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.

June 11, 2021

Author Complaints at City Limits Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I first heard of City Limits Publishing (CLP) in September 2020, via a question about author-unfriendly guidelines in a contest it was running (simply by entering, writers granted "a worldwide royalty-free perpetual license to publish"). At the time, CLP had published just eight books, all by the same two authors (you can take a peek at that version of its website courtesy of the Internet Archive), and was calling for submissions. 

To me, CLP looked like a self-publishing endeavor that was trying to expand into traditional publishing. This doesn't always work out well, since not all self-publishers have a solid knowledge of publishing (or, necessarily, any business experience) and may unintentionally disadvantage writers with nonstandard business practices, or author-unfriendly contracts, or both. And indeed, CLP's original contract had some problems. It included a transfer of copyright, a major red flag in a non-work-for-hire contract...

...that was directly contradicted by a clause stipulating the printing of copyright notices in the author's name (not the publisher's, as would normally be the case with a copyright transfer), as well as an extremely generous termination clause allowing authors to cancel their contracts post-publication at will for any reason. This kind of internal contradiction is something I see not infrequently in small press contracts, and is a red flag all on its own: it suggests that the publisher has a less than perfect understanding of its own contract terms.

CLP appears to have recognized this at some point, because the copyright grab disappeared from its contracts in September or October 2020 (the generous termination provision remains). CLP's catalog has ballooned to over 40 titles, including those original eight, and it has big ambitions for 2021, with plans to publish more than 50 books in total. That's a very large list for a small press--something that can (and often does) lead to trouble if staff and resources aren't adequate to handle the load.

CLP's online presence appears professional, from covers to web design--but on a closer look, there are some oddities. As of this writing, all four books shown on CLP's homepage as "coming soon" appear to have missed their original pub dates by weeks or months. (See my Update, below.) Google Books shows pub dates for three of these books in June and July (the fourth, Love is Not Tourism, doesn't show up anywhere)--but as of this writing, only one of the titles has an Amazon listing

Multiple other books appear to show a May 5 pub date on CLP's website but are still listed for pre-order (you can see examples here and here). Again, these titles can be found on Google Books with upcoming June and July pub dates (examples here and here), but have no Amazon listings--including this one, which Google Books says was supposed to publish on June 10:

(UPDATE: Robert Martin, CLP's owner, contacted me after this post went live to say that CLP has "never moved or delayed a publishing date. Ever." The dates on the CLP website listings, he says, are actually "pre-sale" dates [I assume this is the date the book goes live for pre-orders]; the reason they're labeled "publish" dates is because "[t]he Shopify theme we purchased automatically uses the date we put the product into our online store as the Publish date." CLP's web developer is apparently working to change this.

When I asked why, if the books are available for pre-order on the CLP website, they aren't also available on Amazon and other retailers, he told me "As for why they aren’t all on retail sites yet, we put them up as we are able and as projects come to a close, but I don’t feel like we have to explain ourselves for every little thing we do."

It's worth noting that CLP authors dispute this statement based on their own experiences, and there's also the example of the book pictured above, which as of this writing has clearly missed its pub date.)

Also of concern: the multiple documented complaints I've recently received from CLP authors. These include late royalty payments, missed editing and other deadlines, difficulty getting CLP staff to respond to questions and concerns, free author copies and books ordered at author discount not received or received months late, books ordered by readers not received or received months late, formatting and other errors in finished books that authors struggled to get corrected (for instance, the author's name spelled wrong on the spine), substandard editing and proofing, and copyrights not registered as required in contracts. Some writers reported problems with CLP's heavily hyped online author portal--confusingly named AuthorCentral--which they said suffers from frequent crashes. I also heard from an audiobook narrator who told me that they weren't informed when CLP lost the rights to a book the narrator was in the process of recording, posing payment issues for the narrator, who was working on a royalty-share contract.

Authors also highlighted issues of transparency: being told that copyright registrations had been filed and later discovering they had not been, claims that print runs of thousands of copies were being done when in fact CLP uses on-demand technology to produce books in much smaller batches as ordered. (I've seen supporting documentation on all of this.) 

Several authors have taken advantage of CLP's generous termination clause, and canceled their contracts and reverted their rights.

I contacted CLP's founder, Robert Martin, for comment on all of the above. He gave me the following statement, which I have edited to remove mention of an individual author (not by name, but likely recognizable even so). 
When I started City Limits Publishing, I committed to full transparency and I’ve tried to provide that from the very beginning. Through our bi-weekly author newsletter to frequent direct updates and notices from me to all of our authors, I’ve kept them appraised of shipping issues related to COVID, updates to our financial systems, implementation of our new author intranet system that would provide them greater access to information and updates, as well as any challenges we’re facing as an organization. And, being a new, small press, there are many. The authors who have stuck with us have been absolutely amazing and their support is inspiring. Together, we’re building something great here. Many of our authors have emailed me thanking me for the transparency they’re getting and have been so encouraging even when receiving direct, unsolicited messages from a handful of authors on a war path.

We're aware of the situation and some of the issues a small group of former authors have brought up. First, with regards to late royalty payments, we were delayed in sending out payments as we both moved to a new system and I had a personal matter that required my attention and took me away from work for a bit. The payments were made up in full with tracking and confirmation of receipt, along with my sincerest apologies, and a promise that our next payout, July 20, would be made in full and on time, with the exception of authors who have entered into final accounting after requesting to be released from their agreements. Their final payments are being made this month as agreed during termination discussions. We're in the process of hiring a Business Manager that will take help ensure we are not late in the future. Our royalty statements were delayed in April as we made the transition to RoyaltyTracker (MetaCommet). Their implementation schedule caused us delays in sending out statements. We made a major investment in this new system so that going forward everything would operate more smoothly. With progress comes growing pains.

With regards to author copies, we have committed to making sure that our authors receive at least half of their author copies in the weeks leading up to their release, and half within 90 days of release. Author copies are a large expense for the company. We're a small business trying to get started during a global pandemic. As for ordering problems, we admit that during our early months we faced many delays, especially with our original printer and our transition to the IngramIgnite program. Still, all orders were fulfilled, and we're now shipping out daily with no delays.

