Arvo signed up at least ten writers as a result of these approaches, some with multiple books (those are only the writers whose names I know; according to my sources, there are probably many more). Both royalty-only and licensing-fee-plus-royalties contracts were offered; the licensing fees ranged from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the number of books involved. Publication was supposed to begin in September.
Some of the books have indeed been published. But others have missed multiple publication dates--and it appears that no one, including the authors whose books were published, has been paid.
Authors who've attempted to contact [Arvo] about the problems say they've gotten a raft of excuses--financial difficulties, personal and family ill health, religious holidays, trips out of town--along with repeated promises that schedules would be straightened out and monies owed would be forthcoming. As of this writing, none of those promises have been fulfilled.
A breathless press release has arrived from across the water. "Looking to establish itself among the top romance publishers, Canada's Commonwealth Publications proudly announces the recent signing of `the world's most published romance author of all time'." On Valentine's Day next year, the company will launch Dame Barbara Cartland's 24-book Classic Romances series, "twelve previously released classic novels and twelve new, previously unpublished, heart-warming romantic tales". Among them: her "critically acclaimed" novel Enchanted. The notion that Cartland could help "establish" a publisher - let alone one whose alleged intent is to showcase "young and talented first-time authors" - suggests Commonwealth is perilously out of touch. For years, even Mills & Boon has politely declined to publish Cartland, whose audience is to be found only in such places as China, India and Russia.Enchanted, the novel mentioned, was indeed published by Commonwealth. I couldn't find any others.
Contract may be terminated by either the author or publisher with a 90-day written, certified mail notice or other receipted or traceable delivery service, and all rights to the original, unedited manuscript granted the publisher will revert to Author at the time of the termination.From Idyll Arbor, Inc.:
An editor will be assigned by Company to prepare the Book for publication. All editorial changes will remain the property of Company.In this recent contract from Totally Entwined Group (which also does business as Totally Bound), the publisher appears to be claiming ownership not just of edits, but of the edited book itself. The publisher may not actually intend such a sweeping claim--small presses often don't fully understand the implications of their own contract language. But as written, this clause is seriously problematic.
The Publisher shall own all intellectual property rights in any edited version of the Original Work, including, but not limited to, the Final Edited Version (and the Author hereby unconditionally assigns such rights to the Publisher)Some publishers use a copyright claim on edits as a way to make a buck as the author goes out the door. This is also Totally Entwined/Totally Bound, from an older version of its contract (the money demand does not appear in the recent contract quoted above):
Upon expiration of this Agreement, should the Author wish to acquire rights to the final edited version of the Work, the Author agrees to pay the Publisher:
2.5.1Fri, 11 Jan 2019 18:03:00 +0000
Publishizer: Do Authors Really Need a Crowdfunding Literary Agency?
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Terms make it very clear that they do not get involved in this process). Publishizer keeps a 30% commission (a good deal higher than other crowdfunding sites; Kickstarter's commission, for instance, is 5%).
All in all, Publishizer sounds less like a literary agency than a crowdfunding variation on the manuscript pitch sites of old, where writers posted proposals and book excerpts for publishers and literary agencies to sort through in search of new properties and clients. Most of these sites, which were billed as replacements of, or at least competitors with, the old-fashioned system of gatekeepers, no longer exist, for a simple reason: publishing professionals never really embraced them. (For a discussion of some of the reasons why, see my 2015 blog post.)
Publishizer's pre-order component does add a contemporary element, in that it could suggest reader interest to a prospective publisher (indeed, that's one way Publishizer promotes the site to publishers). But what kind of publishers actually look for authors on Publishizer? One of the historical problems with pitch sites has been that, even if they could recruit reputable users, they were just as likely to attract questionable and marginal ones. Do high-level, reputable publishers--the kind you might need an agent for--actually use Publishizer?
The answer, as far as I can tell: not so much.
A Look at Publishizer Book Deals
Take, for example, Publishizer's list of member publishers. They're categorized as traditional (no fees, high advances); independent (no fees and no or modest advances); hybrid (fees); and service (self-publishing or assisted self-publishing). There are some agent-only publishers in the first two categories--but also many that authors can approach on their own, no agent needed. Of more concern is the fact that both the "traditional" and "independent" categories include a number of publishers that are nothing of the sort: they either charge fees or have book purchase requirements. (Publishizer is aware of this: see below.) Perhaps the most egregious of these mis-listings: the one for Elm Hill, HarperCollins Christian Publishing's fantastically expensive assisted self-publishing division, which shows up under traditional publishers.
case studies of authors who found publishers via the site. Included are some solid independents (several of which accept submissions directly from authors), and an imprint of the Big 5. However, there's also Austin Macauley, an expensive vanity publisher that I've written about here, and Harvard Square Editions, a small press that pays royalties on net profit (at substandard percentages) and at one point was requiring authors to get their mss. "externally edited".
Next, the testimonials hosted on Publishizer's homepage. These too mention a number of genuine independent publishers--but also Koehler Books, which offers "co-publishing" contracts costing several thousand dollars (yet is listed by Publishizer as an independent publisher). The testimonial that cites HarperCollins turns out actually to mean expensive self-pub provider Elm Hill (see above).
It's much the same for the "Browse Recent Deals" animation at the top of Publishizer's homepage. Alongside reputable independents are acquisitions by fee-based companies including Morgan James Publishing (like Koehler, listed as an independent publisher despite its 2,500 book purchase requirement), Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press, and i2i Publishing, plus at least three publishers that have managed to issue only one book to date: Sage & Feathers Press, Time Traveller Books, and Christel Foord. A book purportedly published by "Harper Voyage" [sic] turns out to be self-published (and no wonder: every single one of the companies that expressed interest in the writer's campaign are fee-chargers or self-publishing service providers).
Browsing recently completed campaigns makes it even clearer that pay-to-play publishers, marginal publishers, and assisted self-publishing services are major users of the site. Take a look at the publishers that expressed interest in this campaign, which I picked at random. Two have questionable contracts or business practices (Black Rose Writing and Anaphora Literary Press--I've gotten complaints about both). Two are vanities (Morgan James Publishing and Koehler Books). The rest are either fee-charging "hybrids" (I put that in quotes because most so-called hybrids are either vanities or jumped-up self-publishing service providers) or assisted self-publishing companies. Just one is a genuine independent (The Story Plant). (The author chose Morgan James.)
this campaign, also picked at random. There's interest from two independent publishers (Karen McDermott, about which I know nothing, but which, based on its self-description, would not seem to be appropriate for the book on offer; and SkyHorse Publishing, an established indie), plus one that has misleadingly listed itself as an independent but is actually "shared risk", a.k.a. pay-to-play (ShieldCrest Publishing). Also one questionable publisher (Anaphora again); four fee-chargers (i2i Publishing, Isabella Media Inc., WiDo Publishing, and Prodigy Gold Books, about which I've received reports of unprofessionalism); and five assisted self-publishing services. (The author chose to self-publish.)
I didn't cherry-pick those two examples, by the way. I looked at at least twenty recent campaigns, and all showed a similar pattern.
Most revealing is the list of 268 books that have been published as a result of campaigns on Publishizer. As a Publishizer representative pointed out to me, many of these campaigns are from the company's early years, when it was strictly a crowdfunding platform. But of the approximately 195 that have been published since Publishizer's publisher-matching component was launched in 2016 (and yes, I looked at every single one):
"Many Have Satisfying Experiences"
- At least 16 books have been acquired by vanity publishers, including Morgan James, Austin Macauley, and Koehler Books. (Koehler has snapped up so many authors via Publishizer that it has a special page for them on its website. It even offers "a discount".)
- More than 130 additional authors have chosen either to self-publish, or to pay for publication through so-called hybrids or assisted self-publishing services.
- Of the remaining 45 or so books, most have found homes with smaller presses to which the authors could have submitted on their own--not all of them desirable, as noted above.
- Only a handful--fewer than 10--have signed up with bigger houses.
As of this writing, Publishizer makes this promise on its homepage:
I asked whether Publishizer is aware that its lists of traditional and independent publishers include a number of fee-chargers. The representative indicated that Publishizer does know this. "It is no secret that some traditional publishers also offer hybrid deals or even accept payment to publish a book - it just isn't publicised. We have had hybrid publishers sign traditional deals with some of our authors."
Leaving aside other issues--including the false (but unfortunately quite common) idea that traditional publishers often engage in secret vanity deals, and the fact that publishers that rely on author fees rarely provide high-quality editing, marketing, or distribution--this obviously doesn't square with how Publishizer defines traditional and independent publishers: both, it says, "do not charge costs". When I pointed this out, the representative asked for more information. I've provided her with a list of the companies that I know offer fee-based contracts.
Finally, I asked why Publishizer believes writers benefit from having their books pitched to hybrid publishers and self-publishing service providers, which not only require payment but don't typically work with middlemen. "While we do our best to educate [authors] on the differences between self-publishing, hybrid and traditional publishing, we do not choose for them," the representative responded. "Not every book can get a traditional deal, but a lot of books have been realized through Publishizer because we present a range of publishing options that are available, and authors can choose what's best for them...as we are very invested in our authors' success, many have satisfying experiences with us."
All of which is no doubt true, but doesn't really address the question of why it's worth handing over 30% of your crowdfunding earnings for pitches that include companies that are likely to take even more of your money, and that you could just as easily approach on your own.
All in all, the information above suggests that if you post a proposal on Publishizer, the majority of offers you'll receive will likely not be the kind of offers you may have been hoping for, especially given how Publishizer presents itself.
So what does Publishizer actually do for authors? Certainly it helps to generate pre-orders, and some authors have been able to raise substantial sums of money. But Publishizer's poorly-vetted group of publishing partners, top-heavy with fee-chargers, is no boon to authors--and even if the questionables were purged and the misleading listings corrected, you don't necessarily need a middleman to promote your book to independent publishers. You especially don't need an intermediary to pitch your work to fee-charging hybrids or self-publishing platforms or other types of "non-traditional publishers".
As a crowdfunding platform, Publishizer may be worth considering, despite its sizeable commission. As a "literary agency," though, it suffers from the same flaw that doomed the manuscript pitch sites of the past: top-flight publishers are scarce, while marginals and predators roam free. The company representative with whom I corresponded assured me that Publishizer is working to expand and improve its pool of traditional publishers. However, authors who are considering Publishizer for more than raising money should carefully consider how what the site currently appears able to deliver--as opposed to what it claims to deliver--dovetails with their own publishing goals.
Despite labeling itself a literary agency, both on its website and in search results, and touting coaching during book campaigns by "our agents", Publishizer includes this disclaimer in its FAQ:
So...not an agency then. Got it.
I'm also curious about the claim that "many agents" use Publishizer. I'd be interested to hear from agents or authors who can confirm this.Fri, 04 Jan 2019 18:21:00 +0000
Can We Get a Do-Over? Harper's Bazaar Removes Predatory Rights Language For Its 2019 Short Story Competition
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Yesterday, a number of writers alerted me to this writing competition for UK authors:Harper’s Bazaar has a proud tradition of publishing the very best in original literary fiction, including stories by Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Ali Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Continuing this legacy, we are happy to launch our annual short-story competition once again, inviting published and non-published writers to follow in the footsteps of these literary greats.The winner of this 2,500-word short story competition will receive a two-night stay at Brownber Hall, Yorkshire, along with "the chance to see their work published". The theme is "Liberty." Entry is free, and the competition is open until midnight on March 15, 2019.
