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.

July 12, 2018

Vanity Publisher Alert: Novum Publishing, United P.C. Publisher


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Novum Publishing is an Austria-based publisher that has expanded into several countries, including the UK and the USA. It also does business as United P.C. Publisher, and is incorporated in Florida as WSB Publishing Inc..

Novum describes itself as the "publisher for new authors," whose purpose is to provide newbies with "a fair chance" in a publishing market that's rigged against them. It touts its service, quality, innovation, and experience. It claims to be a European "market leader".

This is not the whole story, though the inexperienced authors who are Novum's target of choice might be hard-pressed to figure that out.

What Novum goes out of its way to obfuscate is that it is pay-to-play. Its website includes just a single phrase acknowledging this fact. Its brochure is more forthcoming--but only in aid of encouraging writers to believe that because "[n]ew authors are ignored for the most part" by large publishers, and smaller publishers are "inundated with manuscripts," newbies' only chance "is in the form of publishers with cost sharing for the author."

First of all, this isn't true. Finding a publisher is hard, but that doesn't mean you're doomed to pay. Secondly, whether it's "cost-sharing" or "partner-publishing" or some other label meant to imply that your fees are only part of the cost, it's far more likely that what you're being asked to pay has been carefully crafted to cover not just the entire expense, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.

And Novum's fees are substantial, running from just over $2,000 (for a "pocket-size" book) to more than $8,000 (for a "premium" package with a hardcover book). Novum does promise a full refund once 750 books are sold (not, of course, including copies that authors buy themselves)--but as with most vanity publishers that promise refunds, this number has likely been chosen because it's comfortably above the lifetime sales of the average Novum book.

Novum's contract, which is printed in a tiny font that's a strain to read, is terrible. It demands an exclusive grant of rights (even the much-maligned assisted self-publishing services offered by the Author Solutions imprints have non-exclusive contracts), and claims a huge swath of ancillary rights (I could find zero evidence that Novum is capable of either exploiting or licensing such rights). There's also a "cancellation fee" for early termination (always a warning sign, because publishers can and do abuse such provisions).

The summary page included with Novum's contract indicates that royalties are paid on retail price--but if you read the (very) fine print, it's clear that they're actually paid on net income.  Novum also doesn't have to pay royalties at all until 500 books have sold (as with the refund benchmark, there's probably a good reason why they picked this number).


Also, royalties are issued just once a year--and though the language isn't clear, it looks to me as if authors have to invoice Novum in order to get them.


How many authors will read this miniscule print carefully enough to understand all of this? Certainly some of the unhappy Novum authors I've heard from didn't.

Unlike Novum, United P.C. Publisher (it's not clear to me whether this is a subsidiary or a d.b.a.) claims to provide its services "free of charge." However, in 2013 this claim got United P.C. in trouble with the UK's Advertising Standards Agency (my bolding):
The ASA noted that [United P.C.'s] ad used the terms "publish" and "publishes" and stated that that service would be free of charge. We noted that the complainant reported being asked to pay for corrections, designing the front and back covers and the additional cost of publishing an e-book. We asked United Publisher to comment on that and for details of the proportion of respondents who kept to the free of charge contract and the proportion that chose to pay for additional services, but that information was not forthcoming....Because United Publisher had not supplied information that showed other respondents had not incurred similar costs, we concluded that the claims that United Publisher published books free of charge were misleading.
Online complaints that post-date the ASA's finding suggest that United P.C. hasn't changed its ways.

Novum's moneymaking efforts aren't limited to publishing books. It also publishes anthologies that charge by the page.



 And at one point, it was attempting to sell franchises, at a cost of between €75,000-125,000.


Writer Beware, indeed.

May 9, 2018

Trademark Shenanigans: Weighing In On #Cockygate


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

If you're a writer, and you hang out on Twitter and Facebook, you've probably heard about #cockygate.

If you haven't....An author named Faleena Hopkins has registered two separate trademarks for the word "cocky", which is used in all the titles of her multi-book romance series. One of the trademarks is a design mark (the word "cocky" in a stylized font, as seen above); the other is a word mark (just the word "cocky"). Both refer to “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance” and “a series of books in the field of romance.”

That description is significant. Because over the past week, Hopkins has begun threatening other romance writers who use "cocky" in their titles--even where those titles are not part of a series, or the word is not used in a series title--with legal action unless they re-title and re-publish their books.


Hopkins says (according to private messages that have been shared with me) that she's "not after people's livelihoods". She also doesn't think what she's demanding is a big deal, because taking down and re-publishing a book is "very simple. So easy." Of course this is a ridiculous claim--especially where writers have multiple editions on multiple platforms, not to mention financial investments in swag, advertising, websites, and other branding efforts.

There's been plenty of coverage of this bizarre incident. Legal experts have weighed in as well. I spoke with trademark attorney Brad Frazer, who provided me with some clarifying information on a complex and confusing issue.
Note that neither of [Hopkins' trademarks] is, for example, “a trademark on the word ‘COCKY’ as used in book titles.” The registrations cover a book series, and this is made evident if one looks at the 9-page specimen of use she submitted to the Trademark Office to support the registration: http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn87604968&docId=ORC20180416120311#docIndex=9&page=1. Note that “Cocky” appears in each of the titles in a manner that connotes that the book is printed as part of the “Cocky”-brand book series. Indeed, without the fact the word is used as part of a book series, it is unlikely Hop Hop Productions [Hopkins' company] could have obtained the registrations.

This is because--and this is critical--in order for a trademark to exist and be registrable and enforceable, it must perform a “source identification function.” Here, Hop Hop was able to convince the Trademark Office that it has, since June of 2016, used the word “Cocky” to indicate the SOURCE of a series of romance books, and thus it was able to get it registered. There likely had to be a series of books for Hop Hop to convince the Trademark Office that the word “Cocky” performed this source identification function—one book with “Cocky” in the title would likely not have been enough to convince the Trademark Office, especially given that Hop Hop has ostensibly used the mark for less than two years. Just like when people see “Harlequin” on a book, they think of Harlequin Enterprises as the SOURCE of that book because “Harlequin” indicates more than just a book title. It indicates the SOURCE. See http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn72184920&docId=ORC20081030112630#docIndex=10&page=1.

Because source identification is necessary to create and register a trademark, in order for there to be trademark INFRINGEMENT, as Hop Hop has apparently alleged in certain cases, the allegedly infringing “thing” must also be performing a source identification function. Thus, not all uses of a word perform a source identification function, and if there is no such use, there likely can be no trademark infringement.

For example, imagine I titled my book, “The Apple Tree and the Pheasant.” Would a consumer realistically believe that Apple Computer was the source of that book? No. Or, imagine I titled my book, “The Harlequin Pleased the King.” Based strictly on that use of the word “harlequin,” would a consumer think that Harlequin Enterprises was the source of my book? No, and thus no trademark infringement.

This is supported by what is called in trademark law the “classic fair use defense.” It is well-settled that you may use a third party’s trademark in the ordinary, English-language sense of the word, and as long as it was not performing a confusing, source-identification function, there is likely no trademark infringement. For example, if I wrote a story about King Neptune and his trident and I titled it, “King Neptune’s Powerful Trident,” if I got sued by the owner of the “Trident” trademark (see http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn71653425&docId=ORC20110315095116#docIndex=18&page=1), I would have a very good classic fair use defense in that lawsuit since I am using the word “trident” in its normal, English-language construction (see https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trident) and NOT TO INDICATE THE SOURCE OF THE BOOK.