With copyright registration, we did drop the ball on some of our earlier titles. Before we brought on a full team, I was working mostly on my own with operations. I'm human and did make mistakes with copyright registration of some of our earlier titles. Now, we have a system in place to make sure registration happens within 90 days of publication, as outlined in the agreement. And, we have made steps to help educate authors on the copyright registration process. It's not a fast process, so we've made sure to provide information to authors on timelines and how that process works.

Other complaints mentioned: Our early editing process was not as refined as it is now. We were just getting started, and we really learned a lot. We’ve even gone back through older titles for extensive checks and proofing to ensure we’re putting out the highest quality of work. Authors complained about books going to print with errors, but we do require all of our authors to initial the bottom corner of every page of their book before it goes to print. So, respectfully, that’s a shared mistake, and one we’ve worked extremely hard to rectify, now having four sets of eyes on all works published. Additionally, we do still have a contract with ACX and with Audiobook Universe. We were temporarily suspended from ACX for a contract mix-up where exclusive rights were selected when non-exclusive was intended. We removed the book from our website (it had not sold any copies) and our contract was reinstated. With regards to our printing, we originally used an up-front printing method, but were approached by Ingram’s IngramIgnite program (a program specifically for small presses) about using their system. We transitioned to their system, but still process upfront orders of copies of books and fulfill them to bookstores in the US and Canada that are ordered directly from us through our marketing efforts. Additionally, we make sure our wholesale pricing is competitive to get our books listed with as many retailers as possible, and we’ve enjoyed great success with the help of our partners at Ingram.

Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Are we learning from our mistakes and putting in place processes to ensure they don’t happen again? Absolutely.
(I'm not familiar with IngramIgnite; websearches don't turn up any information.)

To his credit, Martin admits mistakes. But fostering an us-and-them mentality (hints of this come through in the statement, and it's clear from my communications with Martin, as well as what CLP authors--both pro and con--have shared with me, that the complaining authors are being badmouthed internally), and blaming writers, if only partially, for mistakes such as poor proofing (authors certainly owe their publisher the duty of checking their proofs, but ultimately it's the publisher's responsibility, and not the author's, to make sure books are error-free), doesn't seem like the most positive way forward.

I did hear from some authors who said they are happy with their CLP experience so far. Though all acknowledge mistakes, they feel these have been addressed to their satisfaction, and that CLP is well-intentioned and "trying to do its best".  

Good intentions are all very well. But most of the publishers I've featured on this blog had good intentions, at least to start. Writers need to keep in mind that good intentions--like responsiveness, enthusiasm, praise, and all the other non-publishing-related things that so often entice writers into questionable situations--aren't a substitute for knowledge, experience, qualified (and adequate) staff, and working capital--all of which are far more important factors in a publisher's success. Just as new writers can get into trouble if they set out to get published without taking the time to learn about publishing, inexperienced publishers can run into difficulties if they start up too quickly and attempt to learn on the fly. 

In effect, such publishers are using their writers as subjects in a kind of science experiment. Sometimes the experiment succeeds, against odds and errors. Sometimes it doesn't. But while unwary writers' screwups harm only themselves, a publisher's screwups harm its authors. The nature of CLP's problems suggest that lack of experience is at fault, rather than ill-will or deliberate malfeasance. But to the authors who experience these things, there is little difference.

UPDATE 6/21/21: Writer Beware has learned that three senior staff members have recently left City Limits Publishing. So it isn't just authors. I'll post more info as I receive it.

May 14, 2021

Two Scams to Watch Out For: Writers' Conference Phishing Scheme, Goodreads Extortion Scam

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

"We are Seeking Qualified Writers and Poets for our Conference"

Back in January, I heard from a writer who'd received a conference participation solicitation that looked to be a scam.

Although the company named in the solicitation, Crown Castle, was real, it had nothing to do with publishing, and the poor phrasing and lack of detail--such as the conference's name--was equally suspicious. The writer contacted the company to ask, and, unsurprisingly, was told that they had no employee named James Gilbert and were not planning any conferences, let alone one for "qualified writers and poets."

Deciding to lead the scammer on for a bit, the writer pretended interest. They got this reply:

Presumably this is some sort of phishing scheme, and if the writer had provided their name and address they would have been asked for bank account information or some other financial disclosure.

I received no other reports of the fake Crown Castle solicitation, and couldn't find any references to it online. Although it was clearly a fraud, I didn't quite know what to make of it. Was it a one-off? A recurring ripoff scheme, like this long-running speaker scam?

A couple of days ago, I got the answer, via a Twitter post from a writer who received this:

The scammers have switched up some stuff--the solicitor's name, the subject line, the company name (like Crown Castle, Smart Asset is also a real company), and the remuneration--but otherwise this solicitation is nearly word-for-word identical to the one I saw in January. 

So it's obviously an ongoing phishing scam that changes its details from time to time to evade discovery, and borrows genuine company names so that anyone who does a websearch will turn up a real website (and hopefully won't be too concerned that the companies have nothing whatever to do with writing or publishing). 

The email addresses look authentic also--at least, to a quick glance. Look closer, and you'll notice discrepancies. "Nora Droste's" address has an extra "t" ( rather than the company's real email address,, and "James Gilbert's" has an extra word (, as opposed to the authentic email format,

This scam is a bit more difficult than some to immediately recognize, because while reputable agents and publishers are highly unlikely to solicit new writers with too-good-to-be-true offers, authors do legitimately receive requests from conference organizers. Be on your guard, do your research--and if you're unsure, contact Writer Beware.

The Goodreads Extortion Scam

Recently I received an email from a writer who described an extortion scheme that had targeted them on Goodreads. The scammers threatened to post a blizzard of one-star reviews and ratings if the writer didn't hand over money to "buy our paid review offers". Here's the first email the writer received. (Apologies to anyone who's sensitive to bad language; this apparently is typical of the scammers' communications.)

When the writer refused to play, they got this:

The scammers then made good on their threat and bombed the writer's books with 1-star reviews. Fortunately, the writer was able to get Goodreads--which is not always overly responsive to author complaints--to remove the reviews, along with the profile that had posted them. 

