Friday, November 25, 2011

MLM for Writers: The Best Authors Lounge

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Writers: Forget about that boring day job. Forget about tedious book promotion. Heck, forget about writing books! There's another way to make money--and it was created with authors in mind.

I received a spam a couple of weeks ago from an outfit called The Best Authors Lounge for a query letter webinar. Intrigued by the sizeable signup fee ($74.99, rising to $99.99 after November 15), as well as the presenter's apparent lack of any professional experience that would qualify her to teach query letter-writing, I decided to investigate further.

From The Best Authors Lounge's opening page:
In order to be “the best author” you can be, join TBA Lounge, an interactive social network that puts the writer, freelance journalist, the author, the songwriter, the poet, and the speaker in a positive atmosphere in which you can be supported and therefore become more successful doing what you love to do, creating a world out of words.
So far, so groovy. There's a catch, though: to join this social network, you have to pay--and it isn't cheap. Fees range from $100 to $200 per month, depending on the level of networking you desire. There are also courses you can take (for more fees, natch) from something called TBA University. You can even self-publish your book, via a variety of packages ranging from $698 to over $1,200.

If you think this all sounds really cool (if so, I'm guessing that you've been living under a rock for a number of years and aren't aware that most social networking is free), but feel you're too cash-strapped to afford it--don't fret. The helpful folks at TBA Lounge have made it possible for you to recoup your investment and then some--by luring other authors to TBA Lounge, and pocketing 50% of their signup fee. (In fact, you can't sign up for TBA Lounge at all unless you have a referral.)

Oh, the money you'll make!
Assume that you refer 20 people to TBA who come in at the Gold Level. You have just created an extra $2,000/mo which is $120,000 per year.

Assume that you refer 10 people at the Bronze Level, 10 people at the Silver Level and 10 people at the Gold Level. You are now earning an extra $2250/mo.
And that's not all! You can earn not just on your referrals, but on your referrals' referrals!
Assume that you referred 5 people to TBA Lounge and those 5 people did the exact same thing down to 5 Generations.

Referral Level 1: 5
Referral Level 2: 25
Referral Level 3: 125
Referral Level 4: 625
Referral Level 5: 3125
-----------------------------
Total Referrals: 390

Also assume that the people above purchased a bronze package. Of course, you will earn $50/mo from each of the 5 people that you referred, which is Referral Level 1.

You will then earn $12.5/mo for each person that those people refer down to your 5th Referral Level. If you do the multiplication, you will see that you’re now earning an extra $49,000/mo.
TBA Lounge, in other words, is a multi-level marketing scheme.

Actually, it's just one part of an MLM scheme--its parent is Team FAM, an MLM organization that claims to "combine THREE of the World's Largest Industries into ONE: Real Estate, Personal Development, and Network Marketing!", but whose real business is selling would-be entrepreneurs a system for establishing an income-producing referral network.

This is the second MLM scheme I've encountered that involves books--the now-defunct BookWise program was the other--but it is the first that specifically targets writers. Bottom line: despite the literary trimmings, TBA Lounge is far less about authors and writing, than it is about the recruitment of participants to sell the service to others.

For much more information on MLM schemes, and their misleading promises of easy money, see MLM Watch and The Truth About MLM.

45 comments:

Renee Miller said...

Oh my god, a pyramid scam for writers. I knew it was just a matter of time.

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh a pyramid scheme! how lovely! I've missed these.

goodgriefgoodgriefgoodgrief

Anonymous said...

I think the kind of writers most likely to fall for this type of scam are also those who can't afford it. So I'm confident MLM for writers is doomed.

S.M. Carrière said...

You took the words right out of my mouth, Renee. A pyramid scam for writers.

Just... Wow.

Anne R. Allen said...

This would be hilarious if there weren't actual people who might fall for it. As Anon says, they're the people who can least afford it. They're also the people who think that writers make pots of money. (And probably don't read much.)

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I'd just like to say that I am very thankful for Writer Beware!

Hiroko said...

Oh, that they would be more interested in connecting writers than making money. I cannot say I'm surprised that writers are a target, but neither will I be surprised when this whole scheme collapses.

Mari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mari said...

It's designed to collapse, leaving a lot of money in the hands of a few.

Ellen said...

I am actually quite saddened to see this blog. I have used The Best Authors lounge services before and tons of other people that I know who have used their services as well.They are great at what they do and I don't regret a single penny that I had to spend. I think they deserved more! Victoria, you have a respected influence in the literary industry but I think it is wrong to have not done your due diligence to see how their services have worked for others.