A publishing credit from Harper's would certainly be something to boast about. But there was a problem. Specifically, the grant of rights, which the entry guidelines described thus (my bolding):By entering the competition and in consideration for Hearst publishing your entry, you assign to Hearst the entire worldwide copyright in your entry for all uses in all print and non-print media and formats, including but not limited to all rights to use your entry in any and all electronic and digital formats, and in any future medium hereafter developed for the full period of copyright therein, and all renewals and extensions thereof, any rental and lending rights and retransmission rights and all rights of a like nature wherever subsisting.In other words, merely by entering this competition, Harper's was asking you to surrender your copyright, and all the rights that copyright includes (which meant that you could never sell or publish your story anywhere else), for zero financial compensation. Moreover, there was no language in the competition guidelines to ensure that the grant of rights would be released if you didn't win.
That's a hell of a predatory rights grab for a competition that doesn't even guarantee publication to the winner--only "the chance" of it. What's especially egregious is that there really is no benefit to Harper's of holding copyrights, rather than merely licensing publishing rights. For the winning story, a conventional grant of publication rights would surely do just as well. For non-winning stories, why lock up rights at all?
I wrote this post yesterday. I don't know if Harper's had a sudden epiphany, or if it got wind that writers were pissed off......but this morning, when I re-read the competition guidelines just to be 100% sure everything I wrote was accurate (I always double-check in this way before I publish), I discovered that...guess what? The copyright language was gone. Poof. Harper's guidelines for this competition now include no grant of rights--or indeed any language addressing rights at all.Woah. If you enter the @BazaarUK short story competition, you assign Hearst "entire worldwide copyright" to your work: https://t.co/1gL8Idvues— Sian Meades 💫 (@SianySianySiany) January 9, 2019
It's great that Harper's retracted its copyright grab (though without acknowledging its mistake). But why include the grab in the first place? I'm continually amazed at publications that run these kinds of competitions with these kinds of predatory terms. In some cases it's greed or legal overreach. In a few cases, the publications don't understand their own guidelines language. But often, I think, it's just carelessness, or maybe heedlessness. Writers only skim guidelines, right? Especially if they're published as one looooooong block of text in italic font with no paragraph breaks. And it's just a 2,500 word story that the magazine may not even publish. So who cares?
It's a reminder, yet again, to read (and be sure you understand) the fine print.
Here's a screenshot of the original guidelines, with the copyright language down at the bottom of the screenshot. The link is to a cached version.Thu, 27 Dec 2018 18:05:00 +0000
The Best of Writer Beware: 2018 in Review
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Happy New Year! It's time for Writer Beware's annual (well, sort of annual; I missed the last couple of years) look back at the most notable posts of 2018.
New Scams, Old Tricks
Publishing and marketing scams operating out of the Philippines first started appearing in 2014. These scams, which copy the Author Solutions business model (including expensive publishing packages and an emphasis on hugely overpriced junk marketing), in many cases have been founded and are staffed by former Author Solutions call center employees. They take the relentless cold-call solicitation and poor customer service for which AS is notorious to new levels, employing blatant falsehoods to trick authors into their clutches, and often not providing the product for which authors have paid.
This is the most pernicious new scam to come along in some time, and it has been proliferating like mad these past couple of years. I've identified over 30 companies at this point (for a full list, see the sidebar). Fortunately, since they all follow pretty much the same template, they are relatively easy to recognize, with a distinctive complex of characteristics including egregious and sometimes hilarious English-language errors on their websites and in their email pitches.
Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats Twelve publishing and marketing scams to watch out for (some of them run by the same people)--and how to identify new ones
Army of Clones, Part 2: Twenty-One (More) Publishing and Marketing "Services" to Beware Of As the title says, twenty-one more publishing and marketing scams--more than half of them established in 2018
Amelia Publishing and Amelia Book Company: Sons of LitFire Publishing One of the original clones attempts to create new revenue streams by setting up two apparently unconnected companies
Solicitation Alert: Book-Art Press Solutions and Window Press Club Two apparently unrelated clones turn out to be--surprise!--the same outfit
Information You Can Use
Does the Bankruptcy Clause in Your Publishing Contract Really Protect You? What happens when a publisher goes bankrupt? Can you rely on the protection of the bankruptcy clause in your publishing contract? (Short answer: no.)
Alert: Copyright Infringement By the Internet Archive (and What You Can Do About It) In January, SFWA issued an alert about massive copyright infringement by the Internet Archive, which has been carrying out a program of scanning entire books and posting them online for borrowing. Unlike a regular library, which only uses licensed, paid-for copies, these scans have been made without authors' permission.
How the Internet Archive Infringed My Copyrights and Then (Kind Of) Blew Me Off The Internet Archive's less than professional response to my efforts to get my own books removed from its unauthorized scanning program.
Author Complaints Mount at Curiosity Quills Press I published this post in April, but the story is still unfolding, with the most recent reports indicating that emails have started bouncing. I think it's just a matter of time.
Small Press Storm Warnings: Fiery Seas Publishing Fiery Seas' closure was announced to authors via email in December, but there has been no official announcement that I'm aware of, and as of this writing the company's website is still live.
Would you be excited to hear about a publisher that proposed to pay you a salary for writing books, plus royalties and benefits? That's the premise of De Montfort Literature, the latest of many, many tech-oriented ventures that have sought (usually without success) to revolutionize publishing (yes, there's an algorithm). De Montfort is still auditioning authors (a process that has been curiously slow), so as yet there's no proof of concept. Plus, digging deeper into the background of De Montfort's founder turns up some very odd information.
De Montfort Literature: Career Jumpstart or Literary Sweatshop?
Can an author trademark a common word--for instance, "cocky"--and then deny all other authors its use in book or series titles? You wouldn't think so, but that's what author Faleena Hopkins tried to do in 2018--including threatening legal action against authors with existing titles that included the word. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.
Trademark Shenanigans: Weighing in on #Cockygate
There are a lot of these, but here are three notable ones that caught my eye in 2018:
Contest Caution: The Short Story Project's My Best Story Competition Rights grabs and other alarming language in the guidelines.
Contest Beware: Fiction War Magazine Not only questionable rights language, but failure to pay prize winnings.
Contest Caution: Waldorf Publishing's Manuscript Contest Lots of reasons to be cautious of this one--including the fact that the publisher is a fee-charger (though it doesn't disclose this fact to potential contestants)
I'm including this one (about a publishing scammer also convicted of credit card fraud) because it's weird, but also because it's the single post about which I got the most harassment this year. People involved with the scammer have left comments, bombarded me with emails, threatened me with legal action, posted fake reviews on Writer Beware's Facebook page, and trolled me in public forums. Fortunately, after 20 years with Writer Beware, I have a pretty thick skin.
Scam Down Under: Love of Books Brisbane / Julie "Jules" McGregorFri, 14 Dec 2018 17:41:00 +0000
Army of Clones, Part 2: Twenty-One (More) Publishing and Marketing "Services" to Beware Of
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Last January, I wrote a post about a new and rapidly-growing scam: Philippines-based publishing and "marketing" companies that have copied the Author Solutions business model, and are using it to rip off writers. In many cases, these enterprises are run and/or staffed by former AS call center employees.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.The clones share a distinctive cluster of characteristics that makes them relatively easy for an alert writer to identify.
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 was discovered by one of their book scouts. Sometimes they'll claim to be literary agents looking to transition you to a traditional publishing contract. Their phone solicitors frequently have foreign accents (most are based in the Philippines). 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, Marketing Professional, Marketing Supervisor.
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--it's pretty clear that clone staff either maintain contacts with Author Solutions workers who feed them information, or, if they themselves formerly worked for AS, took customer information with them when they departed). They claim they can do a better job, or provide greater credibility, or boost sales, or get authors in front of traditional publishers. Not all the clones offer publishing services, but most do.
3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that can't be verified or 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. Not all the clones offer publishing services, but they all offer "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 markup. It's an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of its enormous profitability, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times. The clones' marketing services are 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.********
In my January 2018 post, I named and shamed the twelve clones I'd discovered up to that point. In this followup post, I name and shame the 21 additional clones I've identified since then. See below for detail on each (sorry, you have to scroll down; Blogger doesn't give me the option of inserting anchors). Also see the sidebar of this blog for the full list.
To give you a sense of how fast these scams are proliferating: of the 21 companies above, 13 are less than twelve months old. The rest are less than two years old. Though they (mostly) appear separate from one another, I suspect that many are in fact run by the same people; there are a number of similarities that, while not conclusive, are extremely suggestive. For instance, there's considerable data to suggest that Outstrip LLC and Ascribed LLC are in fact the same operation. And both Outstrip and Ascribed share language, services, or both with Sherlock Press and Stonewall Press.
- Ascribed LLC (very probably also d.b.a. Outstrip LLC)
- AuthorCentrix (formerly BookBlastPro)
- Black Lacquer Press & Marketing
- Book Agency Plus
- Book Magnets
- Book Reads Publishing
- Book Vine Press (possibly a d.b.a. of Westwood Books Publishing/Authors Press)
- BookWhip / Carter Press
- Capstone Media Services
- Global Summit House
- Goldman Agency
- Maple Leaf Publishing
- Matchstick Literary
- Outstrip LLC (very probably also d.b.a. as Ascribed LLC)
- PageTurner Press and Media
- Paramount Books Media
- Sherlock Press
- Stonewall Press (formerly Uirtus Solutions)
- URLink Print and Media
- The Writer Central / IdeoPage Press Solutions
There also appears to be a relationship between the clones and a pay-to-play book review service that operates under two names: Hollywood Book Reviews and Pacific Book Review. A large number of clones include reviews from this service in their marketing packages (as, in fact, does Author Solutions). Some apparently do such volume business that they have their own payment pages.
The clones do compete with one another. Here's Book Reads Publishing trying to do down The Writer Central (at this poor author's expense):
And here's what AuthorLair sent to a writer who mentioned being solicited by another clone, Westwood Books Publishing (nice to know my watchdog activities are benefiting the scammers):********
There are no publishing services at Ascribed LLC (though it's early days: Ascribed only registered its domain in August 2018)--just a full suite of junk marketing services right out of the Author Solutions playbook. English-language lapses are evident throughout the website ("We are a group of people whose passion for books influenced us to be staunch of literature and literacy"). Ascribed also appears to be unequal to the challenge of correctly matching author names and book titles with cover photos.
Although I'm listing them separately here, I believe there's a strong probability that Ascribed LLC and Outstrip LLC (see below) are the same operation. The similarities:
- Both Ascribed and Outstrip are registered as LLCs in the state of Delaware.
- Ascribed's Terms of Service are identical to Outstrip's.
- The two companies' online book marketing packages are strikingly similar, with similar dopey names, sky-high prices, and features, including monthly "author quote postings", whatever those are.
- Large portions of Outstrip's "Exsupero" Mainstream Media Package (which does not currently have a menu link on Outstrip's website) are word-for-word identical to Ascribed's "Nexus" Mainstream Media Package (including English-language lapses). For instance:
A number of other clones use more than one name (with no hint or acknowledgment of the connection): LitFire Publishing d.b.a. Amelia Book Company and Amelia Publishing; Westwood Books Publishing d.b.a. Authors Press; Book Art Press d.b.a. Window Press Club; Okir Publishing d.b.a. ADbook Press and Coffee Press.********
AuthorCentrix used to call itself BookBlastPRO. Both businesses were incorporated in California in February 2017 by Daniel Fernandez. Further (inadvertent) evidence of the connection is here. Note the fake founding date:
I've gotten a number of reports of solicitation by AuthorCentrix, and more can be found online. AuthorCentrix has also started to accumulate complaints--as, previously, did BookBlastPRO (shedding some light on the name change, and possibly hinting at another in the future).