Thus, if you have one book and it is titled, for example, “The Gardener was a Cocky Lad,” I invite you to ask: is your use of the word “cocky” performing a source identification function such that people would be confused into thinking that Hop Hop was the source of your book? Is it being used only in a classic fair use sense to describe the gardener in your story as cocky, as defined by Webster? (See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cocky)

Now, trademark law is very fact specific, and each case must be decided on its relative merits. There may be some cases in which use of the word “Cocky” in a book title does create a likelihood that a consumer would be confused into believing that Hop Hop was the source of that book. But that is the test. Without that likelihood of consumer confusion, proving trademark infringement is very difficult. But please consider these factors if you receive an allegation of trademark infringement as to your book titles.
Most legal commentary that I've read on l'affaire Cocky seems to agree that Hopkins' trademarks wouldn't stand up to a legal challenge. But authors who receive her threats--which admittedly are scary--may not realize this, or be able to afford legal counsel (at least some authors have already re-titled their books). Also, more concerningly, Hopkins is sending takedown requests to Amazon, which appears to be complying in at least some cases. Once Amazon takes down your book in response to a challenge, getting it reinstated is a nightmare.

Romance Writers of America is gathering information to consult an IP lawyer, and is asking that RWA members who've gotten a threat letter from Hopkins contact Carol Ritter (carol.ritter@rwa.org). Also, a petition has been filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Hopkins' word mark (the design mark, with "cocky" in a stylized font, is apparently a copyright violation by Hopkins).
And two lawyers at a prestitious IP law firm have offered to work pro bono on a legal challenge.

Meanwhile, the #cockygate hashtag has been joined by #byefaleena. And Hopkins is taking refuge in that old, old claim of Writers Acting Badly: I'm being bullied!

Let there be ridicule.

UPDATE: RWA has successfully interceded with Amazon, which has agreed not to take down any more books and to reinstate any that were removed.
UPDATE 5/30/18: Hopkins is doubling down: she has filed for preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders against Jennifer Watson, Tara Crescent, and Kevin Kneupper, claiming that Watson and Crescent are infringing her trademarks (Crescent is an author who uses "cocky" in some of her titles, and Watson is a member of the Cocky Collective, a satirical group that is producing an anthology called Cocktales: The Cockiest Anthology) and that Kneupper's petition to the USPTO to cancel the "cocky" trademarks is without merit.

The temporary restraining order has been denied. A hearing on June 1 will address the preliminary injunction.

Kneupper has posted the legal documents (in which, among other things, Hopkins claims that it's easy to cause consumer confusion in the romance field because "romance novel series consumers do not exercise a high degree of care", and compares the alleged infringers to "a pack of blood-thirsty wolves") on Twitter.

UPDATE 6/3/18: Thanks to the Authors Guild and RWA, Faleena Hopkins' motion for a preliminary injunction against Tara Crescent and Jennifer Watson has been denied. The judge in the case found that "Hopkins was not likely to succeed on the merits because the word 'cocky' is a common and weak trademark, there was no evidence of actual confusion, and romance readers are sophisticated consumers—meaning that they are not likely to confuse Hopkins’ and Crescent’s books."

Kevin Kneupper has been dismissed as a defendant in the case.

Courtney Milan has posted the transcript of the hearing--it makes for interesting reading.

This doesn't mean the case is over, unfortunately. Discovery must be completed by September 7, and a status conference has been scheduled for September 14. Lawyers for the defendants plan to move to dismiss prior to those dates.

May 3, 2018

Contract Red Flag Alert: Perpetual License for Derivative Rights

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

SFWA's Contracts Committee has recently been seeing a proliferation of contracts from small magazines, and a very few established markets, that license all derivative rights in perpetuity.

This is a red flag for a number of reasons, even if these rights are licensed non-exclusively. A derivative work is defined by copyright law as "a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted." This sort of rights grab is by no means normal; magazines generally only take very limited first publication and archival rights for a limited time. Licensing the right to create derivative works can and mostly likely will interfere with the author's right to exploit their right to create or license derivative works to others.

The risks of signing such contracts can be serious. To give examples of some of the negative impact of these rights grabs.

1) Dramatic rights are compromised, limiting the author's ability to sell works for TV and film use because the author can no longer offer exclusive rights to the story, which means movie or TV producers who want exclusive dramatic rights are not likely to be interested in the work. The best case scenario is that the author may end up having to give the publisher of the magazine a cut of any income.

2) Marketing rights are compromised, in that any marketing deal could be undercut by the publisher, who would also have the ability to market those rights.

3) The ability of the author to publish sequels is compromised. The Publisher could commission sequels to the work from another writer, in competition with the author. Even if the Publisher were required pay a fee to the author for a sequel written by another writer, the existence of such competitive sequels would likely seriously hurt the author's own sequels.

4) The author would have a de facto business partner for the rest of the author's life and beyond for the life of copyright. Whether or not a clueless publisher would even realize what they've acquired or have any idea how to exploit it, the specter would hover over the author's further use of any elements in the original story. In addition, if the publisher files for bankruptcy, any rights the publisher held would likely become part of its assets sold during the bankruptcy process. The author would then end up with a completely unknown business partner.

5) Even with a perfectly drafted contract, which seems unlikely with a publisher who would propose such a contract in the first place, it could easily take years of legal action to unscramble the competing rights.

To the beginning writer, it may seem far-fetched that these rights would ever be worth anything, but a perpetual rights grab can extend far into a writer's career. It literally doesn't end until the copyright on the work expires, and for the US, that is life plus 70 years. Writers should be wary of any perpetual licensing deal, much less one that doesn't limit itself to specific derivative rights. The only rights that a writer should even consider licensing to a publisher are those rights that the publisher has a better chance of exploiting than the author, and only then when the income split is in the author's favor.

Whether these rights grabs stem from ignorance of the business or from greed, we believe they are unconscionable and indefensible. We urge writers to ask that such clauses be removed from contracts before they sign them and to avoid signing contracts with this language.

SFWA Contracts Committee
contracts@SFWA.org

Legal Disclaimer: This contract alert should not be understood to be legal advice. The issues presented by aggressive rights grabs are complex, and if you are concerned about use of your material, you should consult a competent attorney familiar with the business of publishing as well as the law of the applicable jurisdiction for legal advice.

April 25, 2018

Author Complaints Mount at Curiosity Quills Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I first started hearing about Curiosity Quills Press in 2016, because of its unusual early termination fees. Not that early termination fees themselves are unusual (unfortunately): I see them fairly often in contracts I'm asked to evaluate (and they are always a red flag; here's why).

What makes CQ's fees unusual is that they're part of an annual event. This is outlined on CQ's website, and also in its contract:


On the surface this may seem like a publisher being flexible and author-friendly--a get-out-of-jail-if-not-exactly-free procedure that authors can follow in a guaranteed and orderly manner. In fact, such provisions often work to the detriment of both authors and publishers--publishers because escape clauses may incentivize early departure, including by authors they'd rather keep; and authors because the costs can be enormous (not to mention unverifiable, if the publisher charges a flat fee or provides no supporting invoices). Plus, publishers can and do abuse termination fees--for instance, by terminating the contracts of writers who've pissed them off and demanding the fee even though termination wasn't the writer's decision.

