Monday, July 03, 2006

Victoria Strauss -- Rebuttal Scuttlebutt

Many moons ago, a certain stealth vanity publisher--let's call it PublishAmerica--decided to take a swipe at the various watchdog groups and anti-scam activists who were telling the truth about its deceptive business practices. So it slapped up a rebuttal website designed to provide misinformation about the real publishing industry and the watchdogs, under the guise of correcting various misconceptions about the publishing process. Since the science fiction/fantasy community has been especially active in exposing PA, one entire page was devoted to denigrating writers of speculative fiction in general ("literary parasites and plagiarists"), and the watchdogs in particular, in veiled terms that were still specific enough that anyone familiar with our activities could identify me, Ann, and Dave Kuzminski of Preditors & Editors.

Now another vanity publisher has entered the rebuttal business.

Airleaf Publishing & Book Selling started out as a provider of junk-mail-style marketing services for authors. Later, it added POD-based publishing services (a polite term for vanity publishing or a long-winded one for self-publishing, depending on your bias). It has garnered criticism both for its extremely energetic spamming of potential clients, and for the equally spammish nature of most of its marketing services.

Take the Premium Bookselling Package (please), available for just $850. "Contact 5000 bookstore owners! This package has all the benefits of the Introductory Package, plus we contact 3000 more bookstore owners for a total of 5000. In addition to contacting bookstore owners, we send an AP (Associated Press) style press release about your book directly to 700 book reviewers and critics at newspapers and magazines across the country."

Or the Editors at Traditional Publishers package, yours for $450. "Every authors [sic] dream come true! Selling a book to a royalty paying, traditional publisher is always a long shot for unknown authors. However, Airleaf Publishing has developed a unique list of Senior Editors at the biggest publishing houses, and we also know how each publisher accepts new submissions. [Yeah. Through agents.] This puts you at least two steps ahead of the thousands of authors submitting books every week."

Or the Book Reviewers and Critics package, just $350. "Introduce your book to national book critics and reviewers! We write a customized AP style press release about your book and send it directly to 750 Book Reviewers and Critics. These are the premiere critics at the nation’s largest newspapers and magazines."

Now, I'm not a critic at a large newspaper or magazine, but I do review books, and as a reviewer I can tell you that I know when I'm being mass-targeted--especially since much of the time, the book being pitched isn't in my area of interest (this is just one of the problems with bulk mail-style marketing: it's as likely to reach people who aren't interested as people who are). While I'll always pay attention to a personal approach, no matter who the publisher is, I routinely ignore mass solicitations. I'm not alone. Bulk mail--whether electronic, faxed, or snail--is probably the least effective of all book marketing strategies. Not coincidentally, it's also one of the cheapest--which means that any bulk mail promotional service you're offered is likely to be overpriced.

(For a much more detailed discussion of these issues, see the Writers' Services page of Writer Beware.) *

At any rate, it seems that Airleaf is aware of the criticism that's been directed at it by Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, and others. Today I discovered its Authors Speak Out! website (thanks, Dave), which is devoted to responding to the critics. Unlike PA's rebuttal website, there are no personal attacks--instead, there's a conspiracy theory. According to Airleaf CEO Brien Jones, "Airleaf Publishing and Book Selling Services has been under a constant barrage of vicious attacks for nearly four years. The attacks do not come from our clients...They come from Print on Demand Publishers and a very small number of authors they’ve duped." Why are those mean PODs so hostile to poor little Airleaf? From Mr. Jones's In Conclusion page: "Print on Demand Publishers don’t like Airleaf. That is because Print on Demand Publishers make money selling Author's [sic] their own books. We sell books to bookstores. Therefore, Print on Demand publishers don’t like us." (This doesn't really make a lot of sense--like, why should iUniverse give a rat's ass where other PODs sell their books?--but never mind.)

Nefariously, the POD companies don't attack under their own names. They use shills. "All the...major [author] forums," Mr. Jones informs us, "are owned and operated by print on demand publishers. No, they don’t say that, of course, but they all are. WRITERS WEEKLY, SFWA, and BRADY MAGAZINE are all owned and operated by Print on Demand Publishers!"

Ahem.

SFWA?

Owned by a print on demand publisher?

[Pause for hysterical laughter. Okay. Deep breath. Calm now.]

Obviously I can't speak for WritersWeekly or Brady Magazine. But I think the Board of Directors of SFWA (a not-for-profit organization for professional writers of speculative fiction founded in 1965) might be a tad surprised to learn that SFWA is actually a "store front forum" for a POD publishing company. As for Writer Beware...all I can say is that if Ann and I are really employed by AuthorHouse, we want a raise.

Does Mr. Jones actually believe that SFWA is owned and operated by a POD company? I mean, seriously? It's not hard to do the research, so honestly, I doubt it. I'm more inclined to suspect that his rebuttal, despite the absence of personal attacks, is really exactly like PA's--an attempt to distract attention from his company's problems by spreading misinformation about those who criticize it.