It's been a long time since I gave much thought to Goodreads. I largely quit interacting there after Amazon acquired it, at which point the already toxic atmosphere increased while the responsiveness of the people running the site underwent an equivalent decline. I too have been 1-star bombed--more than once, actually, including just recently, as I discovered when I visited Goodreads for the first time in forever to research this post and found that a profile called Photography had left1-star ratings on all my books (including a non-existent book that I've tried repeatedly to get Goodreads to remove, and a book to which I contributed a single chapter):

All of Photography's ratings are 1-stars (a classic sign of a fake profile), and all 12 of them are for me. In other words, this is a profile set up for the sole purpose of trashing my books. That's a not-uncommon tactic on Goodreads, where review-bombing is a known hazard. I never got any demands for money, though (mostly, I figure attacks like this are a result of my work with Writer Beware), and I'd never heard of an extortion scheme like the one the writer described. Was their encounter with cyber extortionists unusual? Or was this something that happened more often?

Apparently, the latter--though it does seem to be a fairly new phenomenon. This blog entry posted in January lays it all out--not just the "pay up or we'll trash your books" threat, but a more sneaky scheme where the 1-star reviews appear first and then after a few days the writer is contacted by someone who claims they will get rid of them...for a fee. There are several threads on Goodreads discussing this, with posts from writers who've been targeted:

Here are the kinds of reviews that get posted:

And here's the kind of response writers get from the scammers if they push back, or if they manage to get Goodreads to remove the reviews (apologies again for language):

In January, Goodreads claimed to be "working with our engineering teams to investigate possible solutions to prevent this from happening in the future." It's now May, and it's still going on. 

I imagine this is a difficult problem to police, and Goodreads does seem to be fairly responsive in replying to authors' complaints and removing reviews and scammer profiles. Clearly, though, this is an ongoing problem, and if you're active on Goodreads, you should be aware of it.

UPDATE: SFWA has issued a statement on Goodreads harassment, and is working with Goodreads to address it. If you're a SFWA member, you can report harassment or extortion using this form

April 30, 2021

#DisneyMustPay: Authors' Groups Join Forces to Advocate for Writers Owed Money by Disney

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Last November, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) published a letter from author Alan Dean Foster detailing his struggles to get Disney to provide unpaid royalties and missing royalty statements for multiple novels and novelizations that he'd written for several media properties whose rights Disney had acquired.
You continue to ignore requests from my agents. You continue to ignore queries from SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You continue to ignore my legal representatives. I know this is what gargantuan corporations often do. Ignore requests and inquiries hoping the petitioner will simply go away. Or possibly die. But I’m still here, and I am still entitled to what you owe me. Including not to be ignored, just because I’m only one lone writer. How many other writers and artists out there are you similarly ignoring?

Disney's argument was that they'd purchased the rights of the contracts they'd acquired, but not the obligations (such as paying royalties). After SFWA took the matter public, a resolution was reached, and Mr. Foster's payment issues were resolved. However, SFWA reports that a number of other authors have contacted it about similar issues, also across a wide range of Disney properties, and that Disney has refused to work with the organization.

SFWA has now joined with other writers' groups to form the #DisneyMustPay Joint Task Force. Members of the task force include Authors Guild, Horror Writers Association, National Writers Union, Novelists, Inc., Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime, along with individual writers representing each of the organizations, such as Neil Gaiman, Tess Gerritsen, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Chuck Wendig. 

The group has issued a press release urging Disney to address these key areas:

  1. Honor contracts now held by Disney and its subsidiaries.
  2. Provide royalty payments and statements to all affected authors.
  3. Update their licensing page with a FAQ for writers about how to handle missing royalties.
  4. Create a clear, easy-to-find contact person or point for affected authors.
  5. Cooperate with author organizations who are providing support to authors and agents.

According to the press release, when presented with these steps, and offered the opportunity to provide a statement to the task force organizations' members, Disney declined.

The task force is asking for contact from affected writers, who can report their experiences using this form hosted by SFWA (anonymity is guaranteed). How do you know if you may have been affected?

To raise awareness, and to get the word out to writers who may need the task force's help, the task force is urging people to use the #DisneyMustPay hashtag on Twitter (it offers several suggestions for possible tweets) and to discuss the issue on social media generally. It also asks that the public not boycott, as that could penalize Disney writers who are being paid.

I'll update this post as I receive more information.

April 23, 2021

The Case of the Purloined Blog Post: How a Fake DMCA Notice Failed to Silence Writer Beware

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I have a gmail account. I hate gmail, so I don't use it for correspondence and rarely check it. But one day a couple of weeks ago, I did, and to my surprise I found a takedown notice for one of my Writer Beware blog posts, alleging that I'd infringed someone's copyright.

The post in question discussed the 2018 implosion of small publisher Fiery Seas Publishing, about which I received a flood of author complaints following owner Misty Williams's abrupt announcement of "re-structuring" due to poor sales. A couple of months after my post, Fiery Seas closed for good.

I checked, and the post had indeed been taken down (though I was able to view it thanks to the Wayback Machine). For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to have infringed. Maybe Misty Williams's announcement email, which I'd reproduced in full? 

After some permissions applications, I was able to work my way to the actual DMCA complaint. 

Say what? Who the hell was Bella Andreas, and why was she claiming that she'd written my blog post? Navigating to the "Original URL" link on what purported to be Bella's blog, I found a large portion of my post reproduced verbatim:

Note the date. I published my post on September 28, 2018. Bella's post is dated September 3, 2018. In other words, she'd stolen the bulk of my post, backdated it to make it look as if she were the original author, and gotten my post taken down with a fake DMCA notice.

I was stumped. Fiery Seas is dead. The authors who were caught up in the publisher's collapse have moved on. So, presumably, has Misty Williams, who, if she objected to what I wrote about her, has had plenty of time to protest. What purpose could this fakery possibly serve? 

Bella's blog struck me as odd in general, even beyond the stolen blog post, with its peculiar name (Comusa: blog you deserve), motto ("Blog about the thuth [sic] Not for everyone. For you."), lack of info about Bella herself, and random-seeming array of other posts over what appeared to be a period of several years--most of them about financial fraud, but also consumer issues and scandals of various kinds. 

