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.

April 26, 2019

Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize Them and Why They Should Avoid Them


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Lately I'm seeing frequent ads on Facebook for high-entry fee literary awards, such as the International Book Awards ($89 per entry, though if you enter by April 30 you can get a special early bird rate of $69). It's sponsored by American Book Fest (formerly known, at various times, as USA Book News, JPX Media, and i310 Media Group), which also runs the Best Book Awards, the Bookvana Awards, and the American Fiction Awards--all with the same huge entry fees.

I've also heard from a number of writers who've been directly solicited by a similar high-entry fee awards program, the Book Excellence Awards:


Legit awards don't solicit, and they certainly don't offer special sale prices (the pre-sale amount is a whopping $110). The Book Excellence Awards are run by Literary Excellence Incorporated, and as yet are the only awards program offered by that company--but I'm sure that will change. Profiteering awards often come in clusters.

So what is a profiteering award? Why are such awards a "beware"? Read on. What follows is a post I originally put online in 2015, but is still very relevant today. I've updated it to reflect changes in prices and details, and also to add some newer profiteers that have sprung up in the past few years.

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If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may have guessed that I'm not a big fan of writing contests and awards.

Partly this is because so many are a waste of time, with minimal prizes, negligible prestige, and little or no name recognition. Why not spend your energy on something that can get you closer to building a readership--submitting for publication, or publishing on your own?

There's also the risk of bad things in the entry guidelines--for instance, the My Best Story Competition, where the grant of publishing rights is extended to any "third party" obtaining a copy of the entry. Writers who don't read the fine print carefully enough may find themselves trapped by such provisions.

And then there are the contests/awards with a hidden agenda: making money for the sponsor. Such awards aren't really about honoring writers at all.

There's a complex of red flags that identifies profiteering contest and awards programs.

- Solicitation. To maximize entries, profiteering awards and contests often solicit entries. An out-of-the-blue email, or an ad on Facebook, urging you to enter a contest or awards program should always be treated with caution.

- High entry fees. Profiteers charge $60, $75, $100, or even more. There may be "early bird specials" and multiple-entry discounts to tempt authors with the illusion of a bargain. And that's not counting the books you'll have to send for award consideration--a considerable expense, if the profiteer only accepts print.

- Dozens or scores of entry categories. To maximize income, profiteers create as many entry categories as possible, and encourage multiple entries.

- Anonymous judging. Profiteers promise expert judging by people with standing in the writing and publishing field, but don't reveal the identities of these purported experts. In fact, the judging may be done by the profiteer's staff, who may simply pick winners out of a hat. One of the things that lends credibility to a contest or award is the prestige of its judges...which is why you always want to know who they are, and should always be suspicious if that information is not provided.

- Non-prize prizes. To avoid cutting into their profits, profiteers offer prizes that cost them little or nothing: press releases, media announcements, database and website listings, features on satellite websites or in self-owned publications. Some offer little more than the supposed honor of winning the award.

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

Profiteers may deviate from this template to some degree: some do provide money prizes, for instance, and not all of them solicit. But if more than four of these red flags are present in a contest or awards program--especially if the entry fee is above $50--you should think very carefully about entering.

What about prestige? Profiteer awards and contests don't typically command a lot of (or any) name recognition, but if you win or place, you'll be able to tag your book as an "award-winning book" and yourself as an "award-winning author." This is often touted by the profiteers as a major benefit for winners and finalists. How much readers care about such designations, though, is an open question--especially where they've never heard of the award or contest. Do you really want to risk losing a $75 or $100 entry fee for that?

Profiteer awards and contests overwhelmingly target and ensnare small press and self-published authors. It's not uncommon to see books that sport several of these awards, in some cases representing an outlay of hundreds of dollars--and that's not counting the awards the authors may have entered and lost. But such awards are nothing more than a cynical play on authors' hunger for recognition and exposure in an increasingly crowded marketplace. They are never a worthwhile use of writers' money.

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The Alliance of Independent Authors provides ratings for dozens of awards and contests, with Caution notices for those that are suspect. It's a good list to check before submitting.

Some examples of awards/contest profiteers:

JM Northern Media runs more than 20 literary "festivals" and conventions. JM Northern is a ferocious spammer; if you're a writer, you've probably been solicited for one or another of its festivals.

Unlike many other profiteers, JM Northern offers actual money prizes. But it can afford to. According to an article in Examiner.com that's no longer accessible online, JM Northern's Hollywood Book Festival received 2,740 entries in 2012. At $75 per entry, that's a gross of $205,500. Let's assume that the other 20+ festivals, most of which have a lower fee of $50, also get a lower number of entries--say, 1,500 (I'm lowballing to demonstrate how insanely lucrative this scheme is). Altogether, that's over $1.5 million just in entry fees. A year. When you add in revenue from the critiques and merchandise (likely provided by JM Northern's own Modern Media Publicity), it wouldn't surprise me to learn that JM Northern's annual festival gross is well over $2 million.

My 2013 blog post offers a more detailed look at JM Northern: Awards Profiteering: The Book Festival Empire Of JM Northern Media.

The Jenkins Group, a costly self-publishing services provider, runs at least six awards programs: Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, Axiom Book Awards, eLit Awards, Living Now Book Awards, Illumination Book Awards, and the IPPY Awards. Entry fees range from $70 to $95, and there's the usual raft of entry categories and non-prize prizes.

Even among profiteers, Jenkins is unusual in the amount of extra merchandise it hawks to winners. For instance, check out the options for Moonbeam Award winners--no fewer than 35 items, ranging in price from $5 (for a "Certificate Presentation Folder") to $130 (for a Moonbeam Gold Medal--not even a real medal, just an image) to $1,423 (for a marketing" package that includes such junk marketing services as book fair display and press releases).

- The National Association of Book Entrepreneurs (NABE), which claims to have been in business for 32 years, sponsors the Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards. The $90 entry fee includes NABE membership (the benefits of which are unclear), and there are more than 50 entry categories. The prizes--press releases, mentions on the NABE website and in its "bookselling magazine"--are a prime example of how profiteers maximize profit by offering prizes that cost them little or nothing to provide. There's also the usual opportunity to order stickers and "beautiful Certificates".

- WILDsound, another prolific spammer, runs continuous monthly contests and "festival events" for screenplays, books, poetry, short stories, and more. Fees range from $25 ("$10 OFF regular submission") for a first scene to $170 for a full novel, but average around $45. Judging is done by the usual cadre of unnamed "Professional Writers and Writing Consultants"; prizes are readings by--it's claimed--professional actors. You can sample these poor-quality videos here.

- Readers Favorite touts an array of tempting possible benefits for winners of its annual book award, including a read by a film company, consideration by an independent publisher, and evaluation by a literary agent. Interestingly, though, there's nothing to suggest that any authors have been picked up as a result.

Prizes for this award are a bit more prizelike than those offered by many profiteers, with an awards dinner and a free roll of stickers (any more, though, and you'll have to pay). Otherwise, it's the usual cheap junk: press releases, book fair display, a website listing. Entry fees, which will run you $99 to $119 depending on when you register, are maximized by the more than 140 entry categories. And that's not the only way to spend money. You can also buy a book review, or purchase "expert" writing services--all provided by people who are unnamed, and therefore unverifiable.

Readers Favorite, which actively courts writing- and publishing-related businesses like BookBaby and advertises its award via, among other things, an affiliate program that pays 20% for successful referrals, is one of the higher-profile profiteers. Along with countless authors who could have found a much better use for their money, some celebrities have fallen for it.

