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.

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). You'll note that a number of them operate under more than one name:

- Access Media Group / Quill Space Media
- Ace Media Creative Publication / Ace Media International / APM Media Production
- Alpha Books Solutions
- Alpha Books United
- Ascribed LLC
- AuthorAide
- AuthorCentrix (formerly BookBlastPro)
- AuthorLair
- Author University
- Black Lacquer Press & Marketing
- Book Art Press Solutions / Window Press Club
- Book Avenue Publishing / Nivra Press
- Book Magnets
- Book Reads Publishing
- BookTrail Agency / Book Agency Plus
- Book Vine Press
- BookVenture Publishing
- BookWhip / Carter Press
- Box Office Media Creatives / Buzz Media Creatives
- Capstone Media Services
- Creative Titles Media / TrueMedia Creatives
- 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
- McNaughton Books / McNaughton Publishing
- Media City Publishers
- Netsfilm & Media Press
- New Leaf Media
- New Reader Media
- Okir Publishing /ADbook Press / Coffee Press
- Outstrip
- PageTurner Press
- Parchment Global Publishing
- Paramount Books Media
- Press To Impress Publishing
- Readers Magnet
- Royale House
- Rushmore Press
- Sherlock Press
- Stonewall Press / Uirtus Solutions
- Stratton Press
- Toplink Publishing
- Universal Books Solutions
- URLink Print and Media
- Vivlio (Vivlio Hill, Vivlio Hill Publishing, Vivlio Solutions, Vivlio Marketing Solutions)
- Westwood Books Publishing / Authors Press / Creative Books
- The Writer Central / IdeoPage Press Solutions
- Writers Republic
- YourOnlinePublicist
- Zeta Publishing

(I'm continuously updating this list--adding new companies as I discover them, deleting the ones that disappear.)

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!
 
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