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 26, 2021

Scammers Taking Big 5 Publishers' Names in Vain: A Growing Trend


I've been doing the Writer Beware thing for quite some time, and I Have Seen Some Shit. 

But this solicitation from a Philippines-based publishing and marketing scammer calling itself Right Choice Multimedia (among other names) is one of the most disgusting things that has come across my desk in a while...and that's saying something. 

Here it is in its entirety. Read it and boggle. You can also scroll down directly to my (far more grammatical) debunking. Be sure to read all the way to the end, because I have some things to say about why Big 5 publishers should care that their trademarks and reputations are being co-opted in this way.


 


Right Choice Multimedia may not be able to produce a grammatical email, but it has a keen grasp of author psychology. Not only are writers being offered a shortcut to the glorious goal of traditional publication, they're specially invited (You're Exceptional!), and success is virtually guaranteed (Money Well Spent!) 

Of course, this is not how things work in the real world. Consortiums of major publishers don't "sponsor" vast collective slush piles, or solicit random authors to submit to them. Literary agents don't create "endorsement letters" at the behest of nameless committees, or acquire clients by assignment. There is no such thing as The Literary Review of Books Magazine. (There is a  Top Ten Magazine, but I'm guessing it would be surprised to find itself included here.)

The whole point of the scam is to get writers to buy a "ticket"--from which nothing will result, other than, perhaps, demands for more money for more worthless "services":


Check that "VIP Suite"! Accompanying the tickets is a series of obviously fabricated testimonials, to which the names of real authors have been attached:




As is often the case with this type of scam, it is operating under more than one name. Account Executive Sam Deeds of scammer Right Choice Multimedia touts his "Official Hollywood Profile", but if you click on the link, it delivers you to the IMDb page of Victor Ross, also of Right Choice Multimedia, but doing double duty as a "literary agent" for scammer West Literary Agency (I've written about West Literary Agency here). All four of the "in development" projects claimed by "Sam" show up on "Victor's" profile; all four have been published by an Author Solutions imprint (Author Solutions authors are overseas scammers' favorite targets), and all four show West Literary Agency as the production company. 



Needless to say, these projects are as fake as the testimonials--although the authors who have paid a bundle for their books to be turned into screenplays or films or whatever "service" was pitched to them may not yet know it.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I've written extensively about the class of scams of which Right Choice Multimedia/West Literary Agency is a part, and collected reams of documentation, including solicitation emails, contracts, and other materials. In 2014, when I first identified them, the scams focused primarily on selling overpriced publishing packages and junk marketing, especially book fair "representation" and display. 

As time has passed, however, increasing competition (there are now more than 125 of these companies, and I'm certain that's an undercount), efforts to expose them (primarily my own), and more recently, the pandemic-fueled shutdown of book fairs and other in-person events, have pushed them to employ different techniques (book-to-screen packages and vanity radio) and more baroque schemes: impersonating real agents and literary scouts; creating a stable of fake agents complete with websites and biographies; and the solicitation that's the subject of this post, in which Big 5 publishers are presented as sponsors of an elaborate pay-to-play submission scheme.

The scams--virtually all of which are based in the Philippines, despite their apparent US addresses and phone numbers--largely fly below the radar of the traditional publishing industry. In part, this is because their targets--writers who've self-published with exploitative companies like Author Solutions, small press authors, and vulnerable groups such as the elderly and disabled--are not really that industry's constituency (unless, of course, they're being recruited to a Big 5 pay-to-play division), and the scammers' activities have little to no impact on the business of traditional publishing. There's not a lot of incentive, therefore, for publishers to take action or push back--or even, really, to take notice of what's going on. (One writer who contacted PRH about a scam solicitation using the PRH name received a response from someone in administration who assumed the writer was referring to phishing scams on Upwork. Several others who tried to alert other Big 5 houses told me they received no response at all.)

