opportunity in self-publishing. From small-time operators like FauxReader trying to rip off one author at a time, to big corporations peddling dreams that relieve thousands of authors of cash (*cough* Author Solutions *cough*), the danger is everywhere.

Self-published authors, you are the new frontier in literary schemes, scams, and cons. Be careful out there. Verify credentials, don't settle for unskilled service providers even if they're cheaper or you like them personally, and beware out-of-the-blue solicitations.

For another reason to be careful, see my post on self-styled book publicist Kerry Jacobson.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Robert Fletcher of SBPRA to Pay Author Restitution in Settlement of Florida Lawsuit

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (SBPRA) is the tip of a fee-charging agenting/editing/publishing iceberg created by Robert M. Fletcher of Boca Raton, Florida. Since 2001, it has employed a veritable carousel of changing names (more than 40 to date), and Writer Beware has received hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints from authors who've cited abuses such as fees for literary agency services, fees for publishing, fees for editing, fees for marketing services, referrals to other branches of the business without revealing the connection, and more.

Fletcher's operation has long been the subject of an Alert at Writer Beware.*

In 2009, as a result of a public consumer-related investigation, the Florida Attorney General filed suit against Fletcher, his businesses, and several staff members under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. Delays and legal maneuverings drew the case out for several years--but now, at last, there's a resolution.

According to documents obtained by Writer Beware via a public records request, Fletcher and his co-defendants (Leslie Williams, Lynn Eddy, and Mark Bredt, plus various corporate defendants**) have signed a Stipulated Settlement Agreement with the Florida Attorney General that, if certain provisions are fulfilled, will result in dismissal of the lawsuit. (The Settlement Agreement can be seen here.)

Via hate blog The Write Agenda (which over the past few years has been attempting--without much success--to discredit Writer Beware and other anti-scam activists), Fletcher has issued a triumphal-sounding statement declaring the Settlement "a victory."
“Anytime a business settles litigation with a government agency with no admission of guilt and no violation of the law, it can be considered a victory,” said Robert Fletcher, the CEO of a group of companies that have been dealing with government litigation for over six years.

“Unfortunately, most consumers believe that litigation equals guilt, but that simply isn’t true. This suit should never have been filed,” Mr. Fletcher continued. “If the litigation had any merit, they would have pushed it harder and not taken six years to deal with it.["]
Well...it's a bit more complicated than that.

It's true that Fletcher et al. have entered into the Settlement Agreement "without any admission either of guilt or that [they] have violated the law" (though if a court later finds that any of them have breached the Settlement's non-monetary provisions, the breach "shall constitute prima facie evidence of a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act"). However, the Settlement does impose a number of conditions directly relating to Fletcher's alleged business practices at the time the suit was filed (for a look at some of those practices, see this article by a former Fletcher employee). And it requires him to pay a substantial sum in restitution to authors.

Among other conditions, Fletcher et al. must:
  • Agree to the permanent dissolution of the Corporate Defendants as well as "any related fictitious names".
  • Use their real names when communicating with clients. (In the course of the investigation, Fletcher admitted to employing multiple aliases.***)
  • Disclose their relationship with other entities when making referrals. (At the time of the lawsuit, authors were led to believe that the editing branch of the company--to which they were referred for critiques--was an unrelated enterprise, and that Strategic Book Publishing and Eloquent Books, Fletcher's vanity imprints, were also separate.)
  • Create and maintain clear royalty reporting and payment systems. (For instance, authors shouldn't have to request their royalties in order to be paid.)
  • Disclose in contracts "the exact services which are to be provided," and provide "a separate statement" to inform authors that "there may be additional fees which are not included...and to direct them to a price list of standard, more common fees which are associated with additional services."
  • Disclose in any documents relating to purported mergers and acquisitions whether the merger or acquisition was made by a corporate entity associated with Fletcher or other defendants.  (Historically, one of Fletcher's strategies for evading bad press online has been to claim that a new company name had just acquired the old company name[s].)
  • Make available to the Attorney General records and documents pertaining to the implementation of the Settlement, for a period of two years.
  • Hire--and pay for--an Independent Compliance Monitor, who for a period of one year will monitor and report on their compliance with the Settlement conditions.
  • Pay $10,000 in court costs and attorneys' fees, and provide author restitution of $125,000 (and they cannot file for bankruptcy prior to payment). Only when payment is fully made will the Attorney General close the investigation and file for dismissal of the original lawsuit.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a problem with this final stipulation.

