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.

March 31, 2020

Copyright Violation Redux: The Internet Archive's National Emergency Library


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

The enormous digital archive that is the Internet Archive encompasses many different initiatives and projects. One of these is the Open Library Project, a huge repository of scanned print books available for borrowing in various digital formats.

Unlike a regular library, the IA does not purchase these books, but relies on donations to build the collection. Nor are permissions sought from copyright holders before creating the new digital editions. And although the IA claims that the project includes primarily 20th century books that are no longer widely available either physically or digitally, the collection in fact includes large numbers of 21st century books that are in-copyright and commercially available--and whose sales the Open Library's unpermissioned versions have the potential to harm.

Most professional writers' groups consider the Open Library to be not library lending, but massive copyright violation. Many have issued alerts and warnings (you can see SFWA's alert here), and many authors have contacted the IA with takedown requests (to which the IA was not always terrific at responding; you can see my account of my own frustrating experience here).

In the fall of 2018, a novel (and disputed) legal theory was created to justify the Open Library and similar initiatives, called Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). CDL's adherents present it as "a good faith interpretation of US copyright law for American libraries" seeking to conduct mass digitization projects, and invoke as support the "exhaustion" principle of the first sale doctrine (the idea that an authorized transfer of a copyrighted work "exhausts" a copyright holder's ability to subsequently control the use and distribution of  that copy; this is what allows used book sales, for example) and the fair use doctrine (a complex principle that permits the copying of a copyrighted work as long as the copying is limited and transformative). As long as the library restricts its lending in ways similar to restrictions on the lending of physical books (for instance, allowing only one user at a time to access each digital format), CDL holds that creating new digital editions of in-copyright books and lending them out is fair use, and copyright holders' permission isn't necessary.

Libraries in particular have embraced CDL. Publishers' and writers' groups...not so much, especially in light of a recent legal decision that rejected both the first sale doctrine and fair use as basis for re-selling digital content. Here's the Authors Guild:
CDL relies on an incorrect interpretation of copyright’s “fair use” doctrine to give legal cover to Open Library and potentially other CDL users’ outright piracy—scanning books without permission and lending those copies via the internet. By restricting access to one user at a time for each copy that the library owns, the proponents analogize scanning and creating digital copies to physically lending a legally purchased book. Although it sounds like an appealing argument, the CDL concept is based on a faulty legal argument that has already been rejected by the U.S. courts.

In Capitol Records v. ReDigi, the Second Circuit held that reselling a digital file without the copyright holder’s permission is not fair use because the resales competed with the legitimate copyright holder’s sales. It found that market harm was likely because the lower-priced resales were sold to the same customers who would have otherwise purchased new licenses. In this regard, the court emphasized a crucial distinction between resales of physical media and resales of digital content, noting that unlike physical copies, digital content does not deteriorate from use and thus directly substitutes new licensed digital copies.

The same rationale applies to the unauthorized resale or lending of ebooks. Allowing libraries to digitize and circulate copies made from physical books in their collection without authorization, when the same books are available or potentially available on the market, directly competes with the market for legitimate ebook licenses, ultimately usurping a valuable piece of the market from authors and copyright holders.
For a more detailed deconstruction of CDL's arguments, see this statement from the Association of American Publishers.

Flash forward to 2020, and the coronavirus pandemic crisis. Last week, the IA announced the debut of the National Emergency Library--really just the Open Library, but with some new provisions.
To address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as of today, March 24, 2020, the Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.

During the waitlist suspension, users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized for the remainder of the US academic calendar, and that people who cannot physically access their local libraries because of closure or self-quarantine can continue to read and thrive during this time of crisis, keeping themselves and others safe.
What this boils down to, under all the high-flying verbiage: the IA is ditching the one-user-at-a-time restriction that is one of the key justifications for the theory of controlled digital lending, and allowing unlimited numbers of users to access any digitized book in its collection.

The Authors Guild again, on how this harms authors:
IA is using a global crisis to advance a copyright ideology that violates current federal law and hurts most authors. It has misrepresented the nature and legality of the project through a deceptive publicity campaign. Despite giving off the impression that it is expanding access to older and public domain books, a large proportion of the books on Open Library are in fact recent in-copyright books that publishers and authors rely on for critical revenue. Acting as a piracy site—of which there already are too many—the Internet Archive tramples on authors’ rights by giving away their books to the world.
Here's just one concrete example. Katherine Harbour's Nettle King is available for borrowing in the National Emergency Library as a scan, an EPUB, and a PDF (the IA's EPUB versions are OCR conversions full of errors). Published in 2016, it's also "in print" and available on Amazon and other online retailers as an ebook, in addition to other formats. The IA, which never bought a digital license to Ms. Harbour's book and scanned and uploaded it without permission, now is proposing to allow unlimited numbers of users to access it, potentially impacting her sales. How is this any different from a pirate site?

Announcement of the National Emergency Library has been greeted rapturously by the press and by libraries. Less regarded has been the flood of protest and criticism from authors and professional groups. In situations like these, authors and publishers tend to be dismissed as greedy money-grubbers who are putting profits ahead of the march of progress and the noble dream of universal access to content...despite the fact that authors' right to make money from their work--and, just as important, to control the use of it--springs directly from the US Constitution, and has been enshrined in law since 1790.

In response to the outcry over the National Emergency Library, the IA has issued a justification of it, citing the "tremendous and historic outage" of COVID-19-related library closures, with "books that tax-paying citizens have paid to access...sitting on shelves in closed libraries, inaccessible to them." This noble-sounding purpose conveniently ignores the fact that those libraries' (legally-acquired and paid-for) digital collections are still fully available.

If your book is included in the National Emergency Library, and you don't want it there, the IA will graciously allow you to opt out (another inversion of copyright, which is an opt-in system).


