Friday, August 30, 2013

More Warnings: Spectacular Productions; Balboa Press/Author Solutions

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

It's been a busy month for publisher warnings!

Spectacular Productions

From author Brian Keene, a warning about a small publisher called Spectacular Productions. Authors report long publication delays, missed pub dates, lack of communication by publisher Christian Hanner, lack of payment, and work accepted but contracts never received.

It's amazing how many small press implosions feature this exact same litany of complaints. As Keene observes,
Sadly, this is an all-too-common occurrence within the small press. A start-up publisher emerges, announces a bold list of titles, issues contracts, and then crumbles after publishing a few or none of the books, leaving authors to sort out their rights reversion and customers frustrated with the small press in general. This isn’t always done maliciously. Sometimes, the publisher is just woefully inept or ignorant of the business or finds they ran out of start-up cash quicker than they thought. Other times, there is clear malfeasance on the part of the publisher. In this case, I’m not sure which applies (as Hanner had not responded to my requests for comment by press time) but I suspect that it started out the former and has now segued into the latter. And that is unfortunate.
Keene also provides a good set of tips for submitting to small presses. Also see my blog post, Precautions for Small Press Authors--it's a few years old but the advice is still current--and Writer Beware's Small Presses page, which includes a list of cautions and links to many helpful resources.

Balboa Press / Author Solutions

Like other such ventures, Hay House's self-publishing arm, Balboa Press, is outsourced to Author Solutions Inc. I've blogged quite a bit about the problems at ASI, as have David Gaughran and Emily Suess, and I've seen a lot of complaints from authors who've used various ASI "brands." ASI and its parent, Penguin Group, are currently the focus of a class action lawsuit, alleging, among other things, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

Even knowing as much as I know, however, I was shocked by this writer's account of her nightmare experience publishing an illustrated book through Balboa. Illustrations that couldn't be gotten right (despite the detailed information the writer provided), multiplying text errors, corrections that were promised but never made...the list goes on.
After months of inexcusable errors, it was apparent the Art Director, or whomever, did not adhere to “set up an artist that best suits your project.” The project was/is light, airy, and whimsical. I received “dark.” In most cases, the illustrations were sparse (not intricate detail) with no color consistency, no innovation, wrong genders, wrong race, missing or incorrect features, etc. An ancient woman was drawn as a bald-headed, old man numerous times, despite repeated pleas and request for adherence to the RAD [Required Art Directions form, filled out by the author] and characterization forms...

Excuse after excuse mounted by the CIAC [Custom Illustrations Accounts Coordinator] who offered, "the illustrator is sensitive, he’s young, he draws like that; it’s a difficult project.” My response to the CIAC, "I appreciate that, but this is this is a children’s book. This does not take place in a bombed out trailer park in Beirut. There is no consistency in colors…" In my mind, I understood I paid for “intricate design” [the author paid $3,444 for an "Intricate Design" illustration package] and the CIAC maintains, “it’s a difficult project.” Why? If it was so difficult, then why accept the project? It was now apparent that there was no professional oversight.
I think that some due diligence was lacking here. The author says she didn't realize Balboa Press was associated with ASI; however, if you Google "Balboa Press," my blog post about Balboa and ASI comes up on the first search page, along with a review by Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine that mentions ASI in the first paragraph. The information is definitely out there for those who seek it.

The author is correct, though, in saying that the Balboa Press website is not transparent about the connection. ASI is mentioned, but the mention is deeply buried in a place where most people are not likely to look. To the casual visitor or aspiring self-publisher, there's nothing to suggest that Balboa isn't run by Hay House; indeed, everything on the website is geared to encourage visitors to believe it is.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sandpiper Publicity: the Albee Agency Returns

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Readers of this blog may remember The Albee Agency, a so-called PR firm run by one Mike Albee, which posted fake testimonials from well-known authors and was outed by me and others. Read the whole story here.

