Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

January 25, 2018

Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I don't think there's much dispute that the many "imprints" under the Author Solutions umbrella are among the most negatively regarded of all the author services companies.

From the predatory business practices that gave rise to two class action lawsuits, to the huge number of customer complaints, to the relentless sales calls and deceptive recruitment methods, to the dubious and overpriced "marketing" services that are one of the company's main profit sources, AS's poor reputation is widely known. Along with other factors, such as the competition from free and low-cost self-publishing platforms, this has pushed AS in recent years into steady decline.

Unfortunately, whatever gap AS's contraction has created has been filled by a slew of imitators. Why not, when hoodwinking authors is as easy as setting up a website and opening an account with Ingram? In some cases, the imitators have first-hand experience: they've been founded and/or staffed by former employees of AS's call centers in the Philippines.

Like AS, the clones rely on misleading hype, hard-sell sales tactics, and a lucrative catalog of junk marketing services. Even if authors actually receive the services they've paid for (and judging by the complaints I've gotten, there's no guarantee of that), they are getting stiffed. These are not businesses operating in good faith, but greedy opportunists seeking to profit from writers' inexperience, ignorance, and hunger for recognition. They are exploitative, dishonest, and predatory.

CLONESIGN: HOW TO SUSS THEM OUT 

On the surface, the clones don't look that different from other, not necessarily disreputable author services companies offering publishing packages and marketing add-ons. However, they share a distinctive cluster of characteristics that can help you identify them.

1. Solicitation. Like the Author Solutions imprints, the clones are big on out-of-the-blue phone calls and emails hawking their services. Often they'll claim your book has been recommended to them, or discovered by one of their book scouts. The phone solicitors frequently have foreign accents (many are based in the Philippines). The email solicitors use a recurring set of job titles: book scout, literary agent, Senior Marketing & Publishing Consultant (or Senior Publishing & Marketing Consultant), Executive Marketing Consultant.

2. Offers to re-publish authors' books. A big focus for the clones is poaching authors who are already published or self-published (often with Author Solutions imprints). They claim they can do a better job, or provide greater credibility, or even get authors in front of traditional publishers.

3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that don't check out. A clone may say it's been in business since 2006 or 2008, even though its domain name was registered only last year. It may claim to be staffed by publishing and marketing experts with years or even decades of "combined experience", but provide no names or bios to enable you to verify this. A hallmark of the clones' "About Us" pages is a serious lack of "about."

4. Poor or tortured English. The clones have US addresses, and purport to be US-based companies. Many have US business registrations. Yet their emails and websites frequently contain numerous (and sometimes laughable) grammar and syntax errors (see below for examples). Their phone solicitors appear to be calling from US numbers, but commonly have foreign accents, and may get authors' names or book titles wrong.

5. Junk marketing.  Press releases. Paid book review packages. Book fair exhibits. Ingram catalog listings. Hollywood book-to-screen packages. These and more are junk marketing--PR services of dubious value and effectiveness that are cheap to provide but can be sold at a huge profit. It's an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of the enormous markup, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times.

This is a page right out of the Author Solutions playbook. AS basically invented junk book marketing, and most of the marketing services offered by the clones were pioneered by AS. If you follow the links below, you'll see the same ones over and over, and if you hop on over to an AS imprint marketing section, you'll see them there, too.

Authors are often serially targeted by the clones. For instance, I heard from an iUniverse-published author who bought an expensive re-publication package from Book-Art Press Solutions, and shortly afterward was solicited for marketing services by Stratton Press (fortunately she contacted me before she wrote a check). Another author bought a publishing package from BookVenture, plus extra marketing from Window Press Club--both as a result of solicitation phone calls.

CLONE CLUB

Below are the clones I've identified to date (several of which I found in the process of researching this post--I actually had to stop following links or I'd never have gotten this written). The list includes a few that, based on their websites and other public information, I suspect are clones but haven't yet been able to document with complaints or solicitation materials.

One thing you'll notice if you follow the links is how similar the clones' websites are. It's not just the characteristics mentioned above: the same terminology, menus, and products appear over and over again. Also, of  the 12 companies I looked at, nine are less than two years old, and six started up in the past year. It really made me wonder, especially after I discovered that two apparently separate clones were in fact the same outfit.

