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.

January 19, 2018

Solicitation Alert: Book-Art Press Solutions and Window Press Club

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I'm getting a lot of questions from authors who've been solicited by an Author Solutions-style author services company called Book-Art Press Solutions.

Book-Art Press's website dangles the carrot of free publishing ("Why spend thousands when you can publish your book for free?"), but this is less a yummy vegetable than a poison pill. BAP's publishing packages are really just a way to steer writers toward a smorgasbord of junk marketing services (book trailers, paid review packages, press releases), questionable editing services ("A thorough editing...is applied for the material to be professional written, yet retaining the author’s voice"), and add-on services of dubious value (illustrations, data entry, and more).

BAP's website is full of questionable grammar and syntax ("What the authors feel and assured of is the press club’s transparent journey and reliable sources of publishing channels in every step of the way"), which should be a major red flag all on its own. Also, there are no prices anywhere on the site; you have to call to get that info. This is nearly always a big clue that the fees are huge; plus, forcing people to get on the phone is a classic hard-sell sales tactic. It's a lot easier to hook victims if you can talk to them directly.

BAP's solicitations are even more egregiously dishonest than is typical for this type of service. Its "Executive Consultants" present it as a "literary agency" that has stumbled on the author's absolutely brilliant book and wants to "endorse" the author to traditional publishers. There's already substantial interest, but first, the author must re-publish in order to gain "credibility". From one of BAP's emails (read the whole thing here):
We are not a self-publishing company. We work as a literary agency that will endorse your book to be acquired by a traditional publishing company. We have inside contacts with major publishers and we know which of them are most likely to buy a particular material. So you won’t need to hire literary agents to promote your book to major publishers as we’ll do the endorsement for you.

We have done a preliminary endorsement to 50 traditional publishers and 6 out of the 50 have shown high interest in your book. However, they’re quite hesitant since your book is self-published and it has not been doing well when it comes to sales.

We have made a strategic plan for your book. Before we can endorse your book to traditional publishers, we will need to build your book’s credibility and your brand as an author. Because, as of now, you are still an unknown author. We can’t afford any flaws once we endorse your book.
To take advantage of this amazing deal, all authors have to do is agree to pay for "at least 500 copies of your book (priced at $6 per book -- $3,000 total) to be distributed to physical bookstores across the globe for circulation".

Here's the closer. BAP may be English-challenged, but it has an excellent grasp of author psychology:
With a self-publishing company, your book’s success depends on how much money you are capable of investing; which almost all self-published authors are unaware of how this delays the success of your book. Delaying your success is more practical for their business. Because, the longer your success is delayed, the more services they can sell to you. Your pocket will be exhausted until it becomes empty because that’s how they earn as a business and how sales agents get commission from-- the more services they are able to sell, the bigger commission they get. And eventually you get exhausted as well and so you get discouraged to move forward because you have invested so much effort, time and large amount of money and you haven’t seen any progress with your book yet. Which probably what you feel now. And that’s the worst thing that can happen to an author -- despair. Your book is too great to be left sitting online among millions of books available in Amazon. It’s like a grain in a bucket of sand. Almost impossible to be noticed. Our goal for your book is to make its success faster and that’s by directly endorsing your book to executives so you can land a contract with a traditional publisher.
It's all lies, of course. There will be no 500-copy  print run. No brick-and-mortar bookstores will be approached. No publishers will be pitched. Instead, once authors have ponied up the initial $3,000, BAP will do exactly what it pretends is not its business model: solicit writers to "invest" even more money in additional marketing services.

Given the amount of casual plagiarism I've found in investigating similar services (for instance, LitFire Publishing and Legaia Books), I always do a phrase search. That's how I discovered Window Press Club. Like BAP, it's an Author Solutions-style publishing/marketing service. But although it has a different name, and a different logo...well, see for yourself. Here's WPC's home page...

...and here's the exact same text on BAP's home page.


There's plenty of other stuff that's identical, from the About pages to the marketing product descriptions to the "free publishing" promise and the absence of prices.

So did BAP plagiarize WPC? WPC's domain registration precedes BAP's (though both were registered just last year), and at first that's what I thought. But...they have the same phone number (though this appears to be an oversight, since a different number appears on BAP's Contact page). They filed the same press release for the same book on the same day last November. There's also this: a pitch for WPC that was once on BAP's website. It's been de-linked, but is still Google-able. Oops.

So it's pretty clear what's going on. WPC and BAP are one operation, posing as different companies in order to maximize their customer base.

BAP and WPC's domain registrations are both anonymized, but WPC's wasn't always. Originally, it was registered to Paul Jorge Ponce from Cebu City, Philippines, where the Author Solutions call centers are located. A connection? Wouldn't surprise me.

Always, always beware of phone or email solicitors promising gifts.

Next week, I'll be posting an article on the growing number of Author Solutions-style author services companies that are laying traps for writers across the internet. Stay tuned.

January 11, 2018

Alert: Copyright Infringement By the Internet Archive (and What You Can Do About It)



Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has issued an alert on copyright infringement by the Internet Archive. Other professional writers' groups taking notice include the UK's Society of Authors, which has posted an alert on its website, and the USA's Authors Guild and National Writers Union, which have alerted their members.

I've reproduced SFWA's alert below. Although this seems to be the first time widespread attention has been paid to it, IA's massive scanning project is not a new endeavor. See this 2013 article from Teleread's Chris Meadows.

I've commented on my own experience at the bottom of this post.

--------------------------------------------


From the Legal Affairs Committee:

INFRINGEMENT ALERT

The Internet Archive is carrying out a very large and growing program of scanning entire books and posting them on the public Internet. It is calling this project "Open Library", but it is SFWA's understanding that this is not library lending, but direct infringement of authors' copyrights.