Well, it wasn't too long after that shitstorm of negative publicity that Albee disappeared. However, like many con artists who pull up stakes when their deception becomes too widely known, he couldn't kick the habit. Selling high-priced services of dubious value to inexperienced writers who can ill afford them is just too easy and lucrative to resist!

So, sporting a shiny new website and a new business name, Mike Albee has reincarnated as Sandpiper Publicity.

How do I know this, you may ask? Well, Sandpiper's website is not identical to Albee's. But it shares many of the same red flags: a claim of years in business contradicted by the website domain's February 2013 creation date; claims of media contacts and success with no specifics; campaigns that rely on cheap (for Sandpiper) and/or spam PR methods (with fees, based on documentation I've received, in the $2,000 range); and zero verifiable information about staff.

That's not conclusive, of course. The Internet is littered with dishonest and amateur PR firms that charge a premium for services that are worthless or that authors could easily accomplish themselves.

But as sometimes happens when dodgy businesses engage in name-changings-of-convenience, Mike forgot to keep his deceptions straight--or assumed that no one would put two and two together. Here he is, connecting himself to Sandpiper Publicity:


Here he is again. And again. And yet again, spamming blog posts. Writers who've approached Sandpiper also report being contacted by a woman named Lura Dold--who previously worked for The Albee Agency. (Actually, Lura Dold is Lura Dold Albee, Mike's wife.)

A couple of other notes: Sandpiper says it's a member of the Book Publicists Marketing Association, an organization that doesn't appear to exist (though there is a Northern California Book Publicity & Marketing Association). Elsewhere, Sandpiper claims to be a member of the Publishers Marketing Association--an organization that does exist, but for some time has been called the Independent Book Publishers Association.

Adding these indications of unprofessionalism to the warning signs I listed above, there's plenty of reason to be wary of Sandpiper Publicity--even if it weren't run by a man with a history of deception.

Thanks to Dan Smith of Smith Publicity for the tip (Smith details his own run-in with Mike Albee, who apparently plagiarized much of Smith's website, here).

Friday, August 23, 2013

More Publisher Storm Warnings

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A roundup of recent publisher troubles and closures that have come across my desk:

- Noble Romance Publishing, the subject of numerous author complaints (and those are just the ones that are still online; a number of others have been deleted in the past few months) since owner Jill Noble departed abruptly last year and left the company in the hands of Jean Gombart, is finally closing its doors.

There's still no indication of the closing on the company's website, where as of this writing submissions are still being sought.

- Mercury Retrograde Press, a nice small press for which I provided a blurb a few years ago, is closing its doors as of January 2014.

 - Vanilla Heart Publishing authors have reportedly experienced a multitude of problems, including badly edited and formatted ebooks, missing and incorrect royalty payments and statements, failure to register copyrights as required by the contract, and disposition of subsidiary rights not included in the contract. This post from one author provides more detail. It's similar to private complaints Writer Beware has received about this publisher.

I've seen a recent Vanilla Heart contract. Its major problem is that there's no grant term--the publisher simply takes exclusive publishing rights for an unstated period of time--and the author has the right to terminate only if the publisher breaches the contract and fails to correct the breach, or if it doesn't publish within 18 months (or 24 months if causes "beyond its control" delay publication). Otherwise, termination is entirely at the publisher's discretion. It's ironic that it's Vanilla Heart's apparent bad behavior that enabled its authors to get free; if there had been no problems, Vanilla Heart could have held on to those authors indefinitely.

- Eternal Press/Damnation Books author Terri Bruce has won a Temporary Restraining Order in her ongoing dispute with the publisher, which allegedly inserted hundreds of errors into her books and refused to publish a corrected version. Writer Beware has received another very similar complaint, and other complaints are online.

Recent Eternal/Damnation contracts include "termination penalties" of up to $1,000 for "premature" termination of the contract by the author (an example can be seen here). Such penalties (a.k.a. kill fees) are a red flag; they obviously don't benefit authors (and can be used to harass and browbeat them), but they don't really benefit publishers either. See my blog post on this subject for more detail.

EDITED 9/27/13 TO ADD: Terri Bruce's lawsuit was settled September 10, with Eternal Press ordered to stop publishing Terri's books and to return her rights.

