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

January 29, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Jones Harvest Publishing Goes Hollywood!

Jones Harvest Publishing, a vanity publisher/"marketing" service founded by Brien Jones, former VP of disgraced vanity publisher/"marketing" service Airleaf, wants to get you into the movie biz!

Jones Harvest authors recently received this pitch:

We'll take Your Book to Hollywood!

We have already made three trips to Hollywood and we are going back again in June! Before we make the trip, we want to know which books to propose. In the past 18 months there has been a dramatic upsurge in the number of feature films based on books. Today most of the films in theatres were originally a novel or have been based on a novel. Documentaries have always been based on non-fiction books. Now we have an affordable, 3-step plan to break through with your book and we need to start NOW.

1.. We will write a treatment about your book and contact 500 executives in the entertainment industry.

2.. We will provide you with feedback from these producers and directors in advance of our trip.

3.. We will pay your admission or pitch your book at The Great American Pitchfest, June 27 & 28, 2009 at the Los Angeles Convention Center!

We need to start today to find the leads and have your book reviewed. That gives you time to transform your book into a screenplay and be ready for our trip to Hollywood in June. We will do all three steps for just $550.

Now, Brien Jones has been emphatic in attempting to distance himself from Airleaf, and in denying his involvement in the dastardly doings that finally brought that company down. In private correspondence with me, he objected to my characterization of Jones Harvest as an Airleaf clone, and claimed to be "just an employee [of Airleaf]--specifically an employee that was not even allowed to look at the mail."

Well, I think he at least looked at the outgoing mail, because his Hollywood offer bears an eerie similarity to the Hollywood pitches Airleaf used to spam. Here's a sample, from my files:

For two years we have been working hard to get our author's books made into movies. We have made many trips to Hollywood, so many in fact that we opened an LA office with our partner Cinemagic!

What started it all was our Filmmakers service. We are offering that service today, but now we have 1000 brand new producer/ director contacts!

What we do first is design a special promotion for Producers and Directors (called a treatment) about your book. While we write the treatment, you can make any changes you want (no charge.)

Once you approve it, we send it to 2000 Filmmakers.

We follow up responses whatever way is necessary including visiting in person. I personally have been to Hollywood six times in the last 9 months.

As always, you will reserve all the rights to your book.

The regular price for this unique service is $350


So okay, Airleaf was cheaper. And promised to send the treatment to more filmmakers. And Jones Harvest throws in The Great American Pitchfest (note the strategically placed "or" in item #3). But otherwise, the similarity is pretty striking.

We know how the Airleaf pitches turned out--many authors paid, and Airleaf did nothing. Even if Jones Harvest is really contacting those 500 executives (and I've seen nothing to date to make me think it isn't), the odds of getting any kind of interest as a result are probably about the same as for an email spam campaign via ScriptBlaster or Media E-blast--i.e., exceedingly slim. Basically, it's another chance for writers to shell out cash with little hope of return, and for Jones Harvest to make a profit.

January 26, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Shades of Edit Ink: AuthorHouse and Objective Entertainment

Edited to Add: Objective seems to have discontinued these referrals. Since the fall of 2009, Writer Beware has received no further reports.

Over the past couple of days, I've heard from several writers who queried agents at Objective Entertainment, a relatively new literary agency with a strong track record and experienced staff, and received the following response:

Dear [name redacted],

Thank you so much for contacting us at Objective Entertainment. We have reviewed your material and we would like to refer you to one of our Publishers who we trust and believe will be able to serve you best. In order to do this I need your permission and the following information so they can either contact you via Phone or Email. The following information we need is if you would like to receive their newsletter and special offers. I think this is an amazing opportunity for you.

Please reply with the information we asked so that we can get you that one step closer to getting your work published!


Tracey Ravenelle
Objective Entertainment

When the writers, eager to know the name of the publisher, requested more information, they received this response from Ms. Ravenelle:

We work with Iuniverse and AuthorHouse. Iuniverse has the number 5 book this week on the NY Times Best Seller List!

The writers then asked why Objective was recommending a self-publishing service. As of this writing, only one has received a response, which I am reproducing exactly as it was sent to me:

Because we believe they would be the most beneficial for you at this point in time. Then you would come back to us after the sales starting racking up and we go major! This is the best way for an author to get their work out their. One of their books is number 5 on this weeks upcoming NY Times Best Seller list. So we believe they can help our potential future clients immensely.

