Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Don't Fall For Vanity Radio

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Writers, don't fall for this offer from Global Talk Radio that's currently doing the spam circuit.
Here's a new and FUN way to promote your book, business or website!

Talk about it "on the air" in your own words... reach a highly-targeted audience and you might open doors to new opportunities! A RADIO INTERVIEW CAN SET YOU APART FROM EVERYONE ELSE!

Global Talk Radio produces 5-minute and 10-minute professional interviews with authors and entrepreneurs for our top-rated "In The News" program. Interviews are pre-recorded by telephone, and you supply "talking points" to help focus the conversation on what is most important. Recent guests included Emmy-nominated writer/producer Dr. Kenneth Atchity, authors Nick Quintanilla and James Conaway, Ben Bluml (Senior VP at the American Pharmacists Association Foundation) and entrepreneur Jenny Ta of Sqeeqee.com. You could be next!

Your promotional interview includes:

A professional interview, recorded by phone
Your interview is posted on our station's site indefinitely
Your archive is fed into Google and other search engines via keywords
You will also receive "honorable mention" on our home page
GTR will hyperlink your archive to a website or web page of your choice
You can download a FREE MP3 copy of the interview
THIS WEEK ONLY!! Send us your picture or graphic, and we'll post it with a link back to your website!

Hurry! Only 5 guest spots are available! (Interviews are available first-come, first-served, but you have until December 15th to record the interview.)

Sign-up is easy. Please visit us at http://www.globaltalkradio.com/publicityworks.htm for details and to book a guest spot.
I'm sure you've already guessed what this breathless pitch omits: these spiffy "professional interviews" involve a fee. TV-infomercial-style, you're urged not to stop to consider--OFFER ENDS NOVEMBER 29!--because you really, really have to hurry--ONLY 5 INTERVIEWS AVAILABLE! Plus, the interviews are on sale! You can get a a 5-minute interview (regularly $200) for $97, or a 10-minute interview (regularly $300) for just $147!

Global Talk Radio touts its "highly targeted audience," but the reality is a little different. On GTR's front page, there's a screenshot of its traffic ranking from Ranking.com, under the headline "Global Talk Radio's traffic surges!" The screenshot appears to show a big jump--from the 180,000 range into the 100,000 range over the course of a few months. However, if you look closely, you'll see that these figures are from 2009 and early 2010. So they're not exactly current.

More recent is this info from Quantcast, which measures actual visitors. Between October 26 and November 24, 2013, Global Talk Radio's website received 752 visitors. Not exactly a mass audience. Global Talk Radio's Alexa rank is similarly unimpressive.

Don't fall for vanity radio. If you want an interview to post on your website, consider creating your own podcast. Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn offers good advice on how to do this (there are helpful suggestions in the comments as well).

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Horror Writers Association Adds Its Support to Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


If you're a regular visitor here, you may have noticed a change in our masthead.

I'm delighted to announce that the Horror Writers Association has joined the Mystery Writers of America in providing additional support for Writer Beware (our main sponsor, of course, is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).

We're thrilled to be collaborating with another professional genre writers' group to further Writer Beware's mission of educating and empowering writers--all writers, new or established, regardless of subject, style, genre, or nationality. Together, we'll continue to work to make the publishing world a safer place.

Thanks, HWA!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Masterpiece: A Reality Show For Authors (Plus a Short, Sad, History of Similar Shows That Failed)

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Literary feuds are entertaining: famous and not-so-famous authors holding grudges, slinging insults, or sabotaging one another with bad reviews (both anonymous and not).

But what about author feuding in real time? Can the spectacle of writers racing one another to finish a story, or competing to make the best elevator pitch, hold an audience riveted? Will viewers mourn as authortestants fall by the wayside, and cheer for the last author standing?