We suspect that this is the world's largest ongoing project of unremunerated digital distribution of entire in-copyright books. An extensive, random assortment of books is available for e-lending—that is the “borrowing” of a digital (scanned) copy. For those books that can be “borrowed,” Open Library allows users to download digital copies in a variety of formats to read using standard e-reader software. Unlike e-lending from a regular library, Open Library is not serving up licensed, paid-for copies, but their own scans.

As with other e-lending services, the books are DRM-protected, and should become unreadable after the “loan” period. However, an unreadable copy of the book is saved on users’ devices (iPads, e-readers, computers, etc.) and can be made readable by stripping DRM protection. SFWA is still investigating the extent to which these downloadable copies can be pirated.

These books are accessible from both archive.org and openlibrary.org. If you want to find out if your books are being infringed, go to Internet Archive's search page and search metadata for your name. You have to register, log in, and "borrow" the books to see if they are there in their entirety. A secondary search on Open Library's search page may turn up some additional titles, but will also show books that are in the Open Library database that have not been infringed.

If you believe that your copyright has been violated by material available through the Internet Archive, you can provide the Internet Archive Copyright Agent with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice. Alternatively, you can use the SFWA DMCA Notice Generator to create a DMCA notice for you. As a temporary measure, authors can also repeatedly "check out" their books to keep them from being "borrowed" by others.

A DMCA notice must include:

• Identification of the copyrighted work that you claim has been infringed;
• An exact description of where the infringed material is located within the Internet Archive collections;
• Your address, telephone number, and email address;
• A statement by you that you have a good-faith belief that the disputed use is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law;
• A statement by you, made under penalty of perjury, that the above information in your notice is accurate and that you are the owner of the copyright interest involved or are authorized to act on behalf of that owner; and
• Your electronic or physical signature.

The Internet Archive Copyright Agent can be reached as follows:

Internet Archive Copyright Agent
Internet Archive
300 Funston Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Phone: 415-561-6767
Email: info@archive.org

------------------------------------------

Here's my personal experience with the Internet Archive and Open Library.

Four of my books have been scanned and are available for borrowing. One (The Lady of Rhuddesmere) is out of print in all editions, but still in copyright. The other three are in copyright, "in print", and available for purchase in digital, print, and/or audio formats.


When you borrow a book from IA or Open Library, you can either read a photographic scan of it on-screen via the Internet Archive BookReader, or download it as an EPUB or PDF. The "borrows" are said to expire after 14 days.

On January 1, to test all of this, I borrowed and downloaded Passion Blue. The PDF is the photographic scan rendered page by page (rather than double-paged, as in the on-screen reader). The EPUB is an OCR conversion and is full of errors--weird characters, garbled words, page headers and footers in the text, and the like.

I also sent a DMCA notice for Passion Blue. I emailed the notice on January 1, and a second notice on January 9. As of this writing (January 11), I've received no response.

I'll update this post as I get more info.

January 3, 2018

Book Promotions International, or, How Not to Get Your Book Into a Library

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Hot on the heels of the infamous Christmas writing contest spam comes another spam solicitation aimed at separating writers from their money.


The link leads directly to PayPal.

So if you're not already ROTFLing at the sheer chutzpah of this, um, offer, why would it be a terrible use of money?

First and most obvious, because once you sent your payment, you'd have no way of confirming that a) this person had actually bought your book, or b) actually donated it.

And second, because this is not how books get into libraries. Some libraries don't accept donations at all (my local library among them; when I was doing book reviews, they declined my offer to donate brand-new direct-from-the-publisher hardcovers). Even if they do, there's no guarantee they will actually shelve the donations, especially if the books aren't professionally packaged. Where donated books will probably wind up is in the annual Friends of the Library book sale.

So is this a scam? As cartoonish a ripoff as it seems, it's hard to say--the line between scammery and simple cluelessness can be difficult to discern. G.E. Johnson does seem to be a real person; her activities as a book promoter appear to consist of posting book cover images on Facebook and Pinterest, and offering vaguely-described "marketing":


As with the library spam, the link goes directly to PayPal. Ms. Johnson's webpages don't include testimonials, but I did find this, from a discussion thread on Goodreads--I'm guessing it was unsolicited...


UPDATE: Did you think that Ms. Johnson's attempt to sell authors a completely unverifiable promise of a book purchase was just a one-time, ill-advised spamstravaganza? You would be wrong.



Here's the diamond:


Rock salt, anyone?

December 26, 2017

How Not To Promote a Writing Contest: The NY Literary Magazine

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Congratulations!
You have been nominated for the "Best Story Award".
That's the message some writers found in their inboxes on Christmas Day, from a publication called The NY Literary Magazine:


Could there be a better Christmas gift? Recognition by a "distinguished print and digital magazine"! The chance to "add to your bio and credentials that you are a Best Story Award 2017 Nominee"! An award recognized by the New York Times and Writer's Digest!

Well...not exactly.

Anyone who clicked the email link discovered that this isn't so much a nomination as a solicitation (for a monthly writing contest; winners get a "distinguished award seal"), and not so much an unexpected holiday gift as a rather deceptive buying opportunity (the entry fee is $19.95, discounted to $14.95 for, you know, Christmas). As for those impressive-seeming pull quotes,
In fact:
Just a teeny bit misleading, wouldn't you say?

Above, I say "some writers". It's actually "a crapload of writers". NYLM seems to have engaged in a truly massive spam campaign to promote this contest.
Absolute Write members got hit up, too.