There's much here that's puzzling. The most pressing question, of course, is the one the writers themselves asked--why Objective would refer rejected clients to a self-publishing service. AuthorHouse does offer a Referral Program that pays $100 to anyone who makes a successful referral, and I have heard from literary agents who've been solicited by AuthorHouse to participate in this program. Even with the probably huge volume of queries Objective rejects every week, however, it's hard to imagine that $100 apiece for the small number of writers who might actually sign up with AuthorHouse would be an incentive for a successful literary agency (unless AuthorHouse has offered a special, more remunerative arrangement). Still--shades of Edit Ink, the crooked editing firm that paid kickbacks to literary agencies that sent rejected clients its way! Most of the agencies that hooked up with Edit Ink were fraudulent or amateur, but a few legitimate agents did participate in the scheme.

But Objective isn't just suggesting that rejected clients check out a self-publishing service--it's encouraging them to do so in a wholly misleading manner. Not only is AuthorHouse described as a "publisher" they "trust," it's described as "our Publisher" and an "amazing opportunity for you." Not only are writers encouraged to believe that self-publishing is "the best get their work out their [sic]" (for most authors, it's not--see the Sales Statistics section of Writer Beware's POD Self-Publishing Services page), the carrot of representation is extended to sweeten the deal. As a "potential future client," this is an opportunity that can help the writer "immensely." Once "the sales starting [sic] racking up," writers can come back to the agency "and we go major!"

Edit Ink agencies held out the same carrot, encouraging writers to return with their edited manuscripts. If they did, the agencies claimed that their focus had changed, or that their lists were full, or made some other excuse to blow the writers off a second time.

Also deceptive: the book claimed to be on the New York Times bestseller list is Lisa Genova's Still Alice, which is currently number 7, but debuted last week at number 5. However, although Genova originally self-pubbed through iUniverse (which is owned by AuthorHouse), her book was picked up last summer by Simon & Schuster. That's the book on the bestseller list, not the iUniverse version.

Last but not least, I find it puzzling that Objective would employ an individual who appears to have significant problems with grammar, spelling, and punctuation--or at the very least, with proofreading. Look especially at Ms. Ravenelle's third message. I see this kind of error-ridden writing all the time from people at disreputable literary agencies--where a command of the English language, along with actual agenting skills, is not a job requirement--but it doesn't seem like the kind of writing one would expect from a staff member at an established literary agency.

It's all so strange that some observers of the situation have suggested that someone has hacked into Objective's computer system, and is sending out fake messages in response to queries. As conspiracy-theory as that sounds, it doesn't seem all that much more farfetched than the notion of a borderline-illiterate staffer at a successful agency trying to convince rejected writers that AuthorHouse is their ticket to fame and fortune.

So what's going on here? Has anyone else received an AuthorHouse referral from Ms. Ravenelle? Let me know.

January 16, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- SFWA Service Award

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which sponsors Writer Beware, has chosen me to receive this year's SFWA Service Award for my work with Writer Beware.

Here's the official press release.

This is very, very cool, and I'm truly honored. By rights, half of the award belongs to Ann--not only is she Writer Beware's co-founder, she ranks me on the Writing Scams Committee. But she and her husband, former SFWA President Michael Capobianco, received a joint SFWA Service Award a few years ago for their many years of service as officers and volunteers, and I guess this is the kind of award you can't get twice.

I'm grateful to SFWA for standing behind Writer Beware for the past ten years. Ann and I do the work, but without SFWA's steadfast and ongoing support, we could not exist. And I'm deeply grateful to all of you--the many writers who read this blog, who visit the Writer Beware website, and who contact us to share their stories. Without you, we couldn't exist either.

Here's to ten more years--at least--of exposing schemes and busting scams.

January 12, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Michele Glance Rooney Strikes Again

Many of you may have noticed that an angry and not very grammatical person calling herself "Firsttimeauthoress" is attempting to hijack the comments thread of my last post. What you may not have noticed is that Ms. Authoress has invaded earlier posts as well (I have this blog set to send all comments to my email address, since people often comment on older posts and I want to make sure I see them all). Here are some samples of Ms. Authoress's distinctive prose stylings, which I'm reproducing, mistakes and all, partly because I think they're amusing, and partly because she may try to delete them:

On Author Solutions Acquires Xlibris:

You people just love lording it around. You take delight in making publishing seem impossible to rub it in that you got published while most people don't. to you, everyone is a scammer, a crook, a thief. You say writer's digest is a joke but then admit that you've contributed. You ruin the reputations of good, hardworking people just out of sheer sadistic delight. 99% of what your right has no legal foundation at all. Your blogs arer sprinkled with 'may have to pay' 'might be liable to pay damages.' etc but nothing ever comes of it all. My blog shows that we don't all need to follow your corrupt paths. there are peopleout there willing to help.