Hopefully they'll be more responsive than they were in 2018, when I sent them DMCA notices that they ignored. Or later, when they began rejecting writers' takedown requests by claiming that the IA "operates consistently with the Controlled Digital Lending protocol.”

******************

I've covered this question above, but I want to highlight it again, because it's such a persistent objection when this kind of infringement occurs: Brick-and-mortar libraries lend out books for free, so how are the IA's "library" projects any different?

A few reasons.

- Brick-and-mortar libraries buy the books they lend, a separate purchase for each format (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, etc.). The author gets a royalty on these purchases. The IA seeks donations, and lends those. Authors get nothing.

- Brick-and-mortar libraries lend only the books they purchase. They don't use those books to create new or additional, un-permissioned lending formats. That's exactly what the IA does. Moreover, one of its additional lending formats is riddled with OCR errors that make them a chore to read. Apart from permission issues, this is not how authors want their books to be represented to the public.

- People who advocate for looser copyright laws often paint copyright defenders as greedy or mercenary, as if defending copyright were only about money. It's worth remembering another important principle of copyright: control. Copyright gives authors not just the right to profit from their intellectual property, but to control its use. That, as much as or even more than money, is the principle the IA is violating with its library projects.

UPDATE: It appears that the IA--on its own initiative--is removing not just illegally-created digital editions in response to authors' takedown requests, but legally-created DAISY editions as well, even where authors don't ask for this (DAISY is a format for the visually impaired, and like Braille, is an exception in copyright law and is also permissioned in publishing contracts).


It did the same thing in 2018, even where the takedown requests specifically exempted DAISY editions. I don't know if the current removals reflect expediency or possibly are just a kind of FU to writers (and, indirectly, to disabled readers), but if you send a removal request to the IA, you might consider specifically asking them not to remove any editions for the blind and disabled (which, again, are legal for the IA to distribute).

UPDATE 4/2/20: The Authors Guild has issued a statement encouraging writers to demand that the Internet Archive remove their books from its National Emergency Library. The statement includes instructions on what to do, along with a sample DMCA notice in the proper legal form.

March 26, 2020

Space Kadet: The Twisted Tale of a Sad, Sad Internet Troll


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

A couple of weeks ago, my Twitter warning about an amateur literary agent received a fairly curmudgeonly response.


Mistaking it for a serious (if misguided) comment, I responded with a thread about why it's, well, bad for an agent to lie about their credentials. Which prompted this:

Ooookayyyy then.

After a couple more exchanges in a similar vein, plus a not-so-subtle threat (I do give this person credit for knowing the difference between slander and libel), "Dr. Mudgett" flounced.


Soon after, several alert individuals messaged me to let me know that "Dr. Mudgett" isn't just a rando with an inflated sense of self-worth and a profile named after an infamous American serial killer, but one of the sockpuppets of an astonishingly prolific Twitter troll possessed of awesome vitriol and seemingly unlimited free time to indulge it.

The troll's real name is Gary S. Kadet--and though I'd never heard of him before he decided to call me out, he is well known in the Twitter writing community as someone who, via large numbers of fake accounts (most of which have been suspended by Twitter), hijacks popular hashtags like #amquerying, #mswl, and #WritingCommunity to launch vicious unprovoked attacks against writing and publishing people of all kinds, especially new writers and literary agents. So copious is his output--we're talking daily, even hourly tweets--that sometimes he runs out of new insults and has to recycle them. (Sample, if you can stomach it, the stream-of-invective narrative of his Dr. Mudgett Twitter feed.)

I'm always interested in the bizarro side of writing and publishing, and Mr. Kadet certainly seemed to fit the bill. So I put out a call for contact.


I got a perfect flood of responses. I heard from agents and agency interns whom Mr. Kadet had targeted for insults, mockery, and general harassment--especially if they were women, and in some cases after they rejected one of his manuscripts (Mr. Kadet is a [currently] frustrated novelist). I heard from writers he'd savaged for nothing more than posting positive comments about something, or announcing a book sale, or just for talking about writing. Much of his trolling seems to be of the drive-by variety, but I also heard from writers for whom he has conceived a deeper grudge--some of whom he has been stalking and attacking for years, and not just with nasty tweets, either. Some of these individuals told me that he has doxxed them, and made public things about their personal lives they would have preferred not to share. One of his targets was forced to seek help from the police.

Several people have written about their encounters with him (prompting him, in at least one case, to send a laughably bogus cease-and-desist). More personal accounts of Kadet encounters are here. Also here. In fact, he's so famous--at least, as a troll--that he has inspired a parody Twitter account. I guess that's some form of validation, right?

Sockpuppet accounts Mr. Kadet has used in the past (all deleted or suspended): @JohnnyRacetrack, @JimboRockfordPI, @JacktheTrippe11, @JacktheTrippe12, @GaryKDarkLord, @GaryKadet, @RealGarySKadet, @CastleMurder,  @MudgettMania, @MudgettRedux, @FrugSigmund, @Joe_Nesmith. @JoeChristmas6, @ImmortalGSK.

Socks he's using currently (that I know of): @JackMcVea, @KatzProserpine.

Mr. Kadet loathes a lot of people, but for one agent in particular, his hatred burns with a white-hot flame: Gina Paniettieri of Talcott Notch Literary Services. In 2018, Talcott Notch rejected one of Mr. Kadet's manuscripts, to which Mr. Kadet took extreme offense, and he has been targeting the agency and its agents ever since. In addition to a veritable tsunami of noxious tweets, promises to sue, accusations of violating his "IP confidentiality" (apparently because Gina revealed the rejected ms.), and bogus bad reviews wherever he can place them (not always successfully, since they are so demented that they get flagged), Gina tells me that he has called her home to harass her, and that he's currently demanding that she "settle" with him--i.e., pay him off--so that he'll stop.