AuthorCentrix's menu of Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services conveniently omits pricing, but per documentation sent to me by a solicited author, the "exclusive" book fair marketing package--a complete and total waste of money--costs $1,899. There's even a brand new AuthorCentrix Magazine, full of ads and features for which authors no doubt had to pay a fortune (AuthorCentrix isn't the only clone that promotes these undistributed pay-to-play magazines: Outstrip and Stonewall Press have GoldCrest Magazine--see below--and Legaia Books, which I discussed in a previous post, has Paperclips Magazine).********
AuthorLair was born in February 2018. Its English is shaky but better than some other clones'; on a quick read, it might pass muster. Staffed by the usual anonymous "team of industry experts," AuthorLair currently offers only marketing services (including ever-popular book fair exhibition packages), but it's early days.
I've gotten reports of solicitation. In one case, an AuthorLair "Senior Book Publicist" attempted to steer a writer away from fellow clone Westwood Books Publishing...by citing one of my blog posts:
Among the array of logos on AuthorLair's website footer is one for Pacific Book Review, a pay-to-play review service that, along with its "parent" company Hollywood Book Reviews, is often used by the clones.
AuthorLair claims a Florida location, but has no Florida business registration.********
Black Lacquer Press & Marketing incorporated in mid-2017 (via Anderson Registered Agents, a company frequently used by the clones), but its domain wasn't registered until just last February.
Black Lacquer ticks all the boxes: solicitation, Author Solutions-style junk marketing (with no listed prices--as with many scams of this kind, they want to get authors on the phone, where it's easier to get the hooks in), shaky English, and unverifiable claims about staff:
You can sample its truly awful--and probably horrifyingly expensive--book trailer videos (if you dare) here.********
Book Agency Plus ("Empowering Authors is our source of Empowerment") doesn't provide publishing services--just "marketing platforms." It has a rudimentary and mostly nonfunctional website, but its social media is active and I got a report of solicitation in mid-September (an offer of a "podcast interview" for $600)--so unlike some of the clones, which pop into existence and vanish in a matter of months, it does seem to be operating, at least for now (its domain was registered in September 2017).
On display is the typical nonsensical English ("We go by our ultimate vision to give authors the so-called, 'collaboration'"), as well as the usual windy and unverifiable claims of expertise. Most of the website links for the "featured authors" don't work, and for those that do, all are published either by one of the other clones or an Author Solutions imprint.
Book Agency Plus (along with fellow clone Okir Publishing) caught the eye of ALLi watchdog John Doppler earlier this year.********
BookMagnets Publishing and Marketing (not to be confused with Readers Magnet, a different clone that I discussed in a previous post) claims that it was "founded by two [conveniently un-named] literary publicists in 2010"--which is a neat trick, since its domain was only created in July 2018. It has a business registration in Wyoming, where it claims to be located.
Despite its name, BookMagnets doesn't appear to currently offer publishing services, just a familiar menu of Author Solutions-style junk marketing. As often with the clones, there's no pricing (but see below: it ain't cheap). BookMagnets' website is relatively free of the English-language errors that afflict so many of the clones--but not so its correspondence. Here's the solicitation one author received:
BookMagnets provided the same author with a link to one of its marketing campaigns. Apart from the fact that there's no way the campaign is worth nearly $1,400, the book being promoted was published by PublishAmerica, which went out of business last fall without bothering to return rights. PublishAmerica books are still for sale on Kindle--but if anyone buys them, the author will never get any of the royalties due, because there's nowhere to send the sales income. The author who paid for this campaign got zero return from from his large financial investment, even in the unlikely event that the campaign produced results.********
Like many of the clones, Books Reads Publishing was established just in the past year: its domain was registered in June 2018. In addition to a full complement of clone characteristics, it is also the promulgator of a particularly deceptive marketing pitch that involves posing as Penguin Random House.
The price for this "cinematic book trailer?" Just a few thousand dollars (note the pretense that the author's share is only half the cost):I've gotten several complaints about unauthorized credit card charges by some of the clones, so the assurance about "no Automatic Charges" rings a bit hollow.
Like all the clones, Book Reads Publishing has Philippine connections--for instance, its web designer.
Like Book Reads Publishing, Book Vine Press registered its domain in June 2018. Supposedly based in Chicago, and registered as a domestic corporation in Illinois, it checks all the familiar boxes: re-publishing offers, unverifiable experience claims, junk marketing (note the presence of the clones' favorite pay-to-play review services, Pacific Book Review and Hollywood Book Reviews).
Here's one of its solicitations, complete with fractured English. I've heard from several authors who received this identical email--just their name and book title switched out:
Like many clones, Book Vine Press doesn't include any prices on its website, but here's the offer associated with the solicitation above:
Note the claim of "our own physical bookstore in Chicago." There's no evidence any such store exists.
Two testimonials on Book Vine's website extol the wonderfulness of the authors' publishing experiences. However, both authors are published not by Book Vine, but by fellow clone Greenberry Publishing, which last year changed its name to Westwood Books Publishing and also does business as Authors Press. Also, Book Vine's book fair promotion offers are identical to those from Authors Press. I think there's a pretty strong possibility that Book Vine is running under the same roof.********
Like many clones, Bookwhip is of recent origin: its domain was registered in November 2017--though you'd never know that (or anything else) based on its detail-free About Us page.
Here's the solicitation pitch BookWhip sends in email, shared with me by an author who received it (re-publishing! Plus a book agent! For just $1,250 per book!). BookWhip's basic publishing package is low-priced for a clone, but that's only because its real aim is to ensnare authors so they can be persuaded to buy costly marketing services, including book fair promos and "indie movie production" (it's no accident that these services are non-refundable).
Despite its youth, BookWhip has already gathered some complaints, including about an unauthorized credit card charge (not the only complaint of this type I've seen regarding the clones).
Unusually, BookWhip voluntarily reveals its connection with fellow clone Carter Press, which provides very similar services. From a recently-received solicitation, in which the clones' typical shaky English is on full display:
Bookwhip has a California business registration. Interestingly, its street address on that registration is an exact match for the address of something called Creativity Books California LLC. Creativity Books does business as Authors Press, a clone that is a d.b.a. of yet another clone, Westwood Books Publishing (are you confused yet?):
There actually is a Creative Books store at the Buchanan Road address, and a 30-day display there is part of some of the book fair "marketing" packages offered by Authors Press. As you can see from these photos, it's mostly a school and parties supply store in a strip mall, but there is a rack of books.
Is BookWhip run by the same people who are running Westwood Books Publishing and Authors Press? Wouldn't surprise me. Regardless, it's the same kind of scam.********
Some of the clones have their faulty English under decent control, and exhibit only occasional lapses. Not so Capstone Media Services. Its self-description sounds like it was written by Gollum: "We are an Illustrations and Marketing Service Provider that designs custom illustrations and logos that transform your imaginations into life. We also specializes in helping exceptional authors publish their literary creations."
About the (whoppingly expensive) Book Translations service, Capstone has this to say: "Your book will be translated in different languages...This will make your book as one of the 'purple cow' as we call it. Stands out among others." Well, who wouldn't want that? Then there's the Audiobook service: "Here in Capstone Media, we offer you one price for the three voice talents – Australian, British and American Voice Talents. This refers to accents." Thanks for clarifying that.
Author and anti-scam activist David Gaughran reports a recent rash of solicitations by Capstone:Capstone, which registered its domain in August 2018, claims a prestigious address: 14 Wall Street, Manhattan. It has no business registration in New York State, however, and per this exhibitor list from the 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair, it is actually located in...surprise! the Philippines.WARNING: Capstone Media Services are cold calling authors with highly questionable marketing packages of dubious quality costing thousands of dollars. Of course, one of the suspect packages is a @PublishersWkly one because they will take money from anyone. @VictoriaStrauss pic.twitter.com/PHbOJ6wrwc— David Gaughran (@DavidGaughran) August 20, 2018********
Global Summit House boasts a typical array of clone identifiers, including plenty of fractured English, and unpriced and largely undescribed publishing and marketing services (for a glimpse at the kind of quality authors can expect, check out its absurdly awful book trailer videos).
And that's not all! Global Summit House wants to be your literary agent! I've seen several email solicitations with "representation offers", which include a literary agent contract that's just official-looking enough to possibly fool someone who doesn't have much experience (though not someone who knows that reputable literary agents don't charge upfront fees). There's also a "marketing and advertising proposal" that "includes a Literary Agent" and claims a "partnership" with Publishers Weekly. A slightly different proposal touts an "Undervalued Self-Published Books Campaign" (which tells you all you need to know about Global Summit House's target demographic):
Global Summit House registered its domain in May 2018, but has no business registration in New York State, where it claims it's located. Unlike some of the clones, it hasn't fully anonymized its Philippine origins:
Global Summit House maintains two other websites, GlobalSummitHouse.org and The Maze Readers, along with a Goodreads account and a Twitter account, Dusk Till Dawn Reading. All feature the same books, and post the same reviews under different names (here's a review by "Elaine Robyn" on The Maze Readers; here's the identical review from "Anna Reid" on Goodreads). This is a classic closed-loop promotional scam, where all the "promotion" happens on websites and accounts owned by the promoter.********
Goldman Agency is one of the older clones: its domain was registered in February 2017. It claims a New York city location, but does not appear to have a New York State business registration.
From its name, you might think it wants to be your literary agent, just like Global Summit House--an impression also produced by its Google listing:
Really, though, it's just a regular old marketing scam, staffed by the usual anonymous "dedicated professionals" and displaying the usual imperfect command of English (actually considerably cleaned up from earlier versions of the website). Its "blog posts" are PLR (Private Label Rights) articles (for instance, here's Goldman's post on book publicity, and here it is in the PLR database; even the typo in the title has been reproduced). Of its "portfolio" of books, not one appears to actually exist.
This complaint provides a good snapshot of Goldman's M.O.--and its prices.
Note: The Goldman Agency I'm talking about here is not to be confused with The David Goldman Agency, which represents illustrators.********
The supposedly Canadian Maple Leaf Publishing is the only clone I've found that doesn't claim a US location. It's also one of the babies of the bunch, with a domain registered in September 2018.
Maple Leaf offers a familiar roster of Author Solutions-style publishing and junk marketing services, with the emphasis on the marketing. Also familiar: its specifics-free About Us page, which, like the entire website, has a definite ESL vibe. The folks at Maple Leaf did call in quality control, though, because here's how that page read when I researched Maple Leaf a few weeks ago:
Live long and prosperous!********
"Come and spark with us!" invites MatchStick Literary's bizarre (and illiterate) Facebook intro page.
For authors who accept this dubious invitation, an array of clone-standard, Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services await (you can judge the quality of MatchStick's video trailers, if you dare, here). As with many of the clones, there are no prices (it's easier to hook your victims if you can get them on the phone). Other telltale signs of clonage include no verifiable information about history or staff, and seriously fractured English ("Setting up an absolute campaign that bank majorly on a specific factor might deem crucial.").
Here's what MatchStick claims as its "Track Records" (also note the false claim of 3 years in business). Most of the books exist, but just about everything else is a lie (and I checked every single claim).
Like so many clones, Matchstick is of recent origin: its domain was registered in September 2018. It uses a New Jersey address, but as of this writing, has no business registration in that state.