Digging into the posts themselves, I discovered something interesting. Every single post had been stolen and backdated, just like mine. For instance, here's Bella, with a purported date of 1/5/2020:

Here's the original article, dated 2/4/2020:

Original article, dated 3/21/19:

I could go on. Every post is like this. Every. Single. One. Moreover, the date fakery isn't limited to backdating. Posts are dated as far back as 2014, yet Bella's domain name didn't exist before October 2016. And regardless of their apparent publication dates, source code indicates that all of the posts were in fact published between early December 2020 and late March 2021.

My stolen post falls right in the middle of that brief time period. Bella published it on January 26, 2021--the same day she filed the DMCA notice. That's additionally confirmed by the date on the image upload:

I filed a counter-claim with Google on April 5, providing all of the information above, and received the usual "we'll get to it when we get to it" response. In fact, they got to it much more quickly than I expected.

The post has been re-instated in its original location.


So what the hell was it all about? 

Who is Bella Andreas, and what's her beef with my blog post? Could she be someone I pissed off somehow? A disgruntled author? An outed scammer? But she doesn't show up in any of my email or other Writer Beware records. And websearches on her name and variations of it are inconclusive. She doesn't appear to be a writer (you'll probably have noticed, as I did, the similarity of her name to that of bestselling author Bella Andre). I can't find any indication that she's associated with any part of the publishing industry. Assuming that "Bella Andreas" is a real name at all.

And what's the deal with Bella's blog, with its weird typo-ridden motto and its bizarre collection of plagiarized, backdated posts? Could it have been created solely in order to take down my post? I know that sounds farfetched, but consider. All of Bella's blog posts were created in a short span of time, which her DMCA claim falls exactly in the middle of. Also, apart from the various news articles Bella plagiarized, for which she couldn't plausibly claim infringement, several of her posts have been stolen from blogs like Writer Beware. For instance, this one (here's the original post) and this one (original post) and this one (original post). If fake-DMCA'ing was her game, she could easily have had them taken down based on the same pretext she used for mine. But all are still online. Mine is the only one that was (if only temporarily) removed.

Finally, why that post? Fiery Seas and its collapse are old news. And why now, more than two years after the post was published?

It all seems completely, weirdly random. Except...

At the end of my post is a postscript, in which I mention A Certain Agent who is known for his efforts to get references to himself removed from the web. Last spring, he contacted me to demand the takedown of certain of my tweets, a discussion on the Writer Beware Facebook page...and my Fiery Seas blog post. 

I did not comply. You can't DMCA tweets and Facebook threads, but you can DMCA blog posts. And remember I mentioned that Bella stole most of my post, but not all of it? She omitted the intro, which linked back to Writer Beware. But she also omitted the postscript.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

April 16, 2021

Publisher Storm Warnings: Diversion Books

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Founded in 2010 by Scott Waxman of the Waxman Literary Agency, Diversion Books was one of the earliest of the literary agency-powered publishing ventures that sought to take advantage of the growing digital market, including the opportunity to bring their clients' backlists back into circulation (others include Arthur Klebanoff's RosettaBooks, Andrew Wylie's Odyssey Editions, and Richard Curtis's E-Reads). 

Diversion has since expanded into traditional print, audio, and subsidiary rights representation. It has also, over the past few weeks, become the focus of author complaints.

I first heard about problems at Diversion much earlier than that, though, in 2018, from an author who cited late and missing royalty statements, multiple errors on the statements they did receive (including mis-allocated subsidiary rights income), and failure to register copyright as contractually stipulated. (To this day, this individual is still struggling to obtain a full and correct accounting of their book's sales and income, and believes they have not been paid all the royalties they are owed.)

To me, the seriousness of the problems the author reported, as well as what appeared to be Diversion's difficulty in addressing them, suggested a larger pattern rather than a glitch affecting just one person. I didn't have confirmation of that, though, until last week, when I received an email from a group of Diversion authors who are working to publicize what they describe as long-standing issues with the publisher--issues very similar to those reported by my original complainant three years ago. 

Recently several authors published with Diversion banded together to notify various author groups that we have not received royalty statements and/or payments from Diversion for years. One writer spent over $10,000 in legal fees to get her rights returned. Another author said she was offered her rights back only if she would sign an agreement not to seek past royalty payments from them. The stories are myriad and heartbreaking.

So far, we have sent letters outlining various cases to the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crimes, American Association of Literary Agents (AALA) and the SFWA. Some of the groups have formal grievance committees who are actively investigating the cases. Others have “preferred publishers” lists, and we are asking that they remove Diversion from those lists.

I also began hearing directly from Diversion authors who described their own experiences, including:
  • Missing royalty statements (in some cases going back several years).
  • Royalty statements with errors, such as erroneous chargebacks, that authors and their agents struggled to get Diversion to correct.
  • No royalty payments, even in cases where there appeared to have been thousands of sales. Diversion has a practice of recouping several hundred dollars in production costs (between $500 and $800 in contracts I saw) from initial sales proceeds, before authors are eligible for royalty payouts (a setup that's reasonable for re-publishing backlist books--Open Road Media, which specializes in backlist titles, offers a similar arrangement--but is not typical practice for first-time publication). This seems to play some part in why royalties have been withheld--but without a full run of royalty statements, authors can't trace the figures back to verify or even understand them.
  • Failure to register copyrights as contractually stipulated.
  • Failure to respond to reversion requests once the four-year contract term expired.
  • In 2019, a unilateral switch from a quarterly royalty reporting/payment schedule to a semi-annual one, despite contract language requiring that no such changes be made "unless in writing and signed by both parties."
  • Promises by Diversion to some authors and their agents to provide missing royalty statements by the end of March 2021--with no statements appearing by that date.
On Monday of this week, I reached out to Scott Waxman for comment. He referred me to Dawn Reshen-Doty of Benay Enterprises, which was hired in 2019 to handle Diversion's royalty accounting and other back office tasks. Dawn gave me the following statement:
We apologize greatly for any delay in the processing of royalty statements and payments. While we can’t speak to the entire history of these issues, when Benay Enterprises Inc. took over as the business management and back office company for Diversion in March 2019, we took on the responsibility of updating the internal systems and making the process smoother for the authors and agents. It has taken some time to take corrective action, especially during the pandemic. We are continually learning and striving to accomplish this with each statement period. We are currently up to date on royalties and all of our backend obligations, and addressing any concerns or questions from the authors and agents. Our goal is to pay authors in a timely way, and of course accurately. 