Here's an interview with Talcott Notch agent Tia Mele about toxic writers in general and Mr. Kadet in particular.

So who is Gary S. Kadet IRL? There's not a great deal to be found on a websearch, but he did publish a novel in 2000 with Forge, and was apparently an editor with the Boston Book Review. He has lived in Cambridge, MA and Providence, R.I. Twitter isn't the only place where he has been accused of stalking.

Soon after my call for contact, Mr. Kadet's @KatzProserpine sock account DM'd me this:


Ooooh, scary! Not to be outdone by his alter ego, Mr. Kadet reached out to SFWA under his own name. Of course, he couldn't resist mentioning Talcott Notch. Also note the date: more than a week before I put this post online.


Mystery Writers of America, one of Writer Beware's supporters, received an identical "complaint" on the same date. Fortunately, both SFWA and MWA know how to handle trolls.

So what's the bottom line here--other than the bigger issue of the toxicity that flourishes on social media and the inevitability of encountering it if you're active online? I guess it's really just the familiar advice: "Don't feed trolls". Starve the energy monster. The thing with trolls is that, for the most part, it's really not personal. They don't care about you; it's your reaction they need. They thrive on your distress, and draw strength from your response. Depriving them of these things may not shut them up--they can't really control themselves--but it is probably the single most frustrating thing you can do to them.

So if you find yourself targeted by Mr. Kadet--or, indeed, if any random tweet of yours receives a nasty or belittling response from an account you've never heard of--the best possible comeback is simply to block the account and move on.

UPDATE: I learned this evening that Mr. Kadet today sent his "bad writer Strauss" message to Horror Writers Association, another of Writer Beware's supporters--and for good measure, sent it to MWA a second time. He has also weighed in in the comments here.

March 16, 2020

Writer Beware in the Time of Coronavirus

My home office, with feline assistant.
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I rarely make personal posts on this blog. But, as I don't need to remind anyone, these are scary times.

My husband and I are physically fit and in general good health, but we are both 64 and he has an underlying health condition. Based on everything we're seeing and reading, we've concluded that our best covid-19 strategy is either a) not to get sick, or b) to delay getting sick as long as possible in hopes of more treatment options or at least less hospital crush.

Our social distancing began last weekend. We've completely withdrawn from face-to-face social interaction, and are ordering non-perishables and household items online. No more routine doctor or dentist visits. No more stores, library, restaurants, or gym (we're in Massachusetts, where a lot of things are shut down anyway). I'm still on the fence about careful, non-peak hour grocery shopping for fresh produce--but I certainly won't be going while shelves are bare from people's absurd panic buying (some of the same people, probably, who are still having parties and crowding into bars *eyeroll*).

Sarah, my other assistant. Kittehs are a comfort.
We're acutely aware that this is MUCH easier for us than it is for most. We both already work from home. We have decent financial resources. We don't have kids. Elderly relatives are all dead. Family and many friends are geographically distant, so we're already socially distanced there. We can still go out for walks and runs. I can still garden (one of my major passions).

So the changes to our routine are relatively small, compared to many. It's tougher for my husband than for me--the majority of my social life is online, but he is a gregarious person with a wide circle of friends, colleagues, and peers. But there's always Zoom and Skype, and he's making use of both.

For us as for many, stress and fear are daily companions. This is not the zombie apocalypse; there will be a vaccine eventually, and civilization will survive, as it survived the flu pandemic of 1918. But...how bad will it get? How long will it last--will we have to live this way for a year? More? What will happen to friends and family? What will happen to the people who are thrown out of work by widespread (and, I'm guessing, soon nationwide) business closures? The people who have no insurance? The people in prisons and ICE jails, the immigrants packed together at the border? And what about the election? I didn't think, back in innocent December, that that could become more crucial. But, as I stand in horror before the shitshow happening in Washington, it's clear to me that it has.

These and other questions haunt me on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis. I suffer from depression--have done since childhood--and one of my fears is that I'll sink into a clinical episode. I can feel that possibility stalking around the edges of everything now. I am doing my best to resist. My husband, thank goodness, is more resilient. We work to keep each other's spirits up.

At a time like this, ordinary activities--like maintaining this blog--start to feel irrelevant. But they're not. Life goes on, even in the face of catastrophe. I seriously doubt that covid-19 will put a dent in the volume of schemes and scams that target writers who will still be writing, still seeking agents, still publishing. And one of the most important strategies for resisting helplessness and depression is work, for those of us who are still lucky enough to be able to do it.

Emily: Why are you taking my picture _again_?
So Writer Beware will go on. I'll continue to be active on Facebook and Twitter. As much as possible, I'll post here as I usually do--not always weekly, but as often as I find things to write about. And I urge you to continue to email me with your questions, concerns, reports, and complaints. Please, keep the emails coming.

And: wash your hands.

Don't touch your face.

Cough or sneeze into your elbow,.

Keep your distance: 6 feet is optimal.

Stay home if you can, especially if you're sick (I know this is tough for many to do).

Check on your elderly neighbors (from a distance).

Resist panic buying.

Don't share health information unless you're sure it comes from a reputable source (Facebook, oh my God).

Be safe.

I'll be seeing you.

March 13, 2020

Beware: Pigeon House Literary / Druella Burhan


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

The internet and social media have transformed writer/agent/publisher interactions in many ways, one of which is the proliferation of Twitter pitch events, such as #PitMad, #DVPit, and others.

While no online innovation has (so far) managed to supplant the traditional query-and request route, these events do attract plenty of reputable agents and publishers--unlike other purported shortcuts (*cough*Publishizer*cough*). However, inevitably, they are also stalked by marginals, amateurs, and even scammers.

