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.

July 1, 2010

Beware of Book Publishing Spam

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Lately, my inbox has been plagued with a rash of emails with subject lines like "Help with your writing," "Book Publishing," "Publish your book with reliable services," "Publish your manuscript," "Learn how to publish," and "Do you have a story to tell?" It's spam, of course--advertising for pay-to-publish companies, which pay email marketing companies (a.k.a. spammers) to contact lists of harvested email addresses, in hopes of luring writers sign up with them. Those who are Internet or publishing-savvy are probably wise to this. But inexperienced new authors may not be.

Clicking the links in some of these spams (spammers keep track of clickthroughs, so the more you click, the more you'll be spammed) whisks you to faux price comparison/buyer guide websites (actually link farms) like this one or this one, where vanity publishers like Dorrance Publishing and publishing services like iUniverse and CreateSpace pay for advertising. You'd think that most people would know better than to trust such sites, but I regularly hear from writers who've purchased services (often to their regret) as a result of one of these links.

Links in other spams I've been receiving lead directly to Xlibris, a print-on-demand publishing service owned by Author Solutions Inc., which also owns AuthorHouse, iUniverse, and Trafford. Why only Xlibris, out of all the ASI brands, should be paying for spammage, I have no idea.

More insidious, and most numerous, are the spams that direct writers to websites such as ChooseYourPublisher.com ("Your book is your passion. It's important to select a publisher you can trust...Choose Your Publisher will help you find the publisher that best suits your personal publishing goals") and SearchForPublishers.com ("Designed specifically for budding authors, Search for Publishers gives you free access to an impressive array of options for anyone who wishes to publish a book"). Ostensibly, these websites are intended to match authors with appropriate publishers--but if you fill in the information forms, one of the first questions you encounter is how much money you're willing to "invest" in publication ("zero" is not an option), and the publishers with which you'll be "matched" are all POD publishing services.

Neither ChooseYourPublisher nor SearchForPublishers names an owner or sponsor.  SearchforPublishers has an anonymized domain registration, but a bit of websearching reveals that it's owned by PlattForm Advertising, which maintains a number of lead generation websites (a.k.a. tarted-up link farms). ChooseYourPublisher is registered to Author Solutions. This explains why ASI brands are the only ones on the website--but Writer Beware finds the lack of disclosure just a tad deceptive.

ASI owns another website, FindYourPublisher.com ("You've poured your heart and soul into writing your book; and you’ve long dreamt of the day when you will finally see your words in print"), which also "matches" writers with ASI brands. ASI does reveal that it owns FindYourPublisher and the companies it recommends; even so, many newbie writers may not be familiar with the ASI name, and will likely pay more attention to the references to "indie book publishing" that are plastered all over the site.

Spam isn't the only place you may encounter these faux comparison sites. Type "find a publisher" or "publish my book" or "book publisher" or "how do I get published" into a search engine, and they'll be the subject of sponsored links on the first page of your search (along with other pay-to-publish services). This is just one of several reasons why you shouldn't start your publisher search on the Internet.

Though you may be tempted by an email that promises to save you time and effort by matching you with just the right publisher, remember the old adage: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Or this one: There are no shortcuts.

43 comments :

M. C. Evers said...

Regarding Xlibris--this is one I have been wondering about. Why is a published author connected to it? Hearing something like what you mention in your post, and knowing that said connection exists has me a little confused and uneasy. Perhaps the author in question doesn't realize that's happening?

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

This goes to show, once again, that no matter how tempting the subject line may seem, any unsolicited commercial e-mail (i.e., spam) that comes into your in-box should be sent immediately, unopened, to that great bitbucket in the sky. Spam is spam, whatever disguise it is wearing.

fiona glass said...

The spammers are getting cleverer by the day, perhaps because they realise that word is finally getting round about unsolicited emails. I've seen several paid-for small-ads in respected journals, both writing (Mslexia) and otherwise (Private Eye) from POD publishers, vanity publishers, and publisher-author matching services.