I have never heard that CQ does anything like that. But, based on documentation I've seen--and also by CQ's own admission in correspondence with me--CQ's termination fees can top $700 per book, which, for authors requesting multiple terminations, may add up to several thousand dollars. Also, because CQ charges the entire production cost back to the author--even though, in most cases, some of that cost has been recovered through book sales--the fees yield not just reimbursement for unrecouped expense, but some degree of profit...especially where the fees compensate cash CQ never actually had to lay out in the first place, such as design and editing work done by CQ's owners, Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus.

I've also gotten complaints about inconsistent editing (there are some public posts about this as well). In general, though, complaints about CQ were few through most of 2016, and many authors reported being happy with the publisher.

In late 2016, however, things started to change. A trickle of reports of additional problems began to appear online: errors introduced into proofs, missed deadlines (CQ's contract includes an elaborate set of deadlines for editing, proofing, cover art, etc.), poor communications, and a lack of marketing support (reportedly a change from CQ's early days when it had an active marketing department).

By 2018, the trickle had become a flood. Authors began reporting not just the troubling issues mentioned above, but a host of others: revisions that never made it into published books, books published with uncorrected errors, typos on the covers of printed books, cover art received just days before the pub date, unanswered emails, book shipping problems, and late royalty payments, with some authors reporting that they hadn't been paid in months. A number of these authors had been with CQ for years and were reluctant to criticize it, but felt compelled to speak out because of the decline they perceived in quality, timeliness, and responsiveness.

Via email, CQ's co-owner and CTO, Eugene Teplitsky, told me that he was aware of the problems, which he attributed to "an overambitious release schedule and small, dedicated, but overloaded team". He says that CQ is working to improve things by hiring a new staff member and scaling back its new releases (based on a search at Amazon, CQ has averaged 73 releases a year for the past few years--a lot for a small press).

Eugene acknowledged the late royalty payments, but denied that they were tardy by more than a few days. When I mentioned that I've seen documented complaints of royalties that were late by months, he responded that "I can only go by what I see in our ledger," and invited authors to reach out to him for resolution. (Several authors who contacted me indicated that they had done this, and were not satisfied with the results.) To make accounting easier, Eugene plans to shift CQ from a monthly (!) royalty payment schedule to a bi-annual one (though I've been told by authors that other CQ promises to re-vamp its contract have yet to come to fruition).

I also asked why, when calculating termination fees, CQ bills authors for their books' entire production cost without factoring in money made on sales. Eugene gave me a couple of responses--most of the authors exercising the escape clause have low sales so production costs "were not even close to being recouped", the chargeback is less than what authors would pay if they commissioned the work themselves (!)--but didn't really address my question.

The potential for a secret profit isn't the only concern here. If an escape clause can make money for a publisher, the publisher may be tempted to encourage its authors to use it. For instance:


The screenshot above is from one of CQ's updates about its mysterious WishKnish project (more on that below). Authors are being told that they will be expected to shoulder a major amount of marketing for this project--and if they aren't happy about that, are being invited to leave. Which, of course, they cannot do without handing over quite a lot of money. Either way, CQ benefits: enthusiastic author-marketers or cash payouts. For authors, the advantages are less clear.

So what is WishKnish? It seems to have begun as an effort by CQ's owners to establish a non-Amazon marketplace for CQ sales, but has morphed into an e-commerce website where sellers of all kinds, including CQ authors, can establish storefronts and make "coin-agnostic" (i.e., cryptocurrency-friendly) sales and purchases (the "knish" is WishKnish's own currency token). There are also social media and crowdfunding components.

If you look through the jargon-heavy website, it's clear this is a major project for CQ's owners--and equally clear that it has nothing to do with publishing. Many of the CQ authors who contacted me fear that the problems they're experiencing are at least partly a result of WishKnish eating up CQ staff time (seven of eight CQ team members--including Eugene and his wife--are also listed as Wishknish team members). Eugene denies that this is the case. While his wife is working full-time on WishKnish, he says, "the vast majority of my time is dedicated to CQ," and CQ staff are not double-timing. They're only listed at WishKnish "because eventually we will be operating both sides of the coin jointly."

I don't know how comforting--or convincing--CQ authors will find this.

The complaints I've received and seen leave me in no doubt that there are serious problems at CQ. It's also clear that Eugene is aware of the complaints, and his responses to me indicate a willingness to address them--but he and authors aren't completely in agreement on the nature of the problems (for instance, on the late royalties issue), and I'm skeptical that WishKnish is as minimal a distraction as he claims. I'm also--as I have been since 2016--concerned about what I consider to be the exploitative nature of one of CQ's core business practices, the escape clause and early termination fees.

I hope CQ can turn things around. In the meantime, writers who are thinking of submitting to CQ need to carefully consider the issues outlined above.

April 13, 2018

Publishers Weekly Includes Two Vanity Publishers in its List of Fast-Growing Independent Presses

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Once again, Publishers Weekly's annual overview of fast-growing independent publishers features not only innovative indies, but publishers whose business model is largely built on author fees: Morgan James Publishing and Austin Macauley. Seriously, PW? Why do you  keep doing this?

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Billing itself as "The Entrepreneurial Publisher", Morgan James Publishing requires its authors "to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2." (Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that writers are asked for a "deposit" of up to $5,000 on contract signing; we've also had reports that additional fees may be due for editing and PR.)

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP falsely claims on its "compare" page that "Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release", and that even with self-publishing, "[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public." (It also--again falsely--suggests that "old school traditional publishers" take possession of authors' copyrights.)

Despite all of the above, MJP declares that "No Publishing Fee [is] charged, hidden or otherwise."

MJP has made PW's fast-growing indie publisher list several times in addition to this year, including 20162015, 20142013, and 2008 (when another pay-to-play publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, was also featured). Of all those articles, only the 2016 one mentions MJP's book huge purchase requirement.

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I've written before about Austin Macauley--and I'm not the only one: others have called AM out on its business model as well.

AM bills itself as a "hybrid" publisher*, and does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts. However, it presents itself as an "innovative independent trade publisher" and states that "we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal." This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer. But Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for, while we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers. Obviously this represents just a fraction of those who've submitted to AM; still, the proportion of non-fee to fee-based offers certainly suggests that the bulk of AM's business is fee-based.

Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). In my (non-legal; I'm not a lawyer) opinion, the AM contracts I've reviewed are substandard; there's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher." In effect, this is a life-of-copyright grant, with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. (I've written before about the vital importance of having a good rights reversion clause in a life-of-copyright contract.)

I've also viewed a number of AM's acceptance letters. There are differences, depending on the rationale for offering "contributory" contracts (new author, can't take the risk; previously published author, not successful enough) but other than that it's clearly cut-and-paste, with whole passages used verbatim in multiple letters.

You can see manymanymanymany manymanyauthor reports of Austin Macauley's fees online. AM is on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Publishers List, and the Alliance of Independent Authors gives AM a red-flag advisory. Glassdoor.com features multiple one-star reviews from current and former AM staff with headlines like "Exploitative and Irrational" and "Not a Real Publisher." Also check out AM's extremely professional response (snark) to my blog post about it, in which it claims that I should be disbelieved because I'm a liar and a bully, and also because "Writer Beware are [sic] part of an organisation littered with racism, sexism and child molestation."