The scammers rely on this, and their overseas location, to protect them. And they are getting bolder. It used to be rare for them to purport to be in "partnership" or "created by" or otherwise connected with or acting with the approval of Big 5 houses, but in the last year it's become common. I've seen faked-up emails from HarperCollins, solicitations claiming to be from Picador (an imprint of Macmillan), contract offers from an outfit called Stephenson and Queen that pretends to be an "imprint" of Thomas Nelson (it has registered a domain but as yet has no website). 

Scammers are using the names of real Big 5 editors and other staff to pitch their "services". Just the other day a writer told me that they received a phone solicitation from someone claiming to represent Penguin, who then referred them to scammer SPARK Literary and Marketing "for the details on securing a contract." And check out these "new submission guidelines", also supposedly from Penguin, but really created by Silver Ink Literary Agency to convince writers to pay for editing so their books can be "endorsed": 


As poorly put-together and obviously false as many of these efforts are, people do fall for them. A lot.

The authors whose names have been attached to the fake testimonials above would surely object to their identities and reputations being used to defraud unsuspecting writers. Shouldn't the Big 5 houses also be concerned about the blatant misuse of their names and trademarks, even if the scams don't affect their bottom line? I'm not suggesting that PRH and Harper and the rest rush out and file lawsuits in the Philippines. But it would be nice if they focused a fraction of the attention on these scams that they've devoted to a different solicitation-and-impersonation scam that targets trad-pubbed authors. 

Public warnings would be a good place to start--ideally on publishers' home pages, but at least on submission pages and on the websites of targeted imprints like Picador and Thomas Nelson. If the Combined Book Exhibit could post a scam warning when it discovered that Filipino scammers were misappropriating its name and services, surely PRH et al. can do so too. And how about outreach to an organization like the Alliance of Independent Authors, which advocates for self-publishers--or even to Author Solutions, from which the scammers draw their largest victim pool--and with which three of the Big 5 already have or have had a relationship?

Contact me. I'll be glad to assist in any way I can.

UPDATE 4/11/21: I'm thrilled to announce that all five publishers have contacted me to express their eagerness to do all they can to warn authors about the scammers that are misusing their names and logos!

Just kidding. I haven't heard from a single one.

In other news, Right Choice Multimedia has torn another leaf from the Author Solutions playbook, and established its own fake publisher/agency matching site


March 19, 2021

Contract Red Flag: When a Publisher Claims Copyright on Edits



This is an updated version of a post I published a couple of years ago.

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

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

In 2011, Romance Writers of America published a brief legal opinion on the copyrightability of editorial input (it's on the RWA website, but unfortunately not accessible by the public), indicating that the claim would probably not prevail in court. But that's the only legal discussion I've been able to find.