Authors do not pay that fee to be apart of the social networking site, they pay it to receive the marketing plans (which we all need as authors). Here is the link to their packages:
http://www.thebestauthorslounge.com/tfo_publishers.html I purchased the silver package. My two sales marketing representatives are amazing. I do not pay any extra fees to attend the TBA eUniversity workshops. That is all covered in my package.

The definition for scam is to deceive someone. That is definitely NOT what they are doing! I am disappointed in your slander. Again, I respect what you do and I enjoy your postings but this one is definitely not true my friend.

Regards,
Ellen

Wayne K said...

Thank you for exposing this scam. The people who do this are worms

Sean F. Roney said...

This reminds me of an ancient building. I think the Egyptians built them. It was triangle shaped. What could it be?

Victoria Strauss said...

This is funny: Team Fam has tweeted this post. I'm guessing they didn't read it.

William said...

I actually know a few authors who are successful thanks to TBA Lounge. Pyramid schemes are usually things that dont have a product or service. TBA seems to have a service for authors. Mary Kay, Avon, Arbonne, Prepaid Legal etc are all MLM companies as well. I did MLM in the past. It didnt financially work for me but it worked for many of my friends who put more time into it. I think it's best to provide facts rather than opinions. Did you even look to see if this company is truly helping authors sell books before you call them a scam? What if people leave you a "1 star review" on Amazon from just reading the synopsis and not your entire book? That wouldn't be fair. I no longer like participating in MLM companies but Im not just going to call them a scam. The government considers many of them to be legal with the exception of companies who dont have a product or provide a service. The moment I get my funds right, I will gladly participate in TBA Lounge. Not necessarily on the money making side, MLM. But I will let them market my books. From my research, they provide you with marketing, training, and publicity. One of my author friends have been with TBA for 6 months and not only have they helped her sell over 20,000 copies of her book, she is now a Best Seller on Amazon. Her name is Tajana Sutton and the name of her books are Deja, Deja 2, & Deja 3. TBA has a marketing department, publishing department, and a university for authors. Maybe they're not for everyone, but they're really in the business to help authors. Hope this provides a more balanced conversation.

BuffySquirrel said...

Sock puppet! Just as expected. Oh dear internet, you are soooooo predictable.

*pats William the sock puppet on his pyramid*

BuffySquirrel said...

Oh, even better than I thought (refresh before posting, sqrl!). TWO sock puppets!

Me said...

@william - I don't see where Victoria labelled TBA Lounge a scam, afetr re-reading her original post. She called the original contact she had a 'spam', which is perfectly reasonable if she didn't request any information.

If something like TBA lounge works for you and others you know then great, but other people out there may think that if it looks like a scam and sounds like a scam then ... well, make your mind up about the end of that analogy.

Me? I wouldn't touch it with a barge-pole.

Dennis Latham said...

Oh, oh, it's probably another Amway and you'll end up selling detergent if you join. It's amazing that pyramid schemes can still snare people.

Marla Miller said...

Victoria,
Thanks so much for alerting us. I have a Google alert set up for query letters-this didn't pop up but I sure will post in my next Museletter. As you know, query letter critiques are my thing--there's no substitute for learning this aggravating 'art' form---I love 'the pyramid scam for writers' reference & will use it in my post.
As always, thanks.
Marla
PS. Sharing this now!

P. David Gardner said...

It gets better, too.

On their home page, they have a quote allegedly by an author they published. So, they claim to be a a publisher too, though it appears to be vanity publishing utilizing common ebook and POD avenues (they will be the go-between, I guess).

I decided to look further.

According to their TBA Publishing page (link on top), their "Chief Publisher" is Shaloma Amos.

Looking further into this employee, it appears she runs a company called Soul On Fire Publishing, a vanity publisher whose prices are the same as TBA.

How much you wanna bet that TBA pushes all their work to Soul On Fire? And are probably owned by the same person?

P. David Gardner said...

Sock puppets: If you have any names of any of the authors you claim have been helped by TBA, noting them here would be helpful. But I don't expect you will.

P. David Gardner said...

Also, according to her bio, Shaloma is a college student with no apparent publishing experience besides running her own company.

Patricia said...