Literary Classics runs the International Book Awards ($88 entry fee, 31 entry categories), as well as the Top Honors Children's and YA Book Awards (Enchanted Page Children's Book Award, Eloquent Quill Award, Lumen Award for Literary Excellence, and Words on Wings Young Adult Book Award--at $48 per entry, relatively inexpensive for a profiteer). Judging is by an unnamed "selection committee". There's an awards presentation, as part of a related book festival, but other than that, all winners get is a certificate and a "digital award seal"--and, of course, the opportunity to buy stickers and medals.

- Smarketing LLC runs a trio of awards, all of which were originally founded by book shepherd Ellen Reid: the  Body, Mind, Spirit Book Awards ($75 per entry, over 50 categories); the National Indie Excellence Awards ($75 to enter, over 150 categories); and the Beverly Hills Book Award ($75 per entry, over 150 categories). Like other profiteers, none of these awards programs names its judges ("to respect their privacy") and all sell stickers, certificates, and medals.

For all three awards, the main prize is "exposure", via press releases and website announcements (and we all know what, in most cases, "exposure" is worth). Each award also includes one or more donated prizes for one or more select winners. In other words, none of these prizes cost the sponsor a penny. Talk about maximizing profit.

Interestingly, the National Indie Excellence Awards (though not the other two) has this proscription:

Hmmm.

- Reader Views, a.k.a. Book by Book Publicity, sponsors the Reviewers Choice Annual Literary Awards, which will set you back $89 per entry into any of its more than 50 categories. Prizewinners get a seal and a certificate, with select prizewinners eligible for more--primarily, features on Reader Views and Book by Book Publicity websites and publications, as well as some donated prizes (in other words, they involve minimal cost). Judging is done by Reader Views reviewers (Reader Views sells reviews as part of its publicity packages)--none of whom are named.

Global Ebook Awards capitalizes on the name of Dan Poynter, one of the original pioneers of self-publishing. Entry costs $79, with over 100 entry categories. A whole section of the website discusses judging and judges--but (surprise!) provides no actual names or bona fides. As with so many other profiteers, the prize is "exposure", via press releases and website features: cheap for the awards program, negligible for the winners. And of course, winners are "eligible to purchase Global Ebook Award certificates attesting to their honor".

March 28, 2019

Caution: Turkish Publisher Mavifil Publishing (Mavifil Yayinlari)


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

In December 2011, I wrote a blog post about a Turkish publisher called Arvo Basim Yayin, which was contacting self-pubbed and small press authors out of the blue and offering to buy Turkish rights to their books.
Arvo signed up at least ten writers as a result of these approaches, some with multiple books (those are only the writers whose names I know; according to my sources, there are probably many more). Both royalty-only and licensing-fee-plus-royalties contracts were offered; the licensing fees ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the number of books involved. Publication was supposed to begin in September.

Some of the books have indeed been published. But others have missed multiple publication dates--and it appears that no one, including the authors whose books were published, has been paid.

Authors who've attempted to contact [Arvo] about the problems say they've gotten a raft of excuses--financial difficulties, personal and family ill health, religious holidays, trips out of town--along with repeated promises that schedules would be straightened out and monies owed would be forthcoming. As of this writing, none of those promises have been fulfilled.
I emailed Arvo myself to ask about all this. It readily admitted to the problems, offering a familiar excuse--financial difficulties--and a novel one--broken printing machines--to justify them, but claimed that everything was being addressed and payments and publication were imminent. Over the following months, however, no checks arrived and no books appeared, and authors who tried to follow up were fobbed off with the same bogus-sounding excuses.

The last I heard of Arvo was a July 2012 update from an author whose books actually were published, but never paid for. This author never even got their author copies, despite being told multiple times that the books were on the way.

So why am I writing about a deadbeat publisher from 2011? Because it appears to still be in business, and has once again started recruiting writers, under a different name.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've heard from three self-pubbed authors who've been approached (with identical emails) by editors from Mavifil Yayinlari (Mavifil Publishing), offering to purchase Turkish rights to their books. The offer: translation and 8% royalties on the first 1,000 books. This is the same offer that was made by Arvo; the out-of-the-blue solicitations are also the same. But there's more.

Mavifil is a children's publisher, described by the editor as a "new" "subsidiary company" of another publisher, Pagoda Publishing. Pagoda appears to include three imprints: Pagoda, Mavifil...and Arvo. On the Pagoda website header (which appears at the top of this post), the Arvo logo is different from the original one that you can see above--but the covers of a large number of the company's published books display that original Arvo logo. Also, I recognize many titles by authors who contacted me in 2011.

Additionally, Volkan Dogan, Arvo's Manager or Editor in Chief (I'm not sure of his exact title), who signed Arvo contracts in 2011, shows up on a websearch as Pagoda's Editor in Chief, including on LinkedIn. His name also appears on some of the contact emails Mavifil has sent out.

It's pretty clear that Mavifil is part of a publishing company run by the same person or people who ran Arvo in 2011--a publishing company that continues to sell books from authors who, in 2011 and 2012, reported not being paid. Were the missing payments ever remitted? Could Mr. Dogan and his enterprise have cleaned up their act and conquered the problems they were having in 2011? It's possible. But the history here is sufficiently troubling that I think a strong caution is in order about all three of these imprints: Arvo, Pagoda, and especially Mavifil, given that it's actively soliciting writers.

As an additional concern, Mavifil doesn't appear to have published anything yet. Three books on the company's website sport the Mavifil elephant logo, but per my research, two were originally published by Pagoda, and one has no web presence at all. Also worth noting: in extended discussion with one of the authors who contacted me, Mavifil's editor did not appear to be familiar with the concept of an advance.

UPDATE 3/29/19: Since putting this post online, I've heard from two more authors who've been solicited by Mavifil. Both received identical solicitations, as well as identical responses to "tell me more about you" questions. The company seems to be relying heavily on canned emails, possibly because of the language barrier.

Also, Pagoda Publishing's homepage link was returning 404 messages for a while. Coincidence? Maybe. The link to its published books still works, but here's a screenshot, just in case.


I've also now seen one of Mavifil's contracts. To say it's rudimentary is a giant understatement. See below. Beyond the poor English, there are many important things missing, including a grant-of-rights term, a payment schedule for royalties, assurance of a "faithful and accurate" translation, assurance of a copyright notice in the author's name, provision for rights reversion if the publisher fails to comply with the agreement--just to name a few.

UPDATE 3/31/19: I reached out to several of the writers who contacted me in 2011 about Arvo. I've heard back from one of them so far, who confirms that they were never paid for the multiple books "purchased" by Arvo (and still on sale from Pagoda). So I guess that answers the question about whether the company has cleaned up its act.

February 28, 2019

AMS Literary Agency: Approach With Caution


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

When Writer Beware was founded, an embarrassingly long time ago, most of the questions and complaints we received involved literary agents: from scammers charging fees or engaging in kickback schemes, to well-intentioned amateurs with no idea how to do the job, to the occasional stranger-than-fiction episode--such as the saga of Melanie Mills a.k.a. Lisa Hackney (a multiply-aliased faker who staged her own death in order to steal money from clients and turned out to be wanted for attempted murder) and the hoax perpetrated by Christopher Hill (who fabricated publisher submissions, comments, and even contracts in a massively complicated scheme to deceive clients).

But times have changed. Major shifts in the publishing world have created alternatives to the traditional get-an-agent-to-land-a-publisher route to publication. With agents no longer the be-all and end-all of a writing career, it's become a lot tougher for a scam agent to make a living. As a result, literary agency scams have become rare. Even amateur agencies are much less common than they used to be.

They're still a potential danger, though, so when I stumbled across AMS Literary Agency, a new venture (domain registered only last month) with a ton of red flags, it seemed like a good subject for a blog post. When I started writing, I thought I'd just be doing an expose on an amateur agency. What I actually found is...more complicated.