On Light Sword Publishing Petitions for Bankruptcy:

Yawn! Another story about 'corrupt' publishers. Grrr! It makes me mad. You're so much about naming names. Can you give me the name of ONE, just one, agent or publisher that will actually look at a person's book without rejecting it? You guys are the catholic church of publishing. Only our way is right and anyone else is a scammer, a crook... In our current economic climate, everyone from banks to car companies are going under, but when it's a 'vanity' publisher it just has to be a premeditated scam. Have you ever heard of capitalism? Some companies actually do go under in hard times of recession. Anyway, in the true spirit of Writer Beware democracy, my comments will be deleted and I'll be banned from posting again. The true spirit of this site. The brown noses are all on first name terms, any dissenters are mad, scammers, crooks and banned! For the truth, see firsttimeauthoress.blogspot proof that you can make it the 'unconventional' way.

On Jones Harvest Publishing Redux:

Another non-issue. Everyone from my local supermarket to the Chinese restaurant to the car wash to Amazon send out e-mails and fliyers to advertise their products and services. Does this make them crooks? Ah, but if it's someone in publishing that the bloggers here don't like, it becomes a sinister criminal activity. My heart's with you Brien Jones, another reputation built up out of lifelong hard work is ruined by these heartless women who just love to destroy people. My agent has suffered similar attacks from the likes of them, but soldiers on. My hefty check is proof of it.

And most recently, on How Not to Epublish:

All thge flunkeys that bow to these women are dorks. All sucking up thinking that one day she will get their books published for them. She'll never help yo. Her goal inlife i sto lord it over you that she got publshed but that YOU didn't. Thats why she runs this blog: to make people feel bad about failing. She loves to plug her (mediocre) books and rub them in your face! I'm going to write to Bill Maher to get him to do a piece on you people, so that you can be exposed for what you really are! He exposes ultra capitalists like a bodily function. You destroy the reputations of honest hard working Americqans and think you can get away with it. Then we'll see who thinks they're so smart! You'll be on real time in february to account for why you contribute (for HUGE bucks) to the sites that you claimare frauds like yourself. Let's see you explain that one away....

Plus other comments in that vein. As you'll notice, Ms. Authoress has some grammar and spelling problems, something she explains by claiming that she's so choked with emotion over her hefty advance check that she can't write straight.

Who, oh who, can Ms. Authoress be, and why does she have such a major hair up her ass?

Well, let's pay a little visity-poo to her Blogger profile. There, we learn that she has two blogs: Firsttimeauthoress and Seriousscifiwriter. Both blogs (which curiously, despite Ms. Authoress's impressive facility with the English language, are on the Portuguese version of Blogger), have just one entry. Each of these solo entries extols the virtues of a wonderful, wonderful literary agent, who has just sold these first-time authors' debut novels...the very same agent, in fact.

"Michele Glance Rooney, thank you. [sic] thank you God for making her come alive," Firsttimeauthoress rhapsodizes. "After years in the wilderness, I finally received by registered mail this morning the hefty check for my first sale." Says Seriousscifiwriter, who is, well, more serious: "I started writing science fiction for fun, but as time went by, I felt something stir inside me. This what what I wantd [sic] to do, what I had to do to answer some terrible calling from deep down inside. And as the plot unravelled [sic], I felt a sense of achievement. My hero, Dagmar, trapped in a time loop. It was hard to extricate him from that before he journeyed back to the dawn of time, but I managed it. It's such a lonely task, writing and wondering if you can make the cut, if someone will want to read it. But if you have someone like Michele Glance Rooney by your side, things can work out just fine."

Hmmm. Michele Glance Rooney. Regular readers of this blog may hear a bell ringing. They may be thinking, "Hey, isn't Michele Glance Rooney a fee-charger who has been covered a number of times in the Writer Beware blog? Isn't Michele Glance Rooney the agent who tries to find clients via out-of-the-blue email solicitations? Wasn't Michele Glance Rooney the one who attempted to promote her services through a fake news blog and fake author blogs? Didn't Michele Glance Rooney start a new literary agency under an alias a couple of years back? Isn't Michele Glance Rooney included on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List?"