As of this writing, Benay appears for the most part to have caught up on royalty statements for the most recent reporting period (second half of 2020, courtesy of that unilateral switchover to a semi-annual reporting schedule). Many of the writers who emailed me with complaints last week confirmed that they'd since gotten at least that statement (though none report receiving a check). However, there seems to be some inconsistency. Some writers who are missing multiple statements say they've received just the latest statement, while others have gotten all their missing statements. And one writer told me they got nothing at all. 

I contacted Scott again to ask when authors who are still awaiting royalty statements might expect to receive them. He responded: "As we have an archive of all statements, we will be happy to furnish any missing statements upon request." Which raises the question of why the statements weren't furnished in the first place, not to mention why so many writers and their agents say they haven't been able to get Diversion to respond to earlier requests to provide them. (Interestingly, all the Diversion contracts I saw include this sentence in Clause 6, which covers payment schedules: "The Author or his/her representatives may request information about his/her [royalty] account at any time, and will receive this information within six weeks of this written request.")

It's also worth noting that Benay took over Diversion's royalty accounting more than two years ago, yet it wasn't until the past few weeks that writers who'd been missing statements going back to 2019 and even earlier finally started receiving them. (Part of the impetus may have been International Thriller Writers' decision last week to suspend Diversion for six months pending resolution of author complaints.) It's encouraging that statements are finally going out, but this late and apparently hasty effort just casts the reported problems into sharper relief. 

At any rate, Benay has given me an email address that authors can use: . They seem to be responsive; one author who wrote to inquire about missing statements told me that they received them the next day.

In addition to International Thriller Writers, other writers' organizations are investigating complaints from members. I'll keep following the situation, and will post updates as I receive them.

March 26, 2021

Scammers Taking Big 5 Publishers' Names in Vain: A Growing Trend

I've been doing the Writer Beware thing for quite some time, and I Have Seen Some Shit. 

But this solicitation from a Philippines-based publishing and marketing scammer calling itself Right Choice Multimedia (among other names) is one of the most disgusting things that has come across my desk in a while...and that's saying something. 

Here it is in its entirety. Read it and boggle. You can also scroll down directly to my (far more grammatical) debunking. Be sure to read all the way to the end, because I have some things to say about why Big 5 publishers should care that their trademarks and reputations are being co-opted in this way.


Right Choice Multimedia may not be able to produce a grammatical email, but it has a keen grasp of author psychology. Not only are writers being offered a shortcut to the glorious goal of traditional publication, they're specially invited (You're Exceptional!), and success is virtually guaranteed (Money Well Spent!) 

Of course, this is not how things work in the real world. Consortiums of major publishers don't "sponsor" vast collective slush piles, or solicit random authors to submit to them. Literary agents don't create "endorsement letters" at the behest of nameless committees, or acquire clients by assignment. There is no such thing as The Literary Review of Books Magazine. (There is a  Top Ten Magazine, but I'm guessing it would be surprised to find itself included here.)

The whole point of the scam is to get writers to buy a "ticket"--from which nothing will result, other than, perhaps, demands for more money for more worthless "services":

Check that "VIP Suite"! Accompanying the tickets is a series of obviously fabricated testimonials, to which the names of real authors have been attached:

As is often the case with this type of scam, it is operating under more than one name. Account Executive Sam Deeds of scammer Right Choice Multimedia touts his "Official Hollywood Profile", but if you click on the link, it delivers you to the IMDb page of Victor Ross, also of Right Choice Multimedia, but doing double duty as a "literary agent" for scammer West Literary Agency (I've written about West Literary Agency here). All four of the "in development" projects claimed by "Sam" show up on "Victor's" profile; all four have been published by an Author Solutions imprint (Author Solutions authors are overseas scammers' favorite targets), and all four show West Literary Agency as the production company. 

Needless to say, these projects are as fake as the testimonials--although the authors who have paid a bundle for their books to be turned into screenplays or films or whatever "service" was pitched to them may not yet know it.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I've written extensively about the class of scams of which Right Choice Multimedia/West Literary Agency is a part, and collected reams of documentation, including solicitation emails, contracts, and other materials. In 2014, when I first identified them, the scams focused primarily on selling overpriced publishing packages and junk marketing, especially book fair "representation" and display. 

As time has passed, however, increasing competition (there are now more than 125 of these companies, and I'm certain that's an undercount), efforts to expose them (primarily my own), and more recently, the pandemic-fueled shutdown of book fairs and other in-person events, have pushed them to employ different techniques (book-to-screen packages and vanity radio) and more baroque schemes: impersonating real agents and literary scouts; creating a stable of fake agents complete with websites and biographies; and the solicitation that's the subject of this post, in which Big 5 publishers are presented as sponsors of an elaborate pay-to-play submission scheme.

The scams--virtually all of which are based in the Philippines, despite their apparent US addresses and phone numbers--largely fly below the radar of the traditional publishing industry. In part, this is because their targets--writers who've self-published with exploitative companies like Author Solutions, small press authors, and vulnerable groups such as the elderly and disabled--are not really that industry's constituency (unless, of course, they're being recruited to a Big 5 pay-to-play division), and the scammers' activities have little to no impact on the business of traditional publishing. There's not a lot of incentive, therefore, for publishers to take action or push back--or even, really, to take notice of what's going on. (One writer who contacted PRH about a scam solicitation using the PRH name received a response from someone in administration who assumed the writer was referring to phishing scams on Upwork. Several others who tried to alert other Big 5 houses told me they received no response at all.)

The scammers rely on this, and their overseas location, to protect them. And they are getting bolder. It used to be rare for them to purport to be in "partnership" or "created by" or otherwise connected with or acting with the approval of Big 5 houses, but in the last year it's become common. I've seen faked-up emails from HarperCollins, solicitations claiming to be from Picador (an imprint of Macmillan), contract offers from an outfit called Stephenson and Queen that pretends to be an "imprint" of Thomas Nelson (it has registered a domain but as yet has no website). 