- LDS-focused publisher Cedar Fort has canceled publication of a book over one of the co-authors' refusal to remove the word "partner" from his author bio, fearing that their distributors would refuse to carry a book with any whiff of gayness.

And in case you haven't seen them, over the past couple of weeks I've posted Alerts about Iconic Publishing (attempted copyright theft) and American Book Publishing (a notorious vanity publisher that is now doing business under several different names and aliases).


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Publisher Alert: Iconic Publishing / Jonquil Press / Red Lizard Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I first became aware of Iconic Publishing last year, when this post appeared on Absolute Write. It's a tale of breathtaking unprofessionalism on the part of the publisher, Jano Donnachaidh of Marietta, GA.

Starting last February, I began hearing from Iconic authors reporting a variety of similar problems, including production delays, poor copy editing (books were printed full of errors), poor communication, and broken marketing promises. I've also seen several Iconic contracts, and they're pretty bad, with a sweeping claim on subsidiary rights (even though there's no evidence Iconic is capable of exploiting them), unacceptably vague reversion language, royalties paid on net profit, and a Right of First refusal clause that could be interpreted to require the authors to submit to the publisher any subsequent book they ever produced.

One thing these contracts do make clear, though, is that the authors retain copyright. See the two screenshots below (note also the antiquated language in the second screenshot):


Why am I emphasizing this? Because, possibly in an attempt to hold on to rights that dissatisfied authors are attempting to revert, Donnachaidh has violated the terms of his own contract by registering copyright to most of the books he's published not in their authors' names, but in Iconic's.

Here's the listing of copyrights Donnachaidh has registered. And here's just one example:


Note that that it's stated that the copyright transfer is "by written agreement." I've now heard from three of the five authors involved, and all three say that they never signed any agreement authorizing the transfer of their copyrights, nor agreed to a transfer in any way. The registrations also contradict the copyright notices printed in the actual books, all of which are in the authors' names.

Iconic authors are pursuing various avenues of redress, including legal action. In the meantime, writers should beware of Iconic Publishing, and of any business using the following domain names, all of which are registered to Donnachaidh:

iconicpublishing.com
jonquilpress.com
redlizardpress.com
tatteredrogue.com
redroguepublishing.com
blacktowerpress.com
quillclassics.com
icon-books.com
littleshopbooks.com
iconicpublishingstore.com
iconic-books.com
oculuspublishing.com
littleshoppebooks.com
3redproductions.com
iconic-bookstore.com

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Expanded Alert at Writer Beware: American Book Publishing / Alexis Press / All Classic Books / Atlantic National Books

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This sordid story is ongoing. See my updates: Going Out of Business, Nigerian Spam-Scam Style, and All Classic Books: The Scam Continues.

Last October, I started getting inquiries about a publisher called All Classic Books. I hadn't heard anything about it, though its rather odd website (a sort of online journal format, with content mill-style essays) along with the lack of concrete information about its staff and its apparent lack of publishing history (according to Amazon, just four books published, all of which appear to be public domain titles) did give me serious pause.

So I wasn't entirely surprised, a couple of weeks ago, to receive my first documented complaint about All Classic Books, from an author who reported a variety of problems through the production process.

What really caught my interest, though, was the heavy pressure placed on the author to spend thousands of dollars to buy hundreds of printed galleys to send out to reviewers. 500 was the "ideal" number suggested--though if the author really couldn't afford that many, 300 was OK too. Helpfully, All Classic's "Book Promotion Basics" brochure provides a pack of lies in support of this suggestion:
It's common practice at traditional publishing companies today that all but their top 1% or “A” list celebrity authors cover their own galley expenses. It's becoming more rare to find these exceptions, usually now made by a previously negotiated contract with literary agents or in book auctions or bidding wars for the celebrity author. Most authors today understand that sending their galleys are an expected and standard industry business expense and practice. All Classic Books is similar to many of the top New York Publishers in this regard. While we cover all other book publishing, distribution and marketing and promotion expenses, our authors do cover their galley expenses.
All of this rang a bell for me, because it's also the M.O. of a publisher Writer Beware has been getting complaints about since 2001: American Book Publishing (here's its other website), the subject of an Alert at the Writer Beware website and one of the dodgy publishers on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publisher List.

