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December 30, 2019

Beware: Wid Bastian a.k.a. Widtsoe T. Bastian / Genius Media Inc. / Kairos Phoenix Company

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Early in 2019, seventeen writers were recruited to participate in a box set of medical thrillers, called (with unforeseen irony) Do No Harm.

The buy-in: $750, with net income from sales going to two designated charities, and participating writers receiving a pro-rated share of any net income above those contributions. The goal: through cooperative marketing efforts, to get the set on the USA Today bestseller list.

Here's how the opportunity was presented to potential participants (this is from an email that was shared with me):

In other words, right off the bat, authors were being primed not to expect to make money.

Helming the endeavor was a five-year-old PR company called Genius Media Inc., owned by a man called Wid Bastian (full name: Widtsoe T. Bastian). Per this long 2017 discussion on KBoards, one of Genius Media's not-so-genius MOs was to cold-contact writers by form email and offer glowingly-described Kindle Unlimited promotions. "For you, my estimate on an eBook promo is 10,000 plus downloads and 700 plus sales, positive ROI right out of the gate and huge page read income."

The cost: $2,000.

KBoards members urged caution, especially after expert analysis of Genius's claims indicated that its promotions weren't as successful as it advertised, and information offered by a writer who'd paid for a promo suggested that Genius was violating the TOS of the advertising platforms it used. Also noteworthy: this post from a writer who bought two promos from Genius, and lost money on each one. "That is what Genius Media told me to expect, that the first promo would not show a profit, but that by the second or third promo, they would show a profit." (The writer bought a third promo.)

As it turns out, these concerns were a sign of things to come.

Do No Harm was published, as promised, and made the USA Today bestseller list, also as promised. On October 3 (or possibly October 4), it was unpublished--three (or possibly four) days after the contractually-stipulated end date of September 30.

Per the contract (which you can see here), final reporting and payment was due to authors "no later than December 1". December 1 came...and went. Bastian promised anxious authors they'd get everything by December 15.

One day past that deadline, they did receive a report...but not from Genius Media. Between early December and December 16, with no notice or warning, a company called Kairos Phoenix had purportedly acquired Genius. Other than its business registration--in Wyoming, just like Genius's--and hometown--Logan, Utah, again just like Genius's--Kairos was a black box, with zero web presence. It had incorporated less than a month earlier, on November 22. (You can see the report here.)

That wasn't all that was suspicious. Here's Kairos's financial breakdown:

In other words, USA Today bestselling box set Do No Harm hadn't just failed to make a profit, it had lost money. But...where was the revenue from the $750 buy-in fees--which, with 17 authors, totaled $12,750? (Kairos's explanation: it wasn't included because it was "ordinary income" for Genius Media. "As stated in the contract, the fee was paid to 'participate' in DNH Collab by the author and for no other purpose".) Where were revenues for the days the set had been on sale past the unpublish deadline? (Kairos: "The contractual period for DNH Collab was strictly defined in the contract" as September 30, so any revenue past that date was "irrelevant".)

Equally troubling, why were there more than $15,000 in expenses--three-quarters of which were for "labor"--when the contract stipulated that expenses were not to exceed the total of the buy-in fees? According to Kairos, this wasn't really an expense cap: "This provision was specifically and intentionally included in the contract language to avoid the possibility of a 'cash call' – Genius Media asking authors to contribute more to DNH Collab to achieve the goal of making USA Today Bestseller status. No 'cash call' was ever made in the DNH Collab."

Here's the actual contract wording, though (my bolding):
For the purposes of the USA Today Bestseller Medical Thriller Author Publishing Collaborative Boxed Set program, Genius Media shall not incur any publication and promotion expenses of any nature in excess of the fees paid under the terms of its author agreements and shall have no power to obligate [redacted] or any other author for any publication and promotion expense above author fees paid whatsoever.
There's a "cash call" prohibition and an expense cap. But Kairos wanted writers to believe otherwise, so it could inflate expenses and ensure a loss.

