Monday, March 31, 2014

Pamela Wray and WordWorks Publishing Consultants: The Amazing Case of the Serial Plagiarizer

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Every time I consider purging Writer Beware's files to get rid of documentation on agents and others we haven't heard anything about in years and years, I'm reminded of why I hold onto that old paper.

Last Friday, I received an email from successful independent editor Jodie Renner. Apparently, client testimonials from her website had been plagiarized by an outfit called WordWorks Publishing Consultants.

I hopped on over to WordWorks' website, expecting to discover something on the order of faux publicist Mike Albee, who decorated his site with fake testimonials from known authors.

What I found was way more bizarre: plagiarism, plagiarism, and yet more plagiarism, plus a blast from Writer Beware's past. (Bear with me; this is a long post with lots of images, but I wanted to capture them in case WordWorks attempts to hide the evidence.)

Based in Alabama, WordWorks is owned by Pamela Wray Biron, who provides "Expert and Innovative Content Solutions," including editing, ghostwriting, graphic design, illustration, marketing, and web services. A veritable Renaissance woman. And, gosh, just look at Pamela's clients! The US Justice Department! 20th Century Fox! The President of the United States! Check out the impressive names on Pamela's Testimonials page! Steve Jobs! Bill Gates! Michael Eisner! Editorial and marketing staff from all the Big Five publishers!

There's just one problem: most of the testimonials are plagiarized, and not just from Jodie Renner.

For instance, this testimonial from Jodie's client SJ Sellers:

Here's Pamela's version, with names changed to protect the guilty:

From Jodie's client A.M. Khalifa:

Pamela has made hay with this one, turning it into three testimonials:

Here's a testimonial from the website of Charlie Neville, graphic designer:

Pamela's version, slightly paraphrased (but oh dear--she forgot to change "his" to "her"):

A testimonial from Foster Covers, the website of book cover designer George Foster:

Pamela's got this one too:

From well-known PR firm FSB Associates:

Pamela, Pamela, Pamela:

These are just a few examples; I confirmed many more. And that's not all. See Pamela's Portfolio! (Its lousy reproduction values don't match the high-powered jobs she's claiming--if you're working for Paramount, surely you can spring for something better than a crappy Vistaprint website--but never mind). See Pamela's poster for the hugely successful horror movie Drag Me to Hell!

Oh wait. That poster was actually designed by ad agency Cold Open.

Pamela's writing samples don't exactly belong to her, either. For instance, "Excuses Alcoholics Make," which can be downloaded from the Social Sciences section of her Writing Portfolio page, has been lifted whole from this article by Floyd P. Garret, M.D. Perhaps, if asked, Pamela would claim she ghostwrote it--but I suspect that might surprise Dr. Garret (though he'd surely be no more startled to find his words on Pamela's website than would Michael Eisner or Bill Gates).

But wait--there's even more. Pamela's also the founder and Executive Director for the The Lighthouse for Recovery Ministries, which is dedicated to easing incarcerated persons' transition back into society. A worthy mission--but since WordWorks is so extensively plagiarized, inquiring minds can't help but wonder...could Lighthouse's website also include, well, borrowings?

Sure it could. Large portions of Lighthouse's Transitioning for Ex-Offenders have been copied, with adaptations, from Butler University's Returning Students resource. Barriers to Employment and Overcoming the Barriers have been taken in their entirety, without attribution, from Chapter 8 of a publication from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Pamela's blog posts for Lighthouse are also plagiarized. Even Lighthouse's mission is not its own; a big chunk of it has been borrowed from the nonprofit Fortune Society.

Believe it or not, I'm not done yet! As I was undertaking the research above, the name Pamela Wray kept ringing a bell. I went back through Writer Beware's records, and...bingo. We have a file.

Back around 2000, Pamela was running the Pamela Wray Literary Agency. She came to our attention initially because she was falsely claiming SFWA membership. A couple of cease-and-desists later, Pamela removed the claim--but over the next year or so we were contacted by a number of unhappy clients who reported that, in addition to never managing to sell their books, she'd told them various fibs, including presenting herself as John Grisham's agent (supposedly he was planning a new series featuring a Southern female detective, and wanted a Southern female agent), claiming to have secured bookstore orders for manuscripts that hadn't yet been placed with publishers, and claiming that publishers required authors to "match their out-of-pocket consumer promotion budgets".

By 2001, Pamela was out of the faux agent game. But though she has moved on to other things, she still seems to be working from the same playbook.

And that's why I don't throw away my old files.

UPDATED 6/30/14 TO ADD: WordWorks Publishing Consultants is gone. But The Lighthouse for Recovery Ministries remains, complete with plagiarized content.