It also seems to be suffering from some name confusion, at least based on this job listing recently posted to its Facebook page:
Job location? Mandaue City, Philippines.UPDATE: Matchstick is aware of this post, and it isn't happy. Here's how it is attempting to defend itself to authors who mention Writer Beware (LOL):
Outstrip LLC is just under a year old, with a domain name registered in January 2018. It offers offers a full menu of Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services, complete with more-than-usually stupid names (my fave is the "Sempiternal", aptly titled for the sempiternal hole it will put in your bank account). And holy crap, are they expensive. The Eclipse marketing package, which consists basically of garbage, will set you back over $17,000.
Bad English is on prominent display on Outstrip's website--check out, for instance, this illiterate blog post--and in its Twitter feed. On Medium, a profile called Felicia Stone is the purported author of a series of equally badly-written articles, in which all the links point to Outstrip.
Although I'm listing them separately here, I believe there's a strong probability that Outstrip and Ascribed LLC (see above) are the same operation. The similarities:
- Both Outstrip and Ascribed are registered as LLCs in the state of Delaware.
- Outstrip's Terms of Service are identical to Ascribed's.
- The two companies' online book marketing packages are strikingly similar, with similar dopey names, sky-high prices, and features, including monthly "author quote postings", whatever those are.
- Large portions of Outstrip's "Exsupero" Mainstream Media Package (which does not currently have a menu link on Outstrip's website) are word-for-word identical to Ascribed's "Nexus" Mainstream Media Package (including English-language lapses). For instance:
Outstrip also appears to be connected to at least two other clones: Sherlock Press and Stonewall Press (see below). Entire paragraphs of Outstrip's Terms of Service, as well as its refunds policy, are reproduced in Sherlock Press's Terms of Service and refunds policy. And both Outstrip and Stonewall Press sell ad space in Goldcrest Magazine, which has no independent existence apart from these two companies.********
I've gotten a number of reports from authors who have been solicited out of the blue by PageTurner Press and Media. Like many clones, PageTurner actively attempts to poach authors from their current publishers or self-pub platforms, claiming that its "agents" or "scouts" have discovered the author's book and that it can offer a better deal than the author's current situation. Here's PageTurner's re-publication pitch, included with the email solicitation it sent to one AuthorHouse-published author. Fortunately, the author smelled a rat and contacted me. Note the characteristically poor English:
Price tag for this PUBLISHING GRANT? Just $10,000.
In addition to publishing packages, PageTurner's array of "Powerhouse Services" (a.k.a junk marketing) reads like it was ripped from the website of an Author Solutions imprint (which of course is no accident). Its About Us page exhibits the usual windy and unverifiable claims of experience ("PageTurner, Press and Media is a rebranding of an institution that used to operate in the shadows of other publishing firms as a trusted provider of vendible [sic] titles"), including a claim to have "officially opened its doors" in the summer of 2016, a whole year before it registered its web domain. There's even a bogus award.
That domain registration was updated in 2018 to match PageTurner's supposed California address, but here's the original registration, from August 2017 and rather farther away:********
In its logo, Twitter feed, and various videos, including a cutesy whiteboard video and a seriously cheesy pretend newscast, Paramount Books Media sells writers' most fevered dream: making their books into movies (Paramount. Get it?)
Book-to-screen is also a scammer's dream, because such packages--one of Author Solutions' signature junk marketing offerings--can be provided cheaply and sold at an enormous markup. In Paramount's case, though, its book to screen pitch seems mostly designed to get authors to spring for really bad book trailers.
Paramount doesn't appear to offer publishing packages, just marketing services. As usual, there is zero verifiable information about the company or its staff. Two complaints on Ripoff Report, one alleging unauthorized credit card charges, the other claiming an unfulfilled sales guarantee, suggest how the company operates.
Paramount doesn't provide a street address, but it is registered in California as an LLC. Its domain was registered in August 2017.********
Like so many of its brethren, Sherlock Press is of recent origin: its domain was registered in June 2018. It claims a Baltimore, Maryland location, and is registered in Maryland as an LLC.
Sherlock Press offers the familiar array of clone characteristics: unverifiable claims about itself, English-language lapses ("Sherlock Press is made of people"), and Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing packages (including the ever-popular Book to Screen).
There are also what look like connections to other clones. There are substantial similarities in the wording of Sherlock's Terms of Service and Payment and Refund Policy to similar documents on the websites of Outstrip and Ascribed LLC (both of which I've covered above). They even talk to each other on Twitter:********
Stonewall Press originally called itself Uirtus Solutions (Uirtus's website is dead, but here's its corpse, courtesy of the Wayback Machine). The connection is confirmed by this complaint at the Better Business Bureau, and also by identical origin stories (Uirtus supposedly "started out in 2007 as a Movie & Gaming Animation Company", while Stonewall was "established in 2007" with a "specialty...in animated media – movie, gaming, and marketing animation").
In fact, Uirtus Solutions didn't file articles of organization until September 2017, in South Carolina. It terminated itself on November 13, just two months later--and just a few days after Stonewall Press filed a trade name application in Maryland. Based on the different personal names involved (Richzer Villamor for Uirtus and Ivan Bacayo Verallo for Stonewall), it may be that the business did change hands--but clearly Stonewall is a continuation of Uirtus.
I've received several reports from authors who received email solicitations for re-publishing or marketing by Stonewall Press, and more complaints about solicitation can be found at PissedConsumer, many of them describing out-of-the-blue phone calls by heavily-accented telemarketers. Stonewall's Twitter account was recently suspended.
Stonewall's website includes the usual uncertain English, along with the clones' typical publishing, marketing, editorial, and add-on services. If you shell out for Stonewall's book fair packages, for instance, here's what you get:
You also get an ad in GoldCrest Magazine, which has no independent existence apart from Stonewall and another clone, Outstrip, which also sells GoldCrest ads as part of some of its packages.********
URLink Print and Media purports to be located in Wyoming, and it is indeed registered there, with a filing dated March 7, 2018. Its domain was created just a month prior, in February 2018. These two dates would seem to belie the (unverifiable, as usual) self-description on its website, which claims that URLink has been in business for "years".
I've heard from a number of writers who have been solicited by URLink. Here's a typical approach--the pretense of a recommendation from "book scouts" is a common clone ploy:
And here's Megan. Guess where she's located?
URLink's website offers the typical range of Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services, couched in the typical fractured English ("Authoring a book could be a facile activity to the most passionate writers"). There's even a gallery section, where you can view the (ahem) high-quality product you can expect to get for your money.
URLink's Agreement forms are a testament to its Author Solutions roots, as well as to the way the clones cross-pollinate: they swipe a lot of language from similar documents from WestBow Press, BookWhirl, and fellow clone BookVenture.
On its About Us page, The Writer Central claims that it "started out as a ghostwriter service provider that helps aspiring writers and authors bring their stories and ideas into published materials since 2008." How odd, then, that its web domain was created only in February 2018, and that it has no business registration in New York State, where it claims to be located. (One also might hope for better English from an English-language ghostwriting service--just saying.)
Like some other clones, The Writer Central does business under more than one name. Its alter-ego, Ideopage Press Solutions, makes similar vague "about us" claims in similarly bad English, purporting to have "started out as a service provider that helps aspiring writers and authors bring their stories into actual vivid manuscripts ready for publication". (How do I know that TWC and IPS are the same outfit? IPS's phone number defaults to TWC's voicemail. I've confirmed this myself, and it's also confirmed in comments below). Like TWC, IPS claims 10 years in the business--despite the fact that its web domain was only registered in April 2018--and has no business registration in its supposed home state of New York.
I've heard from several writers who were solicited by The Writer Central or Ideopage Press Solutions with "representation" offers. Similar reports can be found online. Like several of the other clones, TWC claims that it can help authors transition to traditional publishing by re-publishing and "circulating" their books.
This wonderful offer includes production of "500 copies of your book for circulation in more than 25,000 bookstores worldwide" and pitches to traditional publishers:
Who could resist? But there's a catch:
For authors looking for some idea of what their re-published book might look like, there are cover images on TWC's home page, along with touching testimonials from the authors. Just one problem: not one of these books--or authors--actually exists (I checked).
TWC's Services page (which is not currently linked into its website menu) touts a range of familiar publishing and marketing packages. There are no details or prices; the only option is to click a button to "reserve your spot now". This delivers you to a scheduling page, which includes this revealing information:
Oops.Tue, 04 Dec 2018 16:37:00 +0000
Amelia Publishing and Amelia Book Company: Sons of Litfire Publishing
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
In 2014, I wrote a long (and recently updated) blog post about LitFire Publishing, a publishing and marketing service provider that copied the Author Solutions business model (overpriced publishing packages, junk marketing services, and aggressive solicitation), and was founded and run by former Author Solutions call center employees in the Philippines.
I didn't know it then, but LitFire was in the vanguard of an invasion of Philippines-based Author Solutions copycats (I've written about some of them here). These predatory schemes are a major danger for the self-published and small press authors who are their main target. Not only are their "services" expensive, falsely presented (phone and email solicitors often claim to be literary agents or book scouts or to have connections with major publishers), and frequently substandard, they are everywhere. I know of over 30 of them at this point, at least half established just in the past year.
LitFire is one of the oldest of these ventures, and like any outfit whose main aim is extracting cash from vulnerable writers through misdirection and hype, word has gotten around. Complaints are accumulating online, along with commentaries and exposes (not to mention all the reports and complaints Writer Beware has received). Even Wikipedia has taken note.
Now LitFire may be doing what dodgy businesses often do to escape a bad reputation: changing its name. Introducing Amelia Publishing and Amelia Book Company
Amelia Publishing is a general purpose publishing and marketing company, with a suite of Author Solutions-style publishing packages (black and white, color, and "special"), junk marketing services (press releases, video trailers, pay-to-play book reviews), and add-ons such as editing. In other words, it's a lot like LitFire.
Amelia Book Company (ABC--get it?) targets children's authors. It too sells publishing and marketing packages, as well as merchandise (magnets! Stickers! T-shirts!) and illustrations. It also has a "subsidiary" generically titled Children's Publishing, a grab bag of poorly-written and in some cases oddly terse articles interspersed with ads and links to Amelia.
The Amelias' About Us pages feature conveniently vague information that can't be verified, and their websites include the frequent English-language lapses that are typical of Philippines-based publishing and marketing scams ("Amelia Publishing. Your Self-Publishing Headquarter.") Both Amelias' domains were registered on May 24, 2017, and they both have business registrations in the state of Georgia. They also share an address and phone number. (I'm including so many screenshots because I expect that at least some of the evidence will vanish after I publish this post.)
So how do I know that the Amelias are LitFire? Well, a little bird told me. But also, Litfire is really, really sloppy.
Amelia Book Company (the one for children's authors) has a bookstore, though it's not linked into the main site; I found it on a Google search. The first thing you might notice is how few of the books are for children. There's a good reason for that: they're all LitFire books. For example, here's a book at Amelia:
And here's the same book at LitFire:
Inspecting a page's source code can also yield clues. For instance, on one of Amelia Book Company's book pages, this snippet of code:
Or this relic of LitFire's footer, complete with LitFire's street address, which is on every Amelia Book Company book page that I checked:
Similar lapses are all over Amelia Book Company's website.
By contrast, Amelia Publishing's website has been more carefully vetted. But an apparent effort to convert the LitFire blog into an Amelia Publishing blog wasn't so successful, which likely is why it has been removed. It still shows up in a Google search, though:
And then there's this. LitFire apparently caught it and got rid of the page where it appears (the link is to a Google cache)--but I had to laugh. Whoops.
Apparently I'm not the only one who has figured it out.Tue, 20 Nov 2018 17:53:00 +0000
SFWA Statement on Concerns/Complaints Regarding the Writers of the Future Contest
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
The Board of Directors of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have unanimously decided to formally and publicly acknowledge the multiple complaints and expressions of concern made both publicly and privately in recent months by former Writers of the Future finalists who state that they have had negative experiences during or after the event.