Well, yeah. If that's what you're thinking, you're absolutely correct. And if you're also thinking that "Firsttimeauthoress" and "Seriousscifiwriter" are Michele Glance Rooney's latest foray into fake blog identities, I'd say you were correct there too. (Ms. Authoress, natch, vehemently disagrees).

Michele Glance Rooney, you need to cover your tracks better. And for God's sake, get poor Dagmar out of that time loop!

(The long list of blogs Michele maintains, both fake and in her own name, can be seen at her two separate Blogger profiles. She is also touting her PR services as Great Lakes Sales and Public Relations.)

Victoria Strauss -- How Not to Epublish

The Austin American Stateman has an interesting story today by Omar L. Gallaga, entitled Publishing Changes in the Digital Era--interesting to me, that is, though possibly not for the reasons Mr. Gallaga intended.

"Here's a pleasant surprise," the story begins. "One of the areas where I'm seeing some of the most interesting new-media marketing is in the oldest of old media: book publishing." The story goes on to describe the publishing and promotion efforts of Tam Thompson, a writer who has just self-epublished a fitness guide for women, Busy Sexy Body. She's doing a signing at a local library, printing out color copies of the ebook's cover which she will sign for buyers (purchases can be made online right at the library). Says the article,

Thompson deals with lots of writers and says many of them are hopelessly mired in the past, waiting for a publisher's paycheck to land on their door. She thinks they should instead aggressively promote themselves using whatever technology is available.

"They are stubborn as mules. They will not come out of the 18th century," she said. "A good book with great marketing will outsell a great book with good marketing all day long. Any writer who doesn't do this in the next year or two is just going to be dead in the water."

What's surprising about this? Not much. Until you read that Thompson's 60-page ebook is priced at $29.95, and she has spent $7,000 on promoting it. No, those are not typos.

To my electronic-savvy readers, I don't need to point out that $29.95 is an insane price for an ebook (not just for an ebook, actually--many hardcover books don't cost that much). Most ebook readers feel that an ebook shouldn't cost a lot more than a mass market paperback, and the high ebook prices that so many commercial publishers insist on charging for the e-versions of their print books are a frequent source of reader gripes. Even the 3 FREE Special Bonuses you get if you order Thompson's book "right now today" don't do much to sweeten the deal.

Much of Thompson's promotional spending, according to the article, went to "an Internet consultant and Web team who helped [Thompson] set up a blog and a payment system for selling Busy Sexy Body online." (Uh...Paypal.) But $7,000? Ebooks are a niche market--only around 1% of the total book market, according to the COO of Ingram Digital. In other words, at the moment, most people don't read them. Does it make any sense to spend that kind of cash on promotion, especially if you've priced your ebook into the stratosphere?

Maybe not. In its first week of online availability, Busy Sexy Body sold one copy. New-media marketing, indeed.

January 8, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Author Solutions Acquires Xlibris

The Author Solutions juggernaut continues to balloon. The company, owner of POD self-publishing service AuthorHouse, acquired rival POD service iUniverse in 2007. Now the New York Times reports that it has acquired another competitor, Xlibris.

According to the NYT, "Terms of the deal were not disclosed."

When iUniverse--then one of the most cost-effective and reliable of the POD self-publishing services--was gobbled up by Author Solutions, I worried that service would deteriorate. Writer Beware receives a steady trickle of complaints about AuthorHouse--the only large POD service of which that was true prior to the iUniverse acquisition. Googling AuthorHouse brings up a multitude of unhappy stories (although it must be acknowledged that at least some of the unhappiness results from unrealistic expectations on the authors' part). I also have some semi-personal experience--my uncle, who chose AuthorHouse to publish the collections of short stories he wrote after he retired, had endless problems with mistakes, lost material, and ignorant and unhelpful customer service reps. His books did finally get published, but each one was a struggle.

It appears that my concerns were not unfounded. Comments on my post about the merger, and on Ann's post about iUniverse's Premier Plus program, as well as complaints we've received, suggest that at least some iUniverse authors are now experiencing the same kinds of problems that have plagued AuthorHouse. In fact, we're now getting more complaints about iUniverse than about AuthorHouse.

It doesn't seem like a stretch to presume that Xlibris--pre-acquisition, among the largest of the POD self-pub services, and one about which there currently seems to be minimal customer dissatisfaction--will go the same way.