For instance, Eliezer Tristan Publishing, which charged a $500 fee and went out of business just months after opening up, haunted #PitMad. Ditto for GenZ publishing, which charges authors $2,500. Burchette and Ferguson, a brand-new publisher staffed by people with zero relevant experience, participated in pitch events before they even launched (and went out of business shortly thereafter).

Then there's this:


I've gotten many, many other questions about approaches by dubious companies and individuals as a result of pitch events. All in all, therefore, it pays to be careful, and if you haven't heard of an individual or publisher who approaches you, to research them before responding. (You can contact me; I may have heard something.)

Which leads me to the subject of today's post. I might not normally devote an entire blog post to one marginal agent, but this one is such an egregious example, and seems to be so active on social media--including #PitMad--that I think she's worth a special feature.

Pigeon House Literary Agency launched just this past February. It's run by Druella Burhan, whose resume includes none (zero, zip) of the relevant background experience you typically want to see from a new literary agent--such as a professional writing resume, or having previously worked for a reputable agency or publisher.


The lofty claims Burhan does make are either unverifiable, or provably false. For instance, here's Harvard Medical's publication on its 2011 MD-PhD graduates. Surprise! There's no mention of Druella Burhan.

Here's some of Burhan's agenting philosophy:


The logo (for lack of a better word) at the top of this post provides a preview of the rest of the Pigeon House site (a Wix freebie), which is amateurishly formatted and clearly not proofread (several pages have fully-justified text, with words cut off at the end of lines--I mean, it's a Wix freebie, it's not like you have to be an expert to get it right) and rife with typos, grammatical errors, and bizarre word use. For instance,


That's bad, but here's what it originally looked like. Burhan changed it shortly after I tweeted about it:


There's more: the Who We Are page, which bafflingly proclaims that the agency will "strive to bring a supreme appealingness and picturesque style of books from darkness to life"; the Foreign Rights page, which erroneously cautions writers that "If a literary agent does not agree to take you on as an international client/author, you will not be able to sell books overseas"; the Referrals page, where Burhan bizarrely invites other agents to send her clients. And here's the contract she is sending out, which includes the same formatting/proofreading errors as her website, and is really just an embarrassment.

It's a perfect carnival of amateurism.

Am I being mean here? Maybe, but before you whip out the "everyone has to start somewhere" argument, consider Burhan's false claims about herself and her aggressive use of social media to recruit clients despite her obvious ignorance and complete lack of relevant qualifications (I first heard of her because she was trolling on Reddit, and she is actively inviting queries on her Twitter feed).

The damage an amateur agent can do is considerable--squandering clients' chances with substandard submissions, submitting to disreputable or incompetent publishers, inadequately understanding publishing contract language and therefore not capable of effectively negotiating it. An amateur agent may not drain a writer's bank account the way a scammer would, but the bottom line isn't that different: no sale, and lots of wasted time.

Writer Beware.

February 27, 2020

Mass Contract Cancellations at Mystery Publisher Henery Press


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Beginning on Friday, February 8, dozens of authors with mystery publisher Henery Press received some version of this email.
Dear ________,

Before entering 2020, we felt it prudent to review future projections for _______ series, taking into consideration recent releases and overall performance. To provide an unbiased professional opinion and guidance in our 3-year strategic plan, we hired a consulting firm with experience in the industry. This allowed us to analyze not only your specific series, but also the competitive landscape and industry as a whole.

Unfortunately the sales of _______ series do not justify the publication of future titles beyond 2020. We know this is disappointing. The market has become beyond saturated (especially in mystery fiction), with all leading indicators pointing to even more intense competition for consumer dollars in the next cycle and beyond....

Although we don’t have a pathway forward with your new titles, we will continue to sell and support your backlist titles as usual under the terms of our original publishing agreement. To be clear, we will not be reverting the rights on any of your already published title(s), only future titles specifically outlined in the addendum to follow in the next week.
A number of the cancellations affected books that had been completed, turned in, and scheduled for publication, with some authors having already made promotional plans. Others interrupted series whose first installment hadn't yet been published--with Henery holding on to the yet-to-be-published book and reverting rights to the rest. Cancellation of a series before it's completed can be tough--another publisher may not want to buy into a series mid-stream, and while followup titles can be self-published, it's difficult to promote a series when it's split up like this.

The cancellations came out of the blue (nothing had been said about any strategic plan or consulting firm). But while some writers were blindsided, others weren't hugely surprised. Although they have praise for the company's early days, Henery authors say that problems have been increasing for some time, with staff departures (interns are reportedly used to do a lot of the editing, with sometimes substandard results), late royalty checks and reports (several authors told me that they feel there are discrepancies in their sales figures), diminishing marketing (according to multiple writers, virtually no promotional support is provided), ordering problems (writers cite non-returnability and nonstandard discounts), and difficulty with communications.

"Over time," one author told me, "Henery Press’s business model started to look more like a company that assists with self-publishing and less like a real publisher." (In fact, Henery uses CreateSpace for printing, and Barnes & Noble lists Henery ebooks as "indie".)

I've gotten a variety of additional complaints, which I'm not able to share here because they could compromise confidentiality. There seems to be considerable fear among Henery authors that they will be penalized for speaking out--which may be why almost no word of the cancellations has escaped. There's also the gag clause in the rights reversion addendum that authors are receiving:


One writer told me, "HP payback tactics (they're so vindictive) are hell. [Authors are] afraid if HP even suspects they've contributed, the books they have will go down." I truly wish this weren't such a common component of publisher implosions.

So is Henery imploding? Mass cancellations are never a good sign, and often indicate financial distress. Some Henery authors don't feel that's the issue, though, or not the only issue: they speculate that the owners intend to retire, and are keeping the company alive in order to retain the income stream from existing titles.