So what is NYLM? Basically, an obscure literary magazine with a very high opinion of itself (check out how often it uses "distinguished" as a descriptor). It's the brainchild of Camille Kleinman, girl genius (just read her bio). It runs free contests and doesn't appear to charge reading fees for submissions--but it does have several money streams. There's the monthly Best Story Award that's the subject of this post. There are anthologies, which no doubt are heavily marketed to contributors. And there's an "Editorial Book Review Service For Authors", which sells for $99. (Supposedly conducted by "experienced, professional Editors", the reviews are touted for their brevity--just two or three sentences long. Authors may want to save their money--the NYLM reviews I was able to find online are not only generic, many of them sound suspiciously similar.)

NYLM has gotten wind of the not-exactly-enthusiastic response to its spam campaign. I got an email this morning from "Amanda" (no last name or title, but NYLM's masthead lists an Amanda Graham as Editor) lamenting "a torrent of angry, hateful messages which shocked us and which we feel are unjust". Because, you see, it was all a terrible mistake:
We outsourced our marketing to an Asian service to help us spread the word about our Best Story Award contest. That is why authors received the marketing email from nyliterarymag.org (which is not our main website) on Christmas night, and at such an unexpected time in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, it appears they chose the wrong terminology when inviting authors to our contest. We're very sorry that being told they were nominated for the Best Story Award offended, insulted, angered, or disappointed so many authors.

We have fired this agency and will monitor each marketing action any one of our team members does extremely closely from now on.
I'll leave it to you to judge how plausible this is.

Amanda also admitted something that I'm sure won't surprise anyone: the goal of the Best Story Award is "to finally become profitable and support our magazine." I'm not a fan of contests, even where they're reputable; but profitmaking contests are nearly always a waste of money. For why, and how to steer clear, see my 2015 post: Awards Profiteers: How Writers Can Recognize and Avoid Them.

UPDATE: Digging themselves deeper into an already pretty big hole, the folks at NY Literary Magazine are now attempting to excuse their blunder with a non-apology apology. Those shifty Asians are again invoked. Click the link below.
UPDATE 12/27/17: NY Literary Magazine has sent out another mass email, a cri de coeur of tragically injured innocence that again attempts to shift the blame (oh, those dastardly Asians), decries the evils of cyberbullying by mean folks like me, and proves once again that they just don't get it. They claim to be closing down for good. If you want to read the whole screed, here it is; if not, here's a taste.
We are completely devastated and shattered from the extent of hate mail, comments, messages, tweets, lies and false accusations that were posted online which have totally blackened our name and destroyed our magazine - all based on a single email with one wrongly-worded sentence.

It's shocking how many people have posted blatant lies which weren't based on any facts and how many more people have shared, retweeted, and quoted those lies without ever checking to see if it's true or at least visiting our website....

This has been a heartbreaking Christmas.

We hope those people who spread the lies and worked so hard to destroy honest people's lives are now satisfied.
We have closed our contest. Refunded everyone who entered.
There will be no more free-to-enter contests. No more free-to-read anthologies.
No more articles. No more anything.

We had the heartbreaking task of firing our team of loyal, hard-working employees. 10 people are now jobless after Christmas.
If there were 10 paid jobs at NYLM, I'll eat my hat.

As of this writing, NYLM's website is still online, but NYLM's founder, Camille Kleinman, has shuttered her website (it's "Under Maintenance") and removed all mention of NYLM from her LinkedIn profile.

December 14, 2017

Author-Agent Handshake Agreements: Should You Be Wary?


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

I've recently gotten a number of reports about a literary agent with a major agency who is offering representation with a "handshake" deal: representation based on a verbal commitment, rather than a binding author-agent agreement or contract.

There are a number of reasons why authors should be wary of such offers.

1. A handshake is not today's professional standard.

Decades ago, so-called handshake deals were common in the agenting business. You and your agent agreed that the agent would represent your work to publishers; once your work sold, the agent's right to receive commissions and to act on your behalf was formalized in the agency clause of your book contract. Before publisher consolidation created the mega-houses, before the digital revolution and the array of new rights and markets it has spawned, before authors' backlists became valuable, most authors, agents, and publishers deemed this to be enough.

But the present-day publishing landscape is far, far more diverse and complicated than it was then. There are more rights, more avenues to sell and re-sell them, and--at least potentially--much more money. In this increasingly complex environment, a simple, informal handshake and an agency clause are no longer regarded as sufficient. While there may still be some long-time agents who work on a handshake basis, author-agent contracts have become the professional norm.

2. A handshake doesn't protect you.

Oral contracts do carry weight--if they can be proven. For authors, though, the concern isn't so much proving the relationship exists as it is setting out the terms of it.

As noted above, publishing is far more complicated than it used to be. As a result, so is agenting. Myriad issues need to be addressed when agreeing to representation--from commissions and payments, to expense reimbursement, to termination provisions, to what happens after termination or if the agent goes out of business.

It is very much in your interest--and also in the agent's--to clearly and precisely lay all of this out at the outset of the relationship. Otherwise, you not only lack a clear understanding of what the agent can and will do for you, you have severely diminished recourse to demand accountability or to take action if the relationship goes bad.

3. A handshake may be a warning sign.

And not just of a lack of professional knowledge or practice. Putting it bluntly: a handshake deal makes it easier for an agent to get rid of you.

Maybe the agent doesn't want to bother with clients whose work doesn't sell in the first submission round. Maybe the agent isn't all that enthusiastic about you and is hedging their bets in case there are no offers (and if there are offers, is this really the agent you want representing you?). Maybe the agent has one publisher in mind and is up for a quickie sub but not a longer-term commitment. Maybe the agent only offers contracts after a manuscript finds a home, so they can disavow the authors they aren't able to sell and look like they're batting a thousand. (Be especially concerned if the agent works at an agency where contracts are the norm--as is the case with the agent I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.)