The terms of the Settlement Agreement require payment of the full monetary amount on signing. But while the $10,000 in court costs was paid timely--on February 14, 2014, when the final signature was obtained--the $125,000 in author restitution was not provided, nor did it appear after March 7, when the Attorney General's Office sent a courtesy reminder to Fletcher's lawyer.

Accordingly, on March 20, the Attorney General filed a motion for enforcement of the Settlement Agreement, and for entry of a final default judgment against Fletcher and the other defendants, including a $10,000 penalty. The motion was granted by the court on April 15 (the signed order can be seen here).

Information I've obtained indicates that as of Friday, May 9, the money was still outstanding.

Over the six years of the suit, Fletcher has phased out most of the corporate names included in the original complaint (though some remain, and there are a few legacy URLs--such as www.theliteraryagencygroup.com--that default to current websites, although their interior pages haven't been removed). At the moment, he's doing business (and charging fees) primarily as Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency [SBPRA] and Publish On Demand Global [PODG].

He hasn't lost his penchant for multiple business names, however. Other corporate names in use as of this writing include Best Selling Book Rights Agency, Literary & Rights Agency, Professional Publishing Press, ePubCo, Rapid Illustrations, Author Services International, Author Marketing Ideas, and Author Success Stories.

I have a hunch that the story isn't over yet. Stay tuned.


* In 2008, Fletcher filed a retaliatory lawsuit against Ann Crispin, James D. Macdonald, and myself, alleging defamation, loss of business, and emotional distress, and claiming that he was losing $25,000 per month due to our warnings about his business practices.

In March 2009, Fletcher's suit against Ann and myself was dismissed with prejudice by the Massachussetts Superior Court, due to Fletcher's failure to respond to discovery or otherwise prosecute the lawsuit. Subsequently, through counsel, we filed a motion seeking recovery of our legal fees and expenses.That motion was granted in July 2009. The full ruling can be seen here, but here's the salient portion:
The plaintiffs have exhibited extreme bad faith in bringing this frivolous lawsuit for the sole purpose of causing great expense and harassment to Crispin and Strauss. Fletcher expressly states that it was his purpose in his emails. The Court concludes and finds that this case was brought in bad faith by the plaintiffs for the mere purpose of causing great inconvenience and financial costs to Crispin and Strauss (as set out in Fletcher's pre-lawsuit emails to the defendants). This case is frivolous and this Court finds so, finds that the two plaintiffs and their lawyer, Jerrold G. Neeff, knew it was frivolous before it was even commenced. This Court rules that the defendants, Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss, are entitled to have all their legal fees and expenses incurred paid to them by the plaintiffs, Robert Fletcher and The Literary Agency Group.

This Court finds the claims asserted by the plaintiffs to be wholly insubstantial, frivolous, and not advanced in good faith.
** Corporate Defendants included in the suit: The Literary Agency Group Inc., Writers Literary & Publishing Services, New York Literary Agency, The Children's Literary Agency, Poets' Literary Agency, The Christian Literary Agency, Writers Literary Screenplay Agency, Rapid Publishing-Screenwriter911 Inc., Rapid Publishing Inc., The Global Book Agency, American Enterprises Group LLC, The Writer's Literary & Publishing Company, American Enterprises Group Inc., AEG Publishing Group, Eloquent Books, Strategic Book Publishing, Strategic Book Marketing, Group AEG, and ST Literary Agency.

*** Fletcher aliases mentioned in the suit: Robert West, Robert Williams, Bill Williams, Beth Stormes, Georgina Orr, Mary Bluestone, and Hil Mallory. There are many more. In a 2009 sworn statement (obtained by Writer Beware via a public records request), Fletcher admitted to using as many as 75 different email addresses.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Author Solutions Inc. Expands "Partridge" Brand to Singapore and Africa

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On April 30, Author Solutions Inc. (currently the subject of a class action lawsuit by authors who allege, among other things, breach of contract and unjust enrichment) announced expansion of its Partridge brand to South Africa and surrounding nations with Partridge Africa.