I emailed Henery's owner, Art Molinares, for comment. As of this writing, he hasn't responded.

Mystery Writers of America (where Henery is listed as an Approved Publisher) is aware of the situation, and is monitoring it. If you've been affected, you can contact MWA here. Be sure to put "Henery Press" in the subject line. All communications are confidential.

I will post updates as I receive them.

February 14, 2020

Should You Pay To Display Your Book At BookExpo? (Short Answer: No)


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

BookExpo (formerly known as BookExpo America, but still referred to as BEA) is the US's leading publishing industry event. Attended by publishers, agents, booksellers, retailers, librarians, and people and companies from all aspects of the book trade, it's an opportunity for industry professionals to network, do business, and learn about new trends, titles, and opportunities in the book world.

Although BEA doesn't happen until May 27 this year, it's not too soon for industry professionals to begin planning for attendance. It's also not too soon for authors to start receiving solicitations--by phone and by email--to buy expensive services and packages that supposedly will give their books visibility at the fair.

Here's what author and editor Jane Friedman has to say about paying to display at BEA. (Jane's website is an amazingly comprehensive and useful resource on all aspects of writing and publishing; you should definitely bookmark it.)
Aside from the Author Market [a designated area of the exhibit floor where self-published authors can buy display space], there are a handful of opportunities for authors to get visibility for their work at BEA. As far as I’m concerned—as someone who attended this show for 10 years, mainly as an editor with a traditional publishing house—it is not worth the investment. Here’s why.

The emphasis of the show is on traditional publishing, rights sales and pre-publication marketing, and does not favor indie title promotion. It is a New York industry event where traditional publishing insiders talk to other traditional publishing insiders. Yes, there are librarians and booksellers, but they’re rarely paying attention to the places where an indie book may be showcased or promoted.

Nobody is going to notice your book there. Your book is likely to be promoted with many other books, with no way of attracting attention even if someone did pause for a second within 50 feet of your book. Imagine setting a copy of your book down in the world’s largest book fair, and expecting someone to not only notice it, but be entranced by it so much they can ignore 10,000 other things happening at the same time.

If you—the author—are not present to advocate for it, your book doesn’t stand a chance. Services that offer to promote your book at BEA are rarely, if ever, hand-selling or promoting your book in a meaningful way. But they will be happy to cash your check and say that your book had a “presence” at BEA. If you want to satisfy your ego, go ahead. But it’s not going to lead to meaningful sales. (I challenge anyone in the comments to provide evidence that a self-published book gained traction at BEA because the author paid a fee to secure placement—and the author was not present.)
I'll add a fourth consideration: You will likely be hugely overcharged, especially by companies that sell book fair packages, or re-sell the exhibit services of others.

SOLICITATIONS YOU MAY ENCOUNTER


1. You may already have received an email from the Combined Book Exhibit's New Title Showcase. The CBE, an area of standing bookshelves outside the entrance to the BEA display floor, offers display packages for a few hundred dollars. For a few hundred more, you can buy an ad in its catalog; for many hundreds more, you can buy an autographing session.

Your book will be placed on a shelf with hundreds of others, in no particular order: there are no separate areas for genres, for instance. I've attended BEA many times, and the CBE is often completely deserted, with not a customer or a staff person in sight. I've never seen more than a handful of people browsing it at any one time. There is definitely no handselling involved.

A number of predatory marketing companies re-sell CBE services for enormous markups. The CBE is aware of this, and has posted a warning on its website (it's no coincidence that all the companies named in the warning appear on the scam list in the sidebar of this blog).

2. If you've chosen an assisted self-publishing company, you may be encouraged to buy presence in their BEA booth.

The Author Solutions imprints sell BEA as part of a package that includes several fairs and costs nearly $3,000. (What do you get for that? Basically, a spot on a shelf, higglety-pigglety in among an unknown number of other books by writers no one has heard of). Xulon Press sells BEA on its own, but with multiple options for spending big bucks, from shelf space only ($599) to a "Boutique High Top Table with 30 Books" ($1,999--do you get to take the table home?).

Outskirts Press re-sells CBE services--for over $150 more than you'd pay if you dealt with CBE directly.

3. Vanity publishers (yes, vanity publishers do attend and display at BEA and other fairs) may offer their authors the "opportunity" for BEA presence--at extra (possibly significantly extra) cost.

Here's my post about SterlingHouse, a vanity publisher that is now defunct but in its heyday charged its authors as much as $9,500 for BEA display of their books, signings, and other perks. (As Jane indicates above, being present to advocate for your book may make a difference--but $9,500 worth? Even if the author sold all 150 books included in the package, they wouldn't come close to making that money back.)

Here's one of the many BEA-related solicitations with which the late, unlamented PublishAmerica bombarded its authors:


4. Some unscrupulous literary agents sell slots in catalogs or portfolios that they claim to bring to BEA, supposedly to market to publishers.

Examples of this scheme that I've seen involve fees of anywhere from $150 to four figures (here's one that charges $300). If your agent is the kind of agent who exploits clients in this way, they are not the kind of agent who has contacts with publishers.

This sort of thing is far less common than it used to be, thank goodness (there are fewer literary agent scams in general, thanks to self-publishing and the many small presses that deal directly with authors), but it's still a ripoff. Don't do it.

5. The most aggressive solicitations--especially by phone--come from unscrupulous or scammy marketing companies.

Services run from the basic--a spot on a shelf in a not-always-very-professional-looking display area (you have to supply the book)--to basic with perks--mostly junk marketing, like press releases, a listing in the company's proprietary magazine, and a "post fair fulfillment report"--to elaborate packages that include an autographing session.

