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.

September 13, 2019

Authors' Concern Grows Over Late Royalty Payments at Dreamspinner Press


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

On Wednesday, Publishers Lunch published an article by Erin Somers about payment issues at Dreamspinner Press, which I'm reprinting here with permission.
Dreamspinner Keeps Promising Authors to "Catch Up What Everyone Is Due" In Payments

Romance publisher Dreamspinner Press has not been paying royalties in timely fashion, authors have been reporting online, at least partially confirmed by emailed updates from the company that have been shared. Earlier this summer, authors posted on Twitter that the publisher had been inconsistent with payments for over a year, including delays in issuing both first quarter and second quarter 2019 royalties. In June, author TJ Klune posted, "Out of the last 8 quarters, this is the fourth time payments have been late, and the second in which I am owed penalties for said lateness." (Klune had said in March he would part ways with Dreamspinner after delivering three more books.) Author Suki Fleet posted, "I'm not waiting on a lot--but what I am waiting on is from foreign royalties paid to Dreamspinner this time *last* year, that I had to specifically ask for."

That month authors began announcing requests to revert their rights, a trend that continued over the course of the summer. There was some controversy within the romance community over whether authors withdrawing their work could cause the publisher to fail (or fail faster), in which case no one would get paid. Criticism extended to authors who supported the publisher as well, even though they were owed money.

Multiple agents PL spoke to said they were no longer doing business with Dreamspinner, except to negotiate their clients' rights back. They told us that acquisitions at the publisher had dwindled over the past year, confirmed by the sharp drop in PM deal reports, with Dreamspinner acquiring mostly from their existing authors, many of whom are unrepresented.

Dreamspinner provided authors a number of explanations in weekly emails, including writing that they had "not received payments from Amazon for UK or EU currencies," that they were awaiting deposits from "vendors," and that the late payments had been caused by a software glitch. In their latest update on September 4, the publisher said that they are anticipating a small business loan that will enable them to issue payments, and that they "can't offer a firm payment date to catch up what everyone is due." The email goes on, "With every set of deposits we receive, we've been sending payments, and we are continuing to respond as best we can to author requests." They added that they can't provide proof of the impending loan that authors have asked for because, "legal and banking documents are confidential and can't be posted online."

Meanwhile, authors including Indra Vaughn, Avon Gale, Jeff Adams, Will Knauss, CJane Elliott, Meredith Shayne, Tia Fielding, and many more have requested rights back. Fielding wrote on Facebook, "In the last year or so, they've repeatedly been more or less late in royalty payments." TJ Klune wrote in an email to the company that he posted on Twitter, that he is owed $27,448 in royalties and plans to involve a lawyer. A Facebook group of 75 former DSP authors has formed for people who have pulled their books or are considering it.

RWA has offered support for authors who have experienced trouble with Dreamspinner. They said in an August 21 statement: "We're aware of the situation, and members who need professional relations assistance, should contact memberadvocacy@rwa.org to reach our staff professional relations manager." Dreamspinner did not respond to PL's request for comment.
Writer Beware has been receiving similar complaints about late royalty and advance payments and confusing/conflicting explanations for the delays, with some authors saying they are owed four- and even five-figure amounts. According to a number of authors who contacted me, these problems have become more acute in the past few months, but they aren't new: periodic payment delays, with attendant excuses, began as much as two years ago.

Although Dreamspinner regularly sends out update emails (you can see an archive of these here), several authors told me they were having trouble getting responses from Dreamspinner CEO Elizabeth North.

Also of concern: in the midst of repeated payment delays, and despite its admissions of financial distress, Dreamspinner appears to be proceeding with sweeping expansion plans, including a shift to mass market paperback format, increasing the number of translations for the foreign market, and rolling out a new accounting and payment system (which several of the authors who contacted me told me they'd had trouble with). Multiple authors told me that they fear that author royalties, which Dreamspinner says go into an escrow account, are instead being used to finance company operations.

Authors' anger at the situation is growing. Meanwhile, Dreamspinner is still open for submissions. Writers who are considering approaching this publisher might want to hold off for the moment.

More information:

Tweets from authors Avon GaleTJ Klune, Roan Parrish, KJ Charles (search "Dreamspinner" on Twitter to see many more).