Recognition by PW will give AM a serious PR boost, doubtless drawing in many more unsuspecting authors. Predictably, AM is already making hay with it. But given the very large amount of online information to counter Austin Macauley's sunny claims about itself, PW clearly didn't do its due diligence in including AM on its annual list.

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* In part to counter the wide abuse of the term "hybrid publisher" (which is extensively employed by vanity publishers in an attempt to sanitize their business practices), The Independent Book Publishers Association recently issued a set of professional standards for hybrid publishers. While these standards are urgently needed in the Wild West world of independent presses, they also illustrate how easily a dishonest vanity publisher can present itself as a legitimate hybrid just by making public claims about its business model. 

March 21, 2018

Two Solicitation Bewares: Aimee Ann / Red Headed Book Lover Blog; Book Writing Inc.


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've gotten a number of reports of solicitation by the individuals/outfits below. Both are services you might want to avoid.

AIMEE ANN / RED HEADED BOOK LOVER BLOG

Back in December, I posted a warning about this blogger on Writer Beware's Facebook page. But she appears to be soliciting again, so I'm doing a wider warning here.

A woman calling herself Aimee Ann has been emailing authors, offering reviews on her blog, The Red Headed Book Lover Blog. Here's a sample email, with the recipient's information redacted:


If you've ever pitched book bloggers in hopes of a review, you know how much competition there is. It can be hard even to get a response. So you might find it refreshing for a book blogger to approach you. Note, however, how Aimee doesn't mention the title of the author's book, or indeed any specifics at all. That's because this isn't a personal approach from someone who is genuinely interested in the author's work, but a form letter that's being blasted out, spamlike, to large numbers of people.

Why is Aimee spreading such a wide net? Because she is running a pay-to-play scheme. Authors who respond to her solicitation discover that they must pay $75 for a review. (One author told me that when they protested, Aimee told them that she just forgot to mention it.) The existence of the fee (though not the amount) is revealed in the Terms and Conditions section of Aimee's blog--but how many authors are going to read the Terms and Conditions?

It's debatable whether paid reviews are worth the money--even when provided by professional venues like Kirkus--let alone whether it's worth paying a fee to some random amateur. And Aimee is definitely an amateur. Her rambling reviews are poorly written and mostly chronicle her personal reactions (with lots of exclamation points). Some are so generic that you wonder if Aimee actually read the book (shades of Harriet Klausner). Don't be impressed by the hundreds of comments sported by some of Aimee's reviews--she quadruples or quintuples the actual count by responding multiple times to each outside comment.

Aimee's latest enterprise is Book Editing. What qualifies her to do this, you might ask? According to Aimee, "I have experience with working with numerous publishers both in England and America, as well as this I have a degree in Classical Studies and Psychology which I like to think gives me a certain literary flair!" Note, again, the lack of specifics. Aside from how hard these claims are to believe if you've actually read Aimee's reviews, it's easy to sound impressive when you don't name any names.

Authors, don't pay for book reviews. Even if the reviewer is competent.

BOOK WRITING INC.

In February, a local chapter of Sisters in Crime received this solicitation:


SinC isn't alone; individual writers are being targeted also. (Here's what you can expect if you respond.)

Apart from the spam solicitation (reputable firms don't do this), the most obvious clue that Book Writing Inc. might not be the best investment is the mangled English that's apparent everywhere on its website--on this page, for instance:


Or this one:


Looks like these "top ghostwriters" need to invest in their own services. Another warning sign: the Terms and Conditions, which make it clear that getting a refund for late or substandard work will be an uphill battle.

But wait, there's more! A bit of digging reveals that Book Writing Inc. is just one head of a writer-fleecing hydra. Heads 2, 3, and 4: My Book in 28 Days, Ghostwriting LLC, and Ghost Writing. These sister sites--all of which are at least as English-challenged as Book Writing Inc.--look different, and promise somewhat different things, but they offer the same kinds of services, and--whoops!--their Terms and Conditions include identicaldistinctively-written content. They've also made a few goofs in the proofing process. From My Book in 28 Days:


And from Ghostwriting LLC:


Although there's some similarity here to the predatory Philippines-based Author Solutions spinoffs I wrote about in January, I don't think that Book Writing Inc and its brethren are Author Solutions copycats.

Domain registration information leads to a number of other websites that are not writing- and publishing-related, but hawk unrelated services: logo design, website building, tax and accounting, video animation, and Wikipedia page creation. Altogether, there are at least 30 websites in this complex, linked not just by domain registration info, but by the English-language errors that are present on almost all of them, and by shared content and design. Whoever is running this scheme is casting a wide net, and not just for writers.

ALWAYS be wary of out-of-the-blue solicitations.

March 9, 2018

Scam Down Under: Love of Books Brisbane / Julie "Jules" McGregor


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

It's a familiar story.

Entrepreneur sets up publishing company. Publishing company charges fees, but it's not a vanity publisher--certainly not! Authors are just investing in their own success.

But...oh dear. Authors receive proofs riddled with errors and finished books so badly produced they are unsalable. Some receive no books at all. Refunds, if promised, never show up; court judgments, if levied, are never paid. The entrepreneur gets aggressive with authors who complain, or simply doesn't respond to emails and phone calls. Finally the business collapses and disappears, or the owner sells it or transfers it to a third party who refuses responsibility for previous mistakes. Authors are left high and dry.

How often have I written about this?

Well, here's another example: Julie McGregor's Australia-based publishing services company, Love of Books Brisbane, a.k.a. Books Publishing Services Australia. According to this article in the The Sydney Morning Herald, McGregor has reportedly defrauded multiple clients to the tune of four and even five figures. From the article:
Disaffected clients claim they handed over sums ranging from $2000 to $12,000 since 2013 and as recently as late 2016 to entities including Love of Books Brisbane and Books Publishing Services Australia. The projects have ranged from historical research and commercial fiction to travel guides.

Another complainant is a Queensland debut novelist who unsuccessfully claimed a partial refund when the deadline for her fantasy fiction "was exceeded, my manuscript edited with no permission or tracking to show where the edits took place, no finished product and then I had to pay someone else to edit it again from scratch".

The writer says she is still owed $4000 and has not heard a word from McGregor since she was promised the refund in August 2016. At that time, she was not advised that McGregor was a bankrupt.
And that's not all.
McGregor...dealt exclusively with a Melbourne high school whose parents spent $10,000 to produce a cookbook as a Christmas fundraiser in 2016.

The school, which does not want to be named, paid a $4000 deposit raised from local sponsors plus a further $6000 to McGregor's business, Love of Books Brisbane, to print 1000 copies of recipe favourites.

To date the fundraisers say they have not received a single copy of the book, which was to have been delivered four weeks after the supply of artwork and content in September 2016.
Several of McGregor's authors have won judgments from the Queensland Civil Claims Tribunal, although only one author appears to have been paid (and only partially).

Publishing isn't McGregor's only fraud. In November 2017, she was convicted of an elaborate scheme to extract money from local businesses.
[A] Southport magistrates court convicted [McGregor] of three counts of dishonestly gaining thousands of dollars from three restaurants using fraudulent credit cards. She was handed a nine-month suspended sentence for what the prosecution said was a "calculated, fraudulent activity, not once but three times".