Yet another trap for the unwary. :(

John Doggett said...

Xlibris, Authorhouse, iUniverse - they are all dreadful companies. I found Author Solutions new Palabrio, spanish company, another evil scam. I don't think these companies whould be congratulated as a "juggernaut" they are owned by thugs, run by thugs, with a libel suit against them that shows what nasty corrupt pieces of excrement they really are.

LivelyClamor said...

And then there are all those ads on the right hand column of one's Facebook feed. Facebook does not have the option of xing them out without an annoying popup box with a limited menu of why you don't like the ad, (not that they care) and then it'll just replace it with another annoying and deceptive ad. I don't even bother to click on them. I just wish they would all go away.

Shawn James said...

Anyone who sends spam to solicit customers isn't a good business to deal with. Shows how desperate Author Solutions is to get business from authors who want to self-publish.

Xlibris, Authorhouse, iUniverse create poor quality books with text crammed together, poorly designed covers, and next to no support for twice the price. Plus they charge more than a market rate for their titles; who's going to pay $18.95-$21.95 for a paperback at retail?

The self-publishing market has changed in this age of broadband internet. No one really needs these POD publishing companines anymore to create a book. With a little research, authors can find some more affordable options like Lightning Source that will allow them to print their titles for under $5-6 a copy.

Andrea Coleman said...

I created a new account for the specific purpose of querying agents. I sent one, count it, one query before I started getting spammed all over the place.

Steve said...

I'm surprised that you include CreateSpace in your discussion of questionable publishing services. I have not had occasion to deal with them, but I've never heard anything that suggests they use deception in marketing their services.

They are owned by Amazon, and although I don't hold up Amazon as my personal ideal of an ethical company, I do believe they are too concerned with their reputation in the industry to associate themselves with an openly disreputable publishing service.

-Steve

Victoria Strauss said...

Steve, I don't consider CreateSpace questionable. But it is a fee-based service, and the subject lines and text of these spams encourages writers to believe it's a real publisher. So it's the advertising that's questionable, rather than the service.

Suzanne H. Patton said...

This is an excellent blog post on what to watch out for :) I thought it so helpful, I went ahead and made it a staff pick at the writing forum I help with: www.youngwritersociety.com I'm sure our members will appreciate it!

Michael LaRocca said...

I fell for quite a few scams about 20 or 30 years ago. To see some (most) of them still going makes me sick. Especially since that means aspiring authors are still falling for it.

Keep on blogging!

Robert Connor said...

I've seen a lot of similar spams.

Chetan said...

So where do you think we should start our publishers search from? Because for the country I live in, you hardly get any publishers, so it is important to know that.

Linda Fraker said...

Regarding Holy Fire Publishing, I just got a book published through them and also signed up for the marketing of it. Was very dissatisfied with their efforts to marketing it and "Note" when they do a color iterior of a book they do not offer hard back. This was a big let down to me as after I signed up with them, I found this out. So, Writer Beware!

Anonymous said...

What if you went on the website chooseyourpublisher.com and didn't put your real name but the rest is true? What should you do?

grammargirl93 said...

Has anyone had any experience with Litfire Publishing? Someone from there cold-called my dad, claiming to have read his self-published book and wanting to market it. Of course, they want $2400 for the privilege. He really wants to market his book though. Are these book marketing companies really worth it?

Victoria Strauss said...

grammargirl93,

I've heard from a number of people who've gotten out-of-the-blue solicitations from LitFire, and I've been trying to find out more about it. Claims on its website don't check out (it says it has published "hundreds" of books, but I could only find five; it also says it was founded in 2008, but its URL was registered only in June 2014). There's more than a whiff of Author Solutions about its website, and that appears to be no accident: both of the names I've heard associated with LitFire are former (or maybe current) AuthorHouse employees.