Here's AMS's solicitation for clients, posted on Instagram and Facebook:


AMS's website exhibits a host of warning signs.

No agent names or bios. Reputable agencies list their staff. If you don't know who the agents are, you have no way to tell whether they're competent.

No client list or list of sales. Again, this is data that's front and center on reputable agencies' websites (among other things, it's a way of advertising their success). Of course, a new agency that's still recruiting clients and pursuing sales may not have anything to list yet (which is another reason why it's important to know who the agents are and whether they're qualified). But AMS's privacy policy suggests that it never will provide this information:


I'm no expert on Canadian privacy laws, but authors' names and book titles are hardly confidential information--publishers would face quite the challenge if they were--and other Canadian literary agencies don't seem to have a problem disclosing clients and sales. Invoking confidentiality makes it equally possible for AMS to say anything or nothing, and impossible for writers to verify either way--very convenient, if an agency is placing books with unsavory publishers, or not managing to make any sales at all.

An emphasis on new and unpublished writers. An agency that's actively recruiting new and unpublished writers may be doing so because they are easier to bamboozle.

Perpetuation of a myth about copyright. This is what's known as "poor man's copyright", and it's bunk. Any genuine publishing professional should know better.


As mentioned above, AMS's website and social media don't identify any staff members...but here's a name, from a text exchange with a writer who inquired about submitting:
If you were around for the early days of Writer Beware, that name may ring a bell. Don Phelan (full name: Donald Thomas Phelan) was the CEO of notorious vanity publisher Commonwealth Publications of Canada, which bilked hundreds of writers out of millions of dollars in the mid- to late 1990s, and was the subject of a massive class action lawsuit that resulted in a $10,000,000 judgment on behalf of defrauded authors (none of which was ever paid). After Commonwealth closed down, Phelan and his wife started a ghostwriting business that also was the subject of complaints, and later went out of business.

You can read all about it at the Writer Beware website.

Could this possibly be the same Don Phelan? I'm always cautious about making assumptions, so I put it down to coincidence. Surely it was more plausible to assume that there were two Don Phelans than that the perpetrator of one of the most expensive publishing scams ever would show up 20-plus years later at the head of a brand-new literary agency.

Then I found this, in the Visitor Posts section of AMS's Facebook page:


My first reaction was that if either were still alive, both Cartland and her long-time agent, Doreen Montgomery of Rupert Crew Limited--the agency that represented Cartland throughout her career and still does--might be startled to learn this. And yet...another bell was ringing. Didn't Commonwealth at one point re-publish some of Cartland's backlist? Or was I mis-remembering?

I googled, and sure enough, found this rather snarky account in the September 29, 1997 issue of The Independent:
A breathless press release has arrived from across the water. "Looking to establish itself among the top romance publishers, Canada's Commonwealth Publications proudly announces the recent signing of `the world's most published romance author of all time'." On Valentine's Day next year, the company will launch Dame Barbara Cartland's 24-book Classic Romances series, "twelve previously released classic novels and twelve new, previously unpublished, heart-warming romantic tales". Among them: her "critically acclaimed" novel Enchanted. The notion that Cartland could help "establish" a publisher - let alone one whose alleged intent is to showcase "young and talented first-time authors" - suggests Commonwealth is perilously out of touch. For years, even Mills & Boon has politely declined to publish Cartland, whose audience is to be found only in such places as China, India and Russia.
Enchanted, the novel mentioned, was indeed published by Commonwealth. I couldn't find any others.

That's not the only Phelan/Cartland/Commonwealth past-present connection. In 1997, Commonwealth published a commemorative biography of Princess Diana, with much ballyhoo over the foreward by Barbara Cartland. Here is the very same book, re-published as an ebook in 2017--with the identical cover--by Donald T. Phelan.

Instead of an inflated lie, could AMS's claim in the visitor post be the literal truth? Donald T. Phelan did work with Cartland. And he certainly "handled" (in the sense of "took loads of money from") hundreds of "other authors". Could AMS Literary's Don Phelan actually be Commonwealth's Don Phelan, back in the writer biz after more than 20 years?

I thought I'd ask, via AMS's Contact form.

I received this response the next day:


Why, indeed. Some back and forth ensued, with me continuing to (politely) ask questions, and AMS continuing to (brusquely) refuse answers. Eventually they decided they'd had enough:


That's me schooled.

Bottom line: Don Phelan or no Don Phelan, there are abundant reasons to regard AMS Literary Agency with caution, just based on the many red flags at its website.

UPDATE 3/1/19: AMS has deleted from its Facebook page the visitor posts mentioned above. Lucky I took a screenshot, eh?

February 22, 2019

Publishing Contract Red Flag: When a Publisher Claims Copyright on Edits


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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 explicitly claiming ownership of the 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 registering copyright in the author's name or encouraging the author to do so, publishers are acknowledging that there is not. It's hard to know, though, because it doesn't seem to have been tested in the courts. There's not even much discussion of the issue. Where you do find people talking about it, it's in the context of 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 its website (still on the website, but unfortunately no longer 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, 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, 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 new rights created by the digital revolution. If there were any advantage to preventing writers from re-publishing their fully-edited books, 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 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 recent 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 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 also wants to retain the right to edits, though its demand for payment appears only to apply to its own formatting and typesetting (to which publishers typically do claim ownership).
All rights to the original Work as submitted will revert to the Author without 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.
Some of the same language appears in this contract from eXtasy Books Inc.--but note how the payment demand has been shifted to "the final edited version."
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.
Crooked Cat Publishing's contract does not include a copyright claim on editing--but it makes the 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.

February 14, 2019

Publishizer: Do Authors Really Need a Crowdfunding Literary Agency?


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Publishizer bills itself as "the world's first crowdfunding literary agency." What does that actually mean? From the company's FAQ:
Publishizer is a crowdfunding platform that matches authors with publishers. Authors write proposals, readers pre-order copies, and publishers express interest to contact authors. Publishizer queries publishers based on pre-orders milestones at the end of the campaign. The author receives a range of offers, and selects the best one.
As near as I can figure (Publishizer's FAQ and Terms of Use are annoyingly non-specific about the details of the process), here's how it works. Authors post their proposals on the Publishizer website, offering perks and incentives, Kickstarter-style, to encourage readers to pre-order. If the campaign reaches 250 pre-orders, Publishizer pitches the proposal to its independent publisher partners. A 500 pre-order benchmark garners a pitch to traditional publishers (which Publishizer defines as high advance-paying publishers that don't charge fees). Below 250 pre-orders, the pitch is to "hybrid" and "service" publishers (i.e., companies that do charge fees).

Campaigns are active for 30 days. Once they end, Publishizer releases pre-order income to the authors (authors keep the money they raise, regardless of how many pre-orders they generate). Authors are then responsible for fulfilling the pre-orders or persuading their chosen publisher to do so--or for refunding backers if the author chooses not to publish (Publishizer's Terms make it very clear that they do not get involved in this process). Publishizer keeps a 30% commission (a good deal higher than other crowdfunding sites; Kickstarter's commission, for instance, is 5%).

All in all, Publishizer sounds less like a literary agency than a crowdfunding variation on the manuscript pitch sites of old, where writers posted proposals and book excerpts for publishers and literary agencies to sort through in search of new properties and clients. Most of these sites, which were billed as replacements of, or at least competitors with, the old-fashioned system of gatekeepers, no longer exist, for a simple reason: publishing professionals never really embraced them. (For a discussion of some of the reasons why, see my 2015 blog post.)