A new Italian reality show, Masterpiece, aims to find out. At stake: a deal with Italian publisher Bompiani, and an eye-popping first print run of 100,000. Here's how it works.
Prospective contestants submit a manuscript of an unpublished novel – nearly 5,000 flooded the offices of “Masterpiece” when the call went out, according to the NYT. Readers select a dozen contestants for each of six episodes, which judges then winnow down to four hopefuls per show.

Each of the four contestants participates in some sort of event that is designed to inform his or her writing (for example, watching a wedding or spending a day with the blind), then return to the studio for the main event: a tension-fraught writing assignment. Writers sit at keyboards facing judges and tap out prose with their words projected on screens for the audience to see as a clock counts down. Time allotted for this assignment? A pressure-filled 30 minutes.

They then read their written assignments aloud to judges, who deliberate and dismiss two writers. The final competition is a 59-second elevator pitch to literary celebrities. A winner is chosen from each of six episodes, then finalists are gathered together for a final competition to determine who wins a book deal – and a good deal of celebrity.
Sounds like a major yawnfest to me. But then, I'm a writer, with an intimate personal knowledge of how boring writers are when they're composing. (They're actually much more interesting when they're procrastinating--how about a show about that?) I'm thinking fancy sets and big screens and breathless show-host commentary are not going to be enough to generate audience enthusiasm for 30 minutes of writers writing.

Believe it or not, "Masterpiece" is not a new concept. Author reality shows have been tried several times, and every single one has failed. I've written about a bunch of them (I admit to a minor obsession!):

- Book Millionaire. The brainchild of Lori Prokop, owner of her very own vanity press, this show was to feature "Eight people with dreams of seeing their book ideas become published and being the next author launched to best selling and celebrity status." It never got beyond the video audition stage.

- The Ultimate Author. Created by journalist and author Lauren Spicer, this show promised contestants "go[ing] toe-to-toe in a writing competition that tests their ability to develop attention-grabbing content." At least one show was taped, but there's no sign it was ever broadcast.

- American Book Factory. Four books were to be co-written by teams of authors "competing for what could turn into a major book deal." This one never got beyond the announcement stage.

- Healeth Publisher. In connection with an Internet TV company, Healeth promised a reality show competition "that will change the publishing game forever." It never materialized.

- Publish My Book! Proposed by Tony Cowell, Simon Cowell's brother, this American Idol-style author reality show looked to have all the goods, but it fared no better than the rest. Announced for the summer of 2007, it never appeared.

- The WRITE Stuff. Run by producer and events organizer Cyrus A. Webb, this show promised to feature 14 authors in "a contest that will challenge not only their creativity but their drive and determination to make it in the business." Despite multi-city auditions, not a single episode ever aired.

Admittedly, except for Tony Cowell and Publish My Book!, none of these groups was very credible. Still, even though Masterpiece has the money and the logistics and the publisher participation that the dead shows lacked, it shares the same challenge: writers are really only interesting when they're not writing.

EDITED 11/22 TO ADD: Here's a review of Masterpiece's first episode: it's mixed, but generally positive. I'm still not convinced; even glitzed up for TV, who but another writer is really interested in writers writing? There's a reason there are so few books (and films) about authors.

EDITED 5/6/14 TO ADD: Masterpiece has concluded and crowned a winner. Apparently the show garnered few viewers and was even suspended for several months mid-contest. Here's a wrapup: Italy’s TV Reality Show Ignored Psychology of Authors.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Awards Profiteering: The Book Festival Empire of JM Northern Media

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you're a writer, I'll bet you've been spammed by JM Northern Media.

Don't recognize the name? Maybe these will ring a bell. The Los Angeles Book Festival. The Hollywood Book Festival. The Paris Book Festival. The Beach Book Festival. The Halloween Book Festival. Animals, Animals, Animals Book Festival. And at least nine other annal festivals, all owned and operated by JM Northern Media (click the Properties tab).

Why, you might ask, would one company own so many book festivals? To make money, of course. JM Northern's "festivals" aren't really festivals at all, but textbook examples of a moneymaking awards program. Here's the M.O.

