Friday, April 18, 2014

Take the Money and Run: Kerry Jacobson, "Book Publicist"

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Starting in the summer of last year, self-published authors whose books made it onto Amazon's Movers and Shakers list began to receive solicitations from a publicist named Kerry Jacobson (here's an example).

Jacobson, who claimed more than eight years of experience boosting authors onto bestseller lists, promised a marketing push that would vault the authors' books onto the New York Times and USA Today lists, or propel them into Amazon's top ten. He also promised guidance and mentoring to help them make the most of the opportunity.

Jacobson's fees were enormous--a retainer of $2,500, $4,500, even $6,500--with, in some cases, a $10,000 "bonus" due after authors made the lists. Authors who tried to research him to verify his background and claims of success found little beyond a few social media profiles--and, somewhat worryingly, a number of defunct businesses.* But he was dynamic and persuasive--especially on the phone--and, in support of his services, offered a strong testimonial from one author who really had made the NYT list.** He also provided a money-back guarantee.

Many authors looked at Jacobson's fees and said "no thanks." But others bit. They signed contracts, sent funds, provided requested publicity materials, and waited for the promised mentoring and guidance to begin.

And waited.

Authors discovered that, after the initial setup, getting in touch with Jacobson was like pulling teeth. Basically, except for sending invoices, he never contacted them unless they contacted him first. To their questions and concerns, he offered excuses--he'd been sick, he'd been crazy busy--or promises that everything was good on his end. He also pushed back agreed-upon marketing dates--sometimes repeatedly--with vague but important-sounding explanations like "several big titles are being released that week, and I don't want your campaign to suffer from the sales competition."

As their designated campaign dates approached, authors began to be seriously concerned. But, as is often the case in such situations, they hung on to hope--plus, having already invested thousands of dollars, many felt that they had no choice but to stick. So they promoted the marketing push to readers and fans, paid for advertising, and prepared to lower their books' prices to 99 cents as demanded in Jacobson's contracts. When their launch weeks arrived, they held their breath and waited for their sales ranks to rise.

And waited.

Some authors told me that they did see a sales boost, which they attributed entirely to their own promotional efforts. But others' sales ranks barely budged--and either way, they got nothing even close to the mega-sales that Jacobson had led them to expect. As for Jacobson himself, he was MIA--no sign of any action at all on his end. Authors who contacted him to demand what the hell was going on got the same vague answers and promises as before: big sales would come "tomorrow." It was taking a while for the numbers to build. He was focusing on the end of the push week rather than the start, because that was the way to get sales to rise organically.

It was all B.S., of course. And when angry authors attempted to hold Jacobson to his money-back guarantee--either after their failed promos or after watching their friends crash and burn--I'm sure you can guess what happened.

The mess went public in early March of this year, when one furious author posted a webpage (since removed) about her experience. She sent me a link, I put out a call for contact, and a number of other Jacobson victims responded. They paid a variety of fees and were promised a variety of results, but otherwise their experiences are remarkably similar.

Jacobson seems to have gone to ground. He's removed his Twitter profile and I've had no word of any author solicitations past February. But his AuthorBub website (which promises promotion to a claimed 2.4 million email list for the low, low price of $2,800), is still online--and people who get started in the author-fleecing business have a tendency to come back for more. So I wouldn't be surprised if he reappears at some point.

* Jacobson is or has been the officer or the registered agent for a number of other Florida-based businesses, including Venture Direct Worldwide, Generation Health, Tank Top Media, KnowSomebody.com, Ovid Consulting, Collaborative Push, Mile High Swap, Pernax, and Invitation Only.

** I've corresponded with the author, who told me that Jacobson was not responsible for her book's appearance on the NYT list, and that her testimonial was presented out of context.

Jacobson also claimed to have been the "project manager" for the marketing campaign for Jordan S. Rubin's The Maker's Diet, which he said spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book and its bestseller status are real (although not necessarily its science; the same year the book was published, Rubin's company, Garden of Life Inc., was ordered by the FDA to stop making unsubstantiated claims about some of its products and supplements). A "Kerry Jacobson" is mentioned in the "thank yous" in the front matter of The Maker's Diet, but I could find nothing to verify Jacobson's specific claims.

11 comments:

Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds like fraud to me. Time to get the law on him.

Anonymous said...

No publicist can promise that your sales ranks will rise or that you'll be a bestseller.
They can promise that they will deliver certain services aimed at getting attention for your book.
So my question would be whether people got the publicity services they paid for.
My next question would be whether what they were promised was realistic in the first place.

Sue Bursztynski said...

It definitely wasn't realistic. But there are a lot of people out there who desperately want to believe there's a magic formula for fame. These can be sucked in. And the flattering contact, like the one entered on the FB page(see link) - that author was saved only by the fact he couldn't afford it.

It wasn't an issue back in the days when the only self published writers were those writing for a niche market, including family memoirs, and those who bought the services of a vanity press and ended up with thousands of books on their living room floors! ( At least the vanity presses delivered the books) Now, so-called "indie" publishing is huge and con artists are coming out of the woodwork.

I should add that when a publicist boasts about a huge database of email addresses, they are talking spam!

Dennis Latham said...

Why do people continue to fall for these scams? One of the oldest rules is if someone wants a ton of money upfront, walk away. There must be a bunch of people because the government releases some great numerical number fantasy weekly and a lot of people believe it. Anyone offering that kind of promo is a scam artist for sure and should go directly to jail.

sherreymeyer.com said...

Thanks so much for keeping us on top of frauds like Kerry Jacobson and others. It is amazing how convincing someone can be "over the phone."

Cheryl Tardif said...

Thank you for sharing this information with writers, Victoria. People do need to remember that there are a ton of book publicists out there, and many are valid and some are expensive. So it's not surprising that any author would get taken in by someone who has perfected his fraudulent pitch for 8+ years.

Let's hope this coward is charged with fraud soon and that his other "businesses" get shut down.

Helen Sedwick said...

When I read these stories of scam artists exploiting writers' dreams, I want to cry. Thank you for letting people know.

Helen S. said...

Sadly along with all the opportunities the online world presents new writers with, also comes the scam artists trying to take advantage. It's a really horrible thought that there are people out there who are preying on our longing to have our hard work recognised.
Thanks for this informative post!

ukash said...

Sounds like fraud to me. Time to get the law on him.

Rachel said...

Wow, this is horrible and makes it so tough for freelance publicists like myself run legitimate businesses. Thanks for calling this out. Wish it didn't happen.

momma was thinking.. said...

The flim- flam men (and women) run to the most vulnerable and these are usually authors new to self-publishing. I find the SP community very supportive so use their expertise. Put out a call to those who have had experience to find worth while services and to heed their warnings about others. Sites like this one are invaluable so take the time to get the answers, do the homework before putting out a penny.
We will share this post with our indieBRAG followers - thanks for being the watchdog!