Blog posts by authors Mary Winter, RJ Scott, Rhys Ford, TJ Klune.

Non-Dreamspinner author X. Marduk is compiling a Dreamspinner timeline, with lots of links to tweets and blog posts.

August 23, 2019

Universal Book Solutions: Anatomy of a Book-to-Screen Scam


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Selling film rights to Hollywood is among writers' most fevered dreams. And where there is something that writers want or need, there are always sharks waiting to take advantage.

The Hollywood book-to-screen "marketing" package was pioneered by Author Solutions, way back in the early 2000s. All the Author Solutions imprints offer it, including the imprints AS runs for publishers. Here's what the package looks like, from AS imprint Xlibris:
  • Hollywood Ticket: coverage by a "professional reader." Cost: $999.00.
  • Hollywood First Act: a synopsis, "critical analysis", and "45- 60-second teaser Book Video" for "catching film executives' attention". Cost: $2,999.00.
  • Hollywood Director's Cut: an 8-10 page treatment by a "professional screenwriter", plus "consideration" by Author Solutions' "first-look Hollywood partner". Cost: $3,899.00
  • Hollywood Producer's Pick: this is the big kahuna, a full screenplay written by a screenwriter, plus consideration by AS's first-look partner. Cost: $16,299.00. Note that the screenplay is based on "your approved Hollywood Treatment", which you must previously have purchased--so the real cost of this option is $20,198.00.
Although a handful of other assisted self-publishing companies have offered similar packages over the years (here's the one from Bookstand Publishing, for instance; Outskirts Press also had one for a time, though it seems to have been discontinued), Author Solutions hasn't faced a lot of competition in the high-priced Hollywood dream exploitation business--primarily, I'm guessing, because of the cost and coordination involved in providing the coverage, critiques, treatments, and screenplays to the authors who buy them.

That's changed recently, though.

An explosion of book-to-screen "services" has hit the internet, courtesy of the Author Solutions copycat scams that I've been writing about so much lately (there's a complete list in the sidebar). Author Reputation Press, Coffee Press, Dream Books Distribution, Media City Publishers, Paramount Books Media, Book Art Press, New Reader Media, BookVenture, MatchStick Literary, and more all offer some version of the Author Solutions book-to-screen package, either on their websites or in their (extremely aggressive) phone and email solicitations.

The value of any book-to-screen package is highly debatable, regardless of who provides it. Vendors of such "services" play on authors' dreams of making it big, while failing to provide any kind of realistic information about the extreme unlikelihood of success. Most books never sell or option film rights (they're among the subsidiary rights least likely to be exploited, even for successful authors with top-flight agents), and it's far harder to sell a screenplay than it is a book manuscript. For most authors, the most probable result of buying a book-to-screen package is a smaller bank account.

And that's assuming that the vendor actually provides the advertised services, and doesn't just take the money and run. Author Solutions, at least, does seem to produce the coverage, etc., it sells, in a reasonably literate manner (you'll see some examples if you read on)--though of course, like paid reviews, the critiques and coverage are likely to be customer-friendly--that is, unrealistically positive.

The copycats, on the other hand...they don't exactly have the greatest track records for quality, reliability, or service. Or honesty.

An example: Universal Book Solutions, which styles itself "a Book-to-Screen Marketing Professional, with years of experience in working for motion picture projects for producers, agents, directors, and major studios in Hollywood." As usual with the Author Solutions copycat scams, there's no information that would allow you to verify any of these claims--no list of owners or staff, no company history, no examples of successful projects. That's no accident, of course.

A sensible person might also wonder about the quality of written materials produced by a "Book-to-Screen Marketing Professional" that puts out website text like this (English-language lapses are one of the markers for the copycat scams):


Here's how UBS's slightly more literate email pitch begins (I've seen two of these now, and they're identical):

The email goes on to detail the services on offer--news release, coverage, treatment, and screenplay--in language that has been lifted directly from the Xlibris (and other Author Solutions imprints) book-to-screen package. As further inducement, a bunch of glowing--and conveniently unverifiable--quotes are appended at the end. Turns out that these too have been lifted, though from a different (and, in its way, equally questionable) source.


Anonymous testimonials are the best kind, right?