This follows expansion in March to the Malaysia region with Partridge Singapore. Both new ventures are being launched in "partnership" with Penguin Random House's subsidiaries in those countries, and both--while not promising any crossover--heavily leverage the PRH connection.

I blogged last year about Partridge India, the first of the Partridge ventures. Since that time, Writer Beware has received complaints from Partridge authors who've had problems with quality and service, similar to those experienced by authors with other ASI brands. Some of those complaints can be seen in the comments on my post.

Given what I know about ASI's PR strategies, I'm not surprised to see that both Partridge Singapore and Partridge Africa offer affiliate programs that allow individuals and organizations to make money by "introducing" authors to the services. From Partridge Africa:
Every customer or member is a potential author—you just need to present them with the opportunity to publish through your store, meeting place, or website. Here’s how it works:
1. Sign Up. Simply click the link below to review the official rules and submit your information.

2. Promote Partridge Africa. Affiliates will receive—at no cost—all the marketing materials you need to get started. We will provide graphics you can use on your website. You can be assured that the people you refer will get the services they desire. The mission of Partridge Africa is to empower authors and help them fulfil their book-publishing goals.

3. Earn Revenue. How much you earn depends on your promotional efforts and the resulting referrals and authors who sign up to publish with Partridge Africa. But the more interested individuals you send our way, the more you can earn.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Class Action Lawsuit Against Author Solutions Inc.: Update

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

As I'm sure most readers of this blog know, self-publishing services provider Author Solutions Inc., along with its parent, Penguin Group, is currently the subject of a class action lawsuit, filed in May 2013 by the law firm Giskan Solotaroff Anderson & Stewart LLP.

Allegations include breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and violation of state statutes in California, New York, and Colorado.

In June 2013, ASI and Penguin filed for dismissal, labeling authors' complaints "a series of gripes" that would be better served by filing individual suits, and urging the court to toss all but the breach of contract claims against ASI, and to remove Penguin from the lawsuit entirely.

Legal maneuvering over the dismissal filings ensued over the following months (plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint can be seen here), even as discovery proceeded on the contract claims.

Now Judge Denise Cote (the same Judge Cote who is in charge of the Apple ebook antitrust actions) has handed down a ruling that's good news for Penguin, but mostly a defeat for ASI. (The full ruling can be seen here.)

All claims against Penguin are dismissed.
Penguin is dismissed as a defendant in this action. The activities at issue here were undertaken by Author Solutions, a subsidiary of Penguin. Plaintiffs concede that they are not attempting to pierce the corporate veil in order to hold Penguin liable for Author Solutions’ actions. Accordingly, under basic corporate law principles, Penguin cannot be held liable for the alleged misconduct of Author Solutions.
ASI's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claims is granted in part and denied in part:
Plaintiffs allege two distinct forms of unjust enrichment by defendants. First, defendants unjustly profited by failing to pay royalties at the rate set forth in the contractual arrangement. Second, in failing to provide services that members of the class purchased without entering into a contract, defendants were unjustly enriched in the amount of the revenue received for those services.

Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim as to unpaid royalties is dismissed. The royalty rate is governed by written contracts, which plaintiffs seek to enforce in their breach-of-contract claim. Accordingly, these royalties cannot be recovered under an unjust enrichment theory.

Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim as to the non-contractual publishing services, however, is adequately pled. Unlike the claim regarding unpaid royalties, plaintiffs allege that there was no written contract setting forth the nature of the services for which they are seeking damages in their unjust enrichment claim.
ASI's motions to dismiss plaintiffs' claims of violation of various state statutes against deceptive acts and practices are denied. (Interestingly, in her discussion of ASI's alleged violation of New York General Business Law, Judge Cote cites New York State's 1999 lawsuit against fraudulent editing service Edit Ink.)

The surviving claims will now proceed to discovery, and the parties have submitted a proposed pre-trial schedule.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Take the Money and Run: Kerry Jacobson, "Book Publicist"

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Starting in the summer of last year, self-published authors whose books made it onto Amazon's Movers and Shakers list began to receive solicitations from a publicist named Kerry Jacobson (here's an example).