Prices I've seen range from $750 for shelf space only, to mid-four figures for signing packages. For instance, here's Stonewall Press's deluxe offering, which doesn't even include author presence. Note the effort to create faux urgency by pretending that space is limited.


Looking for a bargain? AuthorCentrix is a tad more economical--here are its 2019 BEA packages. The "standard" doesn't include a badge, which would add around $400 to the total.


BOOK FAIR RIPOFFS AREN'T LIMITED TO BEA

Multiple predatory marketing companies and PR services hawk book fair presence to authors. It's one of the most common marketing solicitations you'll receive. Why? Because it's insanely lucrative--for the predator.

The photo below is last year's BEA booth for publishing and marketing scammer URLink Print and Media.


More than 100 books can be counted in this photo. All the authors have paid to be there. URLink also sells ad space in a 50-page catalog, with most of the pages listing eight book per page. Writers have bought the banners shown in the photo, and others have paid to host signings. Still others have bought ads and features in URLink's fake magazine, Harbinger Postwhich sits in piles on a table on the off chance someone picks one up.

The minimum cost for any of these "services" is several hundred dollars, with more elaborate packages running into the mid-four figures (see the examples above). From one book fair, a company like URLink can gross well over $100,000--a considerable profit, even taking into account the cost of booth rental, travel, and badges. Now multiply that by multiple book fairs attended per year.

The Miami Book Fair, which along with BEA is one of the fairs most frequently targeted by marketing scammers, appears to be aware of the exploitation, and provides a warning.

THE TAKEAWAY

My feeling about book fairs is the same as Jane Friedman's: book fairs are not the best place for authors to self-promote. If you do decide to attend, do it with the aim of learning and having fun--not getting "discovered"--and don't pay someone else to take you or your books there. At best, you'll get little return on your money. At worst, you'll be ripped off.

February 7, 2020

The Impersonation Game


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog. It's a familiar meme...which can be turned around. On the internet, nobody knows you're not a dog.

I can claim, for instance, to be a well-known literary dog...er, agent, and as long as I put a little effort into the subterfuge, and only make the claim to people who are likely to want to hear from someone like who I'm pretending to be, at least a few of my targets will take me at face value.

One of the most common tactics used by scammers is solicitation, by phone and email. To make themselves seem more reputable and attractive, scammers often masquerade as dogs...that is, they try to impersonate real, reputable companies and individuals.

Sometimes the impersonation is just a vague (and therefore unverifiable) claim of industry expertise.


Sometimes it's a claim to be working with reputable companies (the scammer in this case is the little logo on the left):


Sometimes it's a claim to actually be a reputable company. Note the strategic use of the Hachette Book Group logo (the scammer is the supposed partner):


And sometimes the deception is more elaborate. Last week, Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency posted this warning:


Don was kind enough to share the solicitations with me. Here's the first. The English is passable, but note the typo. Also note "Jennifer Jackson's" email address, which on a websearch doesn't match anything connected to the real Jennifer Jackson.


Here's the second solicitation, received after the author responded. The grammatical and other errors are much more obvious here, and if that's not enough to prompt caution, the next to last paragraph, with its demand for money, should be:


Techbooks Media, whose domain name was only registered a few weeks ago on January 15, sells a range of junk marketing at insanely inflated prices (for instance, placement in PW Select, which actually costs $149, for $699; or a Kirkus Indie review, which actually costs $575, for $1,699). Putting this together with the blatant deception, the ESL mistakes on the website and in the emails, and inside info from one of my confidential sources, Techbooks Media is certainly another of the Philippines-based marketing scams listed in the sidebar. Accordingly, I've added it.

Some tips for seeing through scams like this:

1. Proceed from a point of skepticism. An unsolicited contact from a real, reputable agent or publisher isn't automatically suspect, but it's rare. Out-of-the-blue contacts are far more likely to be illegitimate. Caution is definitely in order.

2. Mistrust--and verify. Google all the individuals and/or companies that are mentioned (are there complaints? Have they shown up on this blog?) If someone claims to have worked for a major publisher or agency, or a company claims to have placed books with reputable publishers or to have sold film or other subsidiary rights, see if you can verify the claim. If you can't, or if there are no checkable details (such as names or book titles) attached to the claim, be wary.

3. Use your common sense. Anyone can make an occasional typo, but professionals communicate professionally (no reputable agent would send out grammar-challenged emails like the ones from "Jennifer Jackson"). Check the email address and any links--do they match the person or company claiming to be contacting you? (There's nothing to connect Ms. Jackson with anything called Techbooks Media.) If there's a demand for upfront money, be sure it's a service or company that customarily charges such fees (reputable agents and publishers don't).

4. Contact Writer Beware. Always a good default if you aren't sure about an individual or company. We may have heard something, or received complaints, and if we have, we'll let you know.

UPDATE: According to additional documentation I've received, Techbooks Media is also doing business as Chapters Media & Advertising. Payments are made to Chapters, and Chapters' name is on the service agreement that Techbooks victims sign.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jennifer Jackson (the real one) responds.

January 24, 2020

Junk Book Marketing: Pay-to-Play Magazines


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

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On this blog and elsewhere, I spend a lot of time warning about junk book marketing services: so-called marketing and promotional services that are cheap to provide, but can be sold at a big markup, and for the most part are of little worth for book promotion or can more effectively be done by the author him/herself. Some examples: press releases, email blasts, book trailers, book fair display, social media setup, and social media advertising.

All these and more are hawked to writers at exorbitant prices by assisted self-publishing companies like the various Author Solutions imprints--and also, increasingly, by their scam imitators. Either way, they're a ripoff...but the scammers demand even bigger fees, tell even bigger lies, and deliver even more shoddy results. And that's when they're not just taking your money and running.