Acting magistrate Gary Finger described McGregor as "certainly naive to say the least" for her role in the complex fraud, in which she booked restaurant functions on fraudulent credit cards and then persuaded the restaurant owners to pay for non-existent florists and limousine services. A sobbing McGregor was told she would face jail time if she came before the courts again.
In 2016, McGregor transferred the Love of Books website and client list to Ian Lewis, who is currently operating the business under his own business number and a slightly different name: Love of Books Australia-Wide. According to McGregor, this change was spurred not by thousands of dollars owed to multiple authors, but by "high continuous bullying in many forms...lasting over 3 years by a sacked employee and his associates, along with the take over of the businesses clients and personal details by a greedy commercial operator in conjunction." (You can read a much longer and even more self-serving version of this screed here.) According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Lewis has disclaimed responsibility for reimbursing McGregor's clients.

Although Writer Beware never received complaints or reports about McGregor's company, I did have my own encounter with her. In 2015, she sent me an email with the angry (and mis-spelled) subject line: URGETN ATTENTION REQUESTED.


I always give attention when asked, especially when it is URGETN.


McGregor responded:


Well, that wasn't super-helpful, but I did what she suggested, and typed her name and URL into Google to see what I could see. Turns out that she was indeed mentioned on my blog...but not because anyone had defamed her. I thought it would be good to let her know what I'd discovered.


I wasn't surprised when I didn't get a reply.

Here's McGregor's comment that produced the websearch result:


UPDATE 3/11/18: Wow, that was fast. I got home last night from an event to find two emails threatening me with legal action: one from McGregor, and the other from Ian Lewis--purportedly, at least. Verbal clues suggest that both emails were written by the same person responsible for the posts on this blog devoted to extending McGregor's claims that she, in fact, is the victim.

February 22, 2018

How the Internet Archive Infringed My Copyrights and Then (Kind Of) Blew Me Off


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Last month, I wrote about the Internet Archive's Open Library project, which has been scanning donated print books, creating PDFs and EPUBs from the scans, and placing the scans and the digitized versions online for public borrowing--all without seeking permission from authors.

Although the IA describes these books as being "mostly from the 20th century" and "largely not available either physically or digitally", numerous books in the Open Library collection are recently published, in-copyright, and commercially available. SFWA is among several writers' groups that considers the Open Library project to be not library lending, but direct infringement of authors' copyrights.

On hearing about Open Library, I of course checked it out to see if any of my books were included. I found four, each in multiple formats: a scan of the print book, a PDF (the photographic scan rendered page by page), an EPUB (an OCR conversion full of errors--weird characters, garbled words, headers included in the text, and the like), and a DAISY (an encrypted format for the visually impaired that requires a special key to de-crypt). All of these books are currently "in print" and available for sale.

Here's how my books appeared on Open Library, with the blue "Borrow" buttons indicating their availability for borrowing.


Passion Blue has a yellow "Join Waitlist" button because I borrowed and downloaded it to Adobe Digital Editions, to see what the digitizations looked like and also to check whether the borrows expired after 14 days, as promised. (They did.)


One of the questions that has concerned SFWA and other writers' groups is how the IA responds to DMCA notices. So on January 1, I sent one for Passion Blue.



No response. On January 9, I sent another.


Still nothing. On January 25, I sent a third DMCA notice.


Crickets.

Well, this was annoying, especially since, in a January 24 post to the Internet Archive blog, IA founder Brewster Kahle promised "prompt action" on DMCA requests. But hey, maybe the IA folks were just swamped with takedown notices and were working through a big backlog. I resolved to be patient.

Then, on January 27, author Virginia Anderson alerted me to her blog post about her experience with Open Library and the IA. Like me, she'd found one of her books available, had sent DMCA notices, and had heard nothing back. Frustrated, she posted a comment on the IA blog, indicating that she'd be seeking legal advice if she didn't get a reply (the IA blog is moderated, and Ms. Anderson's comment never appeared publicly). Within 36 hours, the IA responded in email, and the digitized versions of her book were taken down.

Well, I thought, I can do that. So on January 28, I hopped on over to the IA blog and posted this comment:


I made a screenshot because I was pretty sure it wouldn't be let through, and I was right. However, within 24 hours I got an email identical to the one Virginia Anderson received, ostensibly in response to my third DMCA notice.


On checking Open Library, I found not just that Passion Blue was gone, but the other three books had been taken down as well. (The encrypted DAISY versions are still available, but I have no quarrel with that; many publishing contracts allow publishers to grant rights to non-profit organizations that serve the visually impaired, without compensation to the author).

So why do I feel like I've been blown off? After all, I got what I wanted: withdrawal from public lending of unauthorized scans and digitizations of my books. Shouldn't that be enough?

Well, no. Look, I get that people have different views of copyright. My interest in retaining tight control of my intellectual property conflicts with others' vision of universal libraries and unfettered access to information. I'm fine with that. There are laws that enable me to take action if I feel my rights have been infringed, and I have no problem using them.

What pisses me off is how unprofessionally the IA handled this (and Virginia Anderson's experience makes it clear that I'm not alone). Over the space of nearly a month, I sent three DMCA notices, none of which got a response; but when I left a snippy blog comment, the IA got back to me within 24 hours. Clearly the IA is not too busy to take quick action when it wants to. It also irks me that, when the IA did respond, it didn't acknowledge my DMCA notices (other than the subject line), or any obligation to act on them. Instead, it provided a paragraph of exposition about DAISY, informed me that there's "no other access available" to Passion Blue as if that had been the case all along, and finished with a plug for its philanthropic mission. Basically, "no issue here, move right along"--while tacitly acknowledging that there is an issue by hastily removing public access not just to Passion Blue but to the three books I didn't ask them to take down.

Really, it's almost childish. The IA does important work that's worth supporting. It may not agree with me and others that Open Library is an overreach--but in my opinion, the way it has dealt with me and with Virginia Anderson is not worthy of its mission.

Has anyone had a similar experience? Or gotten a more prompt and professional response? I'd be interested to know.

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

One question that often comes up when discussing this kind of infringement: Brick-and-mortar libraries lend out books for free. How is Open Library 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, 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 it a chore to read. Apart from permission issues, this is not how I want my 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 Open Library project.

February 9, 2018

The New Face of Vanity Anthologies: Z Publishing House and Appelley Publishing


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Like everything else, the schemes and scams that prey on writers have changed over time. Literary agent scams, for example--including fee-charging and kickback referral schemes--used to be the number one danger for authors, but these have become much less common in recent years, thanks to the growth of small presses and self-publishing options.

Another scheme that's largely fallen out of favor is the vanity anthology. It worked like this: writers were recruited via a free contest to submit a poem, essay, or story, with winners promised prizes and finalists and semi-finalists eligible for publication in an anthology of supposedly carefully chosen entries. Publication was presented as a prestigious literary credit, a worthy addition to a writing resume.

It was all B.S., of course. There was no careful choosing; everyone who entered received a publication offer, with no fee or purchase requirement but heavy pressure to buy the anthology and persuade friends and family to do so. A closed loop, in other words: contributors doubling as customers, and the anthologies never seeing the inside of a bookstore or library or even a listing with an online retailer.