I have no doubt there are many more clones out there. If you've encountered any I haven't listed below--or if you've had an experience with the ones featured in this post--please post a comment.
  • LitFire Publishing
  • Legaia Books
  • Stratton Press
  • ReadersMagnet
  • Toplink Publishing
  • Book-Art Press Solutions
  • Window Press Club
  • Greenberry Publishing
  • BookVenture Publishing
  • Okir Publishing
  • Zeta Publishing
  • Everlastale Publishing

LitFire Publishing is the first Author Solutions clone I ever encountered, and the one that alerted me to the phenomenon. My 2014 blog post takes a detailed look at its false or unverifiable claims, its illiterate solicitation emails, its plagiarism (it's still doing that), and its Philippine/Author Solutions origins (its phone solicitors sometimes claim AS imprints are "sister companies"). See the comments for many reports of solicitation phone calls.

LitFire is a good deal more sophisticated now than it was in 2014, with a flashy website from which the English-language errors that marred it in the beginning have largely (though not entirely; its blog posts could use some help) been culled. But it's still a solicitation monster, and its Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services are still a major ripoff. Take a look at its insanely marked-up Kirkus Indie review package (you can buy reviews directly from Kirkus for less than half the price).

LitFire claims it's headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and it is actually registered with the Georgia Corporations Division. Possibly to get ahead of negative discussion, it has admitted--partially--its Philippine connections. It's also aware of my warnings about it, and has responded with some fairly incompetent trolling.

*****

Legaia Books is also a solicitation monster. It heavily targeted authors of Tate Publishing right after that disgraced vanity publisher collapsed.

Legaia offers publishing packages, but its main schtick is Paperclips Magazine, an online rag that consists primarily of ads, reviews, and interviews sold to authors at gobsmackingly enormous prices, interspersed with plagiarized general interest articles and illiterate feature pieces written by Legaia's English-challenged staff. Legaia's website is full of howlingly funny (or cringingly awful, depending on your perspective) English-language mistakes. Keeping to its penchant for plagiarism, and incidentally acknowledging its roots, it has copied much of its FAQ from Author Solutions.

My blog post on Legaia goes into much more detail.

Like other members of clone club, Legaia claims to be headquartered in the USA, with a street address in Raleigh, North Carolina. But there's no trace of any North Carolina business registration. When the Better Business Bureau attempted to contact it by paper mail, the mail was returned by the post office.

*****

Stratton Press claims to offer "an experience that is one of a kind for both novice and veteran authors". Oddly, it doesn't display its publishing packages on its website; you have to go to its Facebook page to see them. Named after famous writers, they start at $1,800 and go all the way up to $10,500.

The website is replete with vague claims ("our team's eight-year experience in the publishing industry), shaky English ("Since every book is unique and every story is special, it is just but right to have a team of experts behind your back."), and plagiarism (here's "How to Write a Novel" by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest. Here's "How to Write a Novel" by "Chuck Subchino" of Stratton).

Stratton is the one of the only clones I found that doesn't actively try to conceal its Philippine/Author Solutions roots. A Cebu City address also appears on its Contact page; and per his LinkedIn page, Stratton's co-owner, Aaron Dancel, worked for three years as a Sales Supervisor for Author Solutions' Cebu call center.

Stratton claims to be located in Wyoming, where it does have a business registration. However, despite its A- rating at the BBB, there's also this:


*****

ReadersMagnet describes itself as "a team of self-publishing and digital marketing experts with more than 10 years of combined experience". Its motto: "Your Success is Our Delight!" So is your money.

You can pay as much as $29,999 for a Premium Color Adult Book publishing package. On the junk marketing side, you can shell out $6,299 for an Online Brand Publicity campaign, or $2,799 for a Premium Dynamic Website, or $4,999 for a 90-second Cinematic Deluxe video book trailer.

In true clone style, ReadersMagnet is a tireless and prolific phone solicitor (hence the many complaints that can be found about it online). I've heard from many authors who have been repeatedly called and/or emailed by this outfit; one author told me that she got so annoyed that she blocked the caller's New York number, only to be contacted a couple of days later by another ReadersMagnet solicitor, this time with a California number.

Writers have also told me that callers have foreign accents and Spanish surnames. A search on LinkedIn turns up two Philippines-based ReadersMagnet staffers. Oh, and ReadersMagnet apparently had a lovely Christmas party last year...in Cebu.

ReadersMagnet's current website reads okay, with occasional lapses. But its original website, which came online in mid-2016, was full of howlers. Compare this early version of its About Us page (courtesy of the Internet Archive) with the current iteration, which isn't high literature but at least is more or less grammatical.