Publishizer's pre-order component does add a contemporary element, in that it could suggest reader interest to a prospective publisher (indeed, that's one way Publishizer promotes the site to publishers). But what kind of publishers actually look for authors on Publishizer? One of the historical problems with pitch sites has been that, even if they could recruit reputable users, they were just as likely to attract questionable and marginal ones. Do high-level, reputable publishers--the kind you might need an agent for--actually use Publishizer?

The answer, as far as I can tell: not so much.

A Look at Publishizer Book Deals

Take, for example, Publishizer's list of member publishers. They're categorized as traditional (no fees, high advances); independent (no fees and no or modest advances); hybrid (fees); and service (self-publishing or assisted self-publishing). There are some agent-only publishers in the first two categories--but also many that authors can approach on their own, no agent needed. Of more concern is the fact that both the "traditional" and "independent" categories include a number of publishers that are nothing of the sort: they either charge fees or have book purchase requirements. (Publishizer is aware of this: see below.) Perhaps the most egregious of these mis-listings: the one for Elm Hill, HarperCollins Christian Publishing's fantastically expensive assisted self-publishing division, which shows up under traditional publishers.

Next, Publishizer's case studies of authors who found publishers via the site. Included are some solid independents (several of which accept submissions directly from authors), and an imprint of the Big 5. However, there's also Austin Macauley, an expensive vanity publisher that I've written about here, and Harvard Square Editions, a small press that pays royalties on net profit (at substandard percentages) and at one point was requiring authors to get their mss. "externally edited".

Next, the testimonials hosted on Publishizer's homepage. These too mention a number of genuine independent publishers--but also Koehler Books, which offers "co-publishing" contracts costing several thousand dollars (yet is listed by Publishizer as an independent publisher). The testimonial that cites HarperCollins turns out actually to mean expensive self-pub provider Elm Hill (see above).

It's much the same for the "Browse Recent Deals" animation at the top of Publishizer's homepage. Alongside reputable independents are acquisitions by fee-based companies including Morgan James Publishing (like Koehler, listed as an independent publisher despite its 2,500 book purchase requirement), Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press, and i2i Publishing, plus at least three publishers that have managed to issue only one book to date: Sage & Feathers Press, Time Traveller Books, and Christel Foord. A book purportedly published by "Harper Voyage" [sic] turns out to be self-published (and no wonder: every single one of the companies that expressed interest in the writer's campaign are fee-chargers or self-publishing service providers).

Browsing recently completed campaigns makes it even clearer that pay-to-play publishers, marginal publishers, and assisted self-publishing services are major users of the site. Take a look at the publishers that expressed interest in this campaign, which I picked at random. Two have questionable contracts or business practices (Black Rose Writing and Anaphora Literary Press--I've gotten complaints about both). Two are vanities (Morgan James Publishing and Koehler Books). The rest are either fee-charging "hybrids" (I put that in quotes because most so-called hybrids are either vanities or jumped-up self-publishing service providers) or assisted self-publishing companies. Just one is a genuine independent (The Story Plant). (The author chose Morgan James.)

Or this campaign, also picked at random. There's interest from two independent publishers (Karen McDermott, about which I know nothing, but which, based on its self-description, would not seem to be appropriate for the book on offer; and SkyHorse Publishing, an established indie), plus one that has misleadingly listed itself as an independent but is actually "shared risk", a.k.a. pay-to-play (ShieldCrest Publishing). Also one questionable publisher (Anaphora again); four fee-chargers (i2i Publishing, Isabella Media Inc., WiDo Publishing, and Prodigy Gold Books, about which I've received reports of unprofessionalism); and five assisted self-publishing services. (The author chose to self-publish.)

I didn't cherry-pick those two examples, by the way. I looked at at least twenty recent campaigns, and all showed a similar pattern.

Most revealing is the list of 268 books that have been published as a result of campaigns on Publishizer. As a Publishizer representative pointed out to me, many of these campaigns are from the company's early years, when it was strictly a crowdfunding platform. But of the approximately 195 that have been published since Publishizer's publisher-matching component was launched in 2016 (and yes, I looked at every single one):
  • At least 16 books have been acquired by vanity publishers, including Morgan James, Austin Macauley, and Koehler Books. (Koehler has snapped up so many authors via Publishizer that it has a special page for them on its website. It even offers "a discount".)
  • More than 130 additional authors have chosen either to self-publish, or to pay for publication through so-called hybrids or assisted self-publishing services.
  • Of the remaining 45 or so books, most have found homes with smaller presses to which the authors could have submitted on their own--not all of them desirable, as noted above.
  • Only a handful--fewer than 10--have signed up with bigger houses.
"Many Have Satisfying Experiences"

As of this writing, Publishizer makes this promise on its homepage:
Clearly, that claim is not accurate--at least as to the "traditional" part. When I contacted Publishizer to ask about it, a company representative told me that 9 out of 10 Publishizer clients land "a" book deal, but acknowledged that the current wording of the claim is misleading and promised to flag it for the team's attention.

I asked whether Publishizer is aware that its lists of traditional and independent publishers include a number of fee-chargers. The representative indicated that Publishizer does know this. "It is no secret that some traditional publishers also offer hybrid deals or even accept payment to publish a book - it just isn't publicised. We have had hybrid publishers sign traditional deals with some of our authors."

Leaving aside other issues--including the false (but unfortunately quite common) idea that traditional publishers often engage in secret vanity deals, and the fact that publishers that rely on author fees rarely provide high-quality editing, marketing, or distribution--this obviously doesn't square with how Publishizer defines traditional and independent publishers: both, it says, "do not charge costs". When I pointed this out, the representative asked for more information. I've provided her with a list of the companies that I know offer fee-based contracts.

Finally, I asked why Publishizer believes writers benefit from having their books pitched to hybrid publishers and self-publishing service providers, which not only require payment but don't typically work with middlemen. "While we do our best to educate [authors] on the differences between self-publishing, hybrid and traditional publishing, we do not choose for them," the representative responded. "Not every book can get a traditional deal, but a lot of books have been realized through Publishizer because we present a range of publishing options that are available, and authors can choose what's best for them...as we are very invested in our authors' success, many have satisfying experiences with us."

All of which is no doubt true, but doesn't really address the question of why it's worth handing over 30% of your crowdfunding earnings for pitches that include companies that are likely to take even more of your money, and that you could just as easily approach on your own.

Conclusions

All in all, the information above suggests that if you post a proposal on Publishizer, the majority of offers you'll receive will likely not be the kind of offers you may have been hoping for, especially given how Publishizer presents itself.

So what does Publishizer actually do for authors? Certainly it helps to generate pre-orders, and some authors have been able to raise substantial sums of money. But Publishizer's poorly-vetted group of publishing partners, top-heavy with fee-chargers, is no boon to authors--and even if the questionables were purged and the misleading listings corrected, you don't necessarily need a middleman to promote your book to independent publishers. You especially don't need an intermediary to pitch your work to fee-charging hybrids or self-publishing platforms or other types of "non-traditional publishers".

As a crowdfunding platform, Publishizer may be worth considering, despite its sizeable commission. As a "literary agency," though, it suffers from the same flaw that doomed the manuscript pitch sites of the past: top-flight publishers are scarce, while marginals and predators roam free. The company representative with whom I corresponded assured me that Publishizer is working to expand and improve its pool of traditional publishers. However, authors who are considering Publishizer for more than raising money should carefully consider how what the site currently appears able to deliver--as opposed to what it claims to deliver--dovetails with their own publishing goals.

Postscript

Despite labeling itself a literary agency, both on its website and in search results, and touting coaching during book campaigns by "our agents", Publishizer includes this disclaimer in its FAQ:


So...not an agency then. Got it.

I'm also curious about the claim that "many agents" use Publishizer. I'd be interested to hear from agents or authors who can confirm this.

