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August 9, 2017

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

Posted by Victoria Strauss for 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.

Left unsaid is the fact that 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.

10 comments :

Ben Baker said...

FB page is dead.

Anonymous said...

I have to say good riddance to that author meat market. I honestly can't believe they've lasted this long. At WritersWeekly.com, we have received countless complaints about them over the years.

At BookLocker.com, we have a special program for authors of defunct publishers. If they have their production files, the cost is only $78. That includes assignment of a new ISBN, of course. Info: http://newsletter.booklocker.com/attn-victims-of-defunct-publishers

If America Star Books / PublishAmerica is going out of business, their authors should start demanding their production files NOW, before there are no other employees left to honor their requests. Tate Publishing went belly-up (and it's owners were arrested) and we're now receiving reports that requests for production files are going unanswered. Authors who waited too long appear to be out of luck. :(

Angela Hoy
WritersWeekly.com / BookLocker.com

Anonymous said...

I worry that Austin Macauley will fill the void. I just recently talked someone out of going with them. One of the key benefits the writer mentioned for going with Austin Macauley was their "New York offices". I wish virtual offices had to identify themselves more clearly. Having what amounts to a P.O. box in New York is no great feat.

Justin Stocker said...

Well... Unfortunate I have a work published through ASB. It is the first in a five book story line. I first heard that they may be going under a little more then a week ago. I sent an email to them hoping to get some answers to what I had heard only to get nothing in return. Today, before finding this post here on WB, I tried to contact them again to let them know that I would be giving them til the end of the month to reply and I would then be taking the rest of the story line to another publisher... guess what, their web page is no longer reachable. Instead it sends me to an account suspended page. So now the problem I have is what happens with my first book? Do I have to wait the five years of the contract to republish it through another publisher? With the company being out is the contract released? The book was just released back in May.

Victoria Strauss said...

Justin, I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question. It isn't clear yet what's happened to ASB, and a company closing doesn't necessarily release you from your contract. I'm trying to find out what's going on, and will update this post, or write a new post, if I discover anything.

If you hear anything from ASB, would you please contact me? beware [at] sfwa.org . Thanks.

Brenda Tetreault said...

Hellfire and brimstone! These asshats still have FOUR of my books from back when I was young and stupid. I just want my books back, damn it!

Brenda Tetreault said...

Well, Paperback Radio has a Facebook page. It says that it's out of Frederick, Maryland. I'm guesing this is these crooks. I wonder if I demand the rights back for my books if I'll get a reply?
https://www.facebook.com/PaperbackRadio/

Anonymous said...

Willem Meiners is the biggest crook of all. That company is the biggest scam. Jackie Velnoskey and Kerrin Wuchter was the management there from what I understand. I cannot get a hold of anyone about getting my files back on all 6 of my books published. They have been in so many recent lawsuits it's no wonder they are running scared now. And aren't royalties due out at the end of this month? Funny time for the Titanic to sink! Alice Meiners aka Alice Rush was listed on the paperbackradio.com website but she is the king of all scams wife! How can these people sleep at night.
I've looked their information up online and they too live in Frederick Maryland maybe we should all go knocking on their door! Thank you Victoria for updating everyone. I hope in the coming days there will be more information.

Ralph Galeano said...

I also have a book published by ASB in February, 2017. I would like to get the rights back and have sent termination letter and reversion of rights letter to them. Unanswered along with unanswered emails and phone calls. If they do declare bankruptcy does that mean rights automatically revert to the copyright holder? Please keep me in the loop on this issue. horseman@horsemanspress.com

Victoria Strauss said...

Ralph Galeano,

The answer to your question is no. Bankruptcy courts don't honor the bankruptcy clauses in publishing contracts. They consider book contracts to be assets that could potentially be sold to pay creditors. If ASB did declare bankruptcy, all its contracts would be frozen until the bankruptcy trustee either decided to sell them or to release rights back to authors.

Another possibility is that ASB itself might find a way to sell or transfer its contracts to another entity, or that Willem Meiners might take them over via his Paperback Services or other business venture.

For the moment, until we have a better picture of what's going on, I think that ASB/PA authors should consider that their contracts are still in force.

 
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