Last but not least, UBS includes several attachments--supposedly, examples of its work:


"Sample coverage" is this. Looks surprisingly literate and detailed, doesn't it? But wait. Here it is again...on the iUniverse website (the book was published by another Author Solutions imprint). Ditto for UBS's "sample treatment:" here's what UBS sent. Here it is at iUniverse (which also published the book in question).

(As for The Little Prince screenplay, I can't find any evidence of it online, but given all the other borrowing, it's sure to have been snitched from somewhere.)

So...a plagiarized book-to-screen package, promoted with plagiarized text, further promoted with plagiarized testimonials, and finished with sample documents produced by others and falsely presented as UBS's work. If you hand over your money to these folks (neither of the authors I heard from went far enough into the process to get a price), what do you think the odds are of getting any of the promised products?

Universal Book Solutions claims a Florida address (per a Google search, it's a private residence in what looks like a condo community), but has no business registration in that state. Its web domain was registered just last February. As for Allen Gardner, Project Manager, guess where he's located.
UBS is an especially egregious example of this increasingly common scam. But as noted above, there are many others, and they are aggressively soliciting authors, especially those who have published with Author Solutions imprints, small presses, and pay-to-play companies like Christian Faith Publishing and Page Publishing. Be on your guard, and if you hear from a company that wants to take you to Hollywood--for a price--remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

For a much more realistic discussion of the book-to-screen process, see Jane Friedman's excellent article, How a Book Becomes a Movie. Scroll down to the final comments to see one from a writer who was solicited by Universal Book Solutions.

August 16, 2019

From the Philippines, Not With Love: A Plague of Publishing and Marketing Scams


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I've been expending a lot of words and time lately warning about the latest scam phenomenon to hit the writing world: fake publishing and marketing companies that, through outrageous prices and worthless services, extract enormous amounts of money from unwary writers.

Based in the Philippines (despite their apparent US addresses, phone numbers, and telemarketer names) and focusing primarily on small press and self-published authors (particularly authors who've published with one of the Author Solutions imprints), these companies recruit writers with relentless--and highly deceptive--phone and email solicitations. Some do provide the services authors pay for, albeit at seriously inflated prices and often of poor quality. Others just take the money and run. I'm hearing from a growing number of writers who've paid five figures in fees to one--or, in some cases, more than one--of these scams, with next to nothing to show for it.

Given how fast the scams are proliferating (I learn about a new one every few weeks), I thought it would be helpful to gather all the information I've put together about them in one place.

My posts about the scams--where they come from, how they work, and how to recognize them:

- Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats
- Army of Clones Part 2: Twenty-One (More) Publishing and Marketing "Services" to Beware Of
- Solicitation Alert: LitFire Publishing
- Amelia Publishing and Amelia Book Company: Sons of LitFire Publishing
- Solicitation Alert: Book-Art Press Solutions and Window Press Club
- Solicitation (and Plagiarism) Alert: Legaia Books / Paperclips Magazine

A list of the scams themselves--at least, the more than 50 I've identified so far (the list is also posted in the sidebar):

- Access Media Group / Quill Space Media
- Alpha Books Solutions
- Ascribed LLC
- AuthorAide
- AuthorCentrix (formerly BookBlastPro)
- AuthorLair
- Author University
- Black Lacquer Press & Marketing
- Book Agency Plus
- Book Art Press Solutions / Window Press Club
- Book Avenue Publishing
- Book Magnets
- Book Reads Publishing
- BookTrail Agency
- Book Vine Press
- BookVenture Publishing
- BookWhip / Carter Press
- Box Office Media Creatives / Buzz Media Creatives
- Capstone Media Services
- Diamond Media Press
- Dream Books Distribution
- EC Publishing
- Global Summit House
- Gold Touch Press
- Goldman Agency
- Legaia Books
- Lettra Press
- LitFire Publishing / Amelia Publishing / Amelia Book Company / GoToPublish
- Maple Leaf Publishing
- MatchStick Literary
- Media City Publishers
- Netsfilm & Media Press
- New Leaf Media
- New Reader Media
- Okir Publishing /ADbook Press / Coffee Press
- Outstrip
- PageTurner Press
- Paramount Books Media
- Readers Magnet
- Royale House
- Rushmore Press
- Sherlock Press
- Stonewall Press / Uirtus Solutions
- Stratton Press
- Toplink Publishing
- Universal Books Solutions
- URLink Print and Media
- Westwood Books Publishing / Authors Press / Creative Books
- The Writer Central / IdeoPage Press Solutions
- YourOnlinePublicist
- Zeta Publishing

I know my warnings are having an effect, not just because I'm hearing from writers who've found my posts or my list and have been able to avoid being ripped off, but because some of the scams are getting...a little defensive. Book-Art Press now includes this in its solicitation emails:
The links are to anti-Writer Beware screeds from people WB has exposed.