- Solicitation. To maximize entries, moneymaking awards programs do email blasts. JM Northern is no exception--if you get on its list you'll be relentlessly spammed with calls for entry to any or all of its fifteen "festivals."

- High entry fees. For all but the Hollywood Book Festival, which charges $75, entrants must pay "a non-refundable entry fee of $50 in the form of a check, money order or PayPal online payment in U.S. dollars for each submission."

- Lots of entry categories. To maximize income, moneymaking awards programs create as many entry categories as possible, and encourage multiple entries. JM Northern's festivals all have 15 or more entry categories--actually rather modest for such programs, but that's offset by how many of them there are. Plus, you can get 10% off by entering more than one festival at a time!

- Opportunities to spend more money. Moneymaking awards programs' profits don't just come from entry fees. They also hawk award stickers, certificates, critiques, and more.

On its festivals' entry forms, JM Northern asks writers to indicate whether they'll be willing to buy "promotional items" or critiques--to be provided, I'm guessing, by JM Northern's own Modern Media Publicity, which sells said promotional items ("Nothing says free advertising like a quality t-shirt or coffee mug") as well as "Regular" ($150) and "Deluxe" ($350) critiques by "by our staff of authors, publishers, festival judges, filmmakers and agents" (unnamed, of course). JM Northern also maintains a "book marketing portal" called Table of Honor, where festival winners and honorees can pay $75 per title to list their books.

Let's do the math. According to this article, the Hollywood Book Festival received 2,740 entries in 2012. At $75 per entry, that's a gross of $205,500. Let's assume that the other 14 festivals, with a lower fee, also get a lower number of entries--say, 1,500 (I'm lowballing to demonstrate how insanely lucrative this scheme is). Altogether, that's over $1.25 million just in entry fees. A year. When you add in revenue from the critiques, the merchandise, and the marketing, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that JM Northern's annual festival gross is $2 million or more.

- Anonymous judging. JM Northern's festivals promise judging by "a panel of industry experts," but don't reveal who those experts are. This is typical of moneymaking awards programs, where the judges are usually not the experienced professionals promised in the publicity material, but rather the program's staff, who may simply pick winners out of a hat.

- Negligible prizes. To avoid cutting into their profits, moneymaking awards programs typically offer prizes that cost them little or nothing: press releases, media announcements, printed certificates, website listings, features on satellite websites they themselves own, donated items, and, of course, the supposed prestige that comes from being able to claim that you're an "award-winning author."

Here's where JM Northern differs a little from the norm. Winners and placers in the various entry categories get (at least according to pictorial evidence) nothing but a framed certificate. But JM Northern does sponsor actual awards ceremonies, and the grand prize winner for each festival receives an "appearance fee"--between $500 and $1,500, depending on which festival--plus a plane ticket to whatever city is hosting the ceremony.

The festivals' websites name winners, so I emailed several of the grand prize recipients to verify that they'd received their prizes. I heard back from three. All reported that they did receive a check (in one case, after a delay), along with a plaque. Only one accepted the plane ticket and attended the ceremony--a relatively bare-bones snack-and-cocktails affair at which he gave an acceptance speech and category winners and honorees received certificates. He also confirmed that there was no actual book festival, in the sense of an event with speakers, exhibitors, and a variety of events--just the ceremony, along with a display of the honorees' books 

What about prestige? Moneymaking awards don't typically command a lot of name recognition (two of the grand prize winners I spoke with told me that even their publishers, which had submitted their books, had never heard of the festivals before)--but if you win or place, you'll be able to tag your book as an "award-winning book" and yourself as an "award-winning author." How much readers care about such designations, though, is an open question. With all the fake review scandals, as well as readers' increasing disillusion with authorial self-promotion, I think book buyers have become more cynical in general about what authors say about themselves.