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

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

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

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

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

This is from Uncial Press:
Contract may be terminated by either the author or publisher with a 90-day written, certified mail notice or other receipted or traceable delivery service, and all rights to the original, unedited manuscript granted the publisher will revert to Author at the time of the termination.
From Idyll Arbor, Inc.:
An editor will be assigned by Company to prepare the Book for publication. All editorial changes will remain the property of Company.
In this contract from Totally Entwined Group (which also does business as Totally Bound), the publisher appears to be claiming ownership not just of edits, but of the edited book itself. The publisher may not actually intend such a sweeping claim--small presses often don't fully understand the implications of their own contract language. But as written, this clause is seriously problematic.
The Publisher shall own all intellectual property rights in any edited version of the Original Work, including, but not limited to, the Final Edited Version (and the Author hereby unconditionally assigns such rights to the Publisher)
Some publishers use a copyright claim on edits as a way to make a buck as the author goes out the door. This is also Totally Entwined/Totally Bound, from an older version of its contract (the money demand does not appear in the more recent contract quoted above):
Upon expiration of this Agreement, should the Author wish to acquire rights to the final edited version of the Work, the Author agrees to pay the Publisher:
2.5.1 £250.00 for a Novel;
2.5.2 £80.00 Novella;
2.5.3 £40.00 a Short Story.
2.6 In consideration of any payment made according to clause 2.5 or clause 2.7, the Publisher and the editing staff agree to release any and all further claim to payment for the final edited version of the Work.
Storm Moon Press is no longer extant, but it too wanted to retain the right to edits, and authors had to pay if they wanted to use them:
All rights to the original Work as submitted will revert to the Authorwithout prejudice upon expiration of this contract. Should the Author wish to acquire rights to the final formatted and typeset digital files, he or she agrees to compensate Publisher in the amount of two hundred dollars ($200). In consideration of this payment, Publisher agrees to release any and all further claim to compensation for the finished Work.
Ditto for eXtasy Books Inc.:
All rights to the original Work as submitted will revert to Author without prejudice upon expiration of Contract. Should Author wish to acquire rights to the final edited version, he or she agrees to compensate the assigned editor and/or copyeditor in the amount of $500 less royalties received for the editor or $250 less royalties received for the copyeditor. In consideration of this payment, the editor/copyeditor agrees to release any and all further claim to compensation for the finished Work.
Vanity publisher GenZ Publishing doesn't explictly claim copyright on edits, but it does prohibit authors from using them--which is especially obnoxious since it keeps up to $2,500 of authors' royalties to pay for, among other things, editing:
The Author cannot use any version of the book that has GenZ Publishing edits or comments from editors, proofreaders, or other staff associated with GenZ or Zenith Publishing.
Crooked Cat Publishing's contract does not include a copyright claim on editing. However, the publisher makes that demand after the fact, in its reversion notice. Beyond any other legal questions, a publisher has zero standing to demand something that's not in the contract:
We kindly ask that you NOT use the completed final, edited copy of this title to re-submit elsewhere or self-publish. We request that you make changes, however subtle, to the content of the edited, released version, so that it is not an exact re-publication of the version we published.
Claret Press is another publisher that makes extra-contractual claims on editing, using this dubious logic:
At the moment, because you have not paid for...edits, the intellectual property still belongs to [the publisher]. If you do not use any aspect of the edits, then you do not have to pay....If however, when you publish the books, there is any aspect of any piece of your writing that relates to anything in the...edits...then you have violated [the publisher's] ownership of...intellectual property.
Writer Beware, indeed.

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

March 12, 2021

Scam Alert: Paper Bytes Marketing Solutions, Blueprint Press, and Their Stable of Imaginary Literary Agents


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

Once upon a time, there was a publishing and marketing scammer called Chapters Media and Advertising, owned by one Mark Joseph Rosario. Chapters pretended to be a US company--it even had dual business registrations in Wyoming and Florida, as well as a purported address in Nevada--but in reality, it operated out of the Philippines (much like its many brethren).

Chapters was an unusually devious little scammer. In addition to offering the usual substandard publishing services and junk marketing ripoffs, it had a sideline in impersonating literary professionals, including agent Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Agency and literary scout Clare Richardson of Maria B. Campbell Associates. I've written about both of these impersonation scams (as well as the issue more generally; Chapters was not the only one doing this).

I don't know if it was my posts that did it, but Rosario apparently felt that Chapters had received too much exposure--because sometime in the past couple of months, he abandoned the old Chapters website (along with the website of an associated scam, TechBooks Media) and rebooted as a pair of new companies: Paper Bytes Marketing Solutions and Blueprint Press.

Here's the "paper" trail tying Chapters to Paper Bytes; note the officer names and identical Florida "head office" addresses (that address, by the way, is a vacant lot).




And here's the trail tying Rosario to Blueprint Press (which purportedly is based in Oregon):


(Also see the Update toward the bottom of this post for more evidence pointing to Mark Rosario.)

To go with his brand new companies, Rosario has initiated a brand new scam: a stable of imaginary literary agents. It's an unusually detailed endeavor, with actual websites for many of the agents (albeit not very good ones) that include photos--some stock, some stolen--as well as made-up bios and false claims about who/what they represent. All share the email address @bookliteraryagent.com, which no doubt is convenient for the interchangeable roster of Paper Bytes/Blueprint marketers who inhabit these agent personas, but also makes them easier to track and expose.

