Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fake Jared And His Friends: Author Solutions' Misleading PR Strategies

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In my recent blog post on Pearson's acquisition of self-publishing giant Author Solutions Inc., I posed several questions that I hope Pearson will consider as it integrates ASI with Penguin Group. One of these was whether ASI will start being more transparent in its advertising and PR. I'd like to go a little bit more into detail on what I mean.

Take ASI's affiliate programs, which pay a $100 referral fee for each individual the affiliate sends ASI's way. There are innumerable such programs online (some of them amounting to little more than pyramid schemes) so ASI is not unique in this regard. Still, these programs are an open invitation to deceptive use by others (as, for instance, may have happened in this case).

Then there are the two so-called whitepapers ASI has issued to further its misleading claim that it is an "independent publisher" at the forefront of a publishing revolution. These documents are filled with inaccuracies about the publishing industry, and paint an unrealistically rosy picture of the benefits of ASI's business model. I won't debunk them here because I've already done so, in previous blog posts.

Far more misleading are the websites ASI maintains to steer writers toward its services without realizing they're being steered. ChooseYourPublisher.com (Your Book is Your Passion ), FindYourPublisher.com (Your Search is Over), and FindYourPublisher.co.uk (a duplicate) look like independent websites, but the questions they ask (Is your book ready for publication? How much are you willing to spend?) all lead to recommendations for ASI brands. If you scroll down to the bottom of these websites, you'll see "Powered by Author Solutions Inc." in tiny print--but who scrolls down to the bottom to check the tiny print? I've heard from numerous writers who believed these websites were objective resources, and assumed that the "recommendations" they received were genuine.

Then there's Poetry-Publishers.com (Enjoy a 100% Hassle-Free Poetry Publishing Experience You'll Love), Childrens-Book-Publishing.com (Your FREE Children's Book Publishing Consultation), and E-BooksPublishing.com (E-book Publication is a Right Not a Privilege), all of which appear to offer independent consultations, but all of which will result in a call or email from Author Solutions. Again, you can find "Powered by Author Solutions" or "Powered by Xlibris" somewhere on these websites, but it's pretty inconspicuous and most people will likely miss it.

Most fake of all, though, has to be the scheme just exposed by Emily Suess, a relentless critic of ASI. Checking new followers on Google+, she noticed that one of them, a Jared Silverstone, hailed from Bloomington, Indiana, home of ASI. Clicking through to his profile, she discovered that he did indeed work for ASI, as one of their "Publishing Consultants" (the people who give you the hard sell over the phone). But then she noticed something else.
the real jared
Aside from the fact that he’s posted only a handful of ASI-centric posts since March 2012, Jared looks just a little too hipster to be hipster, doesn’t he?

That’s because—surprise!—Jared Silverstone isn’t real. Click through a few pages of istockphoto.com  search results for “mustache,” and you’ll find our precious Jared, sans the green filter makeover and the slightly off center crop job. Before Author Solutions paid for his likeness, Jared looked a little something like (okay, maybe EXACTLY like) the watermarked guy on the right.
That's right. "Jared"--who also has Twitter and Facebook accounts--is fake person created to promote ASI. Or--and I think this may be more likely--ASI just doesn't want us to know that his accounts are being maintained by some staffer in the Philippines.

(I'm sure it's a coincidence, but Fake Jared Silverstone is eerily reminiscent of the trolls that have been stalking Writer Beware and other anti-scam activists for the past year and a half. Remember Fake Miriam Silverstein of The Write Agenda--she of the faux Facebook account and stock photo? And her sidekick, Fake Jared Goldstein? And their pal, Fake Jonna Silverman? Even the names are similar. Weird.)

In closing, I can't say it better than Emily:
This is shitty, hack PR. And not only does this kind of sideways promotion not sit right with real consumers who demand honesty and transparency in business and in social media, but it makes all Author Solutions employees look bad (again). It also makes the company’s new parents, Pearson and Penguin, look bad (again).
GalleyCat has also picked up the Fake Jared story, and added some info of its own.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

good post!

Anonymous said...

It's possible that I'm being totally paranoid, but some (most?) of those fake names have a decidedly Jewish bent to them. Are they intentionally fueling stereotypes?

Doug Brunell said...

I would not doubt they are fueling stereotypes.

David Gaughran said...

Hi Victoria,

I've just received word that Author Solutions are now pitching themselves as *Penguin* when hassling prospective clients by phone. One aspiring writer who contacted me said that their opener was "Would you like to be published by Penguin?" and they spoke at length about how much "Penguin" would market their books and so on.

How long do Penguin get a pass?

Dave

Victoria Strauss said...

Dave, thanks for the info. If it's regular ASI policy, it's pretty damn disgusting. Could you please put anyone you hear from about this in touch with me?

I would really like to hear from ANYONE who has been solicited by ASI or any of its brands using the Penguin name.

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria, I am from India, and I inadvertently contacted ASI today--before looking at this. They have assured me that they will contact me within 72 business hours.

How do I put them off firmly? What do I say?I am considering telling them that I do not have any money.
Any advice will be appreciated.

Best regards,

Gouri

Victoria Strauss said...

Gouri--if they phone you, just tell them you've changed your mind and aren't interested any longer. Ask them to take you off their calling list. Firmly advise them that you do not want them to call you again for any reason.

If they contact you by email, simply ignore and delete the emails. You've no obligation to them whatever--you do not have to respond to their attempts to contact you. There may also be an "unsubscribe" option you can utilize.

Hope this works for you. If you need more advice, contact me directly: beware [at] sfwa.org.

Anonymous said...

I live in London. (Your Writer Beware articles are very interesting!) I contacted Author Solutions with a casual query, and received a couple of phone calls back, plus several promotional e-mails. I was congratulated heartily and told I was to embark on an exciting journey to publication, or something like that... And the most remarkable thing is, they have never seen so much as one word of my writing! I did not do business with them.

Anonymous said...

08/07/2014
I am from South Africa and I contacted both Penguin and Random Hse with regard to publishing one of my completed books, many years before they merged. This morning I received a call from someone who sounded terribly authentic and introduced herself as being from Penguin/Random House. She verbalized an interest in publishing one of them. After quite a while on the long distance call (from Illinois) I was told that there was a cost involved for me. Also, that I would earn 50 percent of the takings. I am so disappointed that Penguin Random House would allow their once respected name to be so tarnished and severely damaged by pyramid schemes and scams. If we cannot trust Penguin Random House Africa then we have to contact American or English publishers who invariably refer us back to them. So very disappointed. Shirley Grady