Scammers are using the names of real Big 5 editors and other staff to pitch their "services". Just the other day a writer told me that they received a phone solicitation from someone claiming to represent Penguin, who then referred them to scammer SPARK Literary and Marketing "for the details on securing a contract." And check out these "new submission guidelines", also supposedly from Penguin, but really created by Silver Ink Literary Agency to convince writers to pay for editing so their books can be "endorsed": 

As poorly put-together and obviously false as many of these efforts are, people do fall for them. A lot.

The authors whose names have been attached to the fake testimonials above would surely object to their identities and reputations being used to defraud unsuspecting writers. Shouldn't the Big 5 houses also be concerned about the blatant misuse of their names and trademarks, even if the scams don't affect their bottom line? I'm not suggesting that PRH and Harper and the rest rush out and file lawsuits in the Philippines. But it would be nice if they focused a fraction of the attention on these scams that they've devoted to a different solicitation-and-impersonation scam that targets trad-pubbed authors. 

Public warnings would be a good place to start--ideally on publishers' home pages, but at least on submission pages and on the websites of targeted imprints like Picador and Thomas Nelson. If the Combined Book Exhibit could post a scam warning when it discovered that Filipino scammers were misappropriating its name and services, surely PRH et al. can do so too. And how about outreach to an organization like the Alliance of Independent Authors, which advocates for self-publishers--or even to Author Solutions, from which the scammers draw their largest victim pool--and with which three of the Big 5 already have or have had a relationship?

Contact me. I'll be glad to assist in any way I can.

UPDATE 4/11/21: I'm thrilled to announce that all five publishers have contacted me to express their eagerness to do all they can to warn authors about the scammers that are misusing their names and logos!

Just kidding. I haven't heard from a single one.

In other news, Right Choice Multimedia has torn another leaf from the Author Solutions playbook, and established its own fake publisher/agency matching site

March 19, 2021

Contract Red Flag: When a Publisher Claims Copyright on Edits

This is an updated version of a post I published a couple of years ago.

It's not all that common, but I do see it from time to time in small press publishing contracts that I review: a publisher claiming ownership of the editing and copy editing it provides, or making the claim implicitly by reverting rights only to the original manuscript submitted by the author.

Are there legal grounds for such a claim? One would think that by printing a copyright notice inside a published book, and encouraging the author to register copyright or registering on the author's behalf, publishers are acknowledging that there is not. It's hard to know, though, because the issue doesn't seem to have been tested in the courts. There's not even much discussion. Where you do find people talking about copyright in the context of editing, it's usually related to editors as independent contractors, such as how authors hiring freelancers should make sure they own the editor's work product, or how freelance editors might use a claim of copyright interest as leverage in payment disputes.

In 2011, Romance Writers of America published a brief legal opinion on the copyrightability of editorial input (it's on the RWA website, but unfortunately not accessible by the public), indicating that the claim would probably not prevail in court. But that's the only legal discussion I've been able to find.

The legal ambiguity of a copyright claim on editing is good reason to treat it as a publishing contract red flag. But that's not all.

It's not standard industry practice. No reputable publisher that I know of, large or small, deprives the author of the right to re-publish the final edited version of their book or story, either in its contracts or upon rights reversion. One might argue that in pre-digital days, this wasn't something publishers needed to consider--books and stories, once reverted, were rarely re-published--whereas these days it's common for authors to self-publish or otherwise bring their backlists back into circulation. But publishers haven't been slow to lay claim to the panoply of new rights created by the digital revolution. If there were any advantage to preventing writers from re-publishing their fully-edited works, you can bet it would have become common practice. It hasn't.

Publishers can and do legitimately claim ownership of their own work product, such as cover art, design, and interior formatting. But is editing the publisher's work product? Editing is--or should be--a collaboration between author and editor. The editor makes suggestions; the author implements them. In any fully-edited manuscript, it's likely that most if not all of the actual re-writing and revision will have been done by the author. Why should a publisher be able to claim ownership of that?

Finally, there's the question of benefit or damage. What material benefit does a publisher gain by forbidding an author to re-publish their fully-edited book? How does it damage a publisher if a rights-reverted book is brought back into circulation as originally published? Other than satisfying a misguided and pointless desire for possession or control, none and not at all.

Nevertheless, through ignorance, possessiveness, or simple greed, publishers sometimes do make this claim. As far as I can tell, this is strictly a phenomenon of the small press world; I've never seen it in a contract from a larger publisher. Below are some examples of the kind of language you may encounter (all bolding is mine).