I'll list them all below. But first, How It All Works!

Targeted writers (who, as with all the Philippines-based scams, are primarily self-pubbed or small press) receive a solicitation like this one:


Too good to be true? You bet. If the writer responds, they're told that, while the agent is Commission Only! No Fees Ever! they will still have to tap into their bank accounts. For instance, Imaginary Agent may excitedly relay this news:
Amazing! Fantastic! Once in a lifetime! All the author has to do is provide the requested treatment. Now, they could write it themselves--although that would be awfully difficult to accomplish because, naturally, there's a deadline. Not to worry: Imaginary Agent has a "trusted" company that can do the job.


Writers who decline to pay receive a succession of additional fake treatment requests, from Netflix, HBO, and more, with pressure to capitulate each time. One writer told me that their Imaginary Agent claimed they'd be blacklisted in the film industry if they continued to refuse.

Here's a different solicitation, from another Imaginary Agent. Note the @bookliteraryagent.com email address:


This one is a re-publication scam. The writer is offered "licensing" so that their book can be re-published, supposedly to improve its prospects of a "mainstream" contract (even though re-publishing an already-published book so it can be published a third time makes absolutely no sense, and is not how it works in any case), plus "book returnability insurance" that's as imaginary as the agent is. Services will be provided courtesy of a totally unrelated company, Paper Bytes, which doesn't usually deal with lowly self-pubbed writers but is willing to make an exception, thanks to the efforts of trusty Imaginary Agent:


Alternatively, the "services" recommended come from Blueprint.

Plenty of writers who receive these emails will smell a rat: from the out-of-the-blue solicitations to the laughably rudimentary websites (see below) to the poor written English, there are a ton of scam markers here. But like the Nigerian email scammers, Mark Rosario and scammers like him just need a tiny number of potential victims to buy in in order to make a profit. 

Those who do pay up will be pressured to spend more money for more bogus services; eventually, when they start asking too many questions or the scammers judge that they are tapped out, they will simply be abandoned, their emails unreturned, their phone calls blocked, and their bank accounts considerably smaller.

******

Here are the imaginary agents I've identified so far.

Alexander Sy
Email: alexander.sy@bookliteraryagent.com
Alexander boasts an impressive-sounding but strategically vague bio ("His success in the independent publishing industry helped him become the youngest Senior Traditional Marketing Executive, in partnership with some of the largest Traditional Houses in the world") and a new and notable page that encourages potential victims to believe that he reps Robin Cook and Andrew Mayne, among others. His is the one photo I couldn't confirm was stolen or a downloaded freebie--but it sure looks fake. 

Lola Moira Ventura
Email: lola.ventura@bookliteraryagent.com
According to her bio, Lola is "a Mexican American literary book expert, author's adviser. In 2012, she founded Ravenous Romance Books, an e-book publishing company" (this might surprise actual Ravenous Romance founder Lori Perkins). The accompanying photo has been stolen from an article about author Maaza Mengiste. Imaginary Lola wants unwary writers to be wowed by her imaginary track record, which includes James Comey and Rick Gates.

John Morris
Email: john.morris@bookliteraryagent.com
"I started as a jr. literary agent at Writers House and Trident Media before I decided to venture as an independent literary agent." Impressive! John's I'm-too-sexy-for-my-shades photo has been borrowed from free image website Unsplash. Chuck Pahlaniuk and N.K. Jemisin might be startled to discover themselves on John's Books page.