The grievance is definitely on display in this one, from MatchStick Literary (it also showcases the scams' trademark fractured English):

See ya at Writer Beware, scammers!

August 9, 2019

Kiss Library: Pirate Site Alert

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I've gotten several alerts over the past week about a pirate site that's new to me (though not new: this warning was first published in September 2017): Kiss Library, where many authors are finding unauthorized electronic versions of their books.

Kiss Library differs from the typical pirate site in a couple of ways. Unlike, say, Ebook Bike, run by serial copyright thief and "information wants to be free" ideologue Travis McCrea, it doesn't simply offer pirated books for free download, but appears actually to be selling them. Also unlike Ebook Bike and other pirate sites, it seems to promptly respond to DMCA notices.

I found two of my own books listed.


I filled out the form on Kiss's DMCA page, and within minutes my books vanished from the site. I also received this email:

Awwww. How nice. They're contrite! It's not their fault! They'll pay back the illicit profits! They are so transparent about the whole thing!

Except...it's bullshit. They send the exact same response to everyone. Here's someone who got it in July:


A friend of mine got it in March. Someone else got it in 2018. Kiss seems to have concluded that it's better to lose a few listings (which can always be reinstated later) than to make waves by ignoring authors or telling them to f*ck off. It's a different strategy from the "fight everything" stance of many pirates, or those that send takedown notices into oblivion--and it's probably why Kiss, with its huge, monetized catalog of pirated books, hasn't sparked the uproar other pirate sites have.

It's been suggested that Kiss doesn't actually take down disputed books: it simply blocks the IP addresses of anyone who sends a DMCA request so they can't see that the books are still on offer. I've no idea if this is true.

Also, there's the question of whether Kiss really offers the books at all--whether it's nothing more than an elaborate phishing scheme that uses books as bait. I followed purchase links all the way to the point of providing credit card info, but I didn't dare do more. This anti-piracy service, however, did:
So if you visit the site, be careful. Send the DMCA if you find your books, but don't try to test the system by buying anything.

Kiss's About page features a photo of smiling millennials and a Canada address. Kiss originally had a .com domain, registered in 2017 by a Gibraltar-based registrar that was shut down by ICANN this past March. Its current .net domain, which is just 6 months old, is registered to Legato LLC, a Russian company. Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: An update from the anti-piracy service:
So maybe there's no content on the site--just book covers--and all they're doing is taking the money and running.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Per this Facebook post from Tamara Thorne, the Authors Guild is aware of Kiss Library and is preparing a statement on the status of the matter and steps they are taking. I'll link to or post it here when it's released.

UPDATE 8/10/19: Well, that didn't take long. Thanks to an alert commenter, I visited Kiss Library this evening and found this:


Not only have they reinstated the two books I DMCA'd (with different covers; they're both backlist books that I re-published with Open Road Media), they've added my two other Open Road backlist books, and a pair of fake books put up by a Writer Beware-hating troll a few years ago as part of a harassment campaign. Think the Kiss Library folks know about this post?

UPDATE 8/11/19: Oops, gone again (except for the two fake books that use my name). Someone is following Writer Beware!

July 31, 2019

Alert: Trouble at Dog Ear Publishing


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Founded in 2004, Dog Ear Publishing is part of the surge of Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing companies--many of them now defunct--that entered the market in the early aughts.

Headquartered, like AS, in Indiana, Dog Ear presents itself--with more than a smidge of exaggeration--as "The best of traditional publishing, re-imagined for the modern author". Its publishing and marketing packages are typical for this type of company, and while they're not among the most expensive, they aren't cheap, either.