Over the years, I've gotten complaints from authors who've experienced all these things as part of a handshake deal. As these authors know, it's incredibly hard to walk away from an offer, even if the offer isn't a good one. But if the offer is a handshake deal, you just might want to make that very tough decision.

December 8, 2017

Alert: Blue Deco Publishing, Christian Faith Publishing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

BLUE DECO PUBLISHING


Writer Beware has received multiple documented complaints from authors at Blue Deco Publishing.

Problems cited include late or missing royalties and royalty statements, broken marketing promises, and difficulty reaching or getting responses from the owner, Colleen Nye. To explain these issues, Ms. Nye has reportedly offered bizarre and elaborate personal excuses that authors tell me they believe are either made-up or exaggerated. (For an example of the kinds of complaints I've received, see here.)

Frustrated with the situation, a group of seven Blue Deco authors took the unusual step of creating an online petition to demand payment and reversion of their rights. (Given that Blue Deco only had 16 authors, including Ms. Nye herself, that's a big hit, over 40% of its list.)


I'm told that attorneys from the Authors Guild also contacted Ms. Nye. To her credit, she has been responsive. All the petitioning writers have received rights reversions, and all but two have been paid (both believe they have sales, but Ms. Nye says they don't; they've decided to chalk it up as a loss and move on).

To any regular readers of this blog, all of this will be very familiar. Blue Deco's shortfalls aren't unusual; in fact they're endemic to the small press world. Often the problems don't stem from dishonesty or malfeasance, but simply from the fact that the people in charge don't know how to run a business.

The Blue Deco story also illustrates why it can be risky to get involved with publishers that are primarily one- or two-person ventures. With the best will in the world, a single personal crisis or health problem can derail the entire company.

CHRISTIAN FAITH PUBLISHING


I get a lot of questions and complaints about a lot of different pay-to-play publishers and publishing services. But there are certain companies I hear about over and over--all of them savvy, well-packaged outfits that aggressively recruit authors with slick websites, print and digital advertising, and direct solicitation. One of these is Christian Faith Publishing.

As its name indicates, Christian Faith Publishing targets Christian writers: "to discover and market unknown Christian-based authors who aspire to craft the greatest spiritual impact imaginable via the written word." It describes itself as "a full-service book publisher"--a misleading claim because, in fact, authors must make "a minimal investment". How minimal? Well, that's not really explained.
While the investment required of our accepted authors to bring a book to the world-wide market varies based upon the intricacies of each book, all of our authors are fortunate enough to undertake the production, distribution and marketing of their book via a short-term, affordable monthly installment plan which is to be recovered by the author from book sale proceeds before we are entitled to any royalty compensation whatsoever!
Writers be warned: this kind of coyness on pricing nearly always indicates excessive fees. I've heard from authors who were asked for anywhere from $3,500-$5,000 up front; for $495 up front plus installments of $295 per month for 10 months; for $950 up front plus installments of $380 for 10 months. Marketing is an add-on: for instance, $3,400 for a package that includes a "High-Definition Video Trailer", a press release, and a page on CFP's website. (This is not marketing. It's junk. It's not worth one cent, let alone four figures.)

What do authors get for these enormous fees? Basically, an assisted self-publishing-style service that's little different from the packages offered by companies like Outskirts Press or the imprints in the Author Solutions family. Naive writers may not realize this, though, because CFP is careful not only to style itself a "publisher", but to promise that it is "very selective" and that authors will have "availability" in "retail...sales outlets". Its salespeople call themselves "Literary Agents." Its TV commercials and web ads never mention money. And though its website does disclose that authors must pay, this is buried in the FAQ section and thus easy to miss. Put these misleading elements together with the fact that Christian writers are more likely to trust a company that self-identifies as Christian, and you have a perfect honey trap.

Does this business model remind you of anything? Maybe a certain Oklahoma-based Christian vanity publisher that recently went bust amid thousands of complaints of non-payment and other malfeasance, and whose owners were subsequently charged with multiple felony counts, including embezzlement?

If so, it may not surprise you to learn that CFP's founder and President, Chris Rutherford, is a Tate Publishing alumnus. He has held various titles with the company, the most recent of which, per his LinkedIn profile, is Chief Business Development Officer (though note the strategic omission of Tate's name):


Rutherford seems to have left Tate in the fall of 2013--at which point there were plenty of complaints and indications of problems at the company, though nothing like what started coming out in 2016--and started CFP in 2014. CFP doesn't seem to have published anything until mid-2015; it put out just eight books that year, according to Amazon, but ramped up production in 2016, which is when I started getting questions about it.

Unlike Tate, CFP seems to deliver what its clients pay for. Authors searching for positive reviews will have no problem finding them: at the BBB, for instance, or the abundant testimonials on CFP's own website.

However, like all vanity publishers, CFP relies on misdirection and ignorance to recruit authors who may not realize they're not actually signing up with a "full-service book publisher", or that they could get what CFP offers elsewhere at a lower cost, or that, whatever else it may be, CFP's declared Christian mission is a form of advertising to which Christian authors are uniquely vulnerable.

Christian authors, take note: there are as many schemes, scams, and deceptive services in Christian publishing as there are in other markets. Just because an individual or company proclaims its faith doesn't mean it will treat you fairly or offer you a worthwhile service at a reasonable price. In fact, in terms of marketing and distribution, faith is beside the point. Companies like CFP offer only junk marketing, and use the exact same distribution channels as everyone else.

October 11, 2017

Scam Alert: Fraudsters Targeting Freelancers With Fake Job Offers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Fraudsters are reportedly conducting a phishing scheme aimed at freelance writers.

Individuals using the names of editors and senior management for The Atlantic magazine have sent out numerous fake job and interview offers, using multiple email addresses and made-up domain names. The goal is to obtain personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and other sensitive data. More than 50 writers have reported being targeted by the scheme.