A few weeks ago, I focused on pay-to-play radio interviews--another junk marketing service--and why they're not worth the huge fees charged by providers. This week, I'm going to talk about pay-to-play magazines. (You'll note that all the companies discussed below are on my Big List of Publishing and Marketing Scams.)

Have you ever received a solicitation like this one?
Or this one?
Or this one?
Of course the books haven't undergone "extensive evaluation", or been "carefully chosen", or showed to "a team" that "really like[s] your vision". Such solicitations are just spam, blasted out to addresses scraped from the internet or stolen from self-publishing company customer lists.

Nor are these real magazines, in the sense of publications that are widely available to the public. Instead, they're collections of ads, interviews, and "feature articles" sold to writers at huge prices, sometimes interspersed with general interest pieces (often really badly written) or, in the case of New Reader Magazine, with fiction, poetry, and art. These "publications" are never circulated in any meaningful sense; they may be posted online, but their primary mode of distribution is from tables in company booths at book fairs...where many of the authors buying ad or interview space have already paid a premium for display.


The prices the faux magazines charge for placement can be enormous. For instance, here's the  "Executive Full-Spread Ad" from Paperclips Magazine, which is owned by (not "partnered with" as claimed in its solicitation email) publishing and marketing scammer Legaia Books:


A "Showcase" full-page ad costs $3,698 ($2,218.80 on sale), and a "Premier" half-page ad clocks in at $2,599 ($1,299.50 on sale). Paperclips' parent company, Legaia Books, also sells publishing and marketing services at high prices, using deceptive sales tactics to target small press- and self-published authors.

Here's one writer's not very satisfactory experience with Paperclips. I've gotten emails from many others.

New Reader Magazine--which looks quite legit if you don't know better--is owned by New Reader Media. Though the magazine actually appears to provide small payments for content acquired via general submission, it charges anywhere from $5,000 and up for the magazine feature and "partnership" mentioned in its solicitation email. Like Legaia, New Reader Media also sells publishing and marketing services at gigantic prices, as well as book-to-screen services (always a scam).

New Reader has accumulated some online complaints due to its aggressive solicitation and poor performance. It has also been caught making false claims, such as that it was responsible for Christopher Paolini's bestselling novel Eragon being made into a movie.

The Christmas magazine that's the subject of EC Publishing's solicitation can be seen here (if you're brave, you can also check out the Las Vegas Edition, produced for the Las Vegas Book Festival). Like most of the pay-to-play magazines, it's a compilation of author-purchased ads and features, laughably badly-written general interest articles, and a smattering of actual advertising. Prices for inclusion range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on how much space is purchased.

Thanks to its aggressive soliciting, EC Publishing is the subject of a warning from the Australian Society of Authors.

Authors Press's Authorial magazine has its own website (note the "notice of non-affiliation and disclaimer" that pops up if you linger on the home page: the scammers read Writer Beware). Writers can buy a spot in the magazine, starting at fees of a few hundred dollars; ad space or "features" are also included in some of the more expensive promotional packages Authors Press offers.

Authorial's BEA 2019 issue consists of more than 75 pages of author ads, interviews, and excerpts. Just imagine the thousands of dollars in revenue generated by all those pages, some of which include ten or more ads. Also have a peek at Authorial's gallery page, which features photos of  the dozens of books displayed in Authors Press's BEA booth. In 2019, writers were being charged anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500 for presence in the booth, depending on what level of activity they chose. Now multiply all of this by the seven book fairs Authors Press attended in 2019. It's not chump change.

From URLink Print and Media comes Harbinger Post. Like the others, it's nearly all paid content, interspersed here and there with staff-written features. Here's an example of the caliber of that writing:


Other scammy publishing and marketing companies that sell space in proprietary magazines (I've received multiple complaints about all these companies):

Global Summit House: Global Summit House
Litfire Publishing: WayFairer
AuthorCentrix: AuthorCentrix Magazine
Stonewall Press (defunct): GoldCrest Magazine

Print advertising is expensive, and how useful it is for book marketing is an open question. But if it is to be effective at all, it must offer the possibility of being seen by a large audience of potentially interested readers and buyers.

That means circulation, subscriptions, and quality content beyond mere advertising--not ad-stuffed, error-ridden, proprietary publications whose only exposure to the public is a "free, take one" stack on a side table in a book fair booth. Even if the ad slots weren't insanely expensive--and even if writers didn't have to pay for what real magazines never charge for, such as interviews--buying space in these fake publications would be a waste of money.

Writer beware.

UPDATE 1/29/20: It's not just scammers that run this kind of racket. Via its PW Select - BookLife feature (which I discuss here and  here), industry magazine Publishers Weekly has begun to sell a "very special" service:


These prices rival the scammers'. And the promise of print exposure is not quite what it seems. Per PW's Q&A explainer, the interviews appear not in the body of the magazine, but in "PW’s BookLife supplement, which is published the last week of each month bound into that week’s issue of Publishers Weekly". In other words, easy for readers to ignore or skip over.

PW actually has the wide circulation and industry audience the scammers only pretend to. But given the huge fees and the segregation of the interviews in a separate supplement--not to mention the open question of how useful any kind of print advertising is for book marketing--there's more than a whiff of the same kind of exploitation here.

January 15, 2020

What You Need to Know About How California's New Law AB-5 Affects Writers


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

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Last year, California passed a new law, AB-5, intended to make things better for gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, by forcing these companies to provide employee protections and benefits for their freelance workers.

However, the narrowly-written law, which went into effect on January 2, has created unintended consequences for freelance writers, most of whom are independent by preference. If they sell 35 or more pieces to the same company in a year (which can easily happen with short blog posts or  product reviews), the company must treat them as employees rather than freelancers and pay payroll taxes as well as unemployment and other insurances. Even before the law went into effect, companies were laying off California freelancers and seeking replacements in other states.