The company hasn't worked as hard to clean up its correspondence. Here's a snippet from a recent solicitation email--it's really kind of a masterpiece.



ReadersMagnet originally claimed a New York address. Now it says it's located in California. As far as I can tell, it has no business registration in either state.

*****

Toplink Publishing bills itself as "the global leader in accessible and strategic publishing and marketing solutions". It boasts every one of the warning signs identified above: SolicitationRe-publishing offersUnverifiable claims about staff and experienceTortured English. Lots and lots of marketing.

Toplink's publishing packages are categorized a la Author Solutions (black and white, full color, children's book, etc.), and neither they nor the marketing packages provide any prices; you have to call to find out. Hard-sell sales tactics work better on the phone.

Also, no prices on an author services company's website is nearly always a giant clue that they're super-expensive. Here's the marketing proposal one author received--note how Toplink wants the author to believe that the ridiculous amount of money he's being asked to pay for his "compensation share" is more than matched by Toplink's "investment" (a classic vanity publisher ploy).



Toplink claims addresses in North Carolina and Nevada, but there are no business registrations for it in either state. A number of complaints about it can be found online, including at its Facebook page. It also has an F rating from the BBB, based on its failure to respond to consumer complaints.

*****

Book-Art Press Solutions (not to be confused with the graphic design company of the same name, or with Book Arts Press) and Window Press Club present as different companies, but in fact they're two faces of the same ripoff.

My recent blog post about this two-headed beast goes into more detail, including the identical website content that gives them away.

Book-Art Press employs an exceptionally deceptive approach to authors, portraying itself not as a self-publishing provider but as a group of "literary agents" who want to re-publish authors' books in order to give them the "credibility" needed to "endorse" them to traditional publishers. The cost? Only $3,500! Authors are encouraged to believe is all they'll have to pay. In fact, as with all the clones, the initial fee is just a way to open the door to more selling.

BAP/WPC is a pretty recent venture, with domain names registered just last year. BAP claims it's in New York City, although its business registration is in Delaware. WPC doesn't provide a mailing address, but its domain is registered to Paul Jorge Ponce in Cebu, Philippines.

Here's one of BAP's solicitation emails, reproduced in its entirety. It really tells you everything you need to know.


*****

Greenberry Publishing (not to be confused with an Alabama publisher with an identical name) registered itself in California, where it claims to be headquartered, just last August.

Its M.O. is clone-standard. Out-of-the-blue solicitations. No names, vague claims. Shaky English ("we will always let you know if your work is best or not"). Re-publishing offers (see the solicitation below, which I'm reproducing because I think it's so funny; what genius, looking for an enticing photo of a published book, thought it was a good idea to pick one in Cyrillic?). Less emphasis on marketing than some of the others, but I'm sure that's coming.


Greenberry is owned by Maribelle Birao and Aaron Gochuico, who now appear to reside in California but are originally from Cebu.

*****

BookVenture started up around the same time as LitFire, in 2014. It's got all the identifying characteristics of a clone: phone solicitations, no meaningful information about the company or its staff, a range of Author Solutions-style publishing packages with goofy names, a dizzying array of marketing, publicity, and add-on services.

Equally predictably, these are seriously overpriced: $2,399 for a Kirkus Indie review, which would cost a mere $575 if you bought it from Kirkus; $199 for US copyright registration ($35 if you DIY); $4,199 for a half-page magazine ad that actually costs $1,400. See also this angry blog post from Self-Publishing Review, which discovered in 2016 that BookVenture was offering its review services without permission and at steeply inflated prices.

BV's website doesn't display the same level of English-language lapses that are a giveaway for other clones--but someone should have done a better job of vetting its Publishing Guide.


Or this editorial services pitch:

Like other clones, BV claims a US location--Michigan, to be precise--but a search on LinkedIn turns up a lot of Philippines-based staff (who in some cases are Author Solutions alumni/ae). Although BV doesn't acknowledge its parentage, I've gathered enough breadcrumbs to be certain that it is owned by eFox Solutions Inc. (formerly Yen Chen Support Corporation), which is registered in Wisconsin (where it's listed as "delinquent), but is actually based in Mandaue City, Philippines.

eFox also owns notorious book marketing spammer BookWhirl, which in terms of hard-sell solicitation tactics and overpriced junk marketing services has been giving Author Solutions a run for its money since at least 2008.