Unlike the various Author Solutions imprints, Writer Beware never received any complaints about Dog Ear, which appears to have been reasonably trouble-free for most of its existence.

Not so now.

I first became aware of problems at Dog Ear in March of this year, via a Watchdog Report from the Alliance of Independent Authors' John Doppler.
The Watchdog Desk has received multiple reports of problems at Dog Ear Publishing, an Indianapolis-based self-publishing service. After careful investigation, in our opinion there is indeed cause for concern.

We have heard from several authors who allege they have been waiting months for payments on royalties due. Emails and phone calls to the company reportedly go unanswered. In at least two of these cases, the authors sent legal notices via certified mail, demanding immediate payment of overdue royalties and an accurate accounting of sales.

Although receipt of the demands was confirmed by the U.S. Post Office, Dog Ear Publishing has so far failed to respond.
A large number of similar complaints appear at the Better Business Bureau, which revoked Dog Ear's accreditation in March due to its failure to respond to or resolve the complaints. Other complaints can be found on Yelp, which is not typically a forum for reports about publishing services; and on Complaints Board--where they go back to 2009.

Now the Indianapolis Star has published a detailed story on trouble at Dog Ear, entitled "Dog Ear Publishing Faces Claims It Owes Authors Thousands."
Actor Michael Kostroff self-published his book Audition Psych 101 in 2017 with Indianapolis-based Dog Ear Publishing.

Kostroff, who played roles on The Wire as well as Law and Order: SVU, said he was happy with the production process and the book sold well.

Then it came time to give the author royalty payments – something Kostroff and nine other authors interviewed by IndyStar allege the company has not done on time, in full or, in some cases, at all for about the past 12 to 18 months.
IndyStar reports that its attempts to contact Dog Ear's owners have gone unanswered, apart from a vague comment by one of the company's owners, Ray Robinson:
"We do seem to have crossed a threshold where the challenges have reached a critical mass," [Robinson] wrote. "The industry has seen this with most self publishers when they accumulate more than about 10,000 authors." 
(It is highly unlikely that Dog Ear has or ever had that number of authors. According to reports by Bowker, it issued a total of 4,926 titles between 2008 and 2017; the most titles it has ever published in a single year is 662 [in 2014], and the least is 282 [in 2008]. Assuming that numbers for 2004-2007 are similar to 2008, and also assuming that every author who ever published with Dog Ear is still publishing with Dog Ear--which obviously is not at all probable--the total clearly doesn't come anywhere near 10,000.)

Non-response appears to be a pattern for the company. Authors interviewed by IndyStar say they've received no or vague answers to their questions and requests for payment, and according to the article, Dog Ear's owners, Ray Robinson and Alan Harris, have failed to show up in court for multiple lawsuits brought against the company, both by authors trying to get paid and by one of Dog Ear's founders, Miles Nelson, who left the company in 2016 but alleges he was never compensated for his share of the business. Another recent lawsuit, by Dog Ear's former leasing company, drew an appearance by Robinson but not by Harris, who was slapped with a $19,000 default judgment.

IndyStar details authors' speculation that Dog Ear may file for bankruptcy, either to re-organize or to liquidate and pay off creditors. I suspect, though, that this isn't terribly likely, especially if few assets remain; and in any case, authors are not well-served even when there are specific provisions for bankruptcy in their contracts. A group of authors is hoping to gather enough plaintiffs to launch a class action suit--but even if assets can be found, the cost of litigation could easily exceed them; and if (as is probably much more likely) there are few or no assets, a class action is pointless.

Authors have contacted the Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General, where there are 19 open complaints. According to IndyStar, the AG is investigating, although the official quoted by IndyStar doesn't sound too keen:
Betsy DeNardi, director and chief counsel of consumer protection with the office, said if a company doesn’t respond to inquiries, a complaint case is usually closed. This happened with a case against Dog Ear in fall 2018, though 19 others remain open.