From a memo sent to The Atlantic staff by General Counsel for Atlantic Media:
The perpetrators have gone so far as to conduct job interviews by phone and gchat; to require signature on employment agreements, direct deposit, and tax forms; and to mail fake checks to individuals (in the hope that these “advances” would be cashed, thereby providing the perpetrators with bank account information and/or credit card information). To date, we’ve been contacted by more than 50 would-be victims, and the names of at least six of our top editorial leaders have been used.

Unfortunately, scams like this one are very common in today’s landscape. We are actively working with law enforcement and are directing any intended victims to do the same. We are also making information available about the scam on our websites and in the magazine.

If you discover that you or any of our colleagues are being impersonated, please provide details to FraudAlert@AtlanticMedia.com, which will route the information to the IT department. Likewise, if you receive any inquiries from potential victims asking you to confirm the veracity of an email purporting to have come from The Atlantic, forward those inquiries to FraudAlert@AtlanticMedia.com. IT will connect with any would-be victims to advise them of the scam and to refer them to law enforcement.
Be careful out there!

September 1, 2017

Small Press Storm Warnings: High Hill Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

There's trouble at High Hill Press, a once well-regarded small press "created to offer writers a small niche between the huge New York publishing houses, and the often high-priced print on demands."

Both to Writer Beware and in a private Facebook group, High Hill authors report publication delays, non-payment of royalties, non-provision of royalty statements, hundreds of books ordered and paid for but never received, books released full of errors that the publisher refused to correct, and serious, ongoing difficulty with communications--from angry responses to questions by the owner, Lou Turner, to threats of legal action, to no response at all.

These issues, which reportedly began in 2016, have only gotten worse. High Hill's Facebook page has been dormant since last October. No books have been published since December 2016. Lou Turner has been MIA for months, with emails and phone calls going unanswered, including attempts at contact by the Authors Guild.

In a May post to the High Hill authors group, someone identifying herself as Turner's sister claimed that Turner was having "health problems" and that family members were stepping in to manage her affairs. A BBB investigator who visited Turner's home in July in response to a complaint was reportedly told the same thing by Turner herself. But there's no sign of any management at High Hill Press, where authors are desperate to terminate their contracts and move on. By all indications, High Hill Press is dead--but until there's an announcement or authors' rights are officially returned, all authors can do is wait.

Meanwhile, High Hill Press is still open for submissions, with a fully functional website (the bookstore is password-protected--which doesn't make a lot of sense unless you figure that it caters mainly to High Hill authors).

Writers, beware.

UPDATE 9/9/17: High Hill Press now has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, due to failure to respond to complaints. There are 3 complaints...so far.

UPDATE 9/27/17: As noted in a comment below, the High Hill Press website is gone. As far as I know, there's still been no communication with authors.

August 16, 2017

Solicitation (and Plagiarism) Alert: Legaia Books / Paperclips Magazine

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

When the late, unlamented Tate Publishing & Enterprises went belly-up a few months ago, I started hearing from Tate authors who were being contacted by self-publishing companies and other for-profit enterprises looking to recruit new customers. Some of these were straightforward, reasonably reputable (if overpriced) businesses. Others...not so much.

Very active trying to snag Tate authors was Legaia Books.


Here's how Legaia describes itself (bolding and errors courtesy of the original):
Legaia is a book publishing company created to aid writers in seeing their works in prints. Whether you’re a beginner or a published author, and whatever is the genre of your work (memoirs, fiction, non-fiction, children’s book, or even poetry collection), it is always our pleasure to be working with you. Legaia has no reservations to anything in particular other than those that contradict what is in the terms and services. With the application of new technology and information, we are able to accommodate our clients and are maintaining this accessibility for a better relationship.
The whole website is written like this, which should be a gigantic clue that things aren't kosher. If that's not enough, consider the eye-poppingly expensive publishing packages (which don't offer anything that's not available elsewhere for much less money), the hugely overpriced "online media publicity campaign" (based largely on cheap-for-the-provider services that can be sold at an enormous markup), and the nebulously-described "Online Retail Visibility Booster", which costs $6,499 and wants you to believe that's a fair price for something called a Booster Tool that supposedly gets you more reviews on Amazon.

You can also buy advertising in Paperclips Magazine, which among other "opportunities" encourages authors to pay $1,999 for a book review or $4,999 for a "Paperclips Author Article." According to the Legaia website, Paperclips is "a social online magazine that showcases books and author experiences in the publishing industry"; according to email solicitations like the one above, it has "over 2 million subscribers worldwide" (a bit hard to believe, given the mix of terrible writing, puff pieces, and ads that make up most of its content).

What both website and solicitations fail to mention: Legaia and Paperclips are one and the same, a fact Legaia admits on its LinkedIn page. This is the kind of profitable closed loop that allows an author-exploiting enterprise to hit up its victims multiple times.

As for Paperclips Magazine, it's...interesting. Not just for the amount of money that must have been generated by all the author articles and ads. Not just for the insanely awful writing by the "Editorial Team" (screenshot at left).

No. For the plagiarism and the intellectual property theft.

The Paperclips website includes numerous short articles with the byline Chloe Smith. Much of this content actually belongs to other authors. For instance, a piece called 7 Active Reading for Students: here it is at Paperclips, under Chloe's name. Here's the original, attributed to the real author: Grace Fleming. How about 10 Keys to Writing a Brilliant Speech? Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original, by Bill Cole. Ditto These Are the 8 Fundamental Principles of Great Writing. Here it is at Paperclips. Here's the original (with a different title), by Glenn Leibowitz.