Moneymaking awards, which overwhelmingly target and ensnare small press and self-published authors, are a cynical play on authors' hunger for recognition and exposure in an increasingly crowded marketplace. JM Northern is by far the most prolific of these schemes, but there are many others. In my opinion, they are never a worthwhile use of writers' (or publishers') money.

JM Northern Media's empire includes several other moneymaking properties, including the DIY Convention and the YPE International Summit. It's run by journalist and author Bruce Haring.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Solicitation Alert: Bloggingbooks

 Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Have you recently been solicited by a company called Bloggingbooks that wants to publish your blog in book form?
Millions of people share their point of view with the world in real time – This is how blogs have become part of our everyday lives. Blogs focus on the present and thereby provide continuous commentary on daily happenings.

Events and content, that are presented in a chronological order on the internet, get a new dimension through books. By turning blogs into books we create a systematic snapshots through collecting, compiling, categorizing and commenting.
The eccentric English is no accident: Bloggingbooks is a German company--and not just any German company, either. As its domain registration information shows, it's part of what's probably the biggest author mill in the world (that's right, it's got PublishAmerica beat): VDM (Verlag Dr. Mueller).

I've written several blog posts about VDM and its multitudinous tentacles:

VDM Verlag Dr. Mueller
JustFiction! Edition
Blessed Hope Publishing

Briefly, these companies provide bare-bones POD and electronic publication, a life-of-copyright contract with no provision for termination or rights reversion, and a royalty structure that all but guarantees that VDM will never actually have to pay anything (if your royalties "average" less than 50 euros per month--a safe bet, given the books' ridiculous prices and complete lack of marketing--you get vouchers to buy other VDM books in lieu of money). VDM and its satellite ventures are notorious for direct solicitation and spamming, and for creating "books" cobbled together from Wikipedia articles.

If you want to turn your blog into a book, there are many much better options, including just about any good self-publishing platform.

Friday, November 08, 2013

2 Moon Press--Update

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last summer, I wrote about a police investigation of Michigan-based pay-to-play publisher 2 Moon Press, which closed its doors in May amid competing claims of wrongdoing by its former and current owners. In the process, it left large numbers of authors in the lurch--many of whom had paid thousands of dollars and never seen a single book.

Despite the police investigation, dozens of author complaints, an F rating from the BBB (click the Complaints tab to see the kinds of troubles authors encountered), and a lawsuit by at least one author, prosecutors declined to bring charges against former owner Don Semora--even though he has a prior history of fraudulent activity, and has served time in prison--or current owner Melinda Lundy.

Sadly, this isn't an unusual outcome. Even where the fraud is egregious and tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars are involved, a combination of bias (it's vanity publishing; authors have only themselves to blame), lack of understanding (it's often difficult for people outside of publishing to understand where the fraud lies; also, cases that involve dozens of people, multiple states, and a variety of different complaints can seem dauntingly complex to pursue), and the lower priority that's often given to smaller white-collar crimes overwhelmingly keeps law enforcement from pursuing literary fraud. There've been some successes (see Writer Beware's Case Studies page), but most literary fraud goes unpunished--and often, since authors are ashamed of falling for a scam, unreported.

Enter local Michigan news channel WWMT, whose Investigations Team broadcast this damning report on November 1.
Over the last few months, the Newschannel 3 I-Team worked on behalf of dozens of authors who say they lost money or lost services from the now-defunct book publisher 2 Moon Press.

Many authors asked us to investigate what happened to the company. The company shut down earlier this year and many of the authors we are profiling in this story say they paid for books they never received. The leaders at the company purchased billboards across West Michigan, advertising that they were "Michigan's most trusted publisher."

In police reports we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, people in 26 cities in Michigan and in 10 states across the country reported to the Marshall Police Department they didn't get what they were promised from the folks who were running 2 Moon Press.

The police officers in Marshall say they've never handled a case of this magnitude.
There's much more in the accompanying video, including denials of wrongdoing by Don Semora and protestations of innocence by Melinda Lundy. Semora filed a civil case against Lundy a few months ago for fraud and breach of contract; Lundy--who'd earlier sent Semora a desperate plea for help, claiming that "I have went through all the money"--responded by alleging that Semora defrauded her by inducing her to agree to a fraudulent contract. The case was tossed when Semora failed to appear in court.