Mia Sanders aka Mary Sanders Lee
Email: mia.sanders@bookliteraryagent.com
Email: mary.lee@bookliteraryagents.com
Website: https://miasanders.us/ (currently has a "dangerous website" caution)
Website: http://marylee.us/ (defaults to the Mia Sanders website)
Mia/Mary claims to be "a frequent speaker at writer’s conferences and conventions from romance to kink and attends approximately 13 conferences a year." Her photo is from Unsplash, the free image website, where it's alt-tagged "woman in pink crew-neck shirt in closeup photography". Mia is the only imaginary agent who doesn't claim to have repped Big 5-published books from major authors: the covers on her Books page--which, oddly, have all been stripped of authors' names--all come from an Author Solutions imprint or another Philippines-based scammer.

Jessica Myers
Email: jessica.myers@bookliteraryagent.com
Jessica has a terrific work background! "I started as a jr. literary agent at Writers House and Trident Media before I decided to venture as an independent literary agent." Her Book Gallery encourages writers to believe that she reps Jennifer Armentrout and Susan Sallis, among a grab bag of other authors. Like her buddy "Lola Ventura," Jessica hasn't bothered with free images; she has appropriated the image of Juliana Martins, a cosmetics expert.

Harry Taylor
Email: harry.taylor@bookliteraryagent.com
Harry is one handsome, happy dude! Just one problem: he's been downloaded from free image site Unsplash, where his photo is alt-tagged "smiling man standing between brown concrete buildings at daytime". Harry too "cut his teeth in publishing" at a prestigious agency--Writers House--and according to his Books page, he reps Chuck Palahniuk, putting him in direct competition with his imaginary colleague John Morris, who claims to rep the very same book by that author. I guess it gets boring copying book cover images to paste into your imaginary agents' websites.

Lloyd Perkins
Email: lloyd.perkins@bookliteraryagent.com
I'm getting a 403 notice today when I try to access Lloyd's website, which was extant a couple of weeks ago when I began researching this post. You can still see a cached version, though, and here's Lloyd's About page, where he claims to have "worked with" real writers such as Lisa Jewell and A.S.A. Harrison, whose books supposedly are "now being considered by one of the Top 5 traditional publishers in the US". Except...oh dear...looks like those books were actually published years ago.



As with two of his imaginary brethren, Lloyd's photo is stolen: it's been purloined from a business photographer's website.

Chris Archer
Email: chris.archer@bookliteraryagent.com
Website: Chris is one of several members of the Imaginary Agent squad who doesn't have a website, but he uses the same email address and solicitation style as the rest.


Bryan Archer
Email: bryan.archer@bookliteraryagent.com
Bryan is Chris's (imaginary) twin brother. He uses the same signature block (just with "Bryan" instead of "Chris"), and also has no website--but, no slouch at the impersonation game, has concocted an elaborate, four-page, laughably fake resume that he provides to authors who are savvy enough to ask about his bona fides. Here's page 1 (you can see the whole thing here):


Johnny Saints
Email: johnny.saints@bookliteraryagent.com
Like his buddies Chris and Bryan, Johnny has no website, but his 7-page resume is equally fake, from boasts of professional success to claims of famous clients (surprise, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ernest Cline: meet your REAL agent!) His photo looks a bit more convincing than some of the others, but no doubt it's stolen too.


Casey Howard
Email: casey.howard@bookliteraryagent.com
Casey is another Imaginary Agent who doesn't have a fake website, but his email solicitations are identical to those of his imaginary brethren (see this comment below).

Ralph Cane
Email: ralph.cane@bookliteraryagent.com
Another one with the telltale email address but no fake website. 

UPDATE: I'm kicking myself for dropping the ball, but the one thing I didn't do in researching this post was to check the domain registration info for the fake agent websites (partly because I had so much other evidence of fakery, but also because scammers are good about anonymizing). If I had, I would have discovered that all but one of them look like this:



Amazingly, Mark Rosario has been careless enough to allow his name (not to mention his Cebu address) to appear on these registrations (see the first image in this post). Oops.

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who drew my attention to this.

******
How to protect yourself?

1. Know how things work in the publishing world. Real literary agents don't sell services to potential clients, or refer them to companies that do. Real agents don't commonly contact writers out of the blue. The warnings at the Writer Beware website can help you recognize non-standard or predatory practices.