January 11, 2019

Can We Get a Do-Over? Harper's Bazaar Removes Predatory Rights Language For Its 2019 Short Story Competition


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Yesterday, a number of writers alerted me to this writing competition for UK authors:
Harper’s Bazaar has a proud tradition of publishing the very best in original literary fiction, including stories by Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Ali Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Continuing this legacy, we are happy to launch our annual short-story competition once again, inviting published and non-published writers to follow in the footsteps of these literary greats.
The winner of this 2,500-word short story competition will receive a two-night stay at Brownber Hall, Yorkshire, along with "the chance to see their work published". The theme is "Liberty." Entry is free, and the competition is open until midnight on March 15, 2019.

A publishing credit from Harper's would certainly be something to boast about. But there was a problem. Specifically, the grant of rights, which the entry guidelines described thus (my bolding):
By entering the competition and in consideration for Hearst publishing your entry, you assign to Hearst the entire worldwide copyright in your entry for all uses in all print and non-print media and formats, including but not limited to all rights to use your entry in any and all electronic and digital formats, and in any future medium hereafter developed for the full period of copyright therein, and all renewals and extensions thereof, any rental and lending rights and retransmission rights and all rights of a like nature wherever subsisting.
In other words, merely by entering this competition, Harper's was asking you to surrender your copyright, and all the rights that copyright includes (which meant that you could never sell or publish your story anywhere else), for zero financial compensation. Moreover, there was no language in the competition guidelines to ensure that the grant of rights would be released if you didn't win.

That's a hell of a predatory rights grab for a competition that doesn't even guarantee publication to the winner--only "the chance" of it. What's especially egregious is that there really is no benefit to Harper's of holding copyrights, rather than merely licensing publishing rights. For the winning story, a conventional grant of publication rights would surely do just as well. For non-winning stories, why lock up rights at all?

I wrote this post yesterday. I don't know if Harper's had a sudden epiphany, or if it got wind that writers were pissed off...
...but this morning, when I re-read the competition guidelines just to be 100% sure everything I wrote was accurate (I always double-check in this way before I publish), I discovered that...guess what? The copyright language was gone. Poof. Harper's guidelines for this competition now include no grant of rights--or indeed any language addressing rights at all.

It's great that Harper's retracted its copyright grab (though without acknowledging its mistake). But why include the grab in the first place? I'm continually amazed at publications that run these kinds of competitions with these kinds of predatory terms. In some cases it's greed or legal overreach. In a few cases, the publications don't understand their own guidelines language. But often, I think, it's just carelessness, or maybe heedlessness. Writers only skim guidelines, right? Especially if they're published as one looooooong block of text in italic font with no paragraph breaks. And it's just a 2,500 word story that the magazine may not even publish. So who cares?

It's a reminder, yet again, to read (and be sure you understand) the fine print.

Here's a screenshot of the original guidelines, with the copyright language down at the bottom of the screenshot. The link is to a cached version.


January 4, 2019

The Best of Writer Beware: 2018 in Review



Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Happy New Year! It's time for Writer Beware's annual (well, sort of annual; I missed the last couple of years) look back at the most notable posts of 2018.

New Scams, Old Tricks

Publishing and marketing scams operating out of the Philippines first started appearing in 2014. These scams, which copy the Author Solutions business model (including expensive publishing packages and an emphasis on hugely overpriced junk marketing), in many cases have been founded and are staffed by former Author Solutions call center employees. They take the relentless cold-call solicitation and poor customer service for which AS is notorious to new levels, employing blatant falsehoods to trick authors into their clutches, and often not providing the product for which authors have paid.

This is the most pernicious new scam to come along in some time, and it has been proliferating like mad these past couple of years. I've identified over 30 companies at this point (for a full list, see the sidebar). Fortunately, since they all follow pretty much the same template, they are relatively easy to recognize, with a distinctive complex of characteristics including egregious and sometimes hilarious English-language errors on their websites and in their email pitches.

Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats Twelve publishing and marketing scams to watch out for (some of them run by the same people)--and how to identify new ones

Army of Clones, Part 2: Twenty-One (More) Publishing and Marketing "Services" to Beware Of As the title says, twenty-one more publishing and marketing scams--more than half of them established in 2018

Amelia Publishing and Amelia Book Company: Sons of LitFire Publishing One of the original clones attempts to create new revenue streams by setting up two apparently unconnected companies

Solicitation Alert: Book-Art Press Solutions and Window Press Club Two apparently unrelated clones turn out to be--surprise!--the same outfit

Information You Can Use

Does the Bankruptcy Clause in Your Publishing Contract Really Protect You? What happens when a publisher goes bankrupt? Can you rely on the protection of the bankruptcy clause in your publishing contract? (Short answer: no.)

Alert: Copyright Infringement By the Internet Archive (and What You Can Do About It) In January, SFWA issued an alert about massive copyright infringement by the Internet Archive, which has been carrying out a program of scanning entire books and posting them online for borrowing. Unlike a regular library, which only uses licensed, paid-for copies, these scans have been made without authors' permission.

How the Internet Archive Infringed My Copyrights and Then (Kind Of) Blew Me Off The Internet Archive's less than professional response to my efforts to get my own books removed from its unauthorized scanning program.

Troubled Publishers

Author Complaints Mount at Curiosity Quills Press I published this post in April, but the story is still unfolding, with the most recent reports indicating that emails have started bouncing. I think it's just a matter of time.

Small Press Storm Warnings: Fiery Seas Publishing Fiery Seas' closure was announced to authors via email in December, but there has been no official announcement that I'm aware of, and as of this writing the company's website is still live.

Publisher Enigmas

Would you be excited to hear about a publisher that proposed to pay you a salary for writing books, plus royalties and benefits? That's the premise of De Montfort Literature, the latest of many, many tech-oriented ventures that have sought (usually without success) to revolutionize publishing (yes, there's an algorithm). De Montfort is still auditioning authors (a process that has been curiously slow), so as yet there's no proof of concept. Plus, digging deeper into the background of De Montfort's founder turns up some very odd information.

De Montfort Literature: Career Jumpstart or Literary Sweatshop?

Trademark WTF

Can an author trademark a common word--for instance, "cocky"--and then deny all other authors its use in book or series titles? You wouldn't think so, but that's what author Faleena Hopkins tried to do in 2018--including threatening legal action against authors with existing titles that included the word. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.

Trademark Shenanigans: Weighing in on #Cockygate

Questionable Contests

There are a lot of these, but here are three notable ones that caught my eye in 2018:

Contest Caution: The Short Story Project's My Best Story Competition Rights grabs and other alarming language in the guidelines.

Contest Beware: Fiction War Magazine Not only questionable rights language, but failure to pay prize winnings.

Contest Caution: Waldorf Publishing's Manuscript Contest Lots of reasons to be cautious of this one--including the fact that the publisher is a fee-charger (though it doesn't disclose this fact to potential contestants)

Bonus Weirdness

I'm including this one (about a publishing scammer also convicted of credit card fraud) because it's weird, but also because it's the single post about which I got the most harassment this year. People involved with the scammer have left comments, bombarded me with emails, threatened me with legal action, posted fake reviews on Writer Beware's Facebook page, and trolled me in public forums. Fortunately, after 20 years with Writer Beware, I have a pretty thick skin.

Scam Down Under: Love of Books Brisbane / Julie "Jules" McGregor

December 27, 2018

Army of Clones, Part 2: Twenty-One (More) Publishing and Marketing "Services" to Beware Of


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last January, I wrote a post about a new and rapidly-growing scam: Philippines-based publishing and "marketing" companies that have copied the Author Solutions business model, and are using it to rip off writers. In many cases, these enterprises are run and/or staffed by former AS call center employees.
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.
The clones share a distinctive cluster of characteristics that makes them relatively easy for an alert writer to identify.