In an amusing twist on this story, I recently received an email from Pamela letting me know that THE WHOLE THING WAS A HOAX! That's right, folks--and not just any hoax, but one in furtherance of a noble goal. I'll let Pamela tell you about it. Link to her entire explanation is here.
Thank you for contacting me and letting me know that you finally realized that the submission for the website "WordWorks" was falsified....It was part of an experiment for a study and journalistic investigative reporting pieces on ACCURACY AND USE OF INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET. This is the resulting "blog" about the results.

Two years ago, we were part of a grant study under the Department of Education, to determine the (1) accuracy, integrity and validity of information that is dissimulated on the internet; and 2) if individuals do in-depth research on this information to determine whether the data is true or false or if the individuals take the information at face value without further research....

We created a “false” business website with a “kernel of truth” and expounded on its informational value with plagiarism, untruths and creativity on a weekly basis to see how long it would take at least one individual to question the information provided within the website. It took sixteen (16) months before someone “spoke up.” This was sixteen months of this website being used as resource for term papers, research papers, business reports, and case studies by individuals in the corporate world and in the academic world.

EDITED 7/23/14 TO ADD: An alert reader passed this on to me: Pamela Wray's profile at Crimestoppers of Metro Alabama. According to this, she's wanted for identity theft, and has previous convictions including theft, fraudulent use of credit card, and possession of a forged instrument.

32 comments:

AmyShojai said...

Bravo for this in depth analysis. Shame on Pammy-poo. One can only hope she'll find another line of work.

S.M. Carrière said...

But why? That's all I can think. Buy why?

Victoria Strauss said...

That's a really good question. Why? Pathology, maybe, since she also made false claims in her agenting days? Who knows?

What boggles my mind is the amount of time and effort it must have taken to find all those testimonials, writing samples, portfolio items, etc., and transfer them to her website. That kind of single-minded focus really could be better employed.

Kelly Wittmann said...

It has to be some kind of sickness. I don't even think it's about making money.

C.M. Albrecht said...

Some people use whatever talent they have to roam down dark twisted pathways. Sad and callous.

Arlene Prunkl said...

I would like to add that I had a very similar experience with a pseudo-editor named Danielle Buffardi several years ago. Her website is called PenPoint Editorial. (I won't give the link; she won't be getting any additional SEO from me). After I wrote to her, she took down the plagiarized material, but then substituted it with more plagiarized material. It appalls me that this fraud and cheat who calls herself an editor is still in business. Victoria, please read the full story here on my blog:
http://penultimateword.com/editing-blogs/caveat-editor-beware-the-e-plagiarist/
I wish I had thought of contacting you at the time. If there is anything you can do to address this and prevent unsuspecting writers to hire her services, please do!

Arlene Prunkl said...

(Oops, sorry for the typo. I was so annoyed as I wrote!)

Jodie Renner said...

Victoria, I left a comment here thanking you earlier today, but since I was traveling and using my cell, I guess it didn't work.

Thank you for your excellent sleuthing and for exposing this scam artist for what she is. I'm not surprised at all that she plagiarized from several others besides me!

I only hope public outcry will make her take down her website before other unsuspecting authors pay her for her editing or publishing "skills"!

AM Khalifa said...

Honestly, this comes across as a prank web site, punking potential clients as a public service so they would know better next time.

I can't imagine any sane, mildly intelligent would-be author contacting Pam(e) earnestly seeking editorial or other services. And if nothing in that delightful web site raises a tiny red flag in their mind (like an editor who can't spell Simon and Schuster), then they totally deserve it.

A part of me would love to engage with her/him/it/them and ask if I can contact Bill Gates as a reference to explore how satisfied he was with the service.

Ah, time. If only I had more of it to dispense freely in the pursuit of self-amusement!

(Great research by the way! Thanks!)

Kat Sheridan said...

I think the most disturbing part is that she has a page dedicated to "scams and shams".

Anonymous said...

@ AM. I don't believe anyone deserves to be scammed in that way. We all have some level of naivete about the writing industry.

AM Khalifa said...

Anonymous, I totally agree with you. No one deserves to be scammed. This was tongue in cheek about a rather absurd situation.

Vick D'Mental said...

I have sent an email to the University of Alabama at Birmingham Women's Center regarding Mrs. Biron's Community Service award.

I live in Alabama and awards like the ones handed out by the UAB Women's Center are important tools for recognizing people doing important work in our communities. I would hate for UAB's award to be tarnished if it was awarded erroneously to a con-artist.

Jodie Renner said...

Good move, Vick!

Beverly Bambury said...

I am astounded that someone would try to make such huge claims and expect anyone to believe them. With those confabulation skills, perhaps she should just be a writer instead.

Terry Tyler said...

Hi! Just wondered if you 'out' UK people as well? I tried to email you but that email didn't work - is that because of country difference?

I'm getting really concerned about the amount of people setting themselves up as editors and proofreaders, with no qualifications or experience at all. My sister is a bona fide proofreader and she has some horrific tales about the rip-offs people have paid for. Also, the proofreading courses that don't teach you what you need to know - most of them don't actually teach track changes, which is the tool used by proofreaders these days, and stick with the old symbols, completely outdated now. Thanks!