You decide.

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* To be fair, I have to acknowledge that Airleaf offers a couple of potentially (note the stress on that word) less useless services, such as a telemarketing service that directly contacts booksellers to arrange signings; and its more expensive promotional package claims to include a staff of sales reps. Nevertheless, the bulk of its marketing packages are based on spam--a technique in which it's undeniably expert.

** Writer Beware is a volunteer organization. No one associated with it makes a cent, nor do we accept donations.

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Edited to add: After I posted this, a tart missive from SFWA's President was dispatched to Mr. Jones, resulting in the abrupt removal of the SFWA reference from Airleaf's website. Due to the magic of Google cacheing, however, the original page is still viewable, at the link given above. The altered page looks like this.

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Edited again to add: Bummer. The Google cache expired already, and the SFWA reference is no longer visible. Oh well. You trust me, don't you?

17 comments:

Dave Kuzminski said...

That was mighty nice of them to give their forum a name that would show up on P&E's Related page right next to the PA site when it gets posted tomorrow. Now visitors can compare the two to see just how off base they both are to the truth.

BarbJ said...

You guys - Victoria, Ann, Dave - are hurting them; they're trying to bite back and exposing themselves instead of their teeth. (Awful mental picture; scratch that.) They do sound assinine.

What bothers me most is reading the approvals from the scammed innocents. The good news is that those who know their internet can track down the titles, authors and, most importantly, the publishers and be woefully unimpressed.

Then they can track down these horrible watchdogs ... the gall, to try to keep writers informed, how dare they ... all those millions they make; strange that they've never asked me for money ... why are all these published authors, established agents, publishers, editors agreeing with them ...

I'm aware that some "innocents" have lost their dew but still refuse to admit the truth - it's not called vanity press for lack of reason - but you've saved many a lamb from the jaws of the wolves, and it's hurting the predators. Keep up the good work.

A "service" of Publish America? Let's just google P.A. and read what the watchdogs have to say. Oh, yeah. Keep mentioning names. I'd never heard of Airleaf; now perhaps more people will, and that is not necessarily a good thing unless one is clean.

They, of course, aren't so fond of spelling out names. Their protests are not for drawing readers to you, but in case readers have already been here. Me thinks they doth protest too much. Good.

Anonymous said...

I can just see it now. Pretty soon, Airleaf and others'll claim that Freemasons are behind this. (rolleyes)

Caro said...

SFWA is owned by POD publishers?

That one caused me to snort my morning juice and frightened the cats somewhat.

Sadly, while I had a good laugh about it, I know there are people who are going to believe it -- not because they're naive, but because they desperately want to believe that there's a conspiracy against getting them published. I took a stroll through that site (note to self: now need bath) and it seemed designed to go after the conspiracy theorists who are looking for an external reason why their book hasn't sold.

Anonymous said...

All fronts for POD operations??

Dear ghod!

I never knew!

So--then it MUST be true that the Brit's royal family really ARE alien lizards bent on taking over the planet!

Conspiracy!! Conspiracy!!

Soylent Green is PEOPLE!!!!!

:runs screaming into the wilderness:

Pat Brown said...

Oh Victoria and Ann, you brazen hussies. Trying to keep hard working writers from being published just so you can hog the limelight (and the publisher's money) Shame on you.

The sad thing is the number of people desperate for an explanation on why they can't get published will jump all over this explanation.

richard hoy said...

I own WriterWeekly and Booklocker.com, a POD publisher, with my wife Angela Hoy. You can read in detail the numerous complaints we've received about Airleaf/Bookman here: http://forums.writersweekly.com/viewtopic.php?t=5808

We've never made it a secret that WriterWeekly and Booklocker are owned by the same people. We've stated it in our ads and on our "about us" page. Angela is a well-know personality in the online writing world, and she signs all her articles and posts with a bio that explicitly states we own both sites. So I'm not sure where Airleaf gets off stating we are hiding this fact. It just goes to show how detached they are from the online writing community.

Airleaf is right about one thing, there are a lot of POD companies whose whole business model is to suck as much money out of authors' pockets as possible. The main way they do this is to sell authors overpriced publishing and marketing services. Airleaf is an example of a company that upsells authors on marketing services (many of them worthless in our opinion).

Being that Angela, through WritersWeekly, has been an advocate for writers online since 1997, we got into POD as a way to provide an alternative to the crappy offerings that were out there.

The dirty little secret is that most of us use the same back-end service to do our print-on-demand printing. And we all distribute our books through Ingram, which is the largest book distributor in the world. So the quality of our books and the places to which we distribute them are identical. The only real differences are the prices we charge, the quality of our customer service, and our business models.

Booklocker tries to create an environment that favors book sales while providing a low initial investment for the authors. It's under these circumstances that POD can yield a return.