As a result, SFWA has formally contacted the WotF administrators, in hopes of launching a private dialogue between our organizations, and ensuring that these concerns are meaningfully addressed. In this effort, SFWA’s goal is to protect the rights of creators, thus strengthening all of science fiction and fantasy publishing, now and in the future. SFWA advises all writers to research carefully before participating in any literary contest.
For more information on contests, please visit SFWA’s Writer Beware page located here: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/contests/.
Originally posted on SFWA website, December 03, 2018Thu, 25 Oct 2018 18:00:00 +0000
Does the Bankruptcy Clause in Your Publishing Contract Really Protect You?
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
You may have read that Medallion Press filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection at the end of October (that's the kind that results in liquidation). According to PW,In its filing, the publisher listed assets of $100,001 to $500,000 and liabilities in the same range. It cited between 200 to 999 creditors.
Under a Chapter 7 filing, a trustee will liquidate a company’s assets in order to earn as much money as it can to pay creditors. According to court documents, a meeting of creditors is scheduled for November 13, in the DuPage Courthouse in Wheaton, Ill.
Medallion Press was founded in the early aughts as a mass market paperback publisher (Writer Beware saw one of its early contracts, which contained some troubling language, including a claim of copyright on edits). Although initially successful, its decline seems to have been spurred (or maybe accelerated) by its attempts to enter the film and tech business.
PW indicates that since word of the bankruptcy broke, "agents have been working to retrieve the publishing rights of their authors from the company." Unfortunately, it's not so easy.
If you check your publishing contract, you may see language that addresses bankruptcy and insolvency, similar to this:
In the event of the bankruptcy, insolvency or liquidation of the Publisher, this Agreement shall terminate and all rights granted to the Publisher shall revert to the Author automatically and without the necessity of any demand or notification.
This is a bankruptcy clause, a.k.a. an ipso facto clause (because "the fact itself" of the bankruptcy or insolvency triggers termination). It sounds pretty straightforward--publisher files for bankruptcy, rights revert, the end. In practice, though, that's not how it works. Thanks to key provisions of the Bankruptcy Code, ipso facto clauses are generally unenforceable, and are treated as such by the courts.
In a discussion of the Medallion bankruptcy, the Passive Voice blog explains:[PW] says literary agents have been working to retrieve the publishing rights of their authors from Medallion. Unless the agents have retained competent bankruptcy counsel, that isn’t going to happen. Medallion no longer controls the publishing rights. Upon the filing of the Chapter 7 petition, which has already occurred, the bankruptcy court controls the publishing rights and all other assets owned by Medallion. Whoever may answer the phone at Medallion can’t do anything with publishing rights, regardless of how persuasive a literary agent may be....A few examples: when digital publisher Triskelion declared bankruptcy in 2007, its contracts were eventually sold to Siren Publishing (which promptly released all rights back to the authors). Byron Preiss Publications went into Chapter 7 in early 2006, following Preiss's sudden death the previous year; its assets, which reportedly included more than 2,500 mostly fiction book contracts, were sold in December 2006 for less than asking price to nonfiction publisher Brick Tower Press. The assets of UK-based Black Dog Publishing, which went into liquidation in January 2018, were sold the following August to a company looking to expand its trade division. Things were messier for authors with indie publisher MacAdam Cage, after the publisher's 2014 Chapter 7 filing--they regained their print rights after a struggle, but not their e-rights, which had been sold some years earlier to a different publisher that was still in operation at the time of the bankruptcy.
[T]he publishing agreements between Medallion and its authors are assets that the bankruptcy trustee will try to sell for the best price possible to whoever will pay that price. Any claims for unpaid royalties owed to authors will likely be rolled into the pile of unpaid debts of Medallion and cash resulting from sales of assets will be divided among the printer, the utility companies, UPS, the bookstores that have returned Medallion books for a refund and not been paid, etc., etc., etc., and the authors.
If the contracts can't be sold, the bankruptcy trustee should eventually abandon them and order the return of rights to the authors--as happened when publishing scammer Martha Ivery tried to escape bad press and an FBI investigation by declaring bankruptcy. Either way, though, it's an involved process that can take months, during which time the contracts are frozen and authors and agents can do little except wait. Even if authors become aware of an impending bankruptcy and manage to revert rights before the bankruptcy petition is filed, they may still wind up in limbo, since the court may not consider such reversions valid because of their proximity to the filing. (For a summary of bankruptcy proceedings, including the impact on books under contract but not yet published, see this post from Jane Litte at Dear Author).
So why have an ipso facto clause at all if it offers so little protection? While it is unenforceable in regard to bankruptcy, that's not necessarily the case for other forms of insolvency. If your publisher goes belly up without a bankruptcy filing, the clause can be enforced--as long as you can find the publisher, of course. Bankruptcy takes time and costs money, and makes a business accountable to its creditors. Especially where there have been shady dealings, many troubled small publishers prefer to just disappear.
It's a difficult and frustrating situation in which to be stuck, and my sympathy goes out to the Medallion authors.
UPDATE: A reader and former Triskelion author provides this comment, which identifies another disadvantage of bankruptcy limbo:The other point, the killer is that as soon as bankruptcy is declared, all assets are frozen. Since author contracts are counted as assets, that means the contracts do not tick down until they'e disposed of, i.e. sold. So if you are one year into a seven year contract, when the contract is sold, you still owe six years on that contract, even if it took a year to sell.The same reader also provided a correction: I'd written that Triskelion assets were acquired by LooseID (which did consider a bid), but in fact the buyer was Siren Publishing. I've revised my post to reflect this.
What we at Triskelion were thinking of trying was to show that author contracts were of little use unless they had the goodwill of the author - that if the author wasn't prepared to promote and acknowledge the work, then it could easily turn into a liability, since cover art, formatting etc had to be redone. But fortunately the contracts were sold to Siren, who gave all the books back to us.Fri, 19 Oct 2018 16:20:00 +0000
Authors Sue Owner of Green Ivy Publishing, Alleging Fraud
Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
I first started getting questions about Illinois-based Green Ivy Publishing in 2015. From its website (here's what it looked like then, courtesy of the Wayback Machine), it was clearly pay-to-play--not least in its use of the term "hybrid" to describe itself. Genuine hybrid publishers do exist, but far more often, "hybrid" is a marker for a deceptive vanity publisher.
Among other warning signs, no fees were listed for any of the "author services" purportedly provided. Missing prices on a vanity publisher's website usually signal that it's expensive. Sure enough, I soon started hearing from authors who'd been quoted fees in the $3,000-4,000 range, in some cases with additional fees due for add-on services (such as extra editing) that they were only told they had to buy after they'd signed the contract.
I wasn't surprised when, in late 2015, I began receiving complaints. Terrible, substandard edits. No response to emails and phone calls; in some cases, complete radio silence once the fee was paid. Delayed publication dates. Failure to publish at all.
Over the next couple of years, similar complaints accumulated online. Then, in early 2017, Green Ivy went out of business. As with the late, unlamented America Star Books, it closed down without informing its authors, whom it had bound to life-of-copyright contracts, or removing its books from sale. Most Green Ivy titles are still available on Amazon in Kindle editions. (ASB authors can testify to the difficulty of getting Amazon to agree to take such listings down.)
I didn't really expect to hear anything else about Green Ivy. But the other day, a news item caught my eye: twenty Green Ivy authors have filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois against Robert W. Gray Sr., Green Ivy's owner, and a John Doe conspirator using the name of Jay Caliendo. (To see the docket information, click on this search page, choose Law Division, and enter case number 2018-L-011282.)
The complaint isn't available online, but according to a summary from Law360,The 20 clients, two of whom co-authored a book, all signed contracts with Green Ivy between October 2014 and January 2017 and agreed to pay anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000, with most people paying around $3,000, according to the complaint. Although some of the clients paid off the fee in monthly installments, most eventually paid the entire amount, the complaint said.Law360 also describes the complaint as alleging that the Green Ivy operation was an adaptation by Gray, a patent attorney, of an "invention-promotion scheme" in which he was involved, which led to disciplinary action from the US Patent and Trademark Office and ultimately got him excluded from practicing before the USPTO. Gray ran something called The Independent Inventor's Program, through which he provided legal services to the US Patent Commission Ltd., a company that purported to help inventors protect and patent their inventions--for a high fee, of course (you can get a sense of how such predatory schemes work from this BBB complaint as well as this lawsuit brought by an unhappy USPC client; the FTC also provides this warning). According to the final order in the USPTO's disciplinary action against Gray, he "engaged in numerous conflicts of interest with regard to accepting USPC-referred clients" (among them: allowing USPC to use his law firm's name as inducement to purchase USPC's services, thereby assuring a supply of clients for himself), as well as "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation".
In exchange, Green Ivy was supposed to edit, produce and market the books, according to the complaint. However, some clients found major flaws in the editing and graphics during production, and clients typically had a hard time reaching employees or getting answers to their questions, the complaint said.
Green Ivy also did not provide many clients with sales figures or royalty checks, according to the complaint.
Eventually, Green Ivy allegedly stopped responding to clients and shut down. The state of Illinois currently lists the company as “not in good standing.”
The Green Ivy authors' lawsuit was filed on October 12. Gray, who is now located in Florida, has yet to respond. He's also the focus of an earlier lawsuit brought by a Green Ivy client, which you can read here.Tue, 02 Oct 2018 17:13:00 +0000
The Continued Decline of Author Solutions
Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Last week, Bowker released its periodic report on ISBN output in the self-publishing field, updated with 2016 and 2017 figures.
There are many interesting bits of information in the report--including CreateSpace's hulking dominance of the field, with more than 10 times the output of its closest competitor, Smashwords (although it should be said that the usefulness of this comparison--and of the figures themselves--in assessing the growth of self-publishing is undercut by the omission of popular self-pub platforms like IngramSpark and Draft2Digital, and also by the fact that many authors who employ these services don't use ISBNs at all).
What I want to focus on, though, is Author Solutions--where ISBN output is a useful measure of overall activity, since all AS publishing packages include ISBN assignment.
In previous posts, I've followed AS's steady decline, from an all time high of 52,548 ISBNs in 2011 (one year before Pearson bought it and folded it into Penguin), to less than half that in 2015 (the same year that Penguin unloaded it to a private equity firm called Najafi Companies*).
In the latest version of Bowker's report, that slide continues. 2016 did see a small post-Najafi uptick, from 24,587 to 30,288; but in 2017 the freefall resumed, with ISBNs dropping to 25,971--just slightly above 2015's output. A few of the individual imprints do show negligible increases, but for the most part they all go down (by four figures in the case of AuthorHouse).
Looking separately at print and ebooks, it's clear that the decline is primarily driven by print. Between 2012 and 2017, print ISBNs dropped by nearly half. There's no 2016 bump--in fact the numbers continue to fall--and output plunges more than 18% in 2017.Turning to ebooks, we can see that the 2016 bump in overall ISBNs was entirely due to ebooks, which decreased drastically in 2015 but more than doubled the following year. In 2017, though, the trend reasserts itself. Although some imprints do show gains, the net result is a drop of 6%--less than print, but down is down.
AS's long, slow fade says a lot about how self-publishing has changed over the past decade, and it's both good and bad news. The costly and often deceptive "assisted self-publishing" services that proliferated in the early days of digital publishing are gradually being supplanted by better options, and authors who are savvier about self-publishing know to avoid them. At the same time, though, the self-publishing field is increasingly monopolized by Amazon. And at least for now, the bad old services like AS are still managing to snag enough customers to hang on.**----------------------
* Worth noting: AS's timeline of significant events in its history, which makes much of its acquisition by Pearson/Penguin, somehow doesn't mention anything about its sale to Najafi Companies.