Don't miss the confrontation outside the Double Nickel Party Store, where Melinda's son Matthew (who has a criminal history of his own) smashes the reporter's camera and physically threatens him (at 06.30); or the image of 2 Moon's huge highway billboard sign--which, months after the company's demise, has only just been taken down--advertising itself as "Michigan's Most Trusted Publisher" (at 07.35).

As a result of WWMT's expose, the Calhoun County prosecutor has re-opened the case and is actively pursuing it. Restitution is unlikely--even if granted, there's probably no money left--but let's hope there are some convictions.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Going Out of Business, Nigerian Spam-Scam Style

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Back in August, I blogged about the latest effort by Cheryl Lee Nunn, owner of vanity publisher American Book Publishing Inc., to expand her author-fleecing efforts with a network of new publishers, bogus publishing organizations, and triple-barrelled aliases.

Following my expose, Nunn slapped ludicrous "for sale" notifications on the websites of the fake orgs and two of the new publishers, Alexis Press and Atlantic National Books. The one that brought her scheme to my attention, however--All Classic Books--remained active, possibly because it was the only one that had actually recruited authors.

Now it appears that Nunn, who runs All Classic Books under the name Rebecca Reece Winslow, is throwing in the towel on All Classic as well. But when you've put a lot of effort into a scheme, it's tough to let it go without at least some return on your investment, right? In a move reminiscent of those Nigerian spam-scams where recipients are threatened with FBI investigation if they don't hand over money pronto, Nunn, a.k.a. Winslow, is attempting to soak her authors before the door slams closed with a long, bullshit-stuffed email designed to scare them into paying to get their rights back.

Take a look. All typos and emphases courtesy of the original. (How many falsehoods and logical inconsistencies can you spot?)
From: Rebecca Reece Winslow
Date: Sat, Nov 2, 2013 at 7:22 PM
Subject: URGENT 10 Day Legal Notice
To: [name and email redacted]
Cc: legal@allclassicbooks.com

Dear [name redacted],

Please respond today so we know you are getting this e-mail ASAP and let us know what you plan to do.

Some authors have delayed responding because they think that they may have a better opportunity if All Classic Books is sold or merged with another publisher someday. It is NOT likely, as it has been for sale for a few years without any serious buyers.

Most likely our book contracts will go to a transfer agent that will hold it for a long time before it is merged or resolved. This is why we are offering to help our authors do their full rights buyouts before they get caught in the middle a legal limbo with their titles tied up in red tape for possibly a very long time.

I advise you not to hesitate to do the buyout, your book's sales opportunities are not going to get better if you merely let it stay as is here.

The board of directors of American Book Inc. that owns and operates All Classic Books have voted to sell our assets and book contracts to another publisher and close this month.

The directors have been financing our operations with additional investment since the company has not been earning a profit. After reviewing author responses to our marketing campaigns and their own marketing and promotional plans the directors believe this was not a viable business model in selecting talented, but non professional authors. We had hoped with the right selection, and planned marketing campaigns we could overcome the unknown author issues. But without the level of cooperation from the authors needed in building their author platforms and other tasks, it is not possible for this new publishing company business model to succeed.

We have been losing money as have many other publishers over the last few years and so All Classic Books is also not likely to be an attractive company to purchase.

We want to ease any problems this creates for you and the listings and sales of your book.

Therefore it is critical you respond to this e-mail without delay and and act quickly to move your title to another publisher now before it gets tied up with a transfer agent.


Management has instructed me to offer you a full rights buyout where we can provide you our edited book files and full rights to publish them with other publishers that you may want to submit them too for possible cash advances or to now self publish them.

[Redacted: a bunch of unintentionally true propaganda about how much better the released authors can do by self-publishing with Amazon.]