Some cases do result in litigation, if there seems to have been a violation of consumer protection laws. DeNardi said she did not know of any recent legal cases handled by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office against a self-publishing company.
(In fact, there have been at least two. In May of 2008, the Indiana Attorney General filed suit against Airleaf LLC, an assisted self-publishing company founded by an Author Solutions alumnus, for, among other things, violating Indiana's Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. The suit resulted in a Consent Judgment that did not include significant restitution, but did ultimately drive Airleaf out of business. And in October 2010, the AG filed suit against New Century Publishing, an Indiana-based "publisher" that charged enormous fees, also for violations of the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, resulting in a default judgment ordering restitution of $81,875.15 to 43 authors. Amazingly, the AG had sued New Century's owner, David Caswell, twice before for different frauds; each suit resulted in a monetary judgment, but somehow Caswell managed never to pay.)

So is the end near for Dog Ear Publishing? The signs certainly don't look good. Ultimately, it may never be possible to know exactly what went wrong--but I'm guessing that at least some part was played by the general decline of the Author Solutions-style assisted self-publishing business in recent years, under pressure from lower-cost and more straightforward DIY self-publishing platforms like Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and others.

Author Solutions itself has been dwindling for a while: per the Bowker reports referenced above, its title roster for 2017 was less than half of what it was at its high point in 2011. Output for Outskirts Press, another of the early assisted self-pub companies, peaked in 2013 and has dropped by 21% since then. Wheatmark's titles are down 77% from its 2008 pinnacle, and Xulon Press hit its highest numbers in 2013 but by 2017 had seen a drop of 39%. As for Dog Ear, after a 2014 high point of 662 titles, output fell year by year through 2018, when, according to Amazon, it issued just 378 books--a decline of 43%.

Dog Ear's website is still open for business, and its Facebook page is active (though its Twitter feed looks a bit neglected). It is also still issuing titles, the most recent of which has a pub date of July 2. Writers be warned.

If you're a Dog Ear author and have not been paid (or have had other problems), you can file an online complaint with the Indiana Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division here. Where litigation has been undertaken against problem publishers or publishing services, it has usually been the result of a large volume of author complaints.

July 12, 2019

From Writer Beware's Files: Seven Prolific Vanity Publishers


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Vanity publishers, unfortunately, are not in short supply. Writer Beware's files include hundreds of them, large and small. But there's a select few about which we hear most often, via writers' questions and complaints. These companies reel in scores, hundreds, and even thousands of writers, often doing business on an industrial scale.

I'm going to provide a snapshot of some of these below. But first, some common deceptive terms.

Hybrid Publisher: There's some disagreement over whether there actually is such a thing as a hybrid publisher--a company that charges substantial fees yet provides a service that's otherwise equivalent to traditional publishing, including rigorous selectivity and editing, high royalties, offline distribution, non-bogus PR, and more. Regardless, the term is extensively misused by vanity publishers trying to look more legitimate. Any publisher billing itself as "hybrid" demands further investigation.

Co-Publishing and Partner Publishing: These are also euphemisms beloved of vanities. The implication is that the publisher contributes something of value to match or exceed whatever the author is being asked to pay or buy: the lion's share of publishing costs, for instance, or some kind of deep publishing expertise.

However, vanity publishing is a whole different business model from traditional publishing, with profits primarily derived not from book sales to the public, but from author fees and self-purchases. Far from being a contribution or a share, your fee will likely cover not just the entire cost of publishing your book, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well. And vanity publishers have little incentive to cut into that profit by providing high-quality publishing and marketing services.

******

Writer Beware receives more reports and questions about self-styled "hybrid" Austin Macauley Publishers than we do about any other vanity. Based in the UK, AM has aggressively expanded over the past few years, extending its tentacles into the USA, the UAE, and Australia.

Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section of AM's contract is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). Some authors are offered a choice of fees depending on which book formats they pick.

AM does occasionally offer a fee-free contract. But these are no bargain: among other things, there's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher"--in effect, a life-of-copyright grant with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. Also, as pointed out above, vanity publishing is a very particular business model. It's unlikely the vanity will have the staff expertise, distribution channels, or budget to provide a service that's anywhere near equivalent to what you'd receive from a traditional publisher--even if you don't have to pay a fee.

AM is currently recruiting writers via deceptively-headlined Google ads, which encourage authors who use certain search phrases to believe they are submitting to a Big 5 publisher:

For a more detailed look at AM (including its scurrilous rebuttal to my criticism, which has been removed from the web but survives thanks to the Wayback Machine), see my 2016 blog post: Questions For Vanity Publisher Austin Macauley Yield Few Answers.