Jacobson, who claimed more than eight years of experience boosting authors onto bestseller lists, promised a marketing push that would vault the authors' books onto the New York Times and USA Today lists, or propel them into Amazon's top ten. He also promised guidance and mentoring to help them make the most of the opportunity.

Jacobson's fees were enormous--a retainer of $2,500, $4,500, even $6,500--with, in some cases, a $10,000 "bonus" due after authors made the lists. Authors who tried to research him to verify his background and claims of success found little beyond a few social media profiles--and, somewhat worryingly, a number of defunct businesses.* But he was dynamic and persuasive--especially on the phone--and, in support of his services, offered a strong testimonial from one author who really had made the NYT list.** He also provided a money-back guarantee.

Many authors looked at Jacobson's fees and said "no thanks." But others bit. They signed contracts, sent funds, provided requested publicity materials, and waited for the promised mentoring and guidance to begin.

And waited.

Authors discovered that, after the initial setup, getting in touch with Jacobson was like pulling teeth. Basically, except for sending invoices, he never contacted them unless they contacted him first. To their questions and concerns, he offered excuses--he'd been sick, he'd been crazy busy--or promises that everything was good on his end. He also pushed back agreed-upon marketing dates--sometimes repeatedly--with vague but important-sounding explanations like "several big titles are being released that week, and I don't want your campaign to suffer from the sales competition."

As their designated campaign dates approached, authors began to be seriously concerned. But, as is often the case in such situations, they hung on to hope--plus, having already invested thousands of dollars, many felt that they had no choice but to stick. So they promoted the marketing push to readers and fans, paid for advertising, and prepared to lower their books' prices to 99 cents as demanded in Jacobson's contracts. When their launch weeks arrived, they held their breath and waited for their sales ranks to rise.

And waited.

Some authors told me that they did see a sales boost, which they attributed entirely to their own promotional efforts. But others' sales ranks barely budged--and either way, they got nothing even close to the mega-sales that Jacobson had led them to expect. As for Jacobson himself, he was MIA--no sign of any action at all on his end. Authors who contacted him to demand what the hell was going on got the same vague answers and promises as before: big sales would come "tomorrow." It was taking a while for the numbers to build. He was focusing on the end of the push week rather than the start, because that was the way to get sales to rise organically.

It was all B.S., of course. And when angry authors attempted to hold Jacobson to his money-back guarantee--either after their failed promos or after watching their friends crash and burn--I'm sure you can guess what happened.

The mess went public in early March of this year, when one furious author posted a webpage (since removed) about her experience. She sent me a link, I put out a call for contact, and a number of other Jacobson victims responded. They paid a variety of fees and were promised a variety of results, but otherwise their experiences are remarkably similar.

Jacobson seems to have gone to ground. He's removed his Twitter profile and I've had no word of any author solicitations past February. But his AuthorBub website (which promises promotion to a claimed 2.4 million email list for the low, low price of $2,800), is still online--and people who get started in the author-fleecing business have a tendency to come back for more. So I wouldn't be surprised if he reappears at some point.

* Jacobson is or has been the officer or the registered agent for a number of other Florida-based businesses, including Venture Direct Worldwide, Generation Health, Tank Top Media, KnowSomebody.com, Ovid Consulting, Collaborative Push, Mile High Swap, Pernax, and Invitation Only.

** I've corresponded with the author, who told me that Jacobson was not responsible for her book's appearance on the NYT list, and that her testimonial was presented out of context.

Jacobson also claimed to have been the "project manager" for the marketing campaign for Jordan S. Rubin's The Maker's Diet, which he said spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book and its bestseller status are real (although not necessarily its science; the same year the book was published, Rubin's company, Garden of Life Inc., was ordered by the FDA to stop making unsubstantiated claims about some of its products and supplements). A "Kerry Jacobson" is mentioned in the "thank yous" in the front matter of The Maker's Diet, but I could find nothing to verify Jacobson's specific claims.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Another Small Press Horror Story: Silver Publishing is Gone

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Another small press disaster came to an ugly conclusion last week.

In mid-2012, I began getting complaints about Silver Publishing, which started up in 2009 as a self-publishing facilitator, but in 2010 transformed itself into a "traditional royalty-paying press" (I put that in quotes because, these days, it means so little).

