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.

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. Also, of  the 12 companies I looked at, nine are less than two years old, and six started up in the past year. It really made me wonder, especially after I discovered that two apparently separate clones were in fact the same outfit.

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
  • Greenberry Publishing
  • BookVenture Publishing
  • Okir Publishing
  • 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.


*****

Greenberry Publishing (not to be confused with an Alabama publisher with an identical name) registered itself in California, where it claims to be headquartered, just last August.

Its M.O. is clone-standard. Out-of-the-blue solicitations. No names, vague claims. Shaky English ("we will always let you know if your work is best or not"). Re-publishing offers (see the 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?). Less emphasis on marketing than some of the others, but I'm sure that's coming.


Greenberry is owned by Maribelle Birao and Aaron Gochuico, who now appear to reside in California but are originally from Cebu.

*****

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.

*****

In the course of researching this article, I ran across three companies about which I haven't received any complaints or other documentation, but whose websites and other publicly available material have a lot in common with the clones.

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. Clonesign abounds: frequent English lapses ("Start your marketing journey by availing of the following services"), an About Us page with, basically, no "about", and a large number of junk marketing services (with no prices given, and you know what that means). Okir's Hollywood Book-to-Screen service is an exact copy of Author Solutions'.

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) 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...


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.

UPDATE 1/25/18: Internet Archive's Brewster Kahle has responded--sort of--to the controversy, offering what Nate Hoffelder at The Digital Reader dubs a "good works" defense.

According to Kahle, the IA's mission is to preserve books "for the long term". It's digitizing books "mostly from the 20th century" that "are largely not available either physically or digitally" including "many...books that libraries believe to be of historical importance such that they do not want to throw them away, but are not worth keeping on their physical shelves". For creators who object, there's "a well known 'Notice and Takedown' procedure....The Internet Archive takes prompt action and follows the procedure, generally resulting in the work being taken down."

Kahle does not address the IA's scanning of 21st century books that are in-print and commercially available. According to a recent update from the Authors Guild, feedback from members and authors' groups has "confirmed that a massive number of in-copyright books, some quite recent, are available in Open Library, as well as through the Internet Archive itself."

As for that well-known takedown procedure and the IA's "prompt action" in response...I have still not received any reply to my two DMCA notices, the first of which was sent nearly a month ago.

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.
 
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