BV has racked up quite a number of complaints about quality, timeliness, and customer service. The one complaint I've received about this company is very similar. I've also received reports of telephone solicitations (BookWhirl is infamous for phone soliciting).

Check out BV's referral program--you can earn $150! Also its Author Solutions-style shill sites, which pretend to be independent but are actually author recruiting tools.

*****

In the course of researching this article, I ran across three companies about which I haven't received any complaints or other documentation, but whose websites and other publicly available material have a lot in common with the clones.

Okir Publishing says it started out as "a marketing services provider" in 2006, and transitioned to book publishing later--but according to its Wyoming incorporation data, its initial filing was just last September. Clonesign abounds: frequent English lapses ("Start your marketing journey by availing of the following services"), an About Us page with, basically, no "about", and a large number of junk marketing services (with no prices given, and you know what that means). Okir's Hollywood Book-to-Screen service is an exact copy of Author Solutions'.

Zeta Publishing is incorporated in Florida. English-language errors are apparent throughout its website, and the About Us page includes the usual non-information. There's a full raft of Author Solutions-style marketing and add-on services, all insanely marked up. You can get your copyright registered for $189 (or do it yourself online for $35). You can pay $4,150 for a half-page ad in Bookmarks Magazine (or you can contact Bookmarks yourself and buy the ad for $1,400). You can also buy a 10-minute radio interview with internet radio personality Stu Taylor, who just happens to be Author Solutions' favorite radio talk show host.

Clonesign is there as well at Everlastale Publishing: no concrete info about the company or staff, whimsically-named Author Solutions-style publishing packages, the familiar range of overpriced junk marketing services. Everlastale's President, Don Harold, is an alumnus of BookVenture/BookWhirl, and Everlastale's publishing agreement has been substantially copied from BookVenture's.

It's a revealing demonstration of how these predatory companies seed imitators.

UPDATE 1/26/18: As noted above, LitFire Publishing is miffed at what I've written about it, and has been persistently (if infrequently) trolling me. Here's its latest English-challenged salvo, posted today in the comments section of my original article about it. Bad blogs, bad blogs, whatcha gonna do...


17 comments :

Brad Leonard said...

One way to tell if someone is from the Philippines, try to have the person say the words journey, journal, or country. If the pronunciation is "joor-ney, joor-nal or cowntry", your suspicions are confirmed.

Desertphile said...

The writers I meet are overwhelmingly intelligent--- more than average, from my perspective. That reduces to being more easily scammed: intelligent people tend to believe, falsely, that they are too intelligent to be defrauded; scammed; robbed. The best defense against being defrauded is to know you most likely can be.

Victoria Strauss said...

Agreed--being forewarned is good defense. But companies like this do primarily prey on ignorance and inexperience, and everything they do is geared to that, including their apparent assumption that broken English on a publisher's website or in its emails won't be a tipoff.

Ernie J. Zelinski said...

I met with an author in Vancouver who is using Friesen Press (which I used many years ago just for printing purposes) that now has a self-publishing division. I asked my Canadian book distributor about Friesen's self-publishing division. This was her reply:


Re: Freisen Press – they’re essentially a production house for self published books, but, like Trafford and Tellwell and the myriad of others who sprang up to get on the self pub money wagon – they also put their ISBN and Freisen Press imprint on the book to make it look like it’s been published by a commercial publisher. I have to give Freisen’s more credit for their quality and knowing what they’re doing, but it still is nothing more than a production house, or worse, a vanity press like the others. After all, the publisher is paying for everything, but someone else is claiming ownership by putting an imprint and an ISBN not the author’s on the book. I always feel it’s as though you are building a house on a piece of land, hire an architect, pay all the subtrades etc, but when the house is finished, the architect’s name shows up on the Land Title and Deed.

Megan Wildhood said...

I've been solicited to submit twice now by Z Publishing House. I asked how they found out about me and the recruiter said she saw a story I got published in Belletrist Literary Magazine last year. I did indeed get a short story published in Belletrist last year, but there was something shady about this interaction, especially the pressure to submit (it was to their "Best of Washington Writers" anthology). I still can't tell if they're legit or not but some of the descriptions might fit Z Publishing (I found one of the people who contacted me on LinkedIn, I think, and she is based in the Philippines).

Has anyone else had experience with them?

https://www.zpublishinghouse.com/

Victoria Strauss said...