Peter Shoemaker said...

I'm with @AM here, even before his clarification. This site is so abysmally bad, so over the top, so very, very wrong that I have little sympathy for anyone so taken-in. The "about the staff" page reads like an April Fools joke.

Anonymous said...

Anyone advertising editorial services should not have grammatical errors in their editorial services advertising website. See if you can find the blatant one in the FIRST TWO WORDS of this paragraph on her website:

Pamela Wray, has over 38 years of experience in marketing, publishing, public relations, management, accounting, computer/web design,development and content and finance with corporate, governmental, military, web/online and small business as an employee and business owner of a corporation, nine small businesses and three nonprofit organizations.

Victoria Strauss said...

I agree--even without the lies and inflated claims, Wray's website is a warning all on its own, with its dawn-o-the web design, bad grammar, etc. Reasonably savvy people likely would be suspicious just on that basis. But that doesn't mean less savvy or more gullible people deserve what they get.

Victoria Strauss said...

Terry Tyler --

Writer Beware covers the UK (and other countries) as well as the USA, so if you've had a bad experience with someone, please get in touch: beware (at) sfwa.org.

Jodie Renner said...

As one of the people Pamela Wray ripped off, I also published a blog post on the plagiarizing of the testimonials from my website on Crime Fiction Collective blog on Monday.

I wanted to point out some of the many, many errors, like the comma after her name in the example shown here by Anonymous. In fact, I did in my first draft, and mentioned other indications that not only does this person not know her grammar, but some indications make me wonder if this is a woman named Pamela Wray at all (who would spell "Pam" like "Pame"?) but maybe a group of scammers from a non-English speaking country...?

Then for some reason I took all that out. Should have left it in.

Renee Barratt said...

This woman was posting all over groups on facebook last week with false accusations about designers using stock images. I did my own investigation,

Laughed out Loud when I read the testimonial from Steve Jobs about how Pamela designed so many things for Apple Computer *snort*

gasped when I saw one of Annie Leibovitz's Disney Princess photos in the portfolio and then started writing messages to the admins of the groups she was posting on, sharing some of that information.

THANKS for posting this. It certainly makes me feel better that there is someone else other than me and this fantastic article I can refer people who fell for it to.

Keep being awesome!!!

Renee Barratt
thecovercounts.com

Donna K. Fitch said...

On her Lighthouse website, she claims to be a 2013 Webby awards nominee, but I find no such nomination on the Webby site. Also, she didn't win the 2013 US Women's Chamber of Commerce Emerging Star Award. That was won by Tribal Tech, LLC, Vicki Vasques. (https://www.uswcc.org/news/ViewNews.aspx?newsId=42) Plagiarism makes me so angry. Thanks for all you do to expose it!

Unknown said...

Victoria, this is prize-worthy reporting! You're doing such a terrific thing for the writer community.
Salley Shannon

Mary Leonhardt said...

I'll also bet that all of the academic and other writing she offers to do will be plagiarized.

Thanks, Victoria.

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Elissa M said...

My first thought was Disney might have something to say about Mickey being on her home page.

Then I looked at the Meet the Staff page. I couldn't get past the paragraph where she claims to hold eleven(!) Military Occupation Specialties. Does she even know what an MOS is? Immediately following that claim, she says she "is a former commanding officer in the U.s. Army Special Operation Command."

I have to agree with those who say this site looks like a joke. I've seen less B.S. in a stock yard.

Christine Tripp said...

Couldn't see any examples of the art or Artists names, on her "Illustration" services page, though she will offer the Writer a quote for the work, that is very odd (what work?)
Also....

>We have expertise and experience in color separation<

Does anyone DO colour separation anymore?

I've missed reading your wonderful blog Victoria, I'm catching up slowly:)

Artemis J Jones said...

This makes look at local people for professional assistance, the people i expect to meet at writers workshops. AJJ

Anonymous said...

Wow! I hired Pamela last month for a couple editing jobs. The first week or two, she kept in contact. I figured she was on her way. When I e-mailed her to touch base, she responded on 4/11 that she would send the completed project the next day. After patiently giving her several chances to reply to my e-mails, I both texted and called her. She identified herself in her personal voicemail greeting, so I left another plea for a response by 5:00 today. Thank you for this post. Now I know I don't have to wait for an answer, and can reassign her projects.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I am facebook friends with her - I'm pretty sure she contacted me. I guess it's time to "unfriend" her.

Wow.

Anonymous said...

There's something really strange about this hoax/official study story. There's the fact that her statement decrying the loss of educational standards is peppered with grammatical errors and unnecessary quotation marks. There's the plagiarism (I'm pretty sure responsible government-funded studies don't violate copy right law). There's Anon's 4/25 message about hiring this person who seems to have accepted an assignment, instead of declining as one would expect if it was all a study.

The whole thing is just bizarrely unbelievable.