Book writers may be affected too, under certain specific circumstances.

The article below was originally published by the Authors Guild; I'm re-printing it with permission. This is an issue all writers need to be aware of, as similar laws are under consideration in other states, including New York and New Jersey.

******

We have been receiving inquiries about California’s new law AB-5 and similar pending legislation in other states that require companies hiring individuals on a freelance basis for labor or services to treat them as employees, unless the individual’s work falls within one of several exceptions. Laws like AB-5 (which goes into effect on January 2) are meant to aid gig economy workers, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, who work for a single company and have no employee protections. They are well-intentioned pieces of legislation, but unless they are narrowly written, they can go beyond protecting gig workers and disadvantage many traditional freelancers who wish to remain independent by overriding existing state agency law.

To be clear, the Authors Guild fully supports employment protections for freelance journalists and authors, and will be lobbying for collective bargaining rights in 2020. Like Uber drivers, writers have no benefits and are often paid less than minimum wage. But forcing writers to work as employees, especially on a state-by-state basis, is not the way to go about it. The situation in California speaks to the importance of deliberation, careful drafting, and getting buy-ins from the various industry groups. Similar “gig worker” bills are in the works in New York and New Jersey. The new draft NJ bill includes a strict, sweeping version of the ABC test. Those working closely on the bill are concerned that freelance journalists will in many cases be treated as employees. We will watch the bill and do our best to ensure that the necessary protections for freelance journalists are added.

* The NY bill attempts to exclude freelance journalists, and we have provided comments to the drafters to make it clearer.* (correction 12.30.19)

AB-5’s 35-Submission Cap

As many of you are aware by now, much of the debate surrounding AB-5 comes down to its 35-submission cap applying to the contributions of freelance journalists, editors, and photographers. When the bill was being negotiated, a coalition of writer and photographer groups, including the Authors Guild, was able to get an exception for freelance writers. Unfortunately, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who sponsored the bill, added a cap of 35 pieces per company—meaning that once a freelance journalist or editor submits 36 articles or jobs for the same company in one year, the freelancer must be treated as an employee and the employer must pay California State unemployment and employee insurances.

Many full-time writers today patch together a living from different sources—and they want to keep it that way. Because of AB-5, California freelance journalists writing 35 or more pieces for a single company fear losing clients to writers in states with laxer laws. Indeed, some publications have already stated that they will not hire California freelance writers because of the new law. 35 articles might seem like a lot, but there are plenty of writers who write more than that. Writing a short weekly blog piece for a client could easily put a writer over this limit.

Another problem with treating writers as employees and not freelancers is that employee-writers do not own the copyright in their work; instead, the employer is considered the “author” under copyright law and automatically owns the copyright in its creation. Of course, as most major publications today insist on an assignment of copyright anyway, the practical effect, unfortunately, is the same: the writer gives up copyright. Still, freelance writers who assign copyright can reclaim it after 35–40 years, which is a benefit that employee-writers lack.

Does AB-5 Apply to Book Contracts?

Authors have raised alarm that AB-5 will apply to book writers as well. The Authors Guild has been reviewing the bill from that perspective since it was first introduced. We were assured by those working on the bill that trade book authors are not covered, and we do not see a basis for disagreeing since the bill clearly states that AB-5 applies only to “persons providing labor or services” and authors provide neither “labor” nor “services” under standard book contracts—they instead grant copyright licenses or assignments. Additionally, royalties—even in the form of advance payments—are not considered wages. It is difficult to imagine how a court would conclude that a typical book contract is for labor or services.

Writers with Service-Like Obligations Should Get a Legal Opinion

There are, however, some book-writing agreements that could be considered service agreements and arguably would fall under AB-5, such as work-made-for-hire agreements and contracts where the author has ongoing obligations and the publisher has greater editing ability or control over the content. Authors and writers working under multi-book contracts are most likely to encounter such a situation. These authors’ contracts should be reviewed by an attorney to determine whether they are subject to AB-5. Publishers and authors who want to be certain to retain a freelancer relationship should be careful to make sure the contracts are written as simple license grants and not as services agreements. For instance, the agreement should be written as a copyright grant of a defined work without interim or ongoing obligations, and remuneration should be in the form of royalties and advances against royalties. The writer should also have full control over their work and use their own workspace and tools. As a general rule, it is also recommended that freelance editors and journalists have written contracts that allow them to work when and where they want with no oversight other than approval of the finished work product.

If you have such a contract and are an Authors Guild member, remember that we do review members’ contracts for free. You can send us the agreement using our online form, and our legal team will get you comments and let you know if you need to revise the agreement.

UPDATE 1/16/20: Washington (State, not DC) is contemplating a bill like this as well. From the comments, below:
WA should be on your watchlist, too. An AB5-like bill was just re-introduced in the Senate there, even though it had been defeated last year. It, too, requires writers and other freelancers and independent contractors be hired as employees when their works contribute to the normal business of their clients. The bill ignores a study of independent contractors that was prepared by the Dept of Commerce after the bill's defeat. The study documents that 3/4 of the independent contractors in WA don't need or want the employee benefits touted by the bill's advocates. Between their own efforts and those of their families and friends, they're doing fine. Read the study yourself then write to Sen. Karen Keiser about your opposition to being made employees against your will.

The study: https://app.leg.wa.gov/committeeschedules/Home/Documents/26113?//20902
Senator Keiser: karen.keiser@leg.wa.gov
A similar law may be in the works in Illinois.

UPDATE 1/20/20: This article from Digiday explores the negative impact that AB-5 is already having on freelancers and publishers in California.
 
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