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 was discovered by one of their book scouts. Sometimes they'll claim to be literary agents looking to transition you to a traditional publishing contract. Their phone solicitors frequently have foreign accents (most are based in the Philippines). 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, Marketing Professional, Marketing Supervisor.

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--it's pretty clear that clone staff either maintain contacts with Author Solutions workers who feed them information, or, if they themselves formerly worked for AS, took customer information with them when they departed). They claim they can do a better job, or provide greater credibility, or boost sales, or get authors in front of traditional publishers. Not all the clones offer publishing services, but most do.

3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that can't be verified or 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. Not all the clones offer publishing services, but they all offer "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 markup. It's an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of its enormous profitability, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times. The clones' marketing services are 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.

********

In my January 2018 post, I named and shamed the twelve clones I'd discovered up to that point. In this followup post, I name and shame the 21 additional clones I've identified since then. See below for detail on each (sorry, you have to scroll down; Blogger doesn't give me the option of inserting anchors). Also see the sidebar of this blog for the full list.
  • Ascribed LLC (very probably also d.b.a. Outstrip LLC)
  • AuthorCentrix (formerly BookBlastPro)
  • AuthorLair
  • Black Lacquer Press & Marketing
  • Book Agency Plus
  • Book Magnets
  • Book Reads Publishing
  • Book Vine Press (possibly a d.b.a. of Westwood Books Publishing/Authors Press)
  • BookWhip / Carter Press
  • Capstone Media Services
  • Global Summit House
  • Goldman Agency
  • Maple Leaf Publishing
  • Matchstick Literary
  • Outstrip LLC (very probably also d.b.a. as Ascribed LLC)
  • PageTurner Press and Media
  • Paramount Books Media
  • Sherlock Press
  • Stonewall Press (formerly Uirtus Solutions)
  • URLink Print and Media
  • The Writer Central / IdeoPage Press Solutions
To give you a sense of how fast these scams are proliferating: of the 21 companies above, 13 are less than twelve months old. The rest are less than two years old. Though they (mostly) appear separate from one another, I suspect that many are in fact run by the same people; there are a number of similarities that, while not conclusive, are extremely suggestive. For instance, there's considerable data to suggest that Outstrip LLC and Ascribed LLC are in fact the same operation. And both Outstrip and Ascribed share language, services, or both with Sherlock Press and Stonewall Press.

There also appears to be a relationship between the clones and a pay-to-play book review service that operates under two names: Hollywood Book Reviews and Pacific Book Review. A large number of clones include reviews from this service in their marketing packages (as, in fact, does Author Solutions). Some apparently do such volume business that they have their own payment pages.

The clones do compete with one another. Here's Book Reads Publishing trying to do down The Writer Central (at this poor author's expense):


And here's what AuthorLair sent to a writer who mentioned being solicited by another clone, Westwood Books Publishing (nice to know my watchdog activities are benefiting the scammers):


********


There are no publishing services at Ascribed LLC (though it's early days: Ascribed only registered its domain in August 2018)--just a full suite of junk marketing services right out of the Author Solutions playbook. English-language lapses are evident throughout the website ("We are a group of people whose passion for books influenced us to be staunch of literature and literacy"). Ascribed also appears to be unequal to the challenge of correctly matching author names and book titles with cover photos.

Although I'm listing them separately here, I believe there's a strong probability that Ascribed LLC and Outstrip LLC (see below) are the same operation. The similarities:


A number of other clones use more than one name (with no hint or acknowledgment of the connection): LitFire Publishing d.b.a. Amelia Book Company and Amelia Publishing; Westwood Books Publishing d.b.a. Authors Press; Book Art Press d.b.a. Window Press Club; Okir Publishing d.b.a. ADbook Press and Coffee Press.

********



AuthorCentrix used to call itself BookBlastPRO. Both businesses were incorporated in California in February 2017 by Daniel Fernandez. Further (inadvertent) evidence of the connection is here. Note the fake founding date:


I've gotten a number of reports of solicitation by AuthorCentrix, and more can be found online. AuthorCentrix has also started to accumulate complaints--as, previously, did BookBlastPRO (shedding some light on the name change, and possibly hinting at another in the future).

AuthorCentrix's menu of Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services conveniently omits pricing, but per documentation sent to me by a solicited author, the "exclusive" book fair marketing package--a complete and total waste of money--costs $1,899. There's even a brand new AuthorCentrix Magazine, full of ads and features for which authors no doubt had to pay a fortune (AuthorCentrix isn't the only clone that promotes these undistributed pay-to-play magazines: Outstrip and Stonewall Press have GoldCrest Magazine--see below--and Legaia Books, which I discussed in a previous post, has Paperclips Magazine).

********

AuthorLair was born in February 2018. Its English is shaky but better than some other clones'; on a quick read, it might pass muster. Staffed by the usual anonymous "team of industry experts," AuthorLair currently offers only marketing services (including ever-popular book fair exhibition packages), but it's early days.

I've gotten reports of solicitation. In one case, an AuthorLair "Senior Book Publicist" attempted to steer a writer away from fellow clone Westwood Books Publishing...by citing one of my blog posts:


Among the array of logos on AuthorLair's website footer is one for Pacific Book Review, a pay-to-play review service that, along with its "parent" company Hollywood Book Reviews, is often used by the clones.

AuthorLair claims a Florida location, but has no Florida business registration.

********


Black Lacquer Press & Marketing incorporated in mid-2017 (via Anderson Registered Agents, a company frequently used by the clones), but its domain wasn't registered until just last February.

Black Lacquer ticks all the boxes: solicitation, Author Solutions-style junk marketing (with no listed prices--as with many scams of this kind, they want to get authors on the phone, where it's easier to get the hooks in), shaky English, and unverifiable claims about staff:


You can sample its truly awful--and probably horrifyingly expensive--book trailer videos (if you dare) here.

********


Book Agency Plus ("Empowering Authors is our source of Empowerment") doesn't provide publishing services--just "marketing platforms." It has a rudimentary and mostly nonfunctional website, but its social media is active and I got a report of solicitation in mid-September (an offer of a "podcast interview" for $600)--so unlike some of the clones, which pop into existence and vanish in a matter of months, it does seem to be operating, at least for now (its domain was registered in September 2017).

On display is the typical nonsensical English ("We go by our ultimate vision to give authors the so-called, 'collaboration'"), as well as the usual windy and unverifiable claims of expertise. Most of the website links for the "featured authors" don't work, and for those that do, all are published either by one of the other clones or an Author Solutions imprint.

Book Agency Plus (along with fellow clone Okir Publishing) caught the eye of ALLi watchdog John Doppler earlier this year.

********


BookMagnets Publishing and Marketing (not to be confused with Readers Magnet, a different clone that I discussed in a previous post) claims that it was "founded by two [conveniently un-named] literary publicists in 2010"--which is a neat trick, since its domain was only created in July 2018. It has a business registration in Wyoming, where it claims to be located.

Despite its name, BookMagnets doesn't appear to currently offer publishing services, just a familiar menu of Author Solutions-style junk marketing. As often with the clones, there's no pricing (but see below: it ain't cheap). BookMagnets' website is relatively free of the English-language errors that afflict so many of the clones--but not so its correspondence. Here's the solicitation one author received:


BookMagnets provided the same author with a link to one of its marketing campaigns. Apart from the fact that there's no way the campaign is worth nearly $1,400, the book being promoted was published by PublishAmerica, which went out of business last fall without bothering to return rights. PublishAmerica books are still for sale on Kindle--but if anyone buys them, the author will never get any of the royalties due, because there's nowhere to send the sales income. The author who paid for this campaign got zero return from from his large financial investment, even in the unlikely event that the campaign produced results.

