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.

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.

20 comments :

PT Dilloway said...

Good reason to use the old fashioned Writer's Digest marketplace or using reputable sites.

JOHN T. SHEA said...

“The first listing, not surprisingly, is for the super-expensive Archway Publishing, which Simon & Schuster owns (but outsources to Author Solutions).”
It's sad to see otherwise legitimate publishers still in that business!

Ben Baker said...

Love this. Education, not legislation.

Marie said...

While Writer's Digest and other industry sources are more vetted, the people who need the warning won't know about them, and perhaps cannot afford full online access. Learning who to trust and reputable sites is not what a newb is guaranteed to guess.

I can't afford them, and I only knew about the SFWA and publishing war stories from cons like the "Liar's Club" panel at Buccaneer '98.

Anonymous said...

This article was well-timed as I am currently looking to publish a short story anthology. Thank you for the heads up!
M. Z. Thwaite, author
Tidewater Series: Tidewater Rip, Tidewater Hit
mzthwaite.com

V.M.Sang said...

This is one of the most useful websites for writers. Thank you for this, and all your other warnings.

Anonymous said...

I believe Google has a policy against the use of deceptive and/or fake headlines in their ads program. There is a link to report these deceptive ads to Google. I would recommend anyone reading this to report theses ads which are trying to trick folks into thinking they’re submitting to Random House et al. Maybe if Google gets enough if these reports they will get rid of them. I’m surprised the traditional publishers don’t go after these parasites for using their brand for these nefarious schemes to rip off writers.

MLHE said...

"I wonder if PRH, which seems to be the main focus of AM's efforts, might want to do something about it." Let's all wonder about this! Thank you for shining a light on how the shifting sands of publishing are getting even shiftier.

Astros Kimm said...

These are standard SEO practices put in motion. They are just people who hired someone who knows how the internet works. The best way around stuff like this to to use long keyword phrases. Instead of "how to get published," you might use "publisher urban fantasy new york" or something of that sort. It won't ocmpletely eliminate the problem, but the more words you use, the easier it is to narrow it down.

I am an SEO expert and know how this stuff works.

:)

Allen F said...

Sadly actually reading the URL is becoming a lost art. Heck, it's hard enough trying to get my mother from going to bad sites the scammers point her to in emails.

"FedEx says there's a problem with our delivery!"

"If you put your mouse over the link without clicking on it - does it say it's taking you to FedEx?"

"No, but maybe one of their employees sent it by their own email."

"They don't do that, just delete it."

"But ..."

Yeah ...

Allen F said...

'... keep my mother ...' Where's my editor when I need them? ;-)

Victoria Strauss said...

Astros Kimm, you're right that sleazy SEO tactics can be foiled with a bit of web savvy (not to mention a bit of publishing knowledge)--but Austin Macauley is using this deceptive technique specifically to snag all the writers who don't know this. And there are plenty of them. That's why Writer Beware publishes warnings like this.

Astros Kimm said...

Not sleazy. This is white hat SEO. One of the things you do is create ads for the keywords/phrases which you feel will get the correct audience to your site. The fact that the landing page doesn't give you as much as another landing page is not at issue. If it was something completely different, you can report it to Google and the company will get blacklisted by them. (Which is REALLY hard to remove.)

SEO can be this big, mystery algorithm for people who are not familiar with it, but when you actually learn how things work, not only will you understand Google much, MUCH better, but you will also know how to make it work for you in the parameters Google has set which are white hat.

He is not being deceptive, but I would say he is being unethical.

Victoria Strauss said...

Astros Kimm, I don't think one can sanitize these deliberately misleading ads by invoking general principles of SEO. Is Austin Macauley smart? Does it understand the psychology of its audience? Yes, and yes. Is it deceptive to pose as Random House in your headline, even if the URL right below the headline gives the game away? Yes, because many people will only read the headline--especially if it matches the search phrase they used. Is it exploitative and unethical to attempt to divert writers looking for a traditional publisher to a vanity publisher, even if the writers should know better? Definitely.

In my book, this absolutely is sleazy SEO.

Anonymous said...

Kimm seems to be forgetting that SEO is about drawing attention to comparable and competitive/compatible things — the up-and-coming craft brewer who latches on to people searching for brand-name beer, the painting contractor who latches on to searches in the local area for a brand of paint. There is nothing that is "comparable" or "competitive/compatible" between an author searching for information on pays-the-author publishing opportunities and authors-pays-to-be-published schemes.

Anonymous said...

Victoria, your list of "PUBLISHING & MARKETING SCAMS TARGETING INDIE AUTHORS" (seen on your homepage at the side bar) is not complete. You should include the imprints of Author Solutions like xlibris, authorhouse, iuniverse and not only that... How about American publishing companies such as Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency, Page Publishing and others!

You've made a lot of posts already and one of the things you should do is to be unbiased.

Allen F said...

@ Anonymous 6/27/2019 1:07 PM

There's no way she can cover every single one of them. The warning to writers is that these types playing these games are out there. Be alert and do a bit of research before talking to them. Victoria is showing you and the rest of us what the tricks and traps look like - they spring up way too fast to keep up with.

Keep up the good work, Victoria, some of us get the message.
(and my third book went live today without me having to pay out cash or rights! ;-) )

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 6/27,

I've written extensively on this blog about Author Solutions and its unsavory business practices (you can see those posts by plugging "Author Solutions" into the search box at the top of the sidebar). I've also written about vanity publishers Christian Faith Publishing, Austin Macauley, Tate Publishing, PublishAmerica, and many others. As for SBPRA, it's included on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers List.

The list in the sidebar is _specifically_ for Philippines-based publishing and marketing scams that primarily target self-published writers. That's why only they are included.

Anonymous said...

why only Philippines? your blog is getting a lot of views. some authors, if not most, may only see those publishing names at your home page (in the side bar). that's why, you could be biased.

Allen F said...

@ Anonymous 6/28/2019 12:47 PM

I'm starting to think you're mad at her because she's pointing out the Philippines scams - not because you fear bias, but because you fear it might hit your pocketbook.

There are thousands of things wrong all over the world - would you consider a newspaper biased if they didn't cover every single one of them every time they printed a paper?

If you think Victoria isn't doing enough, please go and start your own blog to warn writers of the dangers - just don't be biased and forget to warn your readers of the scams that come from the Philippines!

 
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