This new merger is not good news for authors in another sense: it reduces the field of choice. As choices decrease, so does the pressure to compete, and decreased competition does not benefit consumers. While Writer Beware doesn't generally recommend the use of POD self-publishing services, except in certain specific circumstances (see our Print on Demand Self-Publishing Services page for a discussion), we feel that writers who do choose to self-publish are best-served by having the widest possible range of options, in a robustly competitive environment.

January 6, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- Light Sword Publishing Petitions for Bankruptcy

Last July, I blogged about the judgment obtained by one of Light Sword Publishing's authors against Light Sword Publishing and its two principals, Linda Daly and Bonny Kirby. Among other things, the author alleged breach of contract, fraud in the inducement, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A default judgment in the amount of $15,342.64 was entered against Bonny Kirby, and a default judgment in the amount of $16,558.63 was entered against Linda Daly and Light Sword Publishing.

The author reports that to date, neither judgment has been paid.

Now Writer Beware has learned that on December 15, 2008, Linda Daly and Light Sword Publishing filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions with the US Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Michigan. Chapter 7 is "[t]he chapter of the Bankruptcy Code providing for 'liquidation,' (i.e., the sale of a debtor's nonexempt property and the distribution of the proceeds to creditors.)" (Definition taken from the US Courts website.) The first meeting of creditors is January 22, 2009.

A bankruptcy petition has not been filed for Daly's other publishing company, LSP Digital, LLC, which to all appearances is still a going concern, publishing books and accepting submissions. Although it seems pretty clear that LSP Digital is simply a re-named Light Sword Publishing (most, if not all, of Light Sword's books are offered by LSP Digital, and the company's some of its META tags remain unchanged), LSP Digital has been set up as a separate corporation (Light Sword Publishing's corporate info is here).

If Daly's petitions are granted, a trustee (or possibly trustees, since two petitions are involved) will be assigned by the court to determine assets, decide what can be sold to satisfy creditors, and disburse the resulting funds. Assets include all property owned by the corporation and/or individual--not just tangible items such as office equipment, supplies, clothing, cars, etc., but intangibles such as intellectual property and interests in incorporated/unincorporated businesses.

However, Daly's personal bankruptcy petition, which Writer Beware has seen, makes no mention of her interest in LSP Digital, or of the contracts in her/the company's possession. Also, while the bankruptcy petition for Light Sword Publishing (which Writer Beware has also seen) claims that Light Sword has had no income for the previous 12 months, LSP Digital was only incorporated last June. So what happened between December 2007 and June 2008, when Light Sword was still Light Sword, and was still publishing and selling the books that are now with LSP Digital?

Is Daly hoping that she can solve her personal and corporate credit problems by declaring one publisher bankrupt while continuing to operate the other? I can't help but be reminded of literary scammer Martha Ivery, who declared bankruptcy for her vanity press Press-Tige Publishing, but attempted to shield Press-Tige's assets by transferring them to a "new" publishing company called New Millennium. The bankruptcy trustee in her case wasn't fooled. I'm not a lawyer, so take this for what it's worth--but if Daly's petitions are granted, the possibility that the trustee will fail to discover the existence of LSP Digital seems equally remote.

What does this mean for LSP Digital authors? If Daly's petitions are granted, they should probably be prepared to be caught up in the mess--and if there is a bankruptcy clause in LSP Digital's contracts (which I haven't seen), they should not rely on this to protect them. Although bankruptcy clauses in publishing contracts guarantee the return of authors' rights in the event of the publisher's bankruptcy or liquidation, such clauses are rarely heeded by the courts, which tend to view publishing contracts as assets that can generate income to help pay off creditors. Contracts are generally held by the trustee until a decision is made to sell or abandon them. (See this post from the Dear Author blog, which provides a good summary of what happens when a publisher files for bankruptcy).

In the Martha Ivery case, the bankruptcy petition was filed in June 2002, but Press-Tige authors' rights were not released until December 2003, when the judge handed down an order to close administration of the estate and abandon all property (this long delay was partly the result of Ivery's several perjuries, both in court hearings and on the petition itself). Things went more quickly when romance publisher Triskelion declared bankruptcy--Triskelion closed its doors in June 2007, and assets were auctioned off in November of that year.

There will doubtless be more developments in this situation. I'll provide updates as I receive them.
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