I could go on. There are lots more examples. And that's just the Paperclips website. The magazine also includes stolen content. At least Why Print Books are Better than eBooks, and Ways to Improve eReaders bears the name of its true author, Greg Krehbiel...but Greg has confirmed to me that Paperclips published it without his permission. (It originally appeared here.) (I also reached out to two other authors included in the same issue, but as of this writing I haven't heard back.)

Any bets on whether Paperclips got permission to use images of Dr. Seuss characters on the cover of its latest issue? Or asked George R.R. Martin if it was okay to re-publish his August 2016 blog post--complete with original artwork from the illustrated anniversary edition of Game of Thrones?


A bunch of other things don't add up.  Legaia/Paperclips has a North Carolina address, but it's a virtual office. Legaia's LinkedIn page claims the company was founded in 2008, but its domain wasn't registered until late 2015. Similarly, Paperclips' LinkedIn page says it started up in 2012, but its domain wasn't created until November 2016 (I also couldn't find any issues of the magazine earlier than December 2016). I've been able to locate only two actual human staff members (neither website includes staff names, and the two names I've seen on Legaia's author solicitations, Emily Bryans and Serena Miles, appear to be wholly imaginary); both are based in the Philippines, and one formerly worked for Author Solutions.

Between these things, the English-as-a-second-language writing, the overpriced and exploitive "services", the plagiarism, and just the general sleazy feel of it all, I'm strongly reminded of LitFire Publishing, which has a very similar business model and M.O, and was established by Author Solutions call center alumni in the Philippines as a sort of low-rent Xlibris-AuthorHouse-iUniverse-Trafford clone. Are LitFire and Legaia the same operation? Probably not. But it wouldn't surprise me if Legaia has the same provenance.

"Emily Bryans" is currently soliciting authors for something called Paperclips Magazine's Author Circle, which is supposedly arriving this October and will feature "celebrity authors and multi-awarded literary contributors" (wonder how many of them know they're included?) No word on how much it will cost to join up, but I bet it's a bundle.

Writer beware.

UPDATE 12/15/17: Just found this, from the Better Business Bureau listing for Legaia. So much for the company's claim to be located in North Carolina (or the USA):


August 9, 2017

Lawsuits, Liens, and Lost URLs: The Latest on America Star Books / PublishAmerica

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
America Star Books seems to have gone out of business. (See below for a full writeup.)  But ASB has not terminated any of its contracts, or returned authors' rights. Hundreds of ASB books are still on sale. This is unfair and wrong.

Writer Beware urges ASB authors to contact the Maryland Attorney General's office with a complaint. You have two options:

1. The Consumer Protection Division.

In your complaint, EMPHASIZE THAT YOU ARE A CONSUMER -- i.e., that you paid money to ASB for goods or services that were not delivered or were defective. Here's a link to the online complaint form; it includes a link for those who'd prefer to file by mail: http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/Complaints/general.aspx. You can also call or email Consumer Protection Division staff directly:

William D. Gruhn, Chief (410) 576-6558; e-mail: bgruhn@oag.state.md.us
Steven M. Sakamoto-Wengel, Deputy Chief (410) 576-6307; e-mail: ssakamoto@oag.state.md.us

2. The Criminal Division:

Elizabeth M. Embry, Chief (410) 576-6406; e-mail: eembry@oag.state.md.us
Katherine A. Dorian, Deputy Chief (410) 576-6383; e-mail: kdorian@oag.state.md.us

Multiple complaints can produce action. When notorious vanity publisher Tate Publishing & Enterprises closed down last spring without returning rights or refunding payments, hundreds of author complaints to the Oklahoma Attorney General spurred an investigation that resulted in the indictment of Tate's owners on multiple felony charges.

If you have questions, or if you have any information or insight into ASB's closing, please comment here or contact Writer Beware.

This post has been updated.

It's been a while since I wrote about America Star Books, née PublishAmerica, one of the most prolific author mills in America (also the subject of scores of author complaints, and the recipient of an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau). So what's been going on?

In May 2015, ASB/PA co-founder Larry Clopper filed suit against PA/ASB, co-founder Willem Meiners, and several others, alleging breach of contract, among other causes, and demanding dissolution of the company and appointment of a receiver. After over a year of legal maneuvering--which included the appointment of an appraiser, a counterclaim by Meiners/PA/ASB, and the issuance of subpoenas by Clopper to various PA/ASB banks and creditors--the parties agreed in July 2016 to stipulate to dismissal with prejudice.


I don't yet know what was in the settlement--I've put in a public records request, and will report back when I get the documents--but over the duration of the lawsuit and afterward, things have changed at PA/ASB.

Sometime after September 2015, ASB's About Us page--which previously had touted its founding "by book publishers with a long history of publishing experience"--began to reference the "new" America Star Books: "Run by its employees, from the bottom up....The company has a management, but there's not much top-down going on at America Star Books." (Here's what the page looks like today.)

At some point after September 2016, all mention of the translation program with which PA/ASB launched its 2014 name change was removed (here's what the website used to say about that, courtesy of the invaluable Internet Archive; here's what it says now). And in November 2016, PA/ASB put a hold on submissions "throughout [sic] the end of 2016."

That hold appears to have become permanent. Here's how the submission page looks today:


And here's what was briefly posted at a now non-working ASB web address:
America Star Books no longer accepts new authors. ASB Promotions will morph into Paperback Services in the near future....Paperback Services works side by side on location with Paperback Radio, America's only live 24/7 station about books and writers.

Paperback Radio and Paperback Services are both owned by PA/ASB co-founder Willem Meiners (Paperback Services has a web address that goes nowhere at the moment).
In the kind of feedback loop that's common with vanity publishers, items from Meiners' Paperback Radio (ads"experts lists"), along with a variety of "promotional" and other services from Meiners' Paperback Services, were offered for sale to PA/ASB authors in the Meiners-owned PA/ASB webstore.