Reported problems included poor editing, delayed and missing royalty statements/payments, royalty reductions due to claimed "overpayments," arbitrary changes in royalty payment schedules, and lack of communication--or, alternatively, rude responses to authors' questions and concerns. (See the Silver Publishing thread at Absolute Write for examples.)

All signs of a publisher in, if not terminal disarray, at least trouble.

Silver's owner, South African-born Lodewyk M. Deysel, made an appearance at Absolute Write in August 2012 to aggressively deny negative reports. By November of that same year, however, he was admitting in company email that there was "a deficit when it comes to paying our royalties"--in part, apparently, because he'd spent royalty income on business and other expenses. His solution: putting authors on a "partial payment plan" or giving them the option to terminate their contracts--contingent, in at least certain cases, on payment of a fee. Other authors, fed up, took matters into their own hands and hired lawyers to negotiate the return of rights or to compel payment.

Silver limped on through 2013, despite a lack of improvement on the financial front and mounting author dissatisfaction. Then, in March of 2014, Deysel abruptly announced that Silver's "South African division" would be closing* and its "US division" had been sold. The purchaser? A company called Empire Entertainment, LLC, a Wyoming corporation registered less than a year previously. According to an email sent to Silver authors by the alleged new owners, Empire was "new to the publishing industry and excited about the future of the company."

Is this starting to sound familiar?

Not surprisingly, authors were suspicious. Why, they wondered, did Empire Entertainment have no website and zero web presence? Why was it registered with Wyoming Corporate Services, a company specializing in the establishment of shelf corporations, that was the subject of a damaging Reuters expose? Who would pay good money, anyway, for a publisher in so much financial trouble?

Well, we all know what happens when authors start asking inconvenient questions. On April 8, Deysel announced that the (probably entirely bogus) sale had fallen through "due to the unrest among the author base which represents Silver Publishing LLC's value." Uh huh. Deysel claimed to be consulting with Silver's attorney to figure out what came next.

Apparently, "what came next" was absconding to South Africa. Just a few days later, Silver author A.J. Llewellyn broke the news: Deysel was gone. With him went any hope of payment for Silver authors (though at least it appears that rights reversion letters are going out). A notice on Silver's website indicates that it will go offline permanently on May 1; it's being left up only so that people who bought books can still download them.

A.J.'s lengthy blog post unpacks the whole sordid story of Deysel and Silver, including illegal entry into the USA, spending sprees with authors' money, secret deals to pay some authors but not others, altered royalty reports, and more. I can't corroborate most of the information cited--unlike the recent debacle with Entranced Publishing, and unfolding problems at another press I'll be blogging about shortly, I've heard from only a handful of Silver authors, and no former staff members--but given what I do know, the allegations seem plausible. A.J. has posted a followup that references Deysel's alleged prior legal troubles in South Africa. A group of Silver authors plans to pursue Deysel in hopes of bringing him to justice.** I hope they succeed.

So what's the takeaway here?

Silver was in business long past the "wait a year" precaution for small press publishers. Looking at it from the outside, authors could reasonably have assumed it was stable. Also, complaints didn't really start surfacing until well into 2012, nearly two years after Silver started up--so at least at first, authors trying to research the company wouldn't have found anything (and once complaints did start surfacing, authors trying to go public not only received pressure from the publisher, but were apparently pilloried by their fellow Silver authors, so there were probably fewer complaints to be found than there might otherwise have been).

However, for approximately half of Silver's existence, multiple reports of problems existed online; and if you'd contacted Writer Beware, we would have given you a warning. So for at least part of the time, the information was there to be found. Yet authors kept signing up.

Any publisher can go bad. You can't always predict which ones. And if a bad publisher is diligent about quashing complaints, or has a firm base of loyalists, it may not be easy to find out about even substantial problems. But that doesn't change the vital importance of thoroughly researching any publisher you're thinking of using--and just as important,  researching it BEFORE submitting, rather than waiting until later. Don't trust your ability to say no to a contract once it has been offered. I've heard from too many authors who delayed due diligence, and, in the flush of acceptance, closed their eyes to warning signs.