Do you know the name of the person who spoke with your dad? Contact me via email if you don't want to reply here: beware [at] sfwa.org.

Looking at LitFire's "marketing" plans (which are eye-poppingly expensive, and look a lot like Author Solutions'), it's the usual mix of cheap and easy stuff (for LitFire) such as press releases and website creation; and things you could do yourself, such as book listings, social media, Goodreads giveaways, etc. Not worth anything like what they're charging.

grammargirl93 said...

Thanks, Victoria. The woman's name was Portia. I looked over their plans this afternoon and came to the same conclusions you did. They're not doing anything we can't (and haven't) done for ourselves and the cost of what they ARE doing is wildly expensive. I'll tell my dad to steer clear. I appreciate your follow-up!

Victoria Strauss said...

Portia Peterson. The other name is Tori Mesh. These may or may not be different people.

Glad your dad will be steering clear.

Bonnie Jackson said...

I just got a voicemail from LitFire and it sounded like someone reading off a script from a call center (possibly overseas; she pronounced my book's title strangely). It felt very scammy so I'm looking over the website but will pass. I've had good success with BookLocker. Anybody else?

Amber Dee said...

My mom just got an out-of-the-blue call from Gary Norman of Litfire, wanting my #. I don't know how he got her #. She did not give him my # but I returned his call. It did sound like he was reading a script from a busy call cntr. I do agree with him that Authorhouse is scamming me, taking 90% of each book sale. But I don't trust that Litfire is any more trustworthy. Any opinions? Thanks. Amber

Victoria Strauss said...

Amber, see my blog post about LitFire. My theory is that it was set up by former Author Solutions employees in the Philippines as a sort of AuthorHouse/Author Solutions clone.

LitFire Publishing Scam said...

LitFire Publishing still doing their scam tactics and cold-calling authors for their expensive services. Author beware of them!

Ryan Reading said...

So who do you choose for a publisher and marketer?

Yvonne Rosario said...

Wow I totally appreciate this blog! I've been getting messages from LitFire at work. I won't be returning that call. I did self publish with AuthorHouse though. I didn't sign up for any marketing with them. How does one find a good marketer then?

Anonymous said...

I have just finished doing the the first step with chooseyourpublisher.com and i want to look into more feed back from it has anyone got any good input on it? is it worth my time to mess with? please share your info if you got any.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 10/14,

As noted in my post, chooseyourpublisher.com is not a real resource, but one of several deceptive websites run by Author Solutions, designed to steer writers into one or another of the many Author Solutions imprints. Writer Beware gets more complaints about the Author Solutions imprints (Xlibris, iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Trafford, Palibrio, etc.) than we do about any other author services companies.

Anonymous said...

11-28-17 just sent LitFire first installment.327.00..to follow up 299.66 and 299.67.my copy rights will be 165.00..takes 3 months to getisbn# library of congress,act of congress..???..they wont try until i pay all in full..then send my manuscript pdf format. book format?? not sure if i am doing this right..

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 11/28,

I've published a warning about LitFire. It's dated 2014 but it's still accurate. You can read it here: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2014/11/solicitation-alert-litfire-publishing.html

If you're interested in self-publishing, there are much cheaper and more reputable alternatives, including CreateSpace and IngramSpark, that will provide you with an ISBN that you won't have to wait for.

You can register copyright yourself online for $35. Here's the online registration portal: https://www.copyright.gov/registration/. You don't need a Library of Congress number; that's only useful for books that are likely to be acquired by libraries, which unfortunately isn't true of most self-published books.

Any other questions, please email me: beware@sfwa.org

sundas aruge said...

Hey i would like to know about Holyfire publishers as i am looking forward to get my book published and they replied to my proposal .i need guidance can you help me

Anonymous said...