As of this writing, AM is overdue on filing financial statements.

******

UK-based Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie is the oldest of the companies mentioned in this post, having been in business since the early 2000s. Like Austin Macauley, it claims to offer both traditional and "shared-cost inclusive" (i.e., pay to play) contracts to its authors, which "enables us to provide equal opportunities to both new and established authors" (claiming that new authors are a greater risk than established ones is a common rationale used by vanity publishers to justify their fees).

Like many vanities, Pegasus doesn't mention any actual money amounts on its website, but per reports Writer Beware has received, as well as others that can be found online, fees average around £2,500, with some going lower or higher (the highest we've heard about is £4,500). This is presented to authors as a "contribution"--supposedly, just part of the cost--but as I've explained above, claims of cost-sharing or partnership should be treated with skepticism.

Again like Austin Macauley, Pegasus's contract describes its fee as an "Advance". And speaking of similarities between these two vanities: with just a few exceptions, their author-unfriendly contracts are word-for-word identical.

Coincidence? Synchronicity? Well, consider that AM and Pegasus have shared people, too. Mr. Bu-Azal Bedar, who briefly served as Pegasus's Director and owns more than 50% of shares in the company, was Secretary at Austin Macauley from 2007 to 2012.

That's not all. Mr. Bedar is also Director at Ashwell Publishing Ltd., which does business as Olympia Publishers. Writer Beware doesn't get questions or complaints about Olympia nearly as often as we do about AM and Pegasus, but we've gotten enough to know that it charges similar fees and, amazingly (or maybe not) offers the exact same word-for-word identical contract.

Finally, check out the comments on this review of Olympia by The Independent Publishing Magazine, in which numerous authors report receiving offers not just from Olympia, but from AM or Pegasus as well--or as with this poor fellow, all three:


Coming full circle, a fourth connected vanity, Artemis Publishers Ltd., has applied to be dissolved and its URL, www.artemispublishers.com, has been set to re-direct to Pegasus.

******

I've written several times in this blog about Morgan James Publishing--most recently in 2018--regarding its repeated inclusion on Publisher's Weekly's annual list of fast-growing independent publishers.

Morgan James may be "independent," but it's also a vanity publisher. It requires its authors "to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2." Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that at least some writers are asked for a "deposit" of as much as $5,000 on contract signing. I've also had reports of additional fees for editing and PR.

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP claims on its "compare" page that "Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release", and that even with self-publishing, "[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public." Neither of these claims is true.

******


Page Publishing is one of a triad of sorts, a group of US-based vanity publishers that have very similar fees and business models, and present and advertise themselves in very similar ways. (The other two are Christian Faith Publishing and Newman Springs Publishing, both of which I discuss below). I haven't been able to find any proof that the three are connected (with the exception of one possible coincidence, detailed below), but as you'll see as you read on, the similarities are striking.

Page is the oldest of the three, with a 2011 founding date--although I didn't start getting questions about it until 2013. Many of the authors I've heard from missed the brief reference to "a manageable investment" on Page's About Us page, and assumed its claim to be a "full-service publishing house" meant it was a traditional publisher.

No actual prices are mentioned on Page's website, but based on the many, many reports, questions, and complaints I've received, as well as others that can be found online, Page's fees average in the $3,000-$5,000 range, paid on an installment plan over 10 or 12 months. As with so many vanity publishers, authors can spend hundreds or even thousands beyond their basic fee if they spring for optional promotional packages and materials, such as video trailers and sell sheets.

Page is an aggressive advertiser, with multiple Google ads and the kind of TV ads that run on channels like CNN or Fox News or the History Channel during the afternoon hours and late at night. Its BBB listing is stocked with an improbably large number of five-star reviews (the BBB is not normally a place where writers flock to leave reviews of their publishers)--however, it has also gathered some complaints, which paint a very different picture and echo what I've heard from writers who've contacted me.

Page is one of the most prolific vanities out there; if Amazon is to be believed, it has published over 7,000 books to date. Austin Macauley knows a competitor when it sees one:

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Founded in 2014 by an alumnus of disgraced Christian vanity Tate Publishing, Christian Faith Publishing describes itself as a "full-service book publisher" that "partners" with its authors to deliver "personal care and national marketing exposure." All that's required is "a short-term, affordable monthly installment plan".