It was obvious to Do No Harm participants that Kairos was taking the money and running--avoiding the substantial payouts it would otherwise have to make by retroactively interpreting contract language, and also enabling Bastian himself to claim he was blameless because of Genius's supposed takeover by an unrelated company. (No one was under any illusion that Kairos Phoenix was anything other than Bastian in a different guise.)

Authors were furious. On December 22, two of them, Christoph Fischer and Dan Alatorre, went public with their experience. Others posted warnings on Kairos's corporate business listing.

Do No Harm isn't the first time Bastian has run this scheme, either.

The box set in question appears to be Tales From Big Country, which was published around the same time as Do No Harm. A third set, Galaxia, was pubbed in September, with profits supposedly going to the Well Aware clean water charity. I've been told that Bastian is recruiting for other sets, including a collection of thrillers.

So who is Wid Bastian, a.k.a. Widtsoe T. Bastian?

His LinkedIn profile ("EXPOSE your new book to develop your author brand and sell more books!") identifies him as the owner of Genius Media, and also of an ebook promotion program called Book Dynamite. In an earlier profile on a freelancers' job site, he describes himself as a "published novelist and screenwriter" (more on that below) who "makes most of my daily bread as a ghostwriter." He also has an IMDB profile, presumably because of his efforts to make a film of the life of Greek Orthodox priest Fr. Themi Adamopoulos.

Genius Media's website has been taken offline, but traces remain in the form of cached pages, and here's how it looked in January 2016, courtesy of the Internet Archive (more recent versions haven't been archived). The company has a D+ rating from the BBB. Bastian also owned or was an officer with at least three other companies during the early to mid-1990s: Off & Flying, Prospex Interntaional [sic] (yes, it really was registered with a typo in the name), and Nevada Pension Investment Fund. Both Off & Flying and Prospex had their statuses "permanently revoked" a few years after incorporating. All three are long dead.

There is also a Widtsoe T. Bastian who pleaded guilty to 13 felony counts including embezzlement, money laundering, and bankruptcy fraud in US District Court in North Carolina, and in 2005 was sentenced to one hundred and forty-four months in prison and restitution of more than $3,000,000. Nothing I can find online directly connects Widtsoe T. Bastian of Genius Media to Widtsoe T. Bastian of North Carolina, so it may be a different person. But Widtsoe T. Bastian is quite an unusual name, as a websearch will make clear.

Finally...I can't say "what goes around comes around", since this pre-dates the ripoff that's the subject of this post, but it certainly seems like a case of advance karma: Bastian's own 2010 novel, Solomon's Porch, was published by none other than Tate Publishing & Enterprises, a notorious vanity publisher that scammed thousands of authors and a multitude of staff, and whose owners pleaded guilty in 2017 to an array of felony charges very similar to the ones described in the previous paragraph.

Tate authors suffered terribly at the hands of their unscrupulous publisher, but Wid Bastian is one Tate author I can't feel all that sorry for.

UPDATE 12/31/19: PACER was down yesterday, so I wasn't able to do a case search. I did so this morning, and here's what's there for Widtsoe T. Bastian:

Some of the listings are redundant, and several cite court documents without any links to those documents. But there's enough available to paint a tangled picture of a 1995 Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Nevada involving several companies in addition to the three mentioned above (the case was finally closed in 2002); a 1999 indictment in Nevada "on charges related to the operation of [Bastian's] venture capital firm"; failure to appear in a Nevada court in 2001; and a 2002 arrest in North Carolina, leading to the plea of guilty on 13 felony counts referenced above.

In 2012, Bastian was placed on probation or supervised release, and jurisdiction over his case was transferred to US District Court for Utah. His probation ended on May 4, 2015.


Taylor W.S. said...

Rule number one: Never pay to be published.
Rule number two: Never pay anything concerned with writing, writing contests, for example, you are the author, you get paid.

There is no rule number three unless somebody would care to devise one.

After reading the above, the worn-out phrases like '*There's one born every minute and '*A fool and his/her money...' Come easily to mind.

I have seldom read a quality 'bestseller'. After being sucked in by this obnoxious phrase I steer clear and recommend you leave stuff like this well alone.