* Was there ever really a South African division? The company was originally registered in South Africa, and Deysel claimed that it was based there--something that, as he was no doubt aware, made legal action for his primarily US-based authors difficult--and that he was based there as well. According to A.J. Lewellyn, however, Deysel was living in the USA from 2006 on--and from 2011 on, Silver was registered in Michigan and Delaware.

** Will Deysel, like so many bad publishers, start up again under a different name? He may already have been contemplating doing so back in 2013, when Gia Press (its website is gone, but its domain registration remains; note the name server) popped up on people's radar.


Friday, April 11, 2014

How to Succeed in Authorship Without Really Trying

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Got the yen to write a book, but lack that essential creative spark? Looking to ride the coattails of the Kindle self-publishing craze, but don't want to bother with all that pesky scribbling? Want an author to create a story for you, but don't know where to find one?

Fret no more. The Internet's got you covered.

Here, for instance, would-be but inspiration-challenged authors can "Cash In on the Kindle Fiction Publishing Craze" by purchasing a "MASSIVE SET OF PRE-WRITTEN FICTION PLOTS."

That's right! A diligent ghostwriter and her crack writing team are offering "THIRTY-SIX plots in one huge package!" For only $27! Romance, erotica, science fiction, fantasy...it's all here, ready to use. Just add a touch of butt-in-chair, bolstered by this helpful advice:
So, how do you actually USE these plots?

First of all, do NOT publish them as-is! Even though some of the plots are almost short stories by themselves, they are not meant to be published in their current form.

Instead, you will use the plots as a guideline and change up different parts to make your own unique story. No two people will write these plots just alike. Change the character names and descriptions. Change the setting. Change the time period, careers of the characters and any number of other plot points.
Don't want to go to even that much effort? Buy Now Books will sell you an entire completed book, ready to upload to KDP or another self-publishing platform of your choice. No research required! No creativity necessary! No writing at all!! Just content, ready to use. You get plenty of extras, too:
In your book package you get the following files:

a. Microsoft Word Source Documents for Print & Digital.
b. EPUB, MOBI and Web PDF versions for your Digital Book.
c. Print PDF for Large Print & Trade Paperback Books.
d. Book Detail File including all Metadata need to publish your book.
e. 5 300 DPI Images that are used inside your book.
f. Cover Art: An eBook Cover, Large Print and Trade Paperback Cover & Audio Book Cover.(includes PSD files for editing)
g. 7,500 Words of Unique Content inside your book.
Prepare for a hit to your bank account, though--these "book packages" cost a cool $397.

(Buy Books Now is at pains to explain that it's not a PLR scheme:
We don’t use any PLR. These books are created with unique content written by our own in house writers. The book is created and SOLD ONLY ONCE. After that the files are deleted from our harddrive and you are now the sole owner of the book, the content and the copyright attached.
Good to know your "ghostwritten" ebook won't trigger Amazon's inappropriate content algorithms.)

And then there's StoryMondo, which crowdsources the whole "get it written for you" thing. They take requests for stories and/or poems, do an email blast to writers who've signed up to receive notifications (and some who haven't--me, for instance), and let the customer choose from among the submitted works.

Just the thing for seekers of bizarre egoboo. For example,
Our customer is Jason Womack who is a leading workplace performance and productivity expert. Jason is based in Ojai near Los Angeles, California and he runs a company that provides seminars, executive coaching and team performance programs. Jason has also written a book “Your Best Just Got Better” and he produces a weekly podcast.

Jason’s requirements for a story are:
  • Stories only (unfortunately no poems for this request)
  • Maximum length of 1,500 words
  • Jason Womack must be the protagonist and the story plot must fit with what The Jason Womack Company does
  • Any genre is OK – but the story must be suitable for distribution to customers of The Jason Womack Company
  • Can be set anywhere in the world or have multiple locations
  • Some inspiration is http://vimeo.com/87092997 and http://vimeo.com/90717681
The writer of the winning story gets $250. The writers of the rejected stories get nothing.

(This, by the way, is the same Jason Womack who is running a "make money publishing" workshop at the Ojai Wordfest. Will he be advising writers to use StoryMondo?)

Thus endeth this bulletin from the weird fringes of the brave new digital world.