I also just received a call from Litfire Publishing telling me that my son wanted to publish a book and she was calling him back and yes, she had a heavy accent and I could hear other callers in the background. She wanted his phone number and REALLY wanted to get that email address. I just kept telling her to give me her name and number and he would call her back. Her name was Heidi Poe (haven't met too many poeple of Indian descent named "Heidi") and the number was 1 800 511-9787. She tried to make an appointment to call him back on the same phone number (why would my 25 year-old son give them his Mommy's cell phone number?? HAHA) for the next day at 10:00. Steer Clear of this company. They are blatantly scamming. Oh yeah....did I mention that my son is dyslexic and would NEVER EVER want to write a book?

James LAM said...

Can anybody tell me more about Holy fire publishing, are they doing well now or not because am about to publish my book through them, thanks

Anonymous said...

I think the first step in choosing a publisher/publishing route is to really do some honest soul searching on your expectations and commitment to your book. Do you need a professionally published book that is going to ensure you are taken seriously as an expert in your field, or one that has the potential to sell well in distribution because you have been cultivating an audience and exposure through social media and your own networking efforts? If your book is going to be your calling card, then it needs to be professionally published. Just let me say, a self-published book looks self published. If you are a hobby author or can't afford to pay for professional services, then I would suggest you work directly with CreateSpace because...that hybrid publisher who is courting you will just take your book to CreateSpace and charge you a middleman fee. The publisher I know of that is really breaking the mold is Lucid Books. The books they produce are beautiful and they share a higher percentage of royalties than all of the traditional publishers I researched. I think they only work with business, Christian, and children's books, so your book might not be a candidate if it doesn't fit one of these categories.

Unknown said...

I want to publish and market my book. I need advice. Thanks!

Victoria Strauss said...

Unknown 4/13, the Self-Publishing page of Writer Beware has information and resources to help you.

Anonymous said...

I have published with AuthorHouse. Now, another company is trying to get me to republish my book with them. Have you heard of Lettra Press? Bottom line, I would resubmit the original manuscript to them with the same illustrations, and they recreate the same paperback book with their name. I was disappointed with the amount of marketing that I paid for with AuthorHouse for the return on the dollar (8,000 total cost/47.00 only check since 2017).

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 5/02,

In my judgment, Lettra Press is another of the Philippines-based publishing and marketing scams mentioned in these comments and in several of my recent blog posts. I've listed it in the sidebar, under Publishing and Marketing Scams Targeting Indie Authors. A specialty of these scams is persuading authors to re-publish with them, and then pressuring them to buy overpriced and largely worthless marketing services. If that sounds familiar, it's because these scams copy the business practices pioneered by Author Solutions (the parent company of AuthorHouse).

Chris said...

Hi,

This is Chris, Operations Manager of Lettra Press. I appreciate that there's a place where people can go to and get some advice in self-publishing, before making any decisions. However, it would be great to keep it unbiased and maintain the intention of "helping" one another. After all, we are all just trying to "make it".

Yes, Lettra Press is operating in the Philippines (which we are very proud of) and it is clearly stated in our website. You can go to https://lettrapress.com/about for your reference. However, Lettra Press LLC is legally registered in the state of Colorado with business entity number 20181559162 and is physically located at 18229 E. 52nd Ave. Denver, CO 80249.

We do not intend to persuade or pressure authors to pay for "over-priced" publishing/marketing services from us. In fact, our services are priced fairly and reasonably (compared to most self-publishing companies).

For your reference, you can visit https://lettrapress.com/publishing for our publishing packages and https://lettrapress.com/marketing for our marketing services.

We could've just stayed silent and not comment on this but labeling us as a "Philippines-based publishing and marketing scam" is and will never be acceptable. Our intention to be a part of this industry is genuine. Not only to put food in our mouths but we do our best to help authors who are dreaming of getting a shot in their career.

We hope this comment will not be taken as an offense towards anybody as we are just defending our company and our intention to just really help.