Therefore we are offering you a finial full book rights buyout opportunity on your title (per book title) for $695.00 until November 12, 2013 that will prevent your title from being tied up in the sales or closing transition or with a transfer agent over a few years.

We will provide you a formal letter stating that all book rights have been returned to you in full on your title and permission to use all our editing work and copy our book cover (if it has been completed, the buyout is "as is" to whatever production stage your book is currently in). Then we will send you the book files and information about setting it up for free with amazon.com's book publishing program (for both in print and e-book editions), or you can use them to submit to other publishers.

I have received my notice or pink slip as have many of our staff this week that our services will no longer be needed as of November 15th, 2013.

Time is of the essence we are quite busy wrapping things up here and the sooner you respond the better because we want to make sure you have everything you need and are set up with your new publisher before the company transfers.


[Redacted: a long, long list of ways in which authors can pay.]

Please let me know you received this e-mail and your plan for your title and how we can assist you no later than November 5, 2013.

WARNING, please keep in mind those who do not do the buyout will have their book contracts and production or distribution work transferred to another company or new owner which means that all your book rights and our editing work will remain with them and they will have legal rights to sue for any use of the your title content without their permission.


[Redacted: a bunch of links to scary articles about how publishers are in trouble and the publishing industry is dying.]

Sincerely,
Becky
All Classic Books authors, take note: This email is bogus. There is no American Book Publishing Inc. "board of directors." There is no "Rebecca Reese Winslow." It's all Cheryl Lee Nunn, and the only financial "investment" that would ever have been made in All Classic Books would have come from its authors, who'd have been pressured to buy hundreds of their own books.

As for the supposed sale--no one is going to buy a money-losing publisher, even if it were a real publisher and not a phantom operation, and even if Nunn were really contemplating finding a buyer. Nor is there any such thing as a "transfer agent" for publishing contracts. If a publisher goes bankrupt, contracts do indeed get tied up in the mess, and may be frozen until the court decides to sell or release them--but that's not what's happening here. All Classic isn't going bankrupt. It's doing a bunk.

DO NOT PAY TO GET YOUR RIGHTS BACK! Don't put money into a scammer's pocket, and don't dignify this disgraceful extortion attempt with a response.

If your book hasn't yet been published or put on sale, you can wait out your contract's 18-month publish-or-revert period. Or, if you don't want to wait 18 months, you can send a termination notice to All Classic's most recent snail mail and email addresses, addressed to whichever staff name is on your contract. State that since the publisher is ceasing operations, you're terminating your contract immediately, and reverting all rights to your work. If you like, you can cite Paragraph 21 of your contract, which provides for automatic termination and return of rights "in the event of the Publisher’s insolvency, bankruptcy, or assignment of assets for the benefit of creditors." The email above clearly states that All Classic is closing down because it's losing money--i.e., insolvent.

EDITED 11/13/13 TO ADD: All Classic Books' website now has a big "For Sale" sign on it. 
As of November  29, 2013 All Classic Books will be available for purchase. Serious company purchase offers may be made to Becky at info@allclassicbooks.com
Don't hold your breath, folks.

EDITED 11/19/13 TO ADD: All Classic authors have received this final demand for cash from "Rebecca":
I'm about to leave my employment at All Classic Books and need to know if you are planning on accepting our book full rights buyout offer since it expires in 2 days on the November 20, 2013.

Most of our authors are doing their book buyouts except for a few that are mislead or confused by some erroneous false information they read about it. Without your full book rights buyout your book will still be listed with some stores, and our book contracts will be assigned and managed by a transfer agent that will be managing the sale or merge of our company with another. Since it is unclear how long that will take, we are strongly recommending authors do the buyout to avoid long delays and red tape as you will not have the administrative and book marketing e-mail support you have had with us.
Again, there's no such thing as a "transfer agent." Nunn just wants to wring whatever money she can out of the scheme before she folds it.