2. Proceed from a point of skepticism. An unsolicited contact from a literary agent isn't automatically suspect--as commenters have pointed out on a number of my other posts, it does sometimes happen. But it is not common. With the volume of scams currently in operation, out-of-the-blue contacts are far more likely to be illegitimate than on the level. Caution is always in order--especially if it sounds too good to be true.

3. Mistrust--and verify. Do a websearch...and do it BEFORE you respond. A real agent, with real sales, will have at least some web presence; be suspicious if you find nothing, or almost nothing (strategically, Paper Bytes' imaginary agents have common names or names that are similar to celebrities', making them harder to research). Vet the agent's website: my recent blog post unmasking a fake agency provides some tips for that. If the agent claims to rep authors or books, or to have worked at a particular agency or publisher, see if you can verify whether this is true (often you can find out who agents an author with a simple websearch, or by visiting the author's website).

4. Use your common sense. Out of the blue, too good to be true? Extra-careful research is in order. Also...anyone can make an occasional typo. But agents selling rights in English-language markets are capable of speaking and writing grammatical English. No reputable agent would send out language-challenged emails like the ones above.

5. Contact me at Writer Beware. Always a good default. I may have heard something, or received complaints. If I have, I'll let you know.

UPDATE 4/12/21: Five days ago (as of this writing), Mark Rosario resuscitated Chapters Media & Advertising with a new domain name (chaptersmediaad.net) and a new website. The address: that vacant lot in Defuniak Springs, Florida.

March 2, 2021

Publisher Cautions: Riverdale Avenue Books, Breaking Rules Publishing, Adelaide Books


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®


Riverdale Avenue Books was founded in 2012 by literary agent Lori Perkins of the L. Perkins Agency. Riverdale, which describes itself as a "hybrid" publisher even though, as far as I know, it does not charge fees, boasts a whopping 13 imprints, covering everything from erotica to mystery to sports and lifestyle titles.

It also, apparently, has trouble providing royalty statements and author copies.

Writer Beware has received a number of complaints from Riverdale anthology and book authors who cite publication delays, poor copy editing, late or missing royalty statements, non-provision of contractually-promised print author copies, and poor communication (for instance, authors finding out about to-be-published stories only when other authors spotted the stories in proof copies).

I've also seen royalty statements for several RAB anthologies, which appear to sell in miniscule numbers (for example, several years into its five-year contract term, one anthology had sold just 35 copies in total, according to correspondence from RAB). RAB has a policy of not paying out anthology royalties at all until at least $50 is due; this benchmark is stipulated in most of the RAB anthology contracts I've seen--but not in all, and even where it's not, the $50 benchmark has been cited as a reason for not providing royalty checks.

Lori Perkins' previous publishing venture, Ravenous Romance, was the focus of similar complaints before it shut down in 2016 (some examples can be seen in the comments thread on this post from the Dear Author blog). In particular, it stirred conflict of interest concerns, in part because of Perkins' dual position as owner of an agency and part-owner/editorial director of Ravenous, but also because Perkins Agency agents and Perkins herself were placing clients' manuscripts with Ravenous. Similar concerns exist for RAB--something that is explicitly acknowledged in at least some RAB book contracts:


******

Breaking Rules Publishing (BRP) bills itself as "an open and inclusive publishing house" that was founded "to help writers break down the system."

Indications at its website, however, are not auspicious. Founder Christopher Clawson-Rule had no professional publishing or writing experience before starting BRP in 2018. BRP covers leave a lot to be desired (to put it mildly). It runs a large roster of high-entry-fee (read: profit-generating) awards (such awards, with no name recognition, are a complete waste of writers' money, especially where, as in BRP's case, the primary prize is "exposure"), along with no fewer than 15 different writing contests that, while not as expensive to enter, are clearly also designed to generate a profit. To complete the picture, BRP sells a range of paid services, including editing and cover design (always a signal for caution, as this poses a potential conflict of interest; Duotrope declines to list BRP for this reason), and hawks ads to writers:


All of the above would be sufficient reason to be wary of BRP. But there's more.