This is from Uncial Press:
Contract may be terminated by either the author or publisher with a 90-day written, certified mail notice or other receipted or traceable delivery service, and all rights to the original, unedited manuscript granted the publisher will revert to Author at the time of the termination.
From Idyll Arbor, Inc.:
An editor will be assigned by Company to prepare the Book for publication. All editorial changes will remain the property of Company.
In this contract from Totally Entwined Group (which also does business as Totally Bound), the publisher appears to be claiming ownership not just of edits, but of the edited book itself. The publisher may not actually intend such a sweeping claim--small presses often don't fully understand the implications of their own contract language. But as written, this clause is seriously problematic.
The Publisher shall own all intellectual property rights in any edited version of the Original Work, including, but not limited to, the Final Edited Version (and the Author hereby unconditionally assigns such rights to the Publisher)
Some publishers use a copyright claim on edits as a way to make a buck as the author goes out the door. This is also Totally Entwined/Totally Bound, from an older version of its contract (the money demand does not appear in the more recent contract quoted above):
Upon expiration of this Agreement, should the Author wish to acquire rights to the final edited version of the Work, the Author agrees to pay the Publisher:
2.5.1 £250.00 for a Novel;
2.5.2 £80.00 Novella;
2.5.3 £40.00 a Short Story.
2.6 In consideration of any payment made according to clause 2.5 or clause 2.7, the Publisher and the editing staff agree to release any and all further claim to payment for the final edited version of the Work.
Storm Moon Press is no longer extant, but it too wanted to retain the right to edits, and authors had to pay if they wanted to use them:
All rights to the original Work as submitted will revert to the Authorwithout prejudice upon expiration of this contract. Should the Author wish to acquire rights to the final formatted and typeset digital files, he or she agrees to compensate Publisher in the amount of two hundred dollars ($200). In consideration of this payment, Publisher agrees to release any and all further claim to compensation for the finished Work.
Ditto for eXtasy Books Inc.:
All rights to the original Work as submitted will revert to Author without prejudice upon expiration of Contract. Should Author wish to acquire rights to the final edited version, he or she agrees to compensate the assigned editor and/or copyeditor in the amount of $500 less royalties received for the editor or $250 less royalties received for the copyeditor. In consideration of this payment, the editor/copyeditor agrees to release any and all further claim to compensation for the finished Work.
Vanity publisher GenZ Publishing doesn't explictly claim copyright on edits, but it does prohibit authors from using them--which is especially obnoxious since it keeps up to $2,500 of authors' royalties to pay for, among other things, editing:
The Author cannot use any version of the book that has GenZ Publishing edits or comments from editors, proofreaders, or other staff associated with GenZ or Zenith Publishing.
Crooked Cat Publishing's contract does not include a copyright claim on editing. However, the publisher makes that demand after the fact, in its reversion notice. Beyond any other legal questions, a publisher has zero standing to demand something that's not in the contract:
We kindly ask that you NOT use the completed final, edited copy of this title to re-submit elsewhere or self-publish. We request that you make changes, however subtle, to the content of the edited, released version, so that it is not an exact re-publication of the version we published.
Claret Press is another publisher that makes extra-contractual claims on editing, using this dubious logic:
At the moment, because you have not paid for...edits, the intellectual property still belongs to [the publisher]. If you do not use any aspect of the edits, then you do not have to pay....If however, when you publish the books, there is any aspect of any piece of your writing that relates to anything in the...edits...then you have violated [the publisher's] ownership of...intellectual property.
Writer Beware, indeed.

For any lawyers reading, I'd be interested to know your thoughts on this issue.

March 12, 2021

Scam Alert: Paper Bytes Marketing Solutions, Blueprint Press, and Their Stable of Imaginary Literary Agents

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Once upon a time, there was a publishing and marketing scammer called Chapters Media and Advertising, owned by one Mark Joseph Rosario. Chapters pretended to be a US company--it even had dual business registrations in Wyoming and Florida, as well as a purported address in Nevada--but in reality, it operated out of the Philippines (much like its many brethren).

Chapters was an unusually devious little scammer. In addition to offering the usual substandard publishing services and junk marketing ripoffs, it had a sideline in impersonating literary professionals, including agent Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Agency and literary scout Clare Richardson of Maria B. Campbell Associates. I've written about both of these impersonation scams (as well as the issue more generally; Chapters was not the only one doing this).

I don't know if it was my posts that did it, but Rosario apparently felt that Chapters had received too much exposure--because sometime in the past couple of months, he abandoned the old Chapters website (along with the website of an associated scam, TechBooks Media) and rebooted as a pair of new companies: Paper Bytes Marketing Solutions and Blueprint Press.

Here's the "paper" trail tying Chapters to Paper Bytes; note the officer names and identical Florida "head office" addresses (that address, by the way, is a vacant lot).

And here's the trail tying Rosario to Blueprint Press (which purportedly is based in Oregon):

(Also see the Update toward the bottom of this post for more evidence pointing to Mark Rosario.)

To go with his brand new companies, Rosario has initiated a brand new scam: a stable of imaginary literary agents. It's an unusually detailed endeavor, with actual websites for many of the agents (albeit not very good ones) that include photos--some stock, some stolen--as well as made-up bios and false claims about who/what they represent. All share the email address, which no doubt is convenient for the interchangeable roster of Paper Bytes/Blueprint marketers who inhabit these agent personas, but also makes them easier to track and expose.

I'll list them all below. But first, How It All Works!

Targeted writers (who, as with all the Philippines-based scams, are primarily self-pubbed or small press) receive a solicitation like this one:

Too good to be true? You bet. If the writer responds, they're told that, while the agent is Commission Only! No Fees Ever! they will still have to tap into their bank accounts. For instance, Imaginary Agent may excitedly relay this news:
Amazing! Fantastic! Once in a lifetime! All the author has to do is provide the requested treatment. Now, they could write it themselves--although that would be awfully difficult to accomplish because, naturally, there's a deadline. Not to worry: Imaginary Agent has a "trusted" company that can do the job.

Writers who decline to pay receive a succession of additional fake treatment requests, from Netflix, HBO, and more, with pressure to capitulate each time. One writer told me that their Imaginary Agent claimed they'd be blacklisted in the film industry if they continued to refuse.

Here's a different solicitation, from another Imaginary Agent. Note the email address:

This one is a re-publication scam. The writer is offered "licensing" so that their book can be re-published, supposedly to improve its prospects of a "mainstream" contract (even though re-publishing an already-published book so it can be published a third time makes absolutely no sense, and is not how it works in any case), plus "book returnability insurance" that's as imaginary as the agent is. Services will be provided courtesy of a totally unrelated company, Paper Bytes, which doesn't usually deal with lowly self-pubbed writers but is willing to make an exception, thanks to the efforts of trusty Imaginary Agent:

Alternatively, the "services" recommended come from Blueprint.

Plenty of writers who receive these emails will smell a rat: from the out-of-the-blue solicitations to the laughably rudimentary websites (see below) to the poor written English, there are a ton of scam markers here. But like the Nigerian email scammers, Mark Rosario and scammers like him just need a tiny number of potential victims to buy in in order to make a profit. 

Those who do pay up will be pressured to spend more money for more bogus services; eventually, when they start asking too many questions or the scammers judge that they are tapped out, they will simply be abandoned, their emails unreturned, their phone calls blocked, and their bank accounts considerably smaller.


Here are the imaginary agents I've identified so far.