And as for marketing services, we don't sell them at Booklocker. We offer, at no cost, a marketing area for authors, one-on-one advice, blogs, and a series of articles on how to do online marketing ethically. When done correctly, marketing helps the author and the publisher. When a POD company charges for such things, they are in effect "double-dipping" - benefiting from the service fees and any book sales that result. We don't agree with that practice.

Unlike Airleaf, and others, we are very clear about the pros and cons of POD. We do not puff it up as a publishing solution for everyone. We even have a whole page of reasons why an author might not want to work with us: http://publishing.booklocker.com/reasons.php

And yes, we do talk about other POD companies on WritersWeekly.com. The companies we talk about are, in our opinion, screwing authors over.

Oh, and the comment on their page from Beck Dice, a former Booklocker author...she just told us she was terminating. She never gave a reason or voiced a complaint with us. What she says is true, though, we do not take phone calls. They hinder our ability to work efficiently. Angela works with all Booklocker.com authors one-on-one. Nobody is a number at Booklocker.com. We answer our email usually within the hour it was received, so no one is suffering from not being able to contact us.

Richard Hoy
Co-Owner
Booklocker.com and WritersWeekly.com

WWWWolf said...

Heh, I hadn't seen the Author's Market site before. So this is what inspired Atlanta Nights? Hmm, easily parodiable. "Hi, I'm a fiction writer. I rewrite nth iteration of the same old Greek myth in different package. Just ask any expert." "Hi, I'm a non-fiction writer. I bet you can't make heads or tails of the ANSI standard. I'm here to help. Honest." =)

And did you know that POD publishers are also behind the Lumber Cartel, the shadowy organisation that backs those evil anti-spammers? ...email spammers are a threat to traditional bulkmailing and thus the Lumber Cartel. Call Spamford Wallace! Call the press!

Poohba said...

I work for a small weekly community newspaper that must be one of those "850 newspapers" targeted by the "AP style" news releases. We're always wondering why we get these bizarre book kits from across the country.

Our paper is tiny. We never do book reviews and only write articles about books with local authors.

I'd imagine a good 800 to 825 of those papers targeted have the same policy and the other 25-50 don't touch POD books at all.

What a waste of money.

Zonk said...

So that's why SFWA membership requirements include sales to Qualifying Professional Markets; it's all clear now! The POD owners want to...

Wait...

:D:D:D

Elektra said...

"Now, here's a word of caution. The vast, vast majority of SciFi and Fantasy writers are serious, honest, great artists. They have spent tons of time working on their books, just as hard as writers on any other genre. They are positive, resolute, hard-working, earnest folks, who are finding it just as hard as anyone else to break through the barrier put up by the publishing dinosaurs."

Thge best part of this is that they accuse you guys of overusing adjectives in the paragraph before

Jean said...

So. They contact 2000 or 5000 booksellers and some large number of newspapers and reviewers with an AP-style press release. Sounds to me like they run a spamming operation, because I can't imagine they're doing do that one-on-one for you.

Shawna said...

Google's cache may have expired, but Yahoo's hasn't.

I kept screenshots in case it vanishes and anyone desires them.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

I am so SICK of receiving Airleaf's letters. I dunno where the hell they got my name, but I have the burning desire to write back to them telling them thank you, but my publisher is in NY, does it's own promo and distribution, my books are already in the stores, and would they get me the *#$)#(* off their list. Sigh, but I haven't because like with spam email, I worry that it will just cause a deluge of letters from them. *groans*

dam said...

I have had awful experiences with Airleaf, going back to when they were Bookman.

They completely lost the fully edited manuscript and didn't realize it until I started calling for status reports. In total, it took them six months to publish my book and I had to nag them to get it to appear on Amazon.

Their "telemarketing package" amounted to a total to 2 book signings at strip malls about 50 miles from me within the first couple of weeks, then nothing in the months that followed.

I asked if they could provide a list of the contacts they have supposedly made by phone and email, and they have ignored my requests.

I have never received a royalty check, nor been given any statement of sales.

I am now gearing up to go the route of contacting the Indiana Attorney General and filing against them in small claims court.

Avoid them at all costs.

Victoria Strauss said...

dam, would you please contact me at the Writer Beware email address (beware@sfwa.org) under your own name, so I can add your complaint to my file on Airleaf? Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

From what I hear, Brien Jones stole the Airleaf database when he left the company and has been hell-bent on destroying Airleaf (as if he didn't try his best when he worked there). He has been mailing me "offers" to sell my book and bashing Airleaf at the same time. He is the worst kind of person to do business with, as he promises the world just to get your business. SCAMMER! He'll even act like he's a man of God if it would get you to sign up with him, but he's anything but a moral person. If you look at the address on Google Earth, you can see it's a residential neighborhood -and there's not even anything there! It's an empty lot! His publishing company was supposedly opened up in his basement, but - where's the house even??? And his staff is nothing but family and friends. Please avoid this sham publishing company for your own good. Everything he says is a complete and total lie!