Najafi appears to have made some pretty drastic changes after it took over. According to one former employee, posting on Glassdoor,
Other Glassdoor reviews confirm this information. I guess authors aren't the only ones getting screwed.
** As are the scams--in particular the growing number of Author Solutions copycat companies run out of the Philippines, in many cases by ex-Author Solutions call center staff.Fri, 28 Sep 2018 16:44:00 +0000
Contest Caution: Waldorf Publishing's Manuscript Contest
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Another contest! I seem to be writing about these a lot lately.
This contest is from Waldorf Publishing, which is "is always seeking new talent to add to our extensive roster." I'm going to count the red flags that are evident just from the contest and Waldorf's website--plus the secret one that you'd never know was there because Waldorf actively conceals it.
Red flag number one: the contest rules. These don't look so bad, until you get to this:
Entrants retain copyright, but so does Waldorf? Say what? They can't both be true. If Waldorf is this confused about its rules--or, perhaps, about the difference between rights and copyright--it is not a good sign. (I suspect the latter: I've seen Waldorf contracts, and they don't claim copyright.)
Red flag number two: Here's what you can win. Reads like a self-publishing package rather than traditional publishing, doesn't it? Complete with junk marketing.
Red flag number three: the entrance fee is $49. This isn't as high as some profiteering contests, which can charge $100 or even more; but it's still high enough to suggest that Waldorf has an eye to making a bit of cash from this contest.
Waldorf's "focus is not only on producing unique, quality reading for a wide audience, but also to help our authors gain the recognition they deserve." Waldorf touts the many media opportunities it supposedly has assisted its authors to obtain--CNN, the BBC, NPR, The Guardian, and many more; however, there's nothing on Waldorf's website to confirm any of those claims. No links to articles. No author testimonials. Not even a Press page.
Unverifiable claims: that's red flag number four.
Red flag number five: the covers. A few are OK. Others are so obviously amateurish they must be author-created (or if not, Waldorf employs really bad illustrators). Many are actually inferior to the "custom" covers designed by assisted self-publishing services. Clearly there isn't a lot of quality control going on here.
Red flag number six: Waldorf has released 75 books so far in 2018. That's up from 49 in 2017, 23 in 2016, and just 14 in 2015. Not only is that a major ramp-up year to year, it's also a really big release schedule for 2018. Unless Waldorf maintains a large staff of editors, illustrators, and publicists, there's no way these books are going to receive careful production or publisher support....
...Which brings us to red flag number seven: who the heck is running the company? The only staff member discussed on Waldorf's About page is the owner, Barbara Terry, who appears to have had no professional book publishing or writing experience before establishing Waldorf in 2014 (her one book, How Athletes Roll, was issued by the now-defunct Comfort Publishing, which charged fees for services). She claims to be assisted by "a small team of talented individuals"--but who are these people? What are their qualifications? Do they exist? It's a mystery. A reputable publisher should provide this information.
I've gone into detail on all these red flags to demonstrate that, even without being aware of the most pertinent information about this company--information it keeps secret from the public--there is a lot to question about Waldorf Publishing and its contest. You really don't need this secret information at all to recognize that both are best avoided.
So what's the secret information? You've probably already guessed. Red flag number eight: Waldorf is pay-to-play, though authors won't discover this until they receive a contract offer (unless they contact me, of course). This is from the "Royalty Presentation" it sends to authors:
Red flag number nine: by concealing the fact that it charges fees--which are not mentioned anywhere on its website or in its contest guidelines--Waldorf is deceptive.
All things considered, winning a free publishing package in a contest from a stealth vanity publisher is not much of a prize.
UPDATE 4/17/19: I'm hearing reports from Waldorf authors they they aren't getting paid royalties due, and also aren't receiving marketing services they paid for (such as Kirkus Indie reviews). Apparently Ms. Terry is claiming that she's having problems with her distributor.Fri, 31 Aug 2018 16:19:00 +0000
Small Press Storm Warnings: Fiery Seas Publishing
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
In March of 2014, a small press called Entranced Publishing closed its doors less than a year after issuing its first books, amid a haze of lies, unpaid authors and staff, and bizarre claims about a change in ownership.
Only two months later, in May 2014, Fiery Seas Publishing (FSP) posted its first acquisitions on Publishers Marketplace.
What's the connection? FSP founder Misty Williams's previous job was as a publicist for Entranced. Like others, Williams was a victim of a possibly dishonest publisher (in this comment, she indicates that she was never paid)--but the best one can say about working for Entranced is that it wouldn't have provided any insight into how a real publisher operates. And while Williams claims "over ten years experience from writing to marketing and publicity to editorial," there's scant evidence for that, at least online.
Inexperienced publishers are one of the pitfalls of the small press world. They are far more likely to have nonstandard business practices, issue poor contracts, get into financial and/or logistical trouble, and go out of business after just a few years--sometimes without canceling contracts and reverting rights, or paying money owed to authors and staff. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll be very familiar with such stories. If you're an author, you may well have personal experience.So I wasn't terribly surprised when, in mid-2017, I began getting complaints about late royalty payments and poor communication at Fiery Seas. Just a trickle...but enough, and similar enough in the details, to spur concern.
Then, on August 28 of this year, FSP authors received an alarming email from Williams. Due to "different events," and "sales numbers not being where they need to be," the company was re-structuring: eliminating paperbacks, switching distributors (from Ingram to Baker & Taylor), and re-vamping the royalty statements. If authors wanted to leave, they were free to do so. The email also acknowledged--indirectly--the communications issues I'd been hearing about.Good morning,FSP authors, who'd been concerned for several months about problems at the company, began contacting me. Complaints included missed pub dates; delayed (by months) royalty payments and statements; absent royalty payments and statements (one author told me they had never been paid); royalty statements missing sales the authors could prove had been made; failure to register copyrights, even though FSP's contract (unusually for a small press) requires the publisher to do so (I confirmed this myself via the US Copyright Office's registration database); and difficulty getting firm answers to their questions. When challenged on the payment delays and lack of sales numbers, for instance, Williams blamed Ingram; at other times she claimed to be ill, overwhelmed with email, or "working on it."
I wanted to take a moment and send an update on many things happening here at Fiery Seas and hopefully put some of you at ease.
Due to the many different events that have taken place and sales numbers not being where they need to be, Fiery Seas will be restructuring our business.
We have had major issues with our distributor and they are issues that are out of my hands. While I have had to explain this many times in the past little while. I want to make sure that everyone is aware. I have been going around and around with them for not replacing damaged books, messing up orders, not getting orders out on time, and more. We have had some issues with retailers not uploading and making our paperbacks available when all of that information is available to them. We could have all of them up on all other sites, but one and they have the same information sent from Ingram. These are things I can’t make them do. I call and I complain until I’m blue in the face, but I still have to wait to see what will happen. So, for this reason we will make some changes to the way we do things.
First, we will no longer do paperbacks until a threshold is met, at that time we will look at print runs. This WILL NOT affect the books that are coming out this year or those that are already out. However, we will be changing our distribution channels starting now and slowly move all of our titles to the new channels.
We will be working on more promotions to get our books in front of readers. We have new outlets we are working on for this to spread our reach. We will work on doing more genre-related promos, as well. We are working on these things already, but will hit them full force come 2019
Our royalty statements structure will change to make it more updated and correct the current issues we have run into this year. Yes, we have seen the problems and only want to fix them and KEEP them from happening. This will be completed by the end of this year and everything will be ready for the New Year.
We understand that many will be unhappy with our decisions and may decide to leave the company. We completely understand this and will do what we can to help the process or help with whatever you may decide to do. We will ask for 90 days to finalize everything and all proper accounting to be done, if you decide to leave us.
We are starting this process now and plan to have it completed by the end of the year. This means things will be delayed, but we are working very hard on everything so it doesn't happen again.
This doesn’t fix what has already been done, but it will make things better. I started this company because I love working with authors and love the publishing industry. This is not an easy business and it takes dictation [sic]. Like many of you, I too work outside of Fiery Seas, but I pull more hours on than you know, even if you don’t always see my actions. I know I have a ton of emails to go through and that I will have more after this email. I think some of them get lost at times because I have so many. It is not because I’m ignoring anyone or that I don’t want to answer you. It is because I’m trying to get through them all. Working on issues along the way. So, just know that I will respond to you ASAP and I am listening to everything you say.
There will be more updates over the course of this restructuring to keep you all informed. Questions will be addressed as quickly as possible.
All the best,
Fiery Seas Publishing
One author who pushed to be paid had their book pulled from distribution (the author showed me proof that they are owed several thousand dollars). Another contacted RWA to report the payment issues at FSP; an email to Willliams from RWA Executive Director Alison Kelley did produce a royalty check--but only for part of the amount due. I also heard from an FSP editor who told me that they had received payment for only six of the over 20 projects on which they worked.
I emailed Williams with a list of author-reported problems and a request for comment. She acknowledged that "we have had some issues", and stated that FSP's "main focus right now is to make sure that everything gets done and to the authors like is [sic] should be...we will make sure that all authors get what they are due." She did not address any of the specific problems I mentioned.
FSP authors say they are still waiting for payment, and struggle to get a response from Williams. In another sign of turmoil at the company, FSP will soon be losing its marketing director: her contract ended in September and apparently will not be renewed. I'm told that the only remaining FSP staff are Williams and two part-time editors.
FSP is currently closed to submissions, which seems sensible given the circumstances.
POSTSCRIPT: Looking at FSP's Publishers Marketplace listing, I was surprised to see that it has worked with agents (FSP, which primarily accepts submissions directly from authors and doesn't pay advances, is not the kind of publisher you hire an agent to approach).
Two of these agents, both of whom placed multiple books with FSP, are on Writer Beware's radar due to serious, documented author complaints: Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media, who recently resigned from the AAR after the Ethics Committee recommended his expulsion; and Linda Langton of Langtons International, who is known for referring potential clients to her own expensive editing service, and in three cases has either settled claims or received a judgment in favor of unhappy former clients (Langton has solid sales but also questionable placements, including to vanity publishers Austin Macauley and Anaphora Press).
UPDATE 12/7/18: Authors tell me that they received an email from Misty Williams on December 5 announcing Fiery Seas' immediate closure. There's been no official announcement yet, and as of this writing, though, the website is still live.
UPDATE 4/10/19: I've heard from one Fiery Seas author who says that they received a final sales report and payment of all royalties owed. So it looks like Williams is making at least some authors whole.Tue, 21 Aug 2018 17:14:00 +0000
De Montfort Literature: Career Jumpstart or Literary Sweatshop?This post has been updated
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
I was planning on writing about De Montfort Literature myself, but Alliance of Independent Authors watchdog John Doppler beat me to it, with this excellent warning post.
Started by hedge fund manager Jonathan de Montfort (I have some questions here; see the update below), DML promises to help writers kick-start their careers by paying them an annual salary ofFri, 10 Aug 2018 18:53:00 +0000
Contest Caution: The Short Story Project's My Best Story Competition
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer BewareThis post has been updated.
There's another big-money writing competition in town: The Short Story Project's My Best Story contest.
The Short Story Project (TSSP) offers customized lists of curated short stories for download, in text and audio form. Right now, the stories on the site are a mix of in-copyright and public domain works; TSSP also appears to be planning to allow writers to submit stories directly, with perks such as a "professional review" tied to the number of reads. Stories can be accessed for free; there are also subscription plans that ensure an ad-free reading experience.
