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


8 comments :

Anna Castle said...

Writers' best defense is to join writers' groups, like the Alliance of Independent Authors, or genre-specific ones like MWA, RWA, SFWA. Get into their online groups and be involved, at least a little. Then when one of these really exciting offers comes your way, you'll have colleagues to give you a reality check. Lots of other benefits to a good association, but protecting yourself from tempting scams has to be one of the most important.
Thanks for all you do, Writer Bewarians!

Blue Coffee said...

I keep reading your updates in my emails and marveling. This is the first time I'm commenting.
My guess would be that one of the reasons why the big five (or maybe big four) aren't doing anything is their passive-aggressive way of dealing with indie publishers who dare to dream to be traditionally published. They probably see daring as an act of insolence. I see it as a foolish and outdated choice.
The official reasons are probably because, just like piracy, it's a costly and probably fruitless fight.
Just my guesses. Maybe I'm wrong or too cynical. I'm not cynical enough not to be outraged of the audacity of the scammers.

Unknown said...

Thank you for what you do! I've worked years to complete my first novel. Now as I struggle to find my way through the labyrinthine underworld of publishing it, you are my guardian angels and guides. Keep up the outstanding work you do exposing these low-lifes.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for another great expose. Glad someone besides wolves is watching the hen house. Scammers are clearly upping their game because it's such a lucrative business. And even when you try to warn people, some get defensive because they don't want to believe it; denial is often a happier place to live than reality. It's infuriating how many scammers are out there squelching people's dreams with some making six figure incomes doing it. Once again, BUYER BEWARE. And yes I'd sure like to see the publishers taking action to warn aspiring writers and to go after the scammers! If it's a felony to impersonate a celebrity, politician or police officer in many states, why isn't it a felony to misrepresent yourself as a publisher or employee???

Marie said...

That is a shocker Victoria, so well done Ms Sherlock!
When I read the name I actually read Scam Deeds, which is fitting!
Keep up the astonishingly valuable work.
How can authors actually ever thank you enough!

Marie

Monika Regina said...

The question that remains, my dear Ms. Sherlock, 'what will they think of next?'
The article caught my eye because I have been getting emails offering book reviews and marketing solicitations in my email. I'm not sure where they are getting my email address, but I need to investigate and change some passwords.

I received several of these now, and my first instinct was this is weird. I am on a Goodreads forum for authors looking for reviewers, so the finger points there. What is uncanny is that they use very common English names, but they sent me emails without any links to their website. When I googled those names, nothing came up related to what they were suggesting, which is weird because I can google myself and come up with something.
Thanks for sharing, and it was very informative.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
Thank you for the excellent information.
I have received a few telephone calls from Literary Agents offering me great deals to have the represent my books.

NEW AGE LITERARY AGENCY and Mark Slater is the representative name.
Neither New Age or Mark Slater exists in any Social Media source.
Not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube.
Nothing!!!
No media presence that I can find!!!

I tracked his website. It is registered in Singapore from Jan. 24, 2020 to Jan. 24, 2022. The ownership is redacted and is an agent in Singapore.

Any ideas???

Your assistance is appreciated.

Chris
damiangarciathebook@yahoo.com

Unknown said...

Hi FROM NOEL
DO NOT GO NEAR BOOKMAGNETS OR READAPPLE OR SILVER INK LITERARY AGENTS
SPECIFICALLY BASTE GOMEZ
AAlso part of the scam were patricia bush. john baldwin and Klay Anderson who used fake emails of a legitimate compay called BOOK TO FILMS CO.
These are clever con artists so BEWARW

 
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