Years ago, there were dozens of these anthology schemes. Most are gone now, including the granddaddy of them all, the International Library of Poetry, a.k.a. Poetry.com. But some remain, such as Eber & Wein--which, maybe to get ahead of all the negative reviews at PissedConsumer, not to mention an F rating at the BBB, is now calling itself Poetry Nation (for anyone who remembers the old Poetry.com, this website will look very familiar).

And just recently, I discovered two new ventures that add twists of their own.

APPELLEY PUBLISHING



Appelley Publishing, which started up just last year, offers a free-to-enter Student Poetry Contest (or a National Student Poetry Contest, depending on whether you're looking at its home page or one of its cheesy print-your-own certificates) for students in grades 3 through 12, with "over $4,000 in prizes" plus publication in an anthology of student work. The school with the "highest participation" wins a new computer.

According to the Appelley website, contest winners will be posted on April 6. But there are already multiple announcements of students who've been chosen for publication in the anthology. This is so that parents have plenty of time to come up with money, because, as Appelley's publication authorization form makes clear, ordering at least one copy of the anthology ($34.99 plus $5 shipping and handling, an amazing discount from the supposed "publisher's list" of $69.99) is strongly recommended. And what parent whose child has been honored by inclusion in a national anthology of student poetry wouldn't want to buy?

So far, it's a fairly standard vanity anthology scheme. But here's the twist: teachers can earn cash prizes too!
Participating teachers who submit their students [sic] work are eligible for one of three “Teacher’s Bonus” awards worth $500.00 apiece! Ballots are earned by the number of submissions made, so the chances of winning keeps [sic] going up!
Each "ballot" represents 10 student entries, and teachers can submit up to 19 ballots. How to get lots of kids to enter your vanity anthology contest? Give adults an incentive to steer students your way.

Parents and teachers probably assume that Appelley has some kind of vetting process in place, and that being selected for publication is an indication of merit. But to make money, Appelley needs customers, and since its customers are the young poets and their parents, it needs as many poems as it can get. Which is not a great recipe for selectivity.

Usually people don't discover this until they actually get the anthologies, which typically are cheaply produced books crammed with poor-quality poems in tiny print. This time, though, the internet got an advance peek when a student took to Twitter to describe how she dashed off a joke ditty in praise of Popeyes Chicken as part of a class project to enter Appelley's contest (you can see those teacher-focused incentives working here). Next thing the student knew, she'd been selected for publication. "As much as we would like to," Appelley wrote, "we simply can’t publish every student who writes to us, but in your case, we have decided that we would like to include your poem, ‘Popeyes’ in the Appelley Publishing 2017 Rising Stars Collection."

Boom. Quality.

Z PUBLISHING

Z Publishing (a.k.a. Z Publishing House) publishes a whole range of anthologies, with titles like California's Best Emerging Poets and Wisconsin's Best Emerging Poets and All At Once I Saw My Colors.

The company has submission calls on its website, but its primary mode of recruitment appears to be a heavy program of email solicitation, with writers' names harvested from such sources as school and college literary magazines and personal blogs. There are no submission or publishing fees, and also no payment for contributors, as Z's submission form makes clear. Z has pumped out 33 anthologies in the past year or so, with another six in the pipeline.

This is fairly standard vanity anthology fare: wide recruitment, no-fee submission, and books that probably will only be bought by the authors' friends and family and the authors themselves (and they do have to buy if they want print copies; contributors only get a PDF). Z maximizes whatever profit can be wrung from this business model by using CreateSpace to publish the books for free.

But here's the twist: an affiliate program that transforms authors not just into customers, but salespeople. From Z's publishing agreement:
12. Payment. Artist acknowledges that Company does not itself provide royalty payment. However, if accepted to one or more book, Artist will have the option to join Company's affiliate program, which is administered and run completely through the third-party site Refersion.
According to the Affiliate Program FAQ, affiliates earn "approximately 25% of each sale you make (this includes 25% of the shipping fee as well)." Z suggests posting affiliate links on social media, websites, etc. (you can see a bunch of these pitches on Z's Facebook Community page), but it wants prospective affiliates to know that the best method is spam:


Other initiatives also appear to be fodder for affiliate marketing, such as this Lifetime Membership offer for readers.

Z Publishing's domain is registered to a Zach Zimmerman in Wisconsin, but like the Author Solutions clones I highlighted in my previous post, its work appears to be largely outsourced overseas, with multiple "Author Research" and "Author Communications" staffers based in the Philippines.

Z has some grandiose plans--expanded hiring! A new headquarters! Exponential growth!--but my bet is that a year from now, a lot of the links in this post will have stopped working. As much as vanity anthologizing may seem like a lucrative scheme, with its built-in customer base and all the marketing on the front end, leveraging vanity into sales is not as easy as it appears--as scores of defunct vanity anthologizers and vanity publishers now know.

January 25, 2018

Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I don't think there's much dispute that the many "imprints" under the Author Solutions umbrella are among the most negatively regarded of all the author services companies.

From the predatory business practices that gave rise to two class action lawsuits, to the huge number of customer complaints, to the relentless sales calls and deceptive recruitment methods, to the dubious and overpriced "marketing" services that are one of the company's main profit sources, AS's poor reputation is widely known. Along with other factors, such as the competition from free and low-cost self-publishing platforms, this has pushed AS in recent years into steady decline.

Unfortunately, whatever gap AS's contraction has created has been filled by a slew of imitators. Why not, when hoodwinking authors is as easy as setting up a website and opening an account with Ingram? In some cases, the imitators have first-hand experience: they've been founded and/or staffed by former employees of AS's call centers in the Philippines.

Like AS, the clones rely on misleading hype, hard-sell sales tactics, and a lucrative catalog of junk marketing services. Even if authors actually receive the services they've paid for (and judging by the complaints I've gotten, there's no guarantee of that), they are getting stiffed. These are not businesses operating in good faith, but greedy opportunists seeking to profit from writers' inexperience, ignorance, and hunger for recognition. They are exploitative, dishonest, and predatory.

CLONESIGN: HOW TO SUSS THEM OUT 

On the surface, the clones don't look that different from other, not necessarily disreputable author services companies offering publishing packages and marketing add-ons. However, they share a distinctive cluster of characteristics that can help you identify them.

1. Solicitation. Like the Author Solutions imprints, the clones are big on out-of-the-blue phone calls and emails hawking their services. Often they'll claim your book has been recommended to them, or discovered by one of their book scouts. The phone solicitors frequently have foreign accents (many are based in the Philippines). The email solicitors use a recurring set of job titles: book scout, literary agent, Senior Marketing & Publishing Consultant (or Senior Publishing & Marketing Consultant), Executive Marketing Consultant.

2. Offers to re-publish authors' books. A big focus for the clones is poaching authors who are already published or self-published (often with Author Solutions imprints). They claim they can do a better job, or provide greater credibility, or even get authors in front of traditional publishers.

3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that don't check out. A clone may say it's been in business since 2006 or 2008, even though its domain name was registered only last year. It may claim to be staffed by publishing and marketing experts with years or even decades of "combined experience", but provide no names or bios to enable you to verify this. A hallmark of the clones' "About Us" pages is a serious lack of "about."

4. Poor or tortured English. The clones have US addresses, and purport to be US-based companies. Many have US business registrations. Yet their emails and websites frequently contain numerous (and sometimes laughable) grammar and syntax errors (see below for examples). Their phone solicitors appear to be calling from US numbers, but commonly have foreign accents, and may get authors' names or book titles wrong.