We would love to share our story and how Lettra Press started from the ground up. We claim that it is God given and we owe EVERYTHING we are now to Him.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this and we wish everyone nothing but success.

Victoria Strauss said...

Hi, Chris,

Thanks for your comment. I don't think I'm flattering myself when I suspect that my numerous exposes of Author Solutions copycats like Lettra Press are part of what's motivating you and a few others to admit your true location.

I've visited your website and checked out your packages and services. You tick all the boxes for a predatory publishing and marketing company: Solicitation. Re-publishing offers. English-language lapses on your website. No verifiable information about your company or staff. An emphasis on junk marketing (junk marketing is marketing that costs little to provide, can be sold at a big markup, and is of dubious value for book promotion--such as book fair display, press releases, social media posts, book trailers, email blasts, and internet radio--all of which you sell, for large amounts of money).

As for being overpriced....Your "Professional" publishing package has fewer features than Xlibris's Basic package (not that I'd ever recommend Xlibris, but it's the same kind of service), and costs $100 more. An ad in one of the Ingram Advance Catalogs costs less than $100; you re-sell it for $399. A "Platinum Review" from paid review service US Review of Books costs $249; you re-sell it for $1,299. You also sell a "Pre-Launch Publicity Campaign" that consists of a rudimentary template website (I looked at your examples, none of which are fully functional), a press release (completely worthless for book promotion), and a "Social Media Publicist (1 YEAR)" who will supposedly manage Twitter and Facebook (it's a really, really bad idea to farm out your social media to people whose bona fides you can't verify). The price tag? Nearly $4,000. Sure sounds like a ripoff to me. (In fact, it has already garnered a pretty serious complaint.)

Chris said...

Hi Victoria,

I appreciate your effort to look into these things. However, the complaint you found was intended to destroy us just like other companies who have good intentions like we do. I did respond to the comment when it came out.

"AbstractedEagle100 Apr 22 #1676499
This reviewer was never affiliated with Lettra Press. No contracts were signed, no payments were received, no refunds were processed nor there were any communications from us, not by phone or email.

Our website clearly states that we are operating in the Philippines but business is located and incorporated in Denver, Colorado. Entity# 20181559162, on July 18, 2018. You can refer to https://lettrapress.com/about. This is clearly a deliberate hate review with the intent to negatively affect our business.

I personally would like to ask for a proof that you have signed a contract with Lettra Press and that what you are claiming is true.

Otherwise, please remove this review. Thanks, Chris Mathis Operations Manager chrismathis@lettrapress.com 303-586-1431"

You can refer to https://lettra-press.pissedconsumer.com/lettra-press-publishing-is-a-scam-https-lettrapress-com-201904111512287.html



We knew we have to face these accusations and false judgement. We are more than willing to show people that our intention is good. Scamming people off will never be a part of it.

I hope nothing but success to you and your organization.


Chris

Victoria Strauss said...

Hi, Chris,

I notice you didn't respond to my examples of how Lettra Press upcharges, or your exorbitant fee for a dubious "pre-launch" service.

Your emphasis on your Colorado incorporation is irrelevant for accountability purposes, and not just because your Colorado address is not a business office (it's a private home, according to public records). Your overseas location all but guarantees that US authorities will not pursue you, and authors won't be able to bring claims against you in court.

Anonymous said...

@Victoria Strauss it seems that you knew a lot. I understand that you're a write and blogger at the same time, how much did you receive from the company who back you up in order to downplay other publishing companies?

I understand that you do a lot of research, however you're doing this for what? "theres no such thing as free lunch.

Victoria Strauss said...

Writer Beware is a volunteer effort--I and others receive no compensation. We're not backed by any publishers or commercial enterprises, but by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a non-profit professional writers' group. (All of this information, by the way, can be found simply by clicking the "About Writer Beware" link at the top of the page.)

There's no such thing as a free lunch when you're dealing with a scammer, but Writer Beware's services are always 100% free.

 
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