So what about the competition? 20 writers can win prizes ranging from $125 (for 10th place) to $5,000 (for the grand prize winner). Included is SmartEdit software and publication on TSSP for the top five writers. Competition judges are not only named, but have genuine credentials (this is one of the more important ways of distinguishing a fake contest from a real one). Word limit is 2,500, entry fee is a not-unreasonable $17, and the deadline for submissions is September 30.
So far, so good. As always, though, the devil is in the fine print--in particular, the fine print regarding intellectual property rights. Though TSSP makes it all sound very simple--
Terms and Conditions tell a different story [UPDATE: the T&C have been amended. See below].
Merely by entering the competition, writers are granting sweeping publication and commercialization rights not just to TSSP, but to anyone associated with it who obtains a copy of the writer's story "in connection with Sponsor's business."
It's not uncommon for competitions to require writers to grant various rights upon submitting, as a kind of shortcut to ensure that the sponsor will have those rights already in hand when winners are chosen. But such a grant should be temporary, and should always be balanced by language ensuring that rights are released back to entrants if they don't win.
TSSP's T&C do not include any such language. Not only that, they extend the grant of rights to unidentified third parties working "on Sponsor's behalf." In other words, whether or not you win, TSSP and unknown people associated with it retain publishing rights to your entry in perpetuity, and can do pretty much anything they want with it without payment or even notice to you. Yes, the grant is non-exclusive, which means that you can publish elsewhere--but since entering this competition is in effect a grant of first rights to TSSP, you will only ever be able to sell your story as a reprint.
In addition, entrants must agree to a sweeping indemnification clause whose language suggests they will have no recourse for improper use of their stories (such as intellectual property theft):
Resolving claims might be difficult in any case--at least for US- and UK-based writers--given that the contest is governed by the laws of Israel, and any disputes must be resolved there. (As is increasingly common these days in T&Cs, the guidelines also bar class action lawsuits.)
Less than two weeks ago, I wrote about a different competition whose T&Cs also failed to release entrants from a grant of rights required on entry. This is a fairly common issue with competitions that include a grant of rights in their guidelines, and I think in many cases it's just carelessness (or, sometimes, ignorance) on the part of the sponsor--a failure to consider consequences, rather than because the competition is greedy or shady. But--assuming the competition actually isn't greedy or shady--there really is no excuse for it, given how easy it is to fix, simply by adding language terminating the grants of non-winners immediately upon announcement of competition results.
Yet another demonstration of why writers must pay careful attention to the fine print of competition guidelines, and make sure they understand what they may be giving up by entering.
UPDATE: TSSP is soliciting entries via Messenger, offering 50% discounts on the entry fee.
UPDATE 8/27/18: Last week, TSSP's founder, Iftach Alony, offered to answer some questions from Writer Beware. His responses are below.
Iftach says that he will amend the License to Entry clause of TSSP's contest guidelines to clarify that the grant of rights is digital only, and will add language releasing the rights of non-winners 6 months after the competition ends. He has assured me that both these changes will be retroactive for writers who've already entered the competition.
The 6-month lag time in releasing rights, presumably, will enable TSSP to publish deserving stories other than those chosen as winners. However, TSSP's grant of rights is explicitly "free of charge"--so if you submit to this competition, be aware that you are consenting to possibly being published without payment.
In responding to my question about payment, Iftach points to the free perks TSSP's writers receive (such as audio recordings and translations), as well as the exposure they'll gain by appearing on TSSP, as "assets" that offset the lack of payment. However, those free perks are not available initially or to everyone. And I would remind authors that "writing for exposure" is only of value if you can confirm that there really is exposure.
I remain concerned about TSSP's indemnification language. And I'm not satisfied by Iftach's response to my question about why TSSP's License to Entry clause extends authors' grant of rights to unnamed third parties. He claims that this is "a common clause in...rights agreements." That's not my impression at all. (Hopefully someone knowledgeable will correct me if I'm wrong.)
I'll keep an eye on TSSP's competition guidelines and update this post when they're amended.------------------------------
WRITER BEWARE: In emails to me, and in a comment on my post, you've repeatedly stated that TSSP is asking writers to grant only digital rights. But the current language of your contest guidelines' License to Entry clause does not limit the grant of rights to digital only; in fact the word "digital" doesn't appear at all. Can you address this discrepancy?
IFTACH ALONY: TSSP, does not deal with any kind of printed literature, it's one of the project essentials, encouraging "digital literature". I guess that it was so obvious to us, that we didn't pay enough attention. We will correct it, making it clear that the rights to the wining stories are only for the non-exclusive digital rights.
WB: Can you explain why you retain the rights of all writers who enter your contest? Why do you choose not to release those rights back to non-winners?
IA: Our intention is to publish all stories which we find suitable for our UGC platform. This can only be done if we have the writers permission/rights. TSSP has no interest in keeping the rights to non-winners, and we will correct the wording to make it clear that non-winners rights are released. I must admit that we were mostly thinking of how to enable writers to publish and expose their works, enabling TSSP to publish the stories.
WB: Might you be willing to add a clause to your competition guidelines releasing the rights of non-winners once the winners have been chosen?
IA: As mentioned in the previous answer - rights of non-winners will be released. We will keep, for a limited period of 6 months, the writers permission to publish his work on the TSSP UGC platform.
WB: Your License to Entry clause extends the grant of rights to "any person obtaining a copy of the [contest] Entry on Sponsor’s behalf." Can you give me an idea of who those third parties might be, and why you feel it's necessary for them to have a claim on entrants' rights?
IA: I'm not a lawyer, and as I understand, this is a normal and acceptable clause which is part of any agreement TSSP made while purchasing the rights to publish a story, and as far as I understand, it is a common clause in most of the right agreements, especially while dealing with one story.
WB: In an email to me, you mentioned that fair payment for writers is one of TSSP's goals. I wholeheartedly agree! However, the License to Entry clause explicitly states that contest entrants are granting rights "free of charge" in perpetuity. How does this square with your goal of fair payment?
IA: I think that you are missing a main point here, the resources which are invested in publishing a story on TSSP platform - translating to the different languages, recording by a professional narrator, adjusting to the platform technical requirements, creating the image, etc. etc. all those investments are also the writers assets, as he can use them for free!! To be more precise: a) TSSP gives the writer free access and use of the translation and recording. This is worth much more than the story rights, for a very acclaimed writer or a contest winner. b) Publishing the story on the TSSP platform is exposing the work to hundreds of thousands of readers! This gives the writer a unique opportunity to get acquainted by audiences that it would have otherwise been almost impossible to, not to mention the costs it would occur . We strongly think that for a writer, this overall exposure, audio and translation are assets which can be easily measured.
You have partly quoted what I wrote to you – I mentioned that TSSP is in the midst of developing an algorithm that will enable the writer to be part of TSSP revenues.
Generally stating, I don't understand your point – as a writer, I think that having exposure in TSSP ONE story out of a collection, in whatever terms, can be deemed only as a benefit.
WB: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
IA: The Short Story Project's mission is firstly to encourage reading and breaking the language barrier. As I am passionate for short stories, I decided to be active in this, genre. One of TSSP missions is to encourage short literature, making it vibrant and essential. I believe that there is no art as literature, and specifically short story literature, to discover human conditions.
If any further clarifications are needed, do not hesitate approaching me.
The Short Story Project
UPDATE 9/3/18: As promised, TSSP has amended its Terms & Conditions. Here's the new License to Entry clause:
The grant of rights has been limited to contest winners, and also to publication, reproduction, etc. by "digital means only" (which, it has to be noted, would not rule out print, contrary to what's claimed the comment below from a TSSP staffer).
This is definitely an improvement. However, two of the issues I discuss above have not been addressed: the grant of rights is still extended to "any person obtaining a copy of the Entry on Sponsor's behalf", and the language of indemnification clause, which potentially deprives authors of recourse in the event of intellectual property theft, has not been changed. For me, that's still enough to make this contest a "caution."Thu, 02 Aug 2018 17:26:00 +0000
Contest Beware: Fiction War Magazine
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Fiction War Magazine, owned by Wolvesburrow Productions ("a front-to-back engineer of design, publishing, in print, and online content"), is a publisher of flash fiction (500-1,000 words). In addition to an open call, for which it charges a $5 submission fee via Submittable, it runs regular competitions--for instance, this one, for the third quarter of 2018. The fees for these quarterly contests are quite a bit higher: $25, plus a $3.45 "fee", for a total of $28.45.
Entry fees are not necessarily a sign of a questionable competition--though they do need to be proportional. Presumably, in Fiction War's case, they go to fund the sizeable prizes: $1,000 for the winner and $100 for 14 finalists, all of whom are promised publication in an issue of the magazine.
Prizes or no, $28.45 is still a big entry fee for a 500-1,000 word story--which, to my mind, raises the question of whether Fiction War may have folded some profit in there. I also find it somewhat unsavory that Fiction Wars has an affiliate program, which pays "recruiters" a 25% referral bonus for every registration they refer. (The tag line: "Quickly earn enough to pay your own entry fee!")
These concerns, along with competition guidelines that provide for prize payment "within 30 days of print publication" (it's always a red flag when publishers pay on or after publication, since they may use such provisions to delay or avoid payment--but prize winnings should never made contingent like this), and include language* requiring entrants to grant exclusive first and ongoing non-exclusive publishing rights simply by submitting (in other words, if you submit a story to Fiction War, you cannot ever publish it anywhere else unless Fiction War publishes it first), would be enough for me to advise serious caution to anyone thinking of entering one of Fiction War's competitions.
However, it appears that there are even more pressing reasons to avoid Fiction War.
Over the past two weeks, I've gotten multiple complaints from authors who won the grand prize or were chosen as finalists in one or another of Fiction War's competitions: aggressive editing (to writers concerned about major, and in some cases apparently random, changes to their work, Fiction Wars responded that they could always re-publish the original version elsewhere once the magazine had been released), major editing and proof delays (over a year in some cases), and prize payments delayed by months or absent entirely (see the payment provisions, above).
Although Fiction War is supposed to be quarterly, only two magazines have actually been published, both in 2017. Despite this, and even as timeliness and payment problems continued to develop and compound over the course of 2017 and 2018, Fiction Wars continued to conduct and advertise competitions (and, of course, to collect entry fees).
Writers who contacted me told me that they believe Fiction War is a well-intentioned enterprise that has gotten in over its head. But good intentions and $2.75 will get you on the subway, and if I had a dollar for every well-intentioned publisher I've heard about whose good intentions didn't prevent it from screwing its authors over, I'd have a nice nest egg by now. To me, Fiction War's recent response, to a writer who contacted it to ask about payment, speaks volumes: "Please know that we take defamation very seriously."
As of this writing, Duotrope has de-listed Fiction War.
* Here's the actual language of the grant of rights clause.
Competitions often require writers to grant various rights upon submitting, as a kind of shortcut ensuring that the competition will have those rights already in hand when winners are chosen. But such a requirement should be temporary, and should always be balanced by language ensuring that rights are released back to entrants if they don't win. There's no such language in Fiction War's guidelines.
UPDATE 8/11/18: Fiction War responds.
It's pretty clear that Fiction War either doesn't understand, or is seriously misinterpreting, its own grant of rights language.
By requiring writers to grant first publishing rights simply by submitting to the contests, and failing to release them from that grant if they aren't chosen for publication, Fiction War is making it impossible for any writer who submits to its contests to publish anywhere else. To put it another way, Fiction War is not only claiming first publication rights for all submissions, it is retaining those rights even for writers who don't win its contests or are not chosen for publication.