Could there be a connection, I wondered? ABP charges a "setup" fee ($880, as of my most recent documentation), and All Classic Books doesn't. It even pays a tiny advance. But while plenty of vanity publishers require or urge their authors to buy large quantities of their own books, ABP is the only one I've ever run across that pressures authors to self-purchase galleys for the purpose (well, the supposed purpose) of obtaining reviews.

So I started to research. And what I found was much more than I expected--not just a connection between ABP and All Classic Books, but between ABP and a whole network of satellite publishers, bogus organizations, shill websites, and imaginary publishing professionals. For those of you who are curious, I've included a section below with screenshots and other evidence that led to my conclusions. For those who want the quick version, here it is (the Alert at the Writer Beware website has been expanded to reflect this information).

ABP's satellite operations and websites include:
There are also some bogus news sites that pimp ABP, including American Book Publishing News Today and Book Publishing News and Views.

ABP’s founder, Cheryl Nunn or C. Lee Nunn, is fond of triple-barreled aliases. Names she may be using include:
  • Nathan Fitzgearl, Kathleen Brooks Montgomery, Abigail Woodward Wright (ABP)
  • Elizabeth M. Bennett (Alexis Press)
  • Susannah E. Solomon (Atlantic National Books)
  • Rebecca Reese Winslow, Kelly Kenworthy, Sherry Quinn (All Classic Books)
  • Kory Kessal (Media Book Group)
  • James Jackson Jones ("egalleys", whatever that means)
  • Madison Armstrong ("book publishing industry executive," author of a book that doesn't seem to exist)

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

So, evidence of all these connections. 

There's some suggestive stuff at the websites linked in above: same Wordpress theme, some similar design features (check out the red advertising strip across the top of the satellite publishers' websites and ABP's blog, each offering a free, yes FREE, download of some kind), and a similar focus (most of the websites make a particular--not to mention hypocritical, given the source--point of railing against vanity publishing). 

That's not conclusive, of course. But here's what is. Having created separate identities for her various endeavors, Cheryl Nunn seems to have decided to streamline her workload a little by giving every one of them, including ABP, the exact same Twitterfeeds and Facebook timelines. Twitter screenshots are below (I've included them because the feeds may vanish or go dead once this post goes live); if you're really obsessive and want to see the Facebook timelines, they're easily Googled.

There's also this complaint by "Katie Montgomery" (one of the names used by Cheryl Nunn--see above) who--oh dear, what is the world coming to--claims she got ripped off by a graphic design bid site called DiginDigin.com when she attempted to get logos for Alexis Press and All Classic Books. Thank goodness that "Abp222" seems to have had more luck at 99designs.com with logos for Alexis Press, All Classic Books, and Atlantic National Books. (Do check out the logo campaign page for Atlantic National Books, where, in a serious fit of wishful thinking, Cheryl describes her competitors as "Amazon's Creative [sic] Space, Simon & Schuster, Random House etc.")

American Book Publishing
Alexis Press
All Classic Books
Atlantic National Books
Media Book Group
Publisher Services Group
Publisher Standards Board
Madison Armstrong, "Book Publishing Industry Executive"
James Jackson Jones, "egalleys"
Kory Kessal, "CEO for Media Book Group"
Poor "Katie Montgomery"! Someone ripped her off!
Thank goodness, Abp222, second time's a charm!
    Edited 9/26/13 to add: Dodgy publishers don't like sunshine. As of this writing, Cheryl Nunn has deleted her contests at 99designs.com, and Publisher Standards Board is gone. Alexis Press, Atlantic National Books, Publisher Services Group, and Media Book Group now claim they are "currently for sale."

    Stop laughing, people!

    Thanks to Sydney Oliver for the tip.