********

Like many of the clones, Books Reads Publishing was established just in the past year: its domain was registered in June 2018. In addition to a full complement of clone characteristics, it is also the promulgator of a particularly deceptive marketing pitch that involves posing as Penguin Random House.


The price for this "cinematic book trailer?" Just a few thousand dollars (note the pretense that the author's share is only half the cost):
I've gotten several complaints about unauthorized credit card charges by some of the clones, so the assurance about "no Automatic Charges" rings a bit hollow.

Like all the clones, Book Reads Publishing has Philippine connections--for instance, its web designer.

********


Like Book Reads Publishing, Book Vine Press registered its domain in June 2018. Supposedly based in Chicago, and registered as a domestic corporation in Illinois, it checks all the familiar boxes: re-publishing offers, unverifiable experience claims, junk marketing (note the presence of the clones' favorite pay-to-play review services, Pacific Book Review and Hollywood Book Reviews).

Here's one of its solicitations, complete with fractured English. I've heard from several authors who received this identical email--just their name and book title switched out:


Like many clones, Book Vine Press doesn't include any prices on its website, but here's the offer associated with the solicitation above:


Note the claim of "our own physical bookstore in Chicago." There's no evidence any such store exists.

Two testimonials on Book Vine's website extol the wonderfulness of the authors' publishing experiences. However, both authors are published not by Book Vine, but by fellow clone Greenberry Publishing, which last year changed its name to Westwood Books Publishing and also does business as Authors Press. Also, Book Vine's book fair promotion offers are identical to those from Authors Press. I think there's a pretty strong possibility that Book Vine is running under the same roof.

********


Like many clones, Bookwhip is of recent origin: its domain was registered in November 2017--though you'd never know that (or anything else) based on its detail-free About Us page.

Here's the solicitation pitch BookWhip sends in email, shared with me by an author who received it (re-publishing! Plus a book agent! For just $1,250 per book!). BookWhip's basic publishing package is low-priced for a clone, but that's only because its real aim is to ensnare authors so they can be persuaded to buy costly marketing services, including book fair promos and "indie movie production" (it's no accident that these services are non-refundable).

Despite its youth, BookWhip has already gathered some complaints, including about an unauthorized credit card charge (not the only complaint of this type I've seen regarding the clones).

Unusually, BookWhip voluntarily reveals its connection with fellow clone Carter Press, which provides very similar services. From a recently-received solicitation, in which the clones' typical shaky English is on full display:

Bookwhip has a California business registration. Interestingly, its street address on that registration is an exact match for the address of something called Creativity Books California LLC. Creativity Books does business as Authors Press, a clone that is a d.b.a. of yet another clone, Westwood Books Publishing (are you confused yet?):


There actually is a Creative Books store at the Buchanan Road address, and a 30-day display there is part of some of the book fair "marketing" packages offered by Authors Press. As you can see from these photos, it's mostly a school and parties supply store in a strip mall, but there is a rack of books.

Is BookWhip run by the same people who are running Westwood Books Publishing and Authors Press? Wouldn't surprise me. Regardless, it's the same kind of scam.

********

Some of the clones have their faulty English under decent control, and exhibit only occasional lapses. Not so Capstone Media Services. Its self-description sounds like it was written by Gollum: "We are an Illustrations and Marketing Service Provider that designs custom illustrations and logos that transform your imaginations into life. We also specializes in helping exceptional authors publish their literary creations."

About the (whoppingly expensive) Book Translations service, Capstone has this to say: "Your book will be translated in different languages...This will make your book as one of the 'purple cow' as we call it. Stands out among others." Well, who wouldn't want that? Then there's the Audiobook service: "Here in Capstone Media, we offer you one price for the three voice talents – Australian, British and American Voice Talents. This refers to accents." Thanks for clarifying that.

Author and anti-scam activist David Gaughran reports a recent rash of solicitations by Capstone:
Capstone, which registered its domain in August 2018, claims a prestigious address: 14 Wall Street, Manhattan. It has no business registration in New York State, however, and per this exhibitor list from the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair, it is actually located in...surprise! the Philippines.


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Global Summit House boasts a typical array of clone identifiers, including plenty of fractured English, and unpriced and largely undescribed publishing and marketing services (for a glimpse at the kind of quality authors can expect, check out its absurdly awful book trailer videos).

And that's not all! Global Summit House wants to be your literary agent! I've seen several email solicitations with "representation offers", which include a literary agent contract that's just official-looking enough to possibly fool someone who doesn't have much experience (though not someone who knows that reputable literary agents don't charge upfront fees). There's also a "marketing and advertising proposal" that "includes a Literary Agent" and claims a "partnership" with Publishers Weekly. A slightly different proposal touts an "Undervalued Self-Published Books Campaign" (which tells you all you need to know about Global Summit House's target demographic):


Global Summit House registered its domain in May 2018, but has no business registration in New York State, where it claims it's located. Unlike some of the clones, it hasn't fully anonymized its Philippine origins:


Global Summit House maintains two other websites, GlobalSummitHouse.org and The Maze Readers, along with a Goodreads account and a Twitter account, Dusk Till Dawn Reading. All feature the same books, and post the same reviews under different names (here's a review by "Elaine Robyn" on The Maze Readers; here's the identical review from "Anna Reid" on Goodreads). This is a classic closed-loop promotional scam, where all the "promotion" happens on websites and accounts owned by the promoter.

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Goldman Agency is one of the older clones: its domain was registered in February 2017. It claims a New York city location, but does not appear to have a New York State business registration.

From its name, you might think it wants to be your literary agent, just like Global Summit House--an impression also produced by its Google listing:


Really, though, it's just a regular old marketing scam, staffed by the usual anonymous "dedicated professionals" and displaying the usual imperfect command of English (actually considerably cleaned up from earlier versions of the website). Its "blog posts" are PLR (Private Label Rights) articles (for instance, here's Goldman's post on book publicity, and here it is in the PLR database; even the typo in the title has been reproduced). Of its "portfolio" of books, not one appears to actually exist.

This complaint provides a good snapshot of Goldman's M.O.--and its prices.


Note: The Goldman Agency I'm talking about here is not to be confused with The David Goldman Agency, which represents illustrators.

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The supposedly Canadian Maple Leaf Publishing is the only clone I've found that doesn't claim a US location. It's also one of the babies of the bunch, with a domain registered in September 2018.

Maple Leaf offers a familiar roster of Author Solutions-style publishing and junk marketing services, with the emphasis on the marketing. Also familiar: its specifics-free About Us page, which, like the entire website, has a definite ESL vibe. The folks at Maple Leaf did call in quality control, though, because here's how that page read when I researched Maple Leaf a few weeks ago:

Live long and prosperous!

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"Come and spark with us!" invites MatchStick Literary's bizarre (and illiterate) Facebook intro page.

For authors who accept this dubious invitation, an array of clone-standard, Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services await (you can judge the quality of MatchStick's video trailers, if you dare, here). As with many of the clones, there are no prices (it's easier to hook your victims if you can get them on the phone). Other telltale signs of clonage include no verifiable information about history or staff, and seriously fractured English ("Setting up an absolute campaign that bank majorly on a specific factor might deem crucial.").

Here's what MatchStick claims as its "Track Records" (also note the false claim of 3 years in business). Most of the books exist, but just about everything else is a lie (and I checked every single claim).

Like so many clones, Matchstick is of recent origin: its domain was registered in September 2018. It uses a New Jersey address, but as of this writing, has no business registration in that state.
It also seems to be suffering from some name confusion, at least based on this job listing recently posted to its Facebook page:


Job location? Mandaue City, Philippines.

