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.

February 28, 2019

AMS Literary Agency: Approach With Caution


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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

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

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

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


AMS's website exhibits a host of warning signs.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

I received this response the next day:


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


That's me schooled.

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

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

February 22, 2019

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


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

It's not all that common, but I do see it from time to time in small press publishing contracts that I review: a publisher explicitly claiming ownership of the editing it provides, or making the claim implicitly by reverting rights only to the original manuscript submitted by the author.

Are there legal grounds for such a claim? One would think that by printing a copyright notice inside a published book, and registering copyright in the author's name or encouraging the author to do so, publishers are acknowledging that there is not. It's hard to know, though, because it doesn't seem to have been tested in the courts. There's not even much discussion of the issue. Where you do find people talking about it, it's in the context of editors as independent contractors, such as how authors hiring freelancers should make sure they own the editor's work product, or how freelance editors might use a claim of copyright interest as leverage in payment disputes.

In 2011, Romance Writers of America published a brief legal opinion on its website (still on the website, but unfortunately no longer accessible by the public), indicating that the claim would probably not prevail in court. But that's the only legal discussion I've been able to find.

The legal ambiguity of a copyright claim on editing is good reason to treat it as a publishing contract red flag. But that's not all.

It's not standard industry practice. No reputable publisher that I know of, large or small, deprives the author of the right to re-publish the final edited version of their book, either in its contracts or upon rights reversion. One might argue that in pre-digital days, this wasn't something publishers needed to consider--books, once reverted, were rarely re-published--whereas these days it's common for authors to self-publish or otherwise bring their backlists back into circulation. But publishers haven't been slow to lay claim to the new rights created by the digital revolution. If there were any advantage to preventing writers from re-publishing their fully-edited books, you can bet it would have become common practice. It hasn't.

Publishers can and do legitimately claim ownership of their own work product, such as cover art, design, and formatting. But is editing the publisher's work product? Editing is--or should be--a collaboration between author and editor. The editor makes suggestions; the author implements them. In any fully-edited manuscript, it's likely that most if not all of the actual re-writing and revision will have been done by the author. Why should a publisher be able to claim ownership of that?

Finally, there's the question of benefit or damage. What material benefit does a publisher gain by forbidding an author to re-publish their fully-edited book? How does it damage a publisher if a rights-reverted book is brought back into circulation as originally published? Other than satisfying a misguided and pointless desire for possession or control, none and not at all.

Nevertheless, through ignorance, possessiveness, or simple greed, publishers sometimes do make this claim. As far as I can tell, this is strictly a phenomenon of the small press world; I've never seen it in a contract from a larger publisher. Below are some examples of the kind of language you may encounter (all bolding is mine).

This is from Uncial Press:
Contract may be terminated by either the author or publisher with a 90-day written, certified mail notice or other receipted or traceable delivery service, and all rights to the original, unedited manuscript granted the publisher will revert to Author at the time of the termination.
From Idyll Arbor, Inc.:
An editor will be assigned by Company to prepare the Book for publication. All editorial changes will remain the property of Company.
In this recent contract from Totally Entwined Group (which also does business as Totally Bound), the publisher appears to be claiming ownership not just of edits, but of the edited book itself. The publisher may not actually intend such a sweeping claim--small presses often don't fully understand the implications of their own contract language. But as written, this clause is seriously problematic.
The Publisher shall own all intellectual property rights in any edited version of the Original Work, including, but not limited to, the Final Edited Version (and the Author hereby unconditionally assigns such rights to the Publisher)
Some publishers use a copyright claim on edits as a way to make a buck as the author goes out the door. This is also Totally Entwined/Totally Bound, from an older version of its contract (the money demand does not appear in the recent contract quoted above):
Upon expiration of this Agreement, should the Author wish to acquire rights to the final edited version of the Work, the Author agrees to pay the Publisher:
2.5.1 £250.00 for a Novel;
2.5.2 £80.00 Novella;
2.5.3 £40.00 a Short Story.
2.6 In consideration of any payment made according to clause 2.5 or clause 2.7, the Publisher and the editing staff agree to release any and all further claim to payment for the final edited version of the Work.
Storm Moon Press also wants to retain the right to edits, though its demand for payment appears only to apply to its own formatting and typesetting (to which publishers typically do claim ownership).
All rights to the original Work as submitted will revert to the Author without prejudice upon expiration of this contract. Should the Author wish to acquire rights to the final formatted and typeset digital files, he or she agrees to compensate Publisher in the amount of two hundred dollars ($200). In consideration of this payment, Publisher agrees to release any and all further claim to compensation for the finished Work.
Some of the same language appears in this contract from eXtasy Books Inc.--but note how the payment demand has been shifted to "the final edited version."
All rights to the original Work as submitted will revert to Author without prejudice upon expiration of Contract. Should Author wish to acquire rights to the final edited version, he or she agrees to compensate the assigned editor and/or copyeditor in the amount of $500 less royalties received for the editor or $250 less royalties received for the copyeditor. In consideration of this payment, the editor/copyeditor agrees to release any and all further claim to compensation for the finished Work.
Crooked Cat Publishing's contract does not include a copyright claim on editing--but it makes the demand after the fact, in its reversion notice. Beyond any other legal questions, a publisher has zero standing to demand something that's not in the contract.
We kindly ask that you NOT use the completed final, edited copy of this title to re-submit elsewhere or self-publish. We request that you make changes, however subtle, to the content of the edited, released version, so that it is not an exact re-publication of the version we published.
Claret Press is another publisher that makes extra-contractual claims on editing, using this dubious logic:
At the moment, because you have not paid for...edits, the intellectual property still belongs to [the publisher]. If you do not use any aspect of the edits, then you do not have to pay....If however, when you publish the books, there is any aspect of any piece of your writing that relates to anything in the...edits...then you have violated [the publisher's] ownership of...intellectual property.
Writer Beware, indeed.

For any lawyers reading, I'd be interested to know your thoughts on this issue.

February 14, 2019

Publishizer: Do Authors Really Need a Crowdfunding Literary Agency?


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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

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

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

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

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

A Look at Publishizer Book Deals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

Postscript

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


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

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

January 11, 2019

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


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


January 4, 2019

The Best of Writer Beware: 2018 in Review



Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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

New Scams, Old Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information You Can Use

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

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

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

Troubled Publishers

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

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

Publisher Enigmas

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

De Montfort Literature: Career Jumpstart or Literary Sweatshop?

Trademark WTF

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

Trademark Shenanigans: Weighing in on #Cockygate

Questionable Contests

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

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

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

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

Bonus Weirdness

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

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