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.

October 25, 2018

Authors Sue Owner of Green Ivy Publishing, Alleging Fraud

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I first started getting questions about Illinois-based Green Ivy Publishing in 2015. From its website (here's what it looked like then, courtesy of the Wayback Machine), it was clearly pay-to-play--not least in its use of the term "hybrid" to describe itself. Genuine hybrid publishers do exist, but far more often, "hybrid" is a marker for a deceptive vanity publisher.

Among other warning signs, no fees were listed for any of the "author services" purportedly provided. Missing prices on a vanity publisher's website usually signal that it's expensive. Sure enough, I soon started hearing from authors who'd been quoted fees in the $3,000-4,000 range, in some cases with additional fees due for add-on services (such as extra editing) that they were only told they had to buy after they'd signed the contract.


I wasn't surprised when, in late 2015, I began receiving complaints. Terrible, substandard edits. No response to emails and phone calls; in some cases, complete radio silence once the fee was paid. Delayed publication dates. Failure to publish at all.

Over the next couple of years, similar complaints accumulated online. Then, in early 2017, Green Ivy went out of business. As with the late, unlamented America Star Books, it closed down without informing its authors, whom it had bound to life-of-copyright contracts, or removing its books from sale. Most Green Ivy titles are still available on Amazon in Kindle editions. (ASB authors can testify to the difficulty of getting Amazon to agree to take such listings down.)

I didn't really expect to hear anything else about Green Ivy. But the other day, a news item caught my eye: twenty Green Ivy authors have filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois against Robert W. Gray Sr., Green Ivy's owner, and a John Doe conspirator using the name of Jay Caliendo. (To see the docket information, click on this search page, choose Law Division, and enter case number 2018-L-011282.)

The complaint isn't available online, but according to a summary from Law360,
The 20 clients, two of whom co-authored a book, all signed contracts with Green Ivy between October 2014 and January 2017 and agreed to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000, with most people paying around $3,000, according to the complaint. Although some of the clients paid off the fee in monthly installments, most eventually paid the entire amount, the complaint said.

In exchange, Green Ivy was supposed to edit, produce and market the books, according to the complaint. However, some clients found major flaws in the editing and graphics during production, and clients typically had a hard time reaching employees or getting answers to their questions, the complaint said.

Green Ivy also did not provide many clients with sales figures or royalty checks, according to the complaint.

Eventually, Green Ivy allegedly stopped responding to clients and shut down. The state of Illinois currently lists the company as “not in good standing.”
Law360 also describes the complaint as alleging that the Green Ivy operation was an adaptation by Gray, a patent attorney, of an "invention-promotion scheme" in which he was involved, which led to disciplinary action from the US Patent and Trademark Office and ultimately got him excluded from practicing before the USPTO. Gray ran something called The Independent Inventor's Program, through which he provided legal services to the US Patent Commission Ltd., a company that purported to help inventors protect and patent their inventions--for a high fee, of course (you can get a sense of how such predatory schemes work from this BBB complaint as well as this lawsuit brought by an unhappy USPC client; the FTC also provides this warning). According to the final order in the USPTO's disciplinary action against Gray, he "engaged in numerous conflicts of interest with regard to accepting USPC-referred clients" (among them: allowing USPC to use his law firm's name as inducement to purchase USPC's services, thereby assuring a supply of clients for himself), as well as "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation".

The Green Ivy authors' lawsuit was filed on October 12. Gray, who is now located in Florida, has yet to respond. He's also the focus of an earlier lawsuit brought by a Green Ivy client, which you can read here.

October 19, 2018

The Continued Decline of Author Solutions

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last week, Bowker released its periodic report on ISBN output in the self-publishing field, updated with 2016 and 2017 figures.

There are many interesting bits of information in the report--including CreateSpace's hulking dominance of the field, with more than 10 times the output of its closest competitor, Smashwords (although it should be said that the usefulness of this comparison--and of the figures themselves--in assessing the growth of self-publishing is undercut by the omission of popular self-pub platforms like IngramSpark and Draft2Digital, and also by the fact that many authors who employ these services don't use ISBNs at all).

What I want to focus on, though, is Author Solutions--where ISBN output is a useful measure of overall activity, since all AS publishing packages include ISBN assignment.

In previous posts, I've followed AS's steady decline, from an all time high of 52,548 ISBNs in 2011 (one year before Pearson bought it and folded it into Penguin), to less than half that in 2015 (the same year that Penguin unloaded it to a private equity firm called Najafi Companies*).

In the latest version of Bowker's report, that slide continues. 2016 did see a small post-Najafi uptick, from 24,587 to 30,288; but in 2017 the freefall resumed, with ISBNs dropping to 25,971--just slightly above 2015's output. A few of the individual imprints do show negligible increases, but for the most part they all go down (by four figures in the case of AuthorHouse).


Looking separately at print and ebooks, it's clear that the decline is primarily driven by print. Between 2012 and 2017, print ISBNs dropped by nearly half. There's no 2016 bump--in fact the numbers continue to fall--and output plunges more than 18% in 2017.