5. Junk marketing.  Press releases. Paid book review packages. Book fair exhibits. Ingram catalog listings. Hollywood book-to-screen packages. These and more are junk marketing--PR services of dubious value and effectiveness that are cheap to provide but can be sold at a huge profit. It's an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of the enormous markup, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times.

This is a page right out of the Author Solutions playbook. AS basically invented junk book marketing, and most of the marketing services offered by the clones were pioneered by AS. If you follow the links below, you'll see the same ones over and over, and if you hop on over to an AS imprint marketing section, you'll see them there, too.

Authors are often serially targeted by the clones. For instance, I heard from an iUniverse-published author who bought an expensive re-publication package from Book-Art Press Solutions, and shortly afterward was solicited for marketing services by Stratton Press (fortunately she contacted me before she wrote a check). Another author bought a publishing package from BookVenture, plus extra marketing from Window Press Club--both as a result of solicitation phone calls.

CLONE CLUB

Below are the clones I've identified to date (several of which I found in the process of researching this post--I actually had to stop following links or I'd never have gotten this written). The list includes a few that, based on their websites and other public information, I suspect are clones but haven't yet been able to document with complaints or solicitation materials.

One thing you'll notice if you follow the links is how similar the clones' websites are. It's not just the characteristics mentioned above: the same terminology, menus, and products appear over and over again, as do distinctive English-language errors (many of the clones urge authors to "avail" of services, for instance). Also, of  the 13 companies I looked at, ten are less than two years old, and seven started up in the past year. It really made me wonder, especially after I discovered that two apparently separate clones are in fact the same outfit, and two others appear to be connected.

I have no doubt there are many more clones out there. If you've encountered any I haven't listed below--or if you've had an experience with the ones featured in this post--please post a comment.
  • LitFire Publishing
  • Legaia Books
  • Stratton Press
  • ReadersMagnet
  • Toplink Publishing
  • Book-Art Press Solutions
  • Window Press Club
  • Westwood Books Publishing (formerly Greenberry Publishing), also d.b.a. Authors Press
  • BookVenture Publishing
  • Okir Publishing
  • ADbook Press
  • Zeta Publishing
  • Everlastale Publishing

LitFire Publishing is the first Author Solutions clone I ever encountered, and the one that alerted me to the phenomenon. My 2014 blog post takes a detailed look at its false or unverifiable claims, its illiterate solicitation emails, its plagiarism (it's still doing that), and its Philippine/Author Solutions origins (its phone solicitors sometimes claim AS imprints are "sister companies"). See the comments for many reports of solicitation phone calls.

LitFire is a good deal more sophisticated now than it was in 2014, with a flashy website from which the English-language errors that marred it in the beginning have largely (though not entirely; its blog posts could use some help) been culled. But it's still a solicitation monster, and its Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services are still a major ripoff. Take a look at its insanely marked-up Kirkus Indie review package (you can buy reviews directly from Kirkus for less than half the price).

LitFire claims it's headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and it is actually registered with the Georgia Corporations Division. Possibly to get ahead of negative discussion, it has admitted--partially--its Philippine connections. It's also aware of my warnings about it, and has responded with some fairly incompetent trolling.

*****

Legaia Books is also a solicitation monster. It heavily targeted authors of Tate Publishing right after that disgraced vanity publisher collapsed.

Legaia offers publishing packages, but its main schtick is Paperclips Magazine, an online rag that consists primarily of ads, reviews, and interviews sold to authors at gobsmackingly enormous prices, interspersed with plagiarized general interest articles and illiterate feature pieces written by Legaia's English-challenged staff. Legaia's website is full of howlingly funny (or cringingly awful, depending on your perspective) English-language mistakes. Keeping to its penchant for plagiarism, and incidentally acknowledging its roots, it has copied much of its FAQ from Author Solutions.

My blog post on Legaia goes into much more detail.

Like other members of clone club, Legaia claims to be headquartered in the USA, with a street address in Raleigh, North Carolina. But there's no trace of any North Carolina business registration. When the Better Business Bureau attempted to contact it by paper mail, the mail was returned by the post office.

*****

Stratton Press claims to offer "an experience that is one of a kind for both novice and veteran authors". Oddly, it doesn't display its publishing packages on its website; you have to go to its Facebook page to see them. Named after famous writers, they start at $1,800 and go all the way up to $10,500.

The website is replete with vague claims ("our team's eight-year experience in the publishing industry), shaky English ("Since every book is unique and every story is special, it is just but right to have a team of experts behind your back."), and plagiarism (here's "How to Write a Novel" by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer's Digest. Here's "How to Write a Novel" by "Chuck Subchino" of Stratton).

Stratton is the one of the only clones I found that doesn't actively try to conceal its Philippine/Author Solutions roots. A Cebu City address also appears on its Contact page; and per his LinkedIn page, Stratton's co-owner, Aaron Dancel, worked for three years as a Sales Supervisor for Author Solutions' Cebu call center.

Stratton claims to be located in Wyoming, where it does have a business registration. However, despite its A- rating at the BBB, there's also this:


*****

ReadersMagnet describes itself as "a team of self-publishing and digital marketing experts with more than 10 years of combined experience". Its motto: "Your Success is Our Delight!" So is your money.

You can pay as much as $29,999 for a Premium Color Adult Book publishing package. On the junk marketing side, you can shell out $6,299 for an Online Brand Publicity campaign, or $2,799 for a Premium Dynamic Website, or $4,999 for a 90-second Cinematic Deluxe video book trailer.

In true clone style, ReadersMagnet is a tireless and prolific phone solicitor (hence the many complaints that can be found about it online). I've heard from many authors who have been repeatedly called and/or emailed by this outfit; one author told me that she got so annoyed that she blocked the caller's New York number, only to be contacted a couple of days later by another ReadersMagnet solicitor, this time with a California number.

Writers have also told me that callers have foreign accents and Spanish surnames. A search on LinkedIn turns up two Philippines-based ReadersMagnet staffers. Oh, and ReadersMagnet apparently had a lovely Christmas party last year...in Cebu.

ReadersMagnet's current website reads okay, with occasional lapses. But its original website, which came online in mid-2016, was full of howlers. Compare this early version of its About Us page (courtesy of the Internet Archive) with the current iteration, which isn't high literature but at least is more or less grammatical.

The company hasn't worked as hard to clean up its correspondence. Here's a snippet from a recent solicitation email--it's really kind of a masterpiece.



ReadersMagnet originally claimed a New York address. Now it says it's located in California. As far as I can tell, it has no business registration in either state.

*****

Toplink Publishing bills itself as "the global leader in accessible and strategic publishing and marketing solutions". It boasts every one of the warning signs identified above: SolicitationRe-publishing offersUnverifiable claims about staff and experienceTortured English. Lots and lots of marketing.

Toplink's publishing packages are categorized a la Author Solutions (black and white, full color, children's book, etc.), and neither they nor the marketing packages provide any prices; you have to call to find out. Hard-sell sales tactics work better on the phone.

Also, no prices on an author services company's website is nearly always a giant clue that they're super-expensive. Here's the marketing proposal one author received--note how Toplink wants the author to believe that the ridiculous amount of money he's being asked to pay for his "compensation share" is more than matched by Toplink's "investment" (a classic vanity publisher ploy).