I've gotten a couple of questions about Z Publishing House. I did look at it for this article, but it doesn't quite fit the template (though that's interesting about the Philippine phone solicitor). It seems more like one of the old vanity anthology publishers like the International Library of Poetry, where people either pay to be included in the anthology or are pressured to buy it. According to the small print on their submission form, Z Publishing has an "optional author affiliate program" that is "commission based"--authors can shill the anthologies and get a percentage of sales. Likely the only people who ever buy the anthologies are the authors and whoever else they can personally persuade to make a purchase.

I agree that Z is a seriously dodgy outfit, but I don't think it's a clone.

Desertphile said...

Just looking at the web page for "Z Publishing House" it appears to be a vanity press where writers are the commodity and not books. The "business" states they have no actual office space, and they "accept" what they call "almost anything." They also target poets, claiming they will "accept" poetry even though that market has been dead for decades (which is likely why they target poets). I would avoid that person ("two dozen employees) for the same reason I avoid street gangs.

Unknown said...

Has anyone heard of 'Author Bridge?' I was recently advised to seek their assistance for my online magazine, but they seem to work with books not magazines. I thought it was slightly suspicious because the person who advised me to use their services (she told me twice in two separate messages) is someone I approached as a potential subject for an article for the magazine. The website and reviews sounded 'too good to be true' and had a hint of the hard sell tactics I've encountered when dealing with Author Solutions. I probably won't use this service because it doesn't appear to be applicable to me, but I want to check it out in the event they try to solicit me on their own. Thanks in advance.

SpannSR said...

My apologies: I didn't have the profile set up when I posted that last message for 'unknown' at 8:09 pm on 1/26/18.

This should indicate (now) that I am SpannSR and am in California.

Thank you.

Desertphile said...

I looked at the "Author Bridge" web site, and it set off "all of the usual alarms." When the very first sentence one sees is "Raise your credibility with a book" one knows the web site is not for writers. In fact they appear to sell manuscripts to "want to be" writers who cannot and/or will not write--- the site is for stroking the ego and vanity of lazy people. The web site praises Sarah Palin: that's all one needs to know about the "services" being sold.

SpannSR said...

I suspected as much. I was suspicious when someone I wanted to interview for an article tried to push me into contacting the site. It felt as though I won't get the article if I don't subscribe to the services. That's OK, too. I have enough other resources for articles. Thank you, 'Desertphile.' (P.S. I am writing a book, but I won't go through the vanity publishing companies.)

Desertphile said...

The saddest part is that these people appear to be supplying a demand; I would love to see every writer educated on the subject of fraud directed at them, and see these "businesses" shut down. Damn shame there are people who believe spending US$6,000+ on "services" for a manuscript that might sell two or three copies in ten years.

Victoria Strauss said...

I checked out Author Bridge, and I agree it has a scammy vibe. Also, even the most reputable-seeming service of this type deserves a deep dive into research, and may not be worth the money even if everything checks out. Plus, if such services work at all, they work best for non-fiction and business books by people who use the books as adjuncts to an existing business. Standalone nonfiction titles and fiction, not so much.

However, Author Bridge names its staff and lists the books it has worked on--not something you find on scam sites (and the testimonials match the titles, also something you may not find on a scam site). The staff have real credentials (I checked them out).

Again, whether buying these kinds of services is a good idea is an open question and probably, in most cases, the answer will be no. But I don't see obvious scamsign or clonesign at Author Bridge.

SpannSR said...

Thank you for the feedback. I appreciate everyone taking the time to look into this.

I think, considering the fact that I am currently writing a magazine and not a book, this would not be an option for me. As with many things, it may be better to take this on a case-by-case standing.

Rachel said...

It seems the fake presses are monitoring the federal copyright register. The last two copyrights I filed were followed a few weeks later by unsolicited phone calls from vanity presses. It is the new trick, I guess. I'm about to file another copyright so it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the sharks to smell fresh blood.

Victoria Strauss said...

Mining copyright registration lists is a classic vanity publisher ploy. Dorrance Publishing was notorious for this, back when it was still a print-only vanity (and it's still doing it). Subscription lists for writers' magazines are also a target.

James Gibson said...

Just was called by someone from OKIR publishing. After years of having Indian recruiters trying to get my Linked-in group list with fake job postings, whenever someone with a pigeon english accent calls out of the blue I rarely let them even talk. I wouldn't have been surprised if she thought the book was a novel: my book was US History so I wasn't expecting a large number of buyers.

 
Design by The Blog Decorator