Alexander Sy
Alexander boasts an impressive-sounding but strategically vague bio ("His success in the independent publishing industry helped him become the youngest Senior Traditional Marketing Executive, in partnership with some of the largest Traditional Houses in the world") and a new and notable page that encourages potential victims to believe that he reps Robin Cook and Andrew Mayne, among others. His is the one photo I couldn't confirm was stolen or a downloaded freebie--but it sure looks fake. 

Lola Moira Ventura
According to her bio, Lola is "a Mexican American literary book expert, author's adviser. In 2012, she founded Ravenous Romance Books, an e-book publishing company" (this might surprise actual Ravenous Romance founder Lori Perkins). The accompanying photo has been stolen from an article about author Maaza Mengiste. Imaginary Lola wants unwary writers to be wowed by her imaginary track record, which includes James Comey and Rick Gates.

John Morris
"I started as a jr. literary agent at Writers House and Trident Media before I decided to venture as an independent literary agent." Impressive! John's I'm-too-sexy-for-my-shades photo has been borrowed from free image website Unsplash. Chuck Pahlaniuk and N.K. Jemisin might be startled to discover themselves on John's Books page.

Mia Sanders aka Mary Sanders Lee
Website: (currently has a "dangerous website" caution)
Website: (defaults to the Mia Sanders website)
Mia/Mary claims to be "a frequent speaker at writer’s conferences and conventions from romance to kink and attends approximately 13 conferences a year." Her photo is from Unsplash, the free image website, where it's alt-tagged "woman in pink crew-neck shirt in closeup photography". Mia is the only imaginary agent who doesn't claim to have repped Big 5-published books from major authors: the covers on her Books page--which, oddly, have all been stripped of authors' names--all come from an Author Solutions imprint or another Philippines-based scammer.

Jessica Myers
Jessica has a terrific work background! "I started as a jr. literary agent at Writers House and Trident Media before I decided to venture as an independent literary agent." Her Book Gallery encourages writers to believe that she reps Jennifer Armentrout and Susan Sallis, among a grab bag of other authors. Like her buddy "Lola Ventura," Jessica hasn't bothered with free images; she has appropriated the image of Juliana Martins, a cosmetics expert.

Harry Taylor
Harry is one handsome, happy dude! Just one problem: he's been downloaded from free image site Unsplash, where his photo is alt-tagged "smiling man standing between brown concrete buildings at daytime". Harry too "cut his teeth in publishing" at a prestigious agency--Writers House--and according to his Books page, he reps Chuck Palahniuk, putting him in direct competition with his imaginary colleague John Morris, who claims to rep the very same book by that author. I guess it gets boring copying book cover images to paste into your imaginary agents' websites.

Lloyd Perkins
I'm getting a 403 notice today when I try to access Lloyd's website, which was extant a couple of weeks ago when I began researching this post. You can still see a cached version, though, and here's Lloyd's About page, where he claims to have "worked with" real writers such as Lisa Jewell and A.S.A. Harrison, whose books supposedly are "now being considered by one of the Top 5 traditional publishers in the US". Except...oh dear...looks like those books were actually published years ago.

As with two of his imaginary brethren, Lloyd's photo is stolen: it's been purloined from a business photographer's website.

Chris Archer
Website: Chris is one of several members of the Imaginary Agent squad who doesn't have a website, but he uses the same email address and solicitation style as the rest.

Bryan Archer
Bryan is Chris's (imaginary) twin brother. He uses the same signature block (just with "Bryan" instead of "Chris"), and also has no website--but, no slouch at the impersonation game, has concocted an elaborate, four-page, laughably fake resume that he provides to authors who are savvy enough to ask about his bona fides. Here's page 1 (you can see the whole thing here):

Johnny Saints
Like his buddies Chris and Bryan, Johnny has no website, but his 7-page resume is equally fake, from boasts of professional success to claims of famous clients (surprise, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ernest Cline: meet your REAL agent!) His photo looks a bit more convincing than some of the others, but no doubt it's stolen too.

Casey Howard
Casey is another Imaginary Agent who doesn't have a fake website, but his email solicitations are identical to those of his imaginary brethren (see this comment below).

Ralph Cane
Another one with the telltale email address but no fake website. 

Wade Rogers
Same email address and solicitations, but no fake website.

UPDATE: I'm kicking myself for dropping the ball, but the one thing I didn't do in researching this post was to check the domain registration info for the fake agent websites (partly because I had so much other evidence of fakery, but also because scammers are good about anonymizing). If I had, I would have discovered that all but one of them look like this:

Amazingly, Mark Rosario has been careless enough to allow his name (not to mention his Cebu address) to appear on these registrations (see the first image in this post). Oops.

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who drew my attention to this.

How to protect yourself?

1. Know how things work in the publishing world. Real literary agents don't sell services to potential clients, or refer them to companies that do. Real agents don't commonly contact writers out of the blue. The warnings at the Writer Beware website can help you recognize non-standard or predatory practices.

2. Proceed from a point of skepticism. An unsolicited contact from a literary agent isn't automatically suspect--as commenters have pointed out on a number of my other posts, it does sometimes happen. But it is not common. With the volume of scams currently in operation, out-of-the-blue contacts are far more likely to be illegitimate than on the level. Caution is always in order--especially if it sounds too good to be true.

3. Mistrust--and verify. Do a websearch...and do it BEFORE you respond. A real agent, with real sales, will have at least some web presence; be suspicious if you find nothing, or almost nothing (strategically, Paper Bytes' imaginary agents have common names or names that are similar to celebrities', making them harder to research). Vet the agent's website: my recent blog post unmasking a fake agency provides some tips for that. If the agent claims to rep authors or books, or to have worked at a particular agency or publisher, see if you can verify whether this is true (often you can find out who agents an author with a simple websearch, or by visiting the author's website).

4. Use your common sense. Out of the blue, too good to be true? Extra-careful research is in order. Also...anyone can make an occasional typo. But agents selling rights in English-language markets are capable of speaking and writing grammatical English. No reputable agent would send out language-challenged emails like the ones above.

5. Contact me at Writer Beware. Always a good default. I may have heard something, or received complaints. If I have, I'll let you know.

UPDATE 4/12/21: Five days ago (as of this writing), Mark Rosario resuscitated Chapters Media & Advertising with a new domain name ( and a new website. The address: that vacant lot in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

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