I started a very successful book club out in North Carolina about 5 years ago...To the individual who wrote this blog, my promise to you is that I will get together at least 20 ppl over the next 7 days to leave ALL of your books on Amazon a 1 Star Review. My book club has actually read the books of two individual authors who are promoted by TBA. One of TBA's marketers approached us and built a relationship. That's what their marketers do. They promote authors. I am extremely disgusted with people who take joy in bringing others down. Understand that, on the internet, just as you can say negative lies about people & a company, the same can be done to you...Prior to purchasing any books through TBA, I personally spoke to one of their owners. @David Gardner - Shalona is not an owner at TBA. She has her own publishing company and was asked to help TBA run their Publishing Department. How do I know this? I actually asked the marketer who reached out to me to get me more information on TBA. She introduced me to one of the owners. He's a pretty interesting and down to earth guy to say the least...TBA specializes in promoting authors. I appreciate the service they provide because God knows it's difficult for authors to get themselves out there and they need all the help that they can get. TBA is not a scam. Their MLM program is mostly for their marketers. Authors are allowed to participate in their referral program as well. However, when an author purchases one of the TBA packages, it's to receive marketing from TBA and access to their university which is Amazing! I was allowed to attend their Amazon Workshop for free because of the fact that my entire book club bought books from them. Im actually writing my first book right now, and once it's done Ill be utilizing their Amazon Techniques. They sure did put a lot of work into a scam right? Some of you will definitely see some reviews this week! That's a promise from Patricia! And I never break my promises! Lets see how that helps your book sales! To everyone else who may see this blog, TBA is a great place for authors. Im not involved in TBA. I have only purchased books from a couple of the authors they promote. However, when I release my first book in February 2012, I will be more than happy to let them market it. *1 STARS ARE COMING!!!*

P. David Gardner said...

I still see nothing showing any verifiable names of authors who have been "helped" by TBA (at quite a cost, I might add). Nor is there any mention of the name of the elusive "owner" of TBA, and what qualifications and experience he or she has. All I see are threats from the sock puppets. This doesn't help TBA's case at all.

Victoria Strauss said...

Does anyone suspect that Patricia and William are the same person, who is not named either Patricia or William?

Richard White said...

Oooh, the dreaded one-star reviews on Amazon threat. *eeek, cower, faint*

O.K., back to reality.

A multi-level-marketing scheme tied to a vanity publisher. At least this one isn't suggesting you have home parties and sell books out of the trunk of your car like ParaDon Books Publishing.

That was a very entertaining read.

Kell Brigan said...

Wouldn't this be of interest to the FBI? Or, the Interstate Commerce Commission, or the Office of Smacking Down Really Nasty Evil Exploitative Thief-type People, or whomever it is that handles con artists with pyramid/ponzi schemes?

evil evil evil

DLB said...

I can barely believe con artists would still try a pyramid scheme these days and think little or nobody would figure it out right away. Oh well, some people don't call money the route of all evil for nothing.

And is it possible that the supporters of TBA here are just typical internet trolls looking for a fight or to grind someone's gears? Then yet they are probably just defending TBA and that's what freedom of speech and thought is all about, even if what they are defending is vary questionable.

DLB,

BuffySquirrel said...

You have to wonder what kind of person keeps using sock puppets even when it's apparent that the other posters are on to them.

Dennis Latham said...

Hey, can I get a bunch of one star reviews from the successful book club? That's funny. I could say I had a successful book club, too, me and two of my friends. Keep up the fight, Victoria. They are still out there stealing from people.

J.P. Hansen said...

Patricia,

Reviews on Amazon and elsewhere are not designed as means for exacting vengeance.

J.P. Hansen

Kelly Robinson said...

Writing revenge reviews is certainly not the way to appear intelligent and credible.

Marguerite Butler said...

Wow. All we do in my bookclub is read and discuss books. Once a month we meet an author to chat about their books.

I had no idea we could be waging internet campaigns of terror. Now I feel so cheated.

P. David Gardner said...

Maybe they could take a cue from The Write Agenda and arrange a book burning too. Oh, the fun.

benreeder said...

Wow, two sock puppets and a revenge review threat! How did we NOT see THAT coming? (For you sock puppets, cue sarcasm here, okay?)

MLM 101: When you offer people money to do nothing more than recruit more money, it's a pyramid scheme. When you start talking about how much it's helped dozens of other people whose names you don't drop, or authors whose names you conveniently leave out, people know you're a sock puppet for the people behind the pyramid scheme. When you threaten watchdogs with 1 star reviews or other revenge tactics, you're even more obviously a sock puppet for a PYRAMID SCHEME!

So, Ellen/William/Patricia...are you starting to sense a theme here?

You've been caught, you've been exposed, we know you're not who you say you are (want to leave the name of your very successful book review club? Or the name of just one author who's been "helped by these con artists? Because that's the bottom end of obvious, and until you can do that, no one is going to take you the least bit seriously, and you're just going to further make Ann's point FOR her.)

William said...