That's not all. More signs of change/trouble at PA/ASB:

- According to Amazon, ASB was issuing books pretty regularly through the beginning of 2017, albeit at a reduced rate from previous years (around 10-15 per month). Since mid-May, it has issued just two titles.

- ASB currently has three open liens against it from the Maryland Dept. of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, totaling $50,754.


- As of this writing, some ASB URLs are disabled: www.americastarbooks.net no longer works, nor does www.store.americastarbooks.pub, which used to host the PA/ASB bookstore and promotional "services" store (here are some examples of those services, courtesy of the Internet Archive). ASB's Facebook page also appears to be defunct (unless they've blocked me, which is possible). The PublishAmerica URL, which used to re-direct to America Star Books, now directs again to the old PA website (which hasn't been updated since 2013, but still has an open submissions portal).

- There's a bookstore link on the ASB website, but it doesn't work. PA/ASB books are still for sale at online retailers, but the PA/ASB bookstore doesn't appear to be online anywhere at any web address.

Is this really the end of America Star Books / PublishAmerica? Hard to say. There are rumors of bankruptcy, but I've searched on PACER and I've found no sign of any bankruptcy filings.

Questions remain. If ASB does disappear, what will happen to the books and authors currently under contract? If ASB Promotions, or Paperback Services, or whatever it winds up calling itself, survives as a separate entity, will spammer-in-chief Jackie Velnoskey continue her prolific program of email solicitations and comment spam?

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 8/14/17: ASB's one remaining web address now returns an account suspended message.
As far as I know, ASB/PA hasn't sent out any notifications or communications as to what's going on.

Authors, if you get any kind of notice or email from ASB, would you please contact me? Thanks.

UPDATE 8/19/17: I'm getting emails from authors wondering what to do. What happens with their books that are under contract? If ASB is really dead, can they take their books and publish elsewhere?

Right now, in my opinion, that wouldn't be wise.

All signs point to ASB being gone. Its website has vanished. Phones aren't being answered. Emails are bouncing. Putting those things together with the signs of trouble that I've discussed above, if I had to guess, I'd guess that ASB is history.

But...there's been no official announcement of a closure. I just checked again and there's still no sign of any bankruptcy filings, either under the business names or the owners' names. And ASB/PA books are still for sale new at online booksellers. I think there's at least the possibility that ASB might find a way to sell or otherwise transfer its huge catalog to some other entity (which many of the ASB/PA contracts I've seen allow it to do without asking authors' permission). Another possibility: ASB/PA books might somehow be folded in with Willem Meiners' Paperback enterprises.

Bottom line: we don't actually know what is going on, or what will happen. Until we do, it would be risky to take books that are under contract with either ASB or PA and try to re-publish them. The issue isn't just the possibility that ASB/PA or its successor might come after you, but that any new publisher or self-publishing service will require you to have full power to grant publishing rights. If you're currently under exclusive contract to a different publisher, and it's not clear that publisher is out of business, you don't have that power.

I'm also hearing from ASB authors who've paid for services they haven't received. My advice would be to immediately file a dispute with your credit card company or with PayPal (depending on how you paid). I've heard from a number of Tate Publishing authors who got money back this way. Feel free to use this post as justification.

Keep watching this blog for updates.

UPDATE 9/11/17: I noticed this a couple of weeks ago, but didn't post an update because I wasn't sure if it was a glitch. It's been long enough now that I'm guessing it's not.

Willem Meiners's Paperback Radio appears to have gone the way of  America Star Books. Its URL yields a "Site is currently offline" message. Its Twitter feed hasn't been updated since July 16. Its Facebook page is no longer available.

What's going on? No idea. There's still no sign of any bankruptcy filings, or any word from anyone at ASB. Publishers do a lot of bad things, but one of the worst is to do a bunk and leave authors in limbo.

If anyone has information or insight into the ASB/Meiners situation, will you please contact me? Your identity will be kept confidential. Thank you.

UPDATE 9/14/17: I've learned that this past June, some (though apparently not all) PA/ASB authors received an email from Willem Meiners announcing ASB's closure and transformation into Paperback Services. Here it is:
From: willem@americastarbooks.pub
To: [redacted]
Sent: Tuesday, June 6, 2017, 3:08:46 PM EDT
Subject: A letter from the CEO: name change coming

Dear [redacted],

At America Star Books we have reached a new milestone. As of later this week all of our book marketing and promotion efforts will be continued under a different name: Paperback Services. Our book promotion staff, Jackie Velnoskey, Kerrin Wuchter, Sarah Balukoff, and Sarah Freitas, will work using that new Paperback Services name. Nothing else changes there.

Not to worry — if your book is a hardcover, it will also be represented by Paperback Services. The name relates to that other entity that you have heard so often about: Paperback Radio.

I founded Paperback Services recently. I founded Paperback Radio a year ago. The station has been in the air nonstop since then. My motive was simple: there are many publishing companies today that will publish an author's book, either for free or for a fee. But there is no other radio station where everyone can hear about those books, let alone listen to what the author has to say about it. Paperback Radio is the nation's only 24/7 station about books and writers.

America Star Books no longer accepts new authors and publishes no more new titles. Nor do we attend any new trade shows under that name. Last week's Book Expo America was ASB's last event. Paperback Services, however, now takes over your book promotion with gusto, and will be at all the big events: Book Expo, Frankfurt Book Fair, Miami Book Fair, London Book Fair, Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the ALA library conventions, and more. Oftentimes Paperback Services will be there side by side with Paperback Radio.