Sound familiar?

As with Page, CFP's fees--which it doesn't disclose anywhere on its website--average between $3,000 and $5,000, paid in installments over a period of months. Marketing is an add-on: for instance, $3,400 for a package that includes a "High-Definition Video Trailer", a press release, and a page on CFP's website. (This is not marketing, it's junk. It's not worth one cent, let alone four figures.)

Again like Page, CFP is an aggressive advertiser, with a similar range of Google and TV ads. Its BBB listing too boasts hundreds of five-star reviews...along with the inevitable complaints that tell a different story.

Remember the possible coincidence I mentioned in my discussion of Page, above? Check out CFP's corporation directors:


See the third name on the list? Dustin Roberts is the name of Page Publishing's CEO. Could this be a different Dustin Roberts? Sure. But given the nature of both businesses, one could be pardoned for wondering.

CFP is currently the subject of a wage and hour lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleges that they and others were not paid overtime. Dismissed in 2018 in favor of the plaintiff due to CFP's failure to appear or defend, the case was re-opened in 2019, and the plaintiff is now seeking a class action.

This summary of the lawsuit includes some interesting details about what CFP employees do:


Full-service, indeed.

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Newman Springs Publishing, the third of the triad, is the baby of the bunch, having opened its doors in early 2017. Its first books didn't come out until June 2018, but it hasn't been idle: according to Amazon, it already has a catalog of nearly 400 titles.

Like CFP and Page, Newman Springs styles itself a "partner publisher," and employs a similarly modest--and non-specific--description of its fees ("a relatively inexpensive initial investment"). According to reports I've received, as well as others that can be found online, "relatively inexpensive" means the same price range as CFP and Page: somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000, paid in installments over 10 or 12 months. Additional money may be due for extras like video trailers.

A more polished version of Newman Springs' website pitch is here.

Newman Springs uses the same advertising tactics as CFP and Page: Google ads and late-night TV commercials. Also similar is its BBB listing, which includes a suspiciously large--and growing--array of five-star reviews. It hasn't been in business long enough to score any complaints, but I'm sure those are coming.

June 20, 2019

How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search, Part 2


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Last year, I published a post on the perils of searching for a publisher on the internet using general phrases like "how to get published" or "how to find a publisher".

While such searches turn up excellent resources (such as Jane Friedman's Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published), a lot of what you'll see on the first couple of pages (which is as far as most people look), is useless or worse: ads from vanity publishers, fake consumer guides where dubious companies like Xlibris pay for advertising, and sites that purport to match authors with appropriate publishers, but are really ways of generating leads for assisted self-publishing companies.

Here's another tricky method that at least one vanity publisher is employing to hijack your publisher search: Google Ads.

Google Ads enable anyone to drive traffic to their website by paying for keywords or phrases. The ad headline can be accurate, or it can be a total lie: Google doesn't care. For instance: as of this writing, if you search on "Random House submissions" (with or without quotes), here's what you get:
See the URL for the top listing? It steers you not to Random House, as the headline suggests, but to vanity publisher Austin Macauley (you can see my blog post about Austin Macauley and its four-figure fees here).

Or how about a search for "Simon and Schuster submissions"?

The first listing, not surprisingly, is for the super-expensive Archway Publishing, which Simon & Schuster owns (but outsources to Author Solutions). The second listing, though...Austin Macauley. Again.

Austin Macauley is spreading a wide net. Here's another one:
And also this:
Austin Macauley periodically changes its ads and keywords, though not its strategy. In May, the top listings for searches on "submit to Random House," "submit to Simon and Schuster", and "submit to HarperCollins" were ads steering traffic to AM, with headlines only slightly less deceptive than the current crop:


And this, from back in February:
No doubt there are many more I've missed. How many unsuspecting writers, aspiring to submit to a major traditional publisher, have been diverted to Austin Macauley as a result of encountering these ads? True, the ads identify themselves as ads, but many people miss this, ignore it, or don't realize what it means.

There are plenty of sleazy internet strategies to entrap unwary authors, but this is definitely one of the most brazen and offensive I've encountered. I wonder if PRH, which seems to be the main focus of AM's efforts, might want to do something about it.

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.
 
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