Writer Beware has received multiple complaints about BRP, from both authors and staff. These include: late payment of royalties; non-payment of royalties, staff salaries, anthology flat fees, and story fees for publication in BRP's magazines; failure to provide author copies; failure to provide books ordered and paid for by authors; problems with online orders; confusing or inadequate contract language (for instance, anthology contracts that are really only lightly-adapted book contracts, and magazine contracts that don't include rights language or grant terms); and rude and aggressive responses to questions and complaints.

These financial problems and logistical snafus will probably sound very familiar if you're a regular reader of this blog, as they often precede a publisher's abrupt demise. Even if BRP isn't on the brink of going bust, the complaints suggest that there's considerable disarray behind the scenes...possibly because BRP--which offers not just book and anthology publishing, but magazines, awards, contests, workshops and classes, and a recently-established European branch--may have expanded its offerings considerably beyond the capacity of what (I'm guessing) is a tiny and not-necessarily-very-experienced staff.

(If Breaking Rules rings a bell, that may be because of its encounter with supertroll Gary Kadet, about whom I wrote last year. Briefly, BRP agreed to publish Gary's novel, Ogre Life (giving it a cover of typical BRP caliber), but Gary's reputation caught up with him when, apparently, he was mean to people in one of BRP's author groups. In response, BRP "downgraded" and then booted him. Drama ensued: Twitter insults, angry Yelp reviews.)

UPDATE: I've received an email from Christopher Marry Hultman of Breaking Rules Europe, who says this:
In January of this year, I and two other authors took over the European and Australian wing of Breaking Rules Publishing, calling it Breaking Rules Europe. This does not mean that we are a part of Breaking Rules or are governed by Christopher Clawson, we are an independent entity and do not engage in or offer the services that BRP provides.
However, things are not quite as arm's length as this statement would make it appear, as Christopher Clawson Rule has published posts in the BRP Europe Facebook group seeking contributors for BRP USA's "Write to the Point" blog.

******


Adelaide Books presents itself as "an independent publisher dedicated to publishing literary fiction and creative non-fiction." In fact, it is pay-to-play, requiring authors to purchase 45 copies of their finished books.

Shifting fees to purchases, rather than book production, is a tactic some fee-charging publishers use to try to make their fees more palatable. You're not paying the company to publish your book--just buying books once the process is complete! But whether you pay upfront or on the back end, the bottom line is that you are giving your publisher money in order to be published. That's vanity publishing.

Adelaide does not mention the purchase requirement on its website, nor is it included in the sample contract. Writers' first indication that they will have to pay comes with the offer email:


Naturally some writers, having assumed they were submitting to a non-fee-charging publisher, aren't too pleased to discover they are in fact expected to "support" the publisher by handing over a large amount of money. Here's Adelaide's rather snippy response to the concerns expressed by one of them:


Okay, then.

The 45-book fee may not be all authors wind up spending, either. At the 2019 Book Expo, authors were given the "opportunity" to buy 100 ARCs for $1,100, to be exhibited for sale at Adelaide's booth. I've also heard from writers who paid even larger sums in "partnership" arrangements, and were not satisfied with the results.

Additional concerns: royalties paid on net profit (net income less printing and shipping costs--not quite as "generous" as claimed), very high cover prices (at least for print, likely an indication that Adelaide uses KDP and/or IngramSpark for production), an eyepoppingly huge publishing schedule (Adelaide published more than 120 books in 2020, with a similar number planned for 2021--an enormous list for a small press even with a large staff, which I could find no indication Adelaide has); and a range of author complaints, including inadequate (or no) editing, poor proofreading (books published with errors), little in the way of marketing, and, recently, difficulty getting the publisher to respond to emails.
 
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