I love this blog too, keep it going my dear and a Happy and successful New Year to you, your family and your friends.

Savvy Stories by Dan Alatorre said...

Regarding a few of the comments here by Taylor WS: We didn't pay to be published. Most of the authors in the set were already very successful and all had been published before. We paid to be marketed. If you check, you'll see quite a few well received books in that set. That's why I joined it - to get better exposure. The only problem was, we did all the networking and Wid took all the money. Marketing costs money. (Bookbub doesn't work for free, you know; neither do other advertising sites). If he'd have paid us and paid the charities, even after keeping a sizeable fee for himself, because no one expected him to work for free, everything would have been fine. But when you realize that EVERY set he does ends up "losing" money and NONE of the charities get anything, that's a pattern. These posts weren't about getting our money back, they were about warning others. As far as "a fool and his money" and a "one being born every minute," crimes can happen to anyone. I'm trying to have it happen to fewer authors who are trying to gain exposure and market their books - and that doesn't happen without money changing hands. Ford, Coke, Amazon - they all pay to have their products marketed. But I'm glad to see you are smarter than everyone else and never make a mistake. And of course, you know "bestseller" means crap - that's why we work hard to sell lots of books (in our case, over 10,000 copies in a week). So keep on being the smartest person in the room - your mom's basement - and don't gunk up a public service message with your arrogance.

Lori L. Robinett said...

I was one of the authors in the Tales from Big Country set. None of us paid to be published. Instead, we were pooling our money to pay for advertising and promotion at a level that would make it possible to make a bestseller list. That's something I simply can't afford to do on my own, even though my books have sold decently well in the past. I also thought this was a great way to join forces with other writers to support a charity I happen to feel strongly about, the American Wild Horse Campaign. Instead, Wid took the money and went on vacation . . . and the AWHC hasn't received a penny of the thousands they were pledged by Wid. The charities are the real losers in this. He used their logos to entice people to join the sets, and to entice readers to buy the sets.

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

This is heartbreaking for the authors and for the charities. I don't know how some people sleep at night.

PT Dilloway said...

I have another Blogger friend who had a book in an anthology that made the USA Today bestseller list. But when I went to look for it to buy in support, I couldn't find it anywhere. Now I wonder if it was one of these Genius Media deals, but I can't find the original blog post about it.

It is disappointing for the authors and charities involved that this was just a scam to take their money and run.

Victoria Strauss said...

I left the comment from Taylor W.S. for context, but I want to make clear that Writer Beware doesn't endorse the cheap shots in that comment. We NEVER blame the victims.

Allen F said...

"We paid to be marketed."

I've learned to place advertisers just below loan sharks as they make far more promises than they ever seem to do in results.

See a boost in sales? They'll be happy to claim any credit. See no change or even a drop? You just haven't put enough effort (money) into it to make it happen.

If all they wanted was to be seen by more eyes, that may have happened - sales elsewhere might even reflect it. If they were expecting anyone other than the advertiser to make money on the deal, most of us have been burned - the trick is learning and not getting burned again.


There is one way to find out if a man is honest -- ask him. If he says "Yes" you know he is crooked. -- Groucho Marx

Victoria Strauss said...

Yes, advertising and marketing is always caveat emptor. But the situation here isn't just puffery, or inflated claims of potential results by an unscrupulous marketer (though clearly that happened too).

It's asking writers to pay to be included in a publishing and marketing campaign, allowing them to assume the fee would defray expenses (hence the expense cap in the contract), and then retroactively re-defining the terms by declaring that the fees were in fact not for expenses, but to line Genius Media's pockets.

It's promising to donate sales proceeds to charity (one of the main reasons most of the writers signed on), and then fabricating a loss for the project so no checks needed to be written.

It's manipulating the finances so that Genius Media or Kairos Phoenix or whatever it's calling itself this week can keep not just the authors' buy-in fees, but all sales proceeds from the project.

Author fees: $12,750
Sales revenue: $14,483

TOTAL EXPENSES: ($15,114) (I'm not even addressing the redundancy in this figure, which includes $7,000 in "labor" for Bastian)

PROFIT: $12,119

Not a bad haul. And that's for just one box set. There's at least one other where Bastian pulled this same stunt.