Turning to ebooks, we can see that the 2016 bump in overall ISBNs was entirely due to ebooks, which decreased drastically in 2015 but more than doubled the following year. In 2017, though, the trend reasserts itself. Although some imprints do show gains, the net result is a drop of 6%--less than print, but down is down.


AS's long, slow fade says a lot about how self-publishing has changed over the past decade, and it's both good and bad news. The costly and often deceptive "assisted self-publishing" services that proliferated in the early days of digital publishing are gradually being supplanted by better options, and authors who are savvier about self-publishing know to avoid them. At the same time, though, the self-publishing field is increasingly monopolized by Amazon. And at least for now, the bad old services like AS are still managing to snag enough customers to hang on.**

----------------------

* Worth noting: AS's timeline of significant events in its history, which makes much of its acquisition by Pearson/Penguin, somehow doesn't mention anything about its sale to Najafi Companies.

Najafi appears to have made some pretty drastic changes after it took over. According to one former employee, posting on Glassdoor,


Other Glassdoor reviews confirm this information. I guess authors aren't the only ones getting screwed.

** As are the scams--in particular the growing number of Author Solutions copycat companies run out of the Philippines, in many cases by ex-Author Solutions call center staff.

October 2, 2018

Contest Caution: Waldorf Publishing's Manuscript Contest


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Another contest! I seem to be writing about these a lot lately.

This contest is from Waldorf Publishing, which is "is always seeking new talent to add to our extensive roster." I'm going to count the red flags that are evident just from the contest and Waldorf's website--plus the secret one that you'd never know was there because Waldorf actively conceals it.

Red flag number one: the contest rules. These don't look so bad, until you get to this:


Entrants retain copyright, but so does Waldorf? Say what? They can't both be true. If Waldorf is this confused about its rules--or, perhaps, about the difference between rights and copyright--it is not a good sign. (I suspect the latter: I've seen Waldorf contracts, and they don't claim copyright.)

Red flag number two: Here's what you can win. Reads like a self-publishing package rather than traditional publishing, doesn't it? Complete with junk marketing.


Red flag number three: the entrance fee is $49. This isn't as high as some profiteering contests, which can charge $100 or even more; but it's still high enough to suggest that Waldorf has an eye to making a bit of cash from this contest.

Waldorf's "focus is not only on producing unique, quality reading for a wide audience, but also to help our authors gain the recognition they deserve." Waldorf touts the many media opportunities it supposedly has assisted its authors to obtain--CNN, the BBC, NPR, The Guardian, and many more; however, there's nothing on Waldorf's website to confirm any of those claims. No links to articles. No author testimonials. Not even a Press page.

Unverifiable claims: that's red flag number four.

Red flag number five: the covers. A few are OK. Others are so obviously amateurish they must be author-created (or if not, Waldorf employs really bad illustrators). Many are actually inferior to the "custom" covers designed by assisted self-publishing services. Clearly there isn't a lot of quality control going on here.

Red flag number six: Waldorf has released 75 books so far in 2018. That's up from 49 in 2017, 23 in 2016, and just 14 in 2015. Not only is that a major ramp-up year to year, it's also a really big release schedule for 2018. Unless Waldorf maintains a large staff of editors, illustrators, and publicists, there's no way these books are going to receive careful production or publisher support....

...Which brings us to red flag number seven: who the heck is running the company? The only staff member discussed on Waldorf's About page is the owner, Barbara Terry, who appears to have had no professional book publishing or writing experience before establishing Waldorf in 2014 (her one book, How Athletes Roll, was issued by the now-defunct Comfort Publishing, which charged fees for services). She claims to be assisted by "a small team of talented individuals"--but who are these people? What are their qualifications? Do they exist? It's a mystery. A reputable publisher should provide this information.

I've gone into detail on all these red flags to demonstrate that, even without being aware of the most pertinent information about this company--information it keeps secret from the public--there is a lot to question about Waldorf Publishing and its contest. You really don't need this secret information at all to recognize that both are best avoided.

So what's the secret information? You've probably already guessed. Red flag number eight: Waldorf is pay-to-play, though authors won't discover this until they receive a contract offer (unless they contact me, of course). This is from the "Royalty Presentation" it sends to authors:
This is one of the sneakier examples of the lengths vanity publishers will go to in order to be able to claim that they're not vanities. The carrot of the higher royalties (which are paid on net, by the way) is intended to make the fees seem more palatable (and it's a very small carrot, given the absolutely dire Amazon sales rankings of most of Waldorf's recent books). Maybe some authors do choose the 10% "industry standard" (ha!) royalty and publish for free--but it's clear that Waldorf's business model is built on author fees, and a publisher that makes money before a book is even published has little incentive to cut into that up-front profit by providing high-quality production services and promotional support to the books it releases.

Red flag number nine:  by concealing the fact that it charges fees--which are not mentioned anywhere on its website or in its contest guidelines--Waldorf is deceptive.

All things considered, winning a free publishing package in a contest from a stealth vanity publisher is not much of a prize.
 
Design by The Blog Decorator