Reporting live from the venues that until now only came to you through photos on Facebook is going to add a totally new dimension to the trade shows where your book is being promoted. Wherever you are in the world you'll be able to hear, live, what's going on in the towns where you spent your precious book promotion money. You will now be able to hear strangers talk about your book as they discover it.

Later this week you will start receiving emails from the book promotion staff that you know, Jackie, Kerrin, Sarah, and Sarah, that end with @paperbackservices.com. Same people, same array of marketing opportunities, new email addresses. There will also be a support@paperbackservices.com address, for all your questions.

Not only am I the founder of Paperback Radio and Paperback Services, but I also founded America Star Books and its predecessor, way back in the late 1990s. My mission then was to enable as many writers as possible to have their book published at no cost: I published almost 70,000 books, for free. I showed other publishers how to do it, and today many are doing a fine job. Now the time has come to make a difference in book promotion, so that your book can actually be discoveredamong all the others. With Paperback Services and Paperback Radio we are going to make this happen for you.

Thank you!

America Star Books,
Paperback Services,
Paperback Radio,

--Willem Meiners, founder and CEO
UPDATE 9/29/17: Thanks to an anonymous tipster, I've learned that Willem and Alice Meiners have put their house up for sale. According to Zillow, it was listed on September 5 (an interesting date, since Paperback Radio vanished at around the same time). A sale is already pending. (How do I know this is their house? Numerous online sources confirm their address.)

Think about how abruptly ASB, Paperback Radio, and Paperback Services vanished from the web. Then consider the sale of the Meiners's home, and the fact that all of this occurred within the same two- or three-week time period in mid-August to early September. It's curious, no? Especially in light of the optimistic tone of Meiners's June 6 announcement email. It's looking more and more to me as some sudden personal or financial or legal crisis is behind what's happened.

I've also heard from a couple of PA/ASB authors that the print versions of their books are suddenly showing as "currently unavailable" on Amazon. I did a quick check of recently-pubbed PA/ASB print books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the majority of them are now listed as "currently unavailable" or "temporarily out of stock". It seems pretty clear that ASB is no longer interacting with its printer.

Kindle editions are not affected. Those are still on sale.

UPDATE 9/30/17: More bad news for PA/ASB.

Bookmasters' 2015 lawsuit against PA/ASB, which was settled in early 2016 when both parties stipulated to dismissal, has just been re-opened "for failure to comply with stipulation of settlement." A motion was filed by Bookmasters on August 16, and the case was re-opened on September 19. Screenshot below (you can see for yourself on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website).


UPDATE 10/18/17: This is bizarre and I don't know what to make of it, but the americastarbooks.com URL has resurfaced...in Vietnamese. Some of the content of the old ASB site has been retained, specifically the About Us page, which is in English. Screenshot below.


None of the books shown on the site are or were published by ASB, as far as I can tell. Screenshot of the domain registration info:


What does it mean? I have no clue.

In other news, ASB now has a fourth lien against it, this one for over $28,000.


UPDATE 11/6/17: The following advice (originally posted in the comments) was received by an ASB author from a literary lawyer. I'm reproducing it here, along with my comments in bold.
I sincerely sympathize with you and all the others who have been victimized by America Star Books/PublishAmerica. I don’t handle disputes with PublishAmerica and its spin-offs --- litigation against it is too expensive for the typical person, and the results questionable. You should, of course, file a complaint with Maryland Consumer Protection Division (http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/Complaints/general.aspx).

I can state the following, which you may find helpful:

1. As of today, there is no record of a bankruptcy filing by either ASB or PublishAmerica in Maryland. If a bankruptcy were filed, the bankruptcy trustee would have the rights to books under contract, they would not automatically be returned to the author. Several class actions suits have previously been attempted against PublishAmerica but were dismissed because the differing status of the plaintiffs did not qualify for a class. Individual lawsuits were hampered by an arbitration clause. Even if such suits were successful, the chance of recovering money from the owners is doubtful.

2. For most authors, getting their rights back is the paramount issue. One alternative is to file suit against in state court (District Court for Frederick Maryland, NOT federal District Court) alleging breach of contract (provided there is no arbitration clause in their contracts). If ASB is out of business, a default judgment will be granted if service or process can be obtained.

3. Another alternative is to send a certified letter to the last known address of ASB alleging breach of contract for failure to pay royalties and demanding reversion of rights. Typically the letter will not be signed for by ASB and returned; the author then can record the letter and explanation of the breach of contract with the Copyright Office (https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ12.pdf ) This would give the author a basis to argue he or she has the rights when dealing with a traditional publisher. Whether a traditional publisher is willing to take the risk is questionable, since there was no decision by an arbitrator or court that the publishing agreement was breached. (I frankly think it is highly unlikely that any professional publisher, large or small, would be willing to take this risk.)

If you wish to self-publish again, however, there are legitimate companies that will help. In that event, in the highly unlikely event that ASB alleged copyright infringement against the author because it alleged it still owned the rights, the author would defend on the issue of breach of contract. (Be aware, though, that most self-publishing platforms' and author services companies' Terms of Use require you to warrant that you have the unencumbered right to enter into a publishing agreement--which, without an official reversion of rights from ASB, it is not clear you do. Punishment for a breached warranty could be removal of your account. See, for example, Section 7 of CreateSpace's Member Agreement: https://eu.createspace.com/pub/signup/view.memberagreement.do )

4. The problem of ASB still selling the author’s books on Amazon and other sites is a separate issue. Once the author takes the position that ASB has breached its agreement and thus it no longer has the rights, you can send DMCA takedown notices to the web sites selling the ASB versions (see http://publishlawyer.com/protecting-your-copyright/ ). Depending on whether ASB files a counter-notice, this may work. (ASB won't file a counter-notice, but whether this methd will work will depend on whether the website accepts your position as valid.)
 
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