@William & Benreeder & Everyone Else...I dont work for TBA, so Im not going to keep coming back to this blog to respond. I left my comment to provide a balanced conversation. All of you are so eager to attack. I already stated earlier in my PREVIOUS POST that my friend Tajana Sutton has sold over 20,000 books, in 6 months, thanks to TBA. She is a top seller on Amazon (Look her up! The name of her book is Deja, Deja 2, & Deja 3!). Im not one of TBA's authors yet. So, i dont know all of the different authors they promote. This particular author is a personal friend. Also, if you guys seriously have questions, you should join one of TBA's informational conference calls that they do each month. @benreeder - your definition of a pyramid scheme is correct! Therefore, if you do your research, you'll realize that TBA is not a pyramid! They provide tons of services for authors. Their referral program is optional. No offense to anyone here, but you guys have a lot of time on your hands. Im not the Puppet because i've actually seen proof of TBA's success. (((My friend Tajana sells more books, thanks to TBA, than any author wasting their time commenting on this post.))) But perhaps, many of you are puppets for aggressively defending this article even though it contains things that are not true. I have Two Multi Billion Dollar Energy companies in my area that are now MLM. There are many MLM companies that are on Forbes as well as Publicly Traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Not every MLM is a Pyramid Scheme! There are legal MLM's and Illegal Pyramid Schemes! TBA is a legal MLM. So, Puppets, it would be wiser to stop considering this one a pyramid when clearly they provide tons of legitimate services. Here's an interesting fact for you, they're predicting that in 10 yrs, 80% of all traditional businesses will have a MLM component! Why? Because it works! It has never worked for me, but, it's a successful model. Many MLM's are now the fastest growing companies in the world. Why wouldnt authors want a group of marketers out there who provide them with Word of Mouth??? Regardless of whether you like MLM or not, if the government considers them to be legal, what makes you think that you can call them illegal? And I wonder why everyone pretended as if you didnt see me mention a successful TBA author in my first post! Perhaps, you just wanted to be a Puppet and keep this negative post going! If I were a trial lawyer, I would go to TBA and encourage them to file a lawsuit! It would be easy money for any trial lawyer! This is Defamation at its best!...Im sure you guys will keep this conversation going! You'll keep talking about how TBA is a pyramid! You'll keep saying that you want to see more of TBA's authors! Well, more power to you. (((Lets just agree that whoever is wrong is the Puppet!))) Before anyone responds, I think you should research the components of a Legal MLM!

BuffySquirrel said...

So BAL can generate word of mouth? Really? Wow. There I am listening to my friend describing this great book she's just read and yet all the time she's working for BAL! Who knew?

Bah. Nonsense.

Tajana Sutton's page on BAL's site was last updated 6 months ago. www.tajanasuttonpublishing.com has no content.

Also, William, dragging out the defamation threat to prove you're NOT a sock puppet? Not convincing. Your best option is STOP DIGGING.

Anonymous said...

OK, it's bothering me that I keep seeing one of the sock puppets accused of threatening revenge reviews.

Read the post again.

She's equating "writing a bad blog post based on limited information about Best authors lounge" with "reading just the summary of a book and leaving a one-star review because the summary made it sound bad".

She is NOT threatening to leave "revenge reviews". Unless I'm completely mis-reading it.

Anonymous said...

(Addendum: I don't agree with her on that, I don't want her to be accused of saying something that I don't think she said. The sentence is just badly worded. Not a threat.)

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous, if you mean "Patricia," she also says, "Some of you will definitely see some reviews this week! That's a promise from Patricia! And I never break my promises! Lets see how that helps your book sales!... *1 STARS ARE COMING!!!*"

Sounds like a threat to me.

BuffySquirrel said...

I read that as a threat too. An idle one, probably, as the puppets are way too busy posting here.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm an idiot :)

I admit, I read the first quarter of that wall of text, skimmed the next two quarters, and skipped the fourth quarter all together.

Note to self: either read the whole darn post, or refrain from commenting.

Sean F. Roney said...

The puppets are exploding. It's almost a good story prompt: Attack of the Angry Sock Puppets, Pyramid Scheme Edition.

Doug Dittmer said...

Beware their webinars. The moment you log in, you cannot get a refund even if they screw up the webinar. I purchased a bundled webinar which included software. Unfortunately the software was obsolete. Despite promises to make it good, they did not and wouldn't refund even though the webinar also failed. Then they threatened retribution if I complained.

Anonymous said...

First of all, TBA Lounge is not a scam. No matter what you do or sell you have to pay for marketing!!!!!! What's so wrong about paying experienced people to market for you? One of the Authors from TBA lounge Tajana Sutton that created the Deja series has sold over 75,000 copies of her books! Thanks to the marketing from TBA lounge! I think everybody should do their research and educate yourself before making negative comments out of ignorance. It is not a scam! This blog page is the best example of ignorance I have ever seen!

Cliff said...

I know this is an old post, but I just have to point out - $2000 a month is not $120,000 a year! It's only $24,000.