Unknown said...

I was one of the authors in the set. None of us paid to be published. The initial payments were to cover the promotional expenses, which is standard in any collaboration. The book was a bestseller and the thousands it generated were earmarked for charities first and foremost, with the remaining royalties for the authors. The contract clearly stated all of this. None of the authors were "suckers", we were simply unaware that someone could be so callously criminal and we were also busy working to make sure out collaboration was successful. If Wid Bastian had not been involved, we would have had the same results but with money for charities and the authors rather than all for Wid, who ended up doing nothing. If Wid had actually done what he was supposed to do and used the initial payments for ads, we would have been even more successful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Victoria Strauss for the additional information and for sharing our story on Writer Beware. I'm sure this will help the writers of DNH and Tales from the Country further our case against the nefarious Wid Bastian. I will present this information to the FBI and I know Ed Dasso and others will let the Utah and Wyoming investigators know. We'll also alert the Attorney Generals in all author home states.

I hope this post helps other authors carefully select their promoters. I've had the same promotion person for 5 years and she's been excellent.
Many thanks to all of you who continue to share this information.
Judith Lucci

Allen F said...

@ Victoria

Agreed, but we've seen the 'lots of sales - but there was no profit' before. It's the old Hollywood math to not have to pay those they agreed to share the profits with - oops, we made no money so you don't get paid.

And that "donate sales proceeds to charity"? Said with the same tone of voice as when they say "think of the children", when what they really want was never intended to help any child.


Our business is run on trust. We trust you will pay in advance.

Unknown said...

Thank all of you for your clarity and honesty. I'm sorry that Taylor WS is not only a well-seasoned literary thief, but that he continues the same pattern and gets away with it. I was actually led here by trying to do some research on an agency that sounds strangely similar to him and his defected character. The company is Book Art Press Solution. They cold called me about week go wanting me to invest in their little pipedream publishing fallacy. I will spare you the details but will suffice it to say that I could have wound up with a sign around my neck "Man, did they ever see ME coming!" For anyone interested in poetry, I self published in 2008 :Nothing in Particular, Everything in General," and according to them, my book was considered a 4.7 out of 5. Whatever. You girls and guys have yourselves a great day, and thanks for the head up!

Anonymous said...

My name is Cindy Daniels, CSAC, by the way. This previous comment was from me about the well seasoned literary thief.

Victoria Strauss said...

Hi, Cindy,

I've written a blog post about Book Art Press Solutions, which is indeed a scam:

suzanne jenkins said...

Thank you for this. I gave Wid Bastian $10,000 to sell my book to an agent for TV. He never paid the screenwriter for her work and she's still in contact with him. He also has $900 which was earmarked for promoting other books in January which didn't get done. In recent emails he refuses to admit any wrongdoing, nor will he address the money he owes me.

We just discovered he is starting a ghostwriting business on Linked In.

Victoria Strauss said...


Thanks for your comment. I'm so sorry this has happened to you.

Do you know the name of this ghostwriting business? I just checked LinkedIn and there's no mention of it on Bastian's profile. Thanks again.

Susan Clevenger said...

I was scammed by Wid Bastina for $7,000. He spent 3 days at my house in August gaining my trust and training me for media interviews which never happened. In his contract he stated that he would be introducing me to his movie agent - never happened. On the release date of my book he went silent and did not answer emails or phone calls. Then his phone was disconnected. When he finally surfaced he had an excuse about needing to replace a bad phone. The only traction my book received was his giving away 2700 copies of a free e-book on one day stating that was what was needed to run my book to the top of the charts. What a SCAM!! Wasn't my writing and time worth anything? Finally he told me that my story was old news and nobody was interested. This was a true story about a woman who became famous in her death and made international news. The only reason nobody was interested is because Wid did not do his job. He was running a promotion for Dan Altore and his group of authors at the same time he was supposed to be marketing my book. He saw the money coming in for those authors and put all his time into skimming their money. How do you live with yourself, Wid?

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