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Outstrip LLC is just under a year old, with a domain name registered in January 2018. It offers offers a full menu of Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services, complete with more-than-usually stupid names (my fave is the "Sempiternal", aptly titled for the sempiternal hole it will put in your bank account). And holy crap, are they expensive. The Eclipse marketing package, which consists basically of garbage, will set you back over $17,000.

Bad English is on prominent display on Outstrip's website--check out, for instance, this illiterate blog post--and in its Twitter feed. On Medium, a profile called Felicia Stone is the purported author of a series of equally badly-written articles, in which all the links point to Outstrip.

Although I'm listing them separately here, I believe there's a strong probability that Outstrip and Ascribed LLC (see above) are the same operation. The similarities:


Outstrip also appears to be connected to at least two other clones: Sherlock Press and Stonewall Press (see below). Entire paragraphs of Outstrip's Terms of Service, as well as its refunds policy, are reproduced in Sherlock Press's Terms of Service and refunds policy. And both Outstrip and Stonewall Press sell ad space in Goldcrest Magazine, which has no independent existence apart from these two companies.

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I've gotten a number of reports from authors who have been solicited out of the blue by PageTurner Press and Media. Like many clones, PageTurner actively attempts to poach authors from their current publishers or self-pub platforms, claiming that its "agents" or "scouts" have discovered the author's book and that it can offer a better deal than the author's current situation. Here's PageTurner's re-publication pitch, included with the email solicitation it sent to one AuthorHouse-published author. Fortunately, the author smelled a rat and contacted me. Note the characteristically poor English:


Price tag for this PUBLISHING GRANT? Just $10,000.

In addition to publishing packages, PageTurner's array of "Powerhouse Services" (a.k.a junk marketing) reads like it was ripped from the website of an Author Solutions imprint (which of course is no accident). Its About Us page exhibits the usual windy and unverifiable claims of experience ("PageTurner, Press and Media is a rebranding of an institution that used to operate in the shadows of other publishing firms as a trusted provider of vendible [sic] titles"), including a claim to have "officially opened its doors" in the summer of 2016, a whole year before it registered its web domain. There's even a bogus award.

That domain registration was updated in 2018 to match PageTurner's supposed California address, but here's the original registration, from August 2017 and rather farther away:


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In its logo, Twitter feed, and various videos, including a cutesy whiteboard video and a seriously cheesy pretend newscast, Paramount Books Media sells writers' most fevered dream: making their books into movies (Paramount. Get it?)

Book-to-screen is also a scammer's dream, because such packages--one of Author Solutions' signature junk marketing offerings--can be provided cheaply and sold at an enormous markup. In Paramount's case, though, its book to screen pitch seems mostly designed to get authors to spring for really bad book trailers.

Paramount doesn't appear to offer publishing packages, just marketing services. As usual, there is zero verifiable information about the company or its staff. Two complaints on Ripoff Report, one alleging unauthorized credit card charges, the other claiming an unfulfilled sales guarantee, suggest how the company operates.

Paramount doesn't provide a street address, but it is registered in California as an LLC. Its domain was registered in August 2017.

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Like so many of its brethren, Sherlock Press is of recent origin: its domain was registered in June 2018. It claims a Baltimore, Maryland location, and is registered in Maryland as an LLC.

Sherlock Press offers the familiar array of clone characteristics: unverifiable claims about itself, English-language lapses ("Sherlock Press is made of people"), and Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing packages (including the ever-popular Book to Screen).

There are also what look like connections to other clones. There are substantial similarities in the wording of Sherlock's Terms of Service and Payment and Refund Policy to similar documents on the websites of Outstrip and Ascribed LLC (both of which I've covered above). They even talk to each other on Twitter:


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Stonewall Press originally called itself Uirtus Solutions (Uirtus's website is dead, but here's its corpse, courtesy of the Wayback Machine). The connection is confirmed by this complaint at the Better Business Bureau, and also by identical origin stories (Uirtus supposedly "started out in 2007 as a Movie & Gaming Animation Company", while Stonewall was "established in 2007" with a "specialty...in animated media – movie, gaming, and marketing animation").

In fact, Uirtus Solutions didn't file articles of organization until September 2017, in South Carolina. It terminated itself on November 13, just two months later--and just a few days after Stonewall Press filed a trade name application in Maryland. Based on the different personal names involved (Richzer Villamor for Uirtus and Ivan Bacayo Verallo for Stonewall), it may be that the business did change hands--but clearly Stonewall is a continuation of Uirtus.

I've received several reports from authors who received email solicitations for re-publishing or marketing by Stonewall Press, and more complaints about solicitation can be found at PissedConsumer, many of them describing out-of-the-blue phone calls by heavily-accented telemarketers. Stonewall's Twitter account was recently suspended.

Stonewall's website includes the usual uncertain English, along with the clones' typical publishing, marketing, editorial, and add-on services. If you shell out for Stonewall's book fair packages, for instance, here's what you get:


You also get an ad in GoldCrest Magazine, which has no independent existence apart from Stonewall and another clone, Outstrip, which also sells GoldCrest ads as part of some of its packages.

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URLink Print and Media purports to be located in Wyoming, and it is indeed registered there, with a filing dated March 7, 2018. Its domain was created just a month prior, in February 2018. These two dates would seem to belie the (unverifiable, as usual) self-description on its website, which claims that URLink has been in business for "years".

I've heard from a number of writers who have been solicited by URLink. Here's a typical approach--the pretense of a recommendation from "book scouts" is a common clone ploy:


And here's Megan. Guess where she's located?


URLink's website offers the typical range of Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services, couched in the typical fractured English ("Authoring a book could be a facile activity to the most passionate writers"). There's even a gallery section, where you can view the (ahem) high-quality product you can expect to get for your money.

URLink's Agreement forms are a testament to its Author Solutions roots, as well as to the way the clones cross-pollinate: they swipe a lot of language from similar documents from WestBow Press, BookWhirl, and fellow clone BookVenture.

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On its About Us page, The Writer Central claims that it "started out as a ghostwriter service provider that helps aspiring writers and authors bring their stories and ideas into published materials since 2008." How odd, then, that its web domain was created only in February 2018, and that it has no business registration in New York State, where it claims to be located. (One also might hope for better English from an English-language ghostwriting service--just saying.)

Like some other clones, The Writer Central does business under more than one name. Its alter-ego, Ideopage Press Solutions, makes similar vague "about us" claims in similarly bad English, purporting to have "started out as a service provider that helps aspiring writers and authors bring their stories into actual vivid manuscripts ready for publication". (How do I know that TWC and IPS are the same outfit? IPS's phone number defaults to TWC's voicemail. I've confirmed this myself, and it's also confirmed in comments below). Like TWC, IPS claims 10 years in the business--despite the fact that its web domain was only registered in April 2018--and has no business registration in its supposed home state of New York.

I've heard from several writers who were solicited by The Writer Central or Ideopage Press Solutions with "representation" offers. Similar reports can be found online. Like several of the other clones, TWC claims that it can help authors transition to traditional publishing by re-publishing and "circulating" their books.


This wonderful offer includes production of "500 copies of your book for circulation in more than 25,000 bookstores worldwide" and pitches to traditional publishers:


Who could resist? But there's a catch:

The pretense of a co-investment is a classic vanity publisher ploy.

For authors looking for some idea of what their re-published book might look like, there are cover images on TWC's home page, along with touching testimonials from the authors. Just one problem: not one of these books--or authors--actually exists (I checked).

TWC's Services page (which is not currently linked into its website menu) touts a range of familiar publishing and marketing packages. There are no details or prices; the only option is to click a button to "reserve your spot now". This delivers you to a scheduling page, which includes this revealing information:


Oops.
 
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