Toplink claims addresses in North Carolina and Nevada, but there are no business registrations for it in either state. A number of complaints about it can be found online, including at its Facebook page. It also has an F rating from the BBB, based on its failure to respond to consumer complaints.

*****

Book-Art Press Solutions (not to be confused with the graphic design company of the same name, or with Book Arts Press) and Window Press Club present as different companies, but in fact they're two faces of the same ripoff.

My recent blog post about this two-headed beast goes into more detail, including the identical website content that gives them away.

Book-Art Press employs an exceptionally deceptive approach to authors, portraying itself not as a self-publishing provider but as a group of "literary agents" who want to re-publish authors' books in order to give them the "credibility" needed to "endorse" them to traditional publishers. The cost? Only $3,500! Authors are encouraged to believe is all they'll have to pay. In fact, as with all the clones, the initial fee is just a way to open the door to more selling.

BAP/WPC is a pretty recent venture, with domain names registered just last year. BAP claims it's in New York City, although its business registration is in Delaware. WPC doesn't provide a mailing address, but its domain is registered to Paul Jorge Ponce in Cebu, Philippines.

Here's one of BAP's solicitation emails, reproduced in its entirety. It really tells you everything you need to know.


*****

Westwood Books Publishing, which claims a Los Angeles location, registered its domain name in March 2018.

If you're wondering how I could predict an event in March while writing this post in January, that's because I've updated this section to reflect the fact Westwood Books Publishing is a brand-new name; the company, which started up last August, was originally called Greenberry Publishing. (Hmm. Could they have seen this post? Or maybe they just wanted to ditch their F BBB rating.)

To confuse matters further, Westwood/Greenberry also appears to have recently started doing business as Authors Press. (A few examples of the links between these three entities: a book listed as both Greenberry and Westwood; a book listed with all three companies; also, as of this writing, nearly every book listed at Authors Press shows on Amazon as published by Greenberry.)


Greenberry/Westwood/Authors Press's M.O. is clone-standard. Out-of-the-blue solicitations (also see the comments, below). No names, vague claims (and check out Westwood's hilarious, unlinked About Us page). Shaky English ("ideal for manuscripts that needs more work on sentences structure and grammar"). Re-publishing offers (see the Greenberry solicitation below, which I'm reproducing because I think it's so funny; what genius, looking for an enticing photo of a published book, thought it was a good idea to pick one in Cyrillic?). Budget-busting junk marketing.


Greenberry's business registration shows a Pittsburg CA address, and lists its owners as Maribelle Birao and Aaron Gochuico; Birao and Gochuico now appear to reside in California but are originally from Cebu. Westwood's business registration, filed in April 2018, claims a Los Angeles address and does not list owners' names. Authors Press doesn't appear to have filed a registration yet, but according to its website is located in--surprise!--Pittsburg CA.

*****

BookVenture started up around the same time as LitFire, in 2014. It's got all the identifying characteristics of a clone: phone solicitations, no meaningful information about the company or its staff, a range of Author Solutions-style publishing packages with goofy names, a dizzying array of marketing, publicity, and add-on services.

Equally predictably, these are seriously overpriced: $2,399 for a Kirkus Indie review, which would cost a mere $575 if you bought it from Kirkus; $199 for US copyright registration ($35 if you DIY); $4,199 for a half-page magazine ad that actually costs $1,400. See also this angry blog post from Self-Publishing Review, which discovered in 2016 that BookVenture was offering its review services without permission and at steeply inflated prices.

BV's website doesn't display the same level of English-language lapses that are a giveaway for other clones--but someone should have done a better job of vetting its Publishing Guide.


Or this editorial services pitch:

Like other clones, BV claims a US location--Michigan, to be precise--but a search on LinkedIn turns up a lot of Philippines-based staff (who in some cases are Author Solutions alumni/ae). Although BV doesn't acknowledge its parentage, I've gathered enough breadcrumbs to be certain that it is owned by eFox Solutions Inc. (formerly Yen Chen Support Corporation), which is registered in Wisconsin (where it's listed as "delinquent), but is actually based in Mandaue City, Philippines.

eFox also owns notorious book marketing spammer BookWhirl, which in terms of hard-sell solicitation tactics and overpriced junk marketing services has been giving Author Solutions a run for its money since at least 2008.

BV has racked up quite a number of complaints about quality, timeliness, and customer service. The one complaint I've received about this company is very similar. I've also received reports of telephone solicitations (BookWhirl is infamous for phone soliciting).

Check out BV's referral program--you can earn $150! Also its Author Solutions-style shill sites, which pretend to be independent but are actually author recruiting tools.

*****

Okir Publishing says it started out as "a marketing services provider" in 2006, and transitioned to book publishing later--but according to its Wyoming incorporation data, its initial filing was just last September, and its domain was registered in October 2017 (to add to the confusion, its Terms of Service are governed by California laws).

Okir has overhauled its website since I started researching this post, and has scrubbed it of most of the English-language lapses, but clonesign still abounds: phone solicitation by "literary scouts" with re-publishing offers, an About Us page with, basically, no "about", a large number of junk marketing services (check out the eye-poppingly costly BookExpo programs). As with so many clones, there are verifiable Philippine connections. There's also this, from the BBB:


"Are your [sic] ready to publish your book?" asks ADbook Press. "Grab this once in a lifetime oppurtunity [sic] and get yourself started by availing of the package and service that is a bang for your buck." Registered in Nevada but claiming to be based in California, ADbook sports all the clone signs and signals. Its publishing packages carry no prices (and you know what that means). It offers a full complement of junk marketing, including the Author Solutions favorite, the Hollywood Book to Screen package. In fact, ADbook's Hollywood package is an exact duplicate of Author Solutions'.

And look here. ADbook Press and Okir Publishing appear to be good buddies. Check out the logos behind whoever that is. I strongly suspect that many other clones are similarly interrelated.


*****

In the course of researching this article, I ran across several companies about which I haven't received any complaints or other documentation, but whose websites and other publicly available material strongly suggest they are clones.

Zeta Publishing is incorporated in Florida. English-language errors are apparent throughout its website, and the About Us page includes the usual non-information. There's a full raft of Author Solutions-style marketing and add-on services, all insanely marked up. You can get your copyright registered for $189 (or do it yourself online for $35). You can pay $4,150 for a half-page ad in Bookmarks Magazine (or you can contact Bookmarks yourself and buy the ad for $1,400). You can also buy a 10-minute radio interview with internet radio personality Stu Taylor, who just happens to be Author Solutions' favorite radio talk show host.

Clonesign is there as well at Everlastale Publishing: no concrete info about the company or staff, whimsically-named Author Solutions-style publishing packages, the familiar range of overpriced junk marketing services. Everlastale's President, Don Harold, is an alumnus of BookVenture/BookWhirl, and Everlastale's publishing agreement has been substantially copied from BookVenture's.

It's a revealing demonstration of how these predatory companies seed imitators.

UPDATE 1/26/18: As noted above, LitFire Publishing is miffed at what I've written about it, and has been persistently (if infrequently and not very competently) trolling me. Here's its latest English-challenged salvo, posted today in the comments section of my original article about it. Bad blogs, bad blogs, whatcha gonna do...


 
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