It is not uncommon for a competition to claim exclusive first publishing rights if it intends to publish winners, finalists, etc. (even though writers thinking of entering such a competition should consider how long they are willing to have their work off the market). But its guidelines MUST include language releasing that claim THE INSTANT writers are eliminated from the competition. Fiction War currently does not do this.
Also, prize winnings should not be treated like story payments. Publishers can and do pay on or after publication (though this can be a red flag, as indicated above)--but prize winnings should be disbursed immediately upon announcement of the winners, and not made contingent upon a further action, such as publication.
I'm also scratching my head over this, received this morning. I appreciate the polite tone, but...really?ANOTHER UPDATE 8/11/18: Fiction War continues to respond. Note the reference to "bullies."Thank you for your feedback and thoughtful analysis — we’d like to give your followers $10 off Fiction War Fall registration with this Promotional Code: WRITERBEWARE https://t.co/LsvWui76do— Fiction War (@fictionwar) August 11, 2018
UPDATE 8/13/18: Fiction War has added the following to the guidelines on its competition pages, just below the grant of rights language quoted above (though it has not changed its general submission guidelines): "For works not selected for publishing, all rights are solely held by the author."
In private correspondence with me, Fiction War has indicated that this is intended to address the concerns about rights that I've outlined in this post. Unfortunately the language it has chosen is quite vague, and does not make explicitly clear a) that the grant of rights does terminate (unless they surrender copyright, authors always hold all their rights; that's what makes it possible for them to license those rights to others), or b) if it terminates, when (do writers find out they haven't been chosen for publication when competition winners are announced? Some other time?)
Here's the language I suggested to Fiction War: "For writers who are not chosen for publication, this grant of rights terminates immediately upon announcement of the winners."
All of this quibbling over wording may seem trivial, but any writer who's been involved in a dispute over contract terms knows how non-trivial the consequences of vague, imprecise, or incomplete contract language can be. Here's just one example.
UPDATE 10/20/18: Fiction War has published a third issue, which it is calling Spring 2017. It is also continuing to advertise competitions. However, the problems with payment and communication appear to be ongoing.#Fictionwar update: They have published Spring 2017 & paid some of the authors, but the 1st place writer was not included & hasn't received payment. She's contacted them multiple times about this & is ignored. She didn't withdraw, but had previously reported them to #writerbeware— Meagan Noel Hart (@MNHart) October 2, 2018Turns out @fictionwar is not publishing and not paying *some* of their winners, and are making this decision without any correspondence to the winning authors. When said authors try to contact FW to see what happened, they are ignored. #writerbeware big time. Not #amwriting there— Meagan Noel Hart (@MNHart) October 20, 2018Thu, 26 Jul 2018 15:11:00 +0000
Author Rachel Ann Nunes Wins Her Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against an Amazon Scammer
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
In 2014, author Rachel Ann Nunes learned that her 1998 novel, A Bid For Love, had been plagiarized in its entirety by someone calling themselves Sam Taylor Mullens. Re-titled The Auction Bid, the book was being sold on Amazon, and the "author" was not only promoting it, but sending copies to reviewers.
Unfortunately for the plagiarist, some of the reviewers had read Nunes's book. Although the plagiarist had switched the narrative from third to first person, the similarities were unmistakable.
see Nunes's blog post.)
The plagiarist was eventually identified (thanks to sleuthing by Nunes's supporters) as Tiffanie Rushton, a third grade teacher from Utah. It turned out that Nunes wasn't the first author Rushton had stolen from. Nor was intellectual property the only thing she'd filched: parents in her school district alleged that she had also used the real names of some of the children in her class as aliases to post reviews of her own and other explicit books.
In August 2014, Nunes filed a copyright infringement complaint against Rushton in Federal court. Nearly four years later, in March 2018, Nunes won the case, with a judgment requiring Rushton to stipulate that her infringement of Nunes's copyright was committed "willfully," and making Rushton liable for the maximum statutory penalty under copyright law of $150,000. Rushton was also ordered to provide and sign an apology letter, which she did (though not without a struggle).
major and ongoing problem, particularly on Amazon--will not have the financial and emotional resources to take the kind of action Nunes did.
That's what the scammers count on.Thu, 12 Jul 2018 16:28:00 +0000
How Predatory Companies Are Trying to Hijack Your Publisher Search
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
If you've completed a book and are looking for a publisher, you might think it makes sense to turn to Google. You aren't alone. "How to get published," "how to find a publisher," and "how to get a book published for the first time" are all popular internet search phrases.
This is not a great idea.
While such searches turn up excellent resources (such as Jane Friedman's Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published), a lot of what you'll see on the first couple of pages (which is as far as most people look), is useless or worse.
For instance, ads from vanity publishers, like Dorrance and Austin Macauley, and predatory author services companies, like Bookwhip and Readers Magnet.
A good rule of thumb: real publishers don't buy Google ads.
Another trap: listings for faux consumer guides like TopConsumerReviews.com, where overpriced author services companies like Xlibris and Outskirts Press pay for advertising, and misleading "Top 10" lists like this one or this one, which are really just a bunch of pay-per-click affiliate links. (There's a reason why so many of these sites list the same companies.) Be skeptical in general of any resource that claims to list the Top Anything--at best, this will be subjective and incomplete--or that presents itself as a consumer resource (unless you can verify that it is, in fact, a consumer resource).
Most insidious are the websites that purport to match you with appropriate publishers in exchange for information about yourself and your book. To name just a few: SearchForPublishers.com ("Designed specifically for budding authors"), NeedPublishingHelp.com ("We work to connect authors with the right people"), DiscoverPublishers.com ("Have publishers compete for your new book!"), and FindPublishingHelp.com and its UK cousin ("A free service that delivers the best publishing matches to writers and prospective authors").
The true purpose of these sites isn't to provide helpful guidance to writers, but to generate leads for author services companies and vanity publishers, which either pay for listings or buy the information gathered through the forms writers fill out. (FindPublishingHelp.com discloses this fact, kind of, but none of the others do.) That's why they want your phone number and mailing address, and why many of them ask how much you're willing to pay for publication. If you go through the process of filling out the forms, you'll either be promised direct contact from "interested publishers" (read: relentless phone solicitations from author services companies), or given a list of "personalized" recommendations--all of which are pay-to-play.
For instance, here's what you get from DiscoverPublishers.com:
And here are some familiar names, courtesy of FindPublishingHelp.com:
Many of these sites neglect to say who sponsors them, and have anonymized domain registrations. Some can be traced back to lead generation or affiliate marketing companies, such as JAG Offers, but figuring out their provenance can be very difficult.
Unless they're owned by the granddaddy of author services companies, Author Solutions.
Author Solutions is by far the largest sponsor of fake publisher matching sites, all designed to steer writers into the clutches of AS's many "imprints". Here are the ones I've found (so far):
AS does identify itself in tiny print at the bottom of the sites, or in the sites' privacy policies. But these mild disclosures can easily be missed by eager writers, who in any case may not be familiar with AS's reputation for high prices, aggressive solicitation, poor customer service, and junk marketing. (And seriously, who reads privacy policies?)
- ChooseYourPublisher.com ("Your book is your passion...find the publisher that best suits your personal publishing goals")
- FindYourPublisher.com and its UK clone ("You've poured your heart and soul into writing your book; and you’ve long dreamt of the day when you will finally see your words in print")
- Findingapublisher.com ("Based on a few pieces of information, we help you find the most suitable publisher for your manuscript")
- Bookpublishing-companies.com ("Now that you've finished writing your book, it's time to take your literary career to the next level")
- NewWriterPublisher.com ("We’re here to make sure you have access to book publishing options that make the publishing process smooth and straightforward")
- Poetry-Publishers.com ("Enjoy a 100% hassle-free poetry publishing experience you'll love")
- Childrens-Book-Publishing.com ("Children are waiting to hear YOUR story!")
- Childrensbook-publishing.com (yes, this is a different website)
- E-BooksPublishing.com ("Use the power of ebooks--get published today!)
The internet is an invaluable resource. But it's also a tsunami of misinformation and a shark pit of scammers and opportunists, and to avoid falling victim to schemes and scams, you need to pop already know something about what you're looking for. That's why, if you're completely new to the publishing world, I suggest that you start with an old-fashioned book, and hold off on internet searches until you have enough basic knowledge to filter what you find.
For more suggestions for getting safely started on the publication search, see my updated blog post, Learning the Ropes.Wed, 09 May 2018 19:51:00 +0000
Vanity Publisher Alert: Novum Publishing, United P.C. Publisher
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Novum Publishing is an Austria-based publisher that has expanded into several countries, including the UK and the USA. It also does business as United P.C. Publisher, and is incorporated in Florida as WSB Publishing Inc..
Novum describes itself as the "publisher for new authors," whose purpose is to provide newbies with "a fair chance" in a publishing market that's rigged against them. It touts its service, quality, innovation, and experience. It claims to be a European "market leader".
This is not the whole story, though the inexperienced authors who are Novum's target of choice might be hard-pressed to figure that out.
a single phrase acknowledging this fact. Its brochure is more forthcoming--but only in aid of encouraging writers to believe that because "[n]ew authors are ignored for the most part" by large publishers, and smaller publishers are "inundated with manuscripts," newbies' only chance "is in the form of publishers with cost sharing for the author."
First of all, this isn't true. Finding a publisher is hard, but that doesn't mean you're doomed to pay. Secondly, whether it's "cost-sharing" or "partner-publishing" or some other label meant to imply that your fees are only part of the cost, it's far more likely that what you're being asked to pay has been carefully crafted to cover not just the entire expense, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.
And Novum's fees are substantial, running from just over $2,000 (for a "pocket-size" book) to more than $8,000 (for a "premium" package with a hardcover book). Novum does promise a full refund once 750 books are sold (not, of course, including copies that authors buy themselves)--but as with most vanity publishers that promise refunds, this number has likely been chosen because it's comfortably above the lifetime sales of the average Novum book.
Novum's contract, which is printed in a tiny font that's a strain to read, is terrible. It demands an exclusive grant of rights (even the much-maligned assisted self-publishing services offered by the Author Solutions imprints have non-exclusive contracts), and claims a huge swath of ancillary rights (I could find zero evidence that Novum is capable of either exploiting or licensing such rights). There's also a "cancellation fee" for early termination (always a warning sign, because publishers can and do abuse such provisions).
The summary page included with Novum's contract indicates that royalties are paid on retail price--but if you read the (very) fine print, it's clear that they're actually paid on net income. Novum also doesn't have to pay royalties at all until 500 books have sold (as with the refund benchmark, there's probably a good reason why they picked this number).
Also, royalties are issued just once a year--and though the language isn't clear, it looks to me as if authors have to invoice Novum in order to get them.
How many authors will read this miniscule print carefully enough to understand all of this? Certainly some of the unhappy Novum authors I've heard from didn't.
United P.C. Publisher (it's not clear to me whether this is a subsidiary or a d.b.a.) claims to provide its services "free of charge." United P.C. appears to be Novum's fallback position: authors who've balked at Novum's fees report that they are told their book will be "recommended" to another publisher, after which they hear from United P.C. with a free publishing offer--"free" being a relative term given that the United PC contract has the same 500 sales exclusion on royalties, and involves the offer of many high-priced extras.
In 2013, the free publishing claim got United P.C. in trouble with the UK's Advertising Standards Agency (my bolding):The ASA noted that [United P.C.'s] ad used the terms "publish" and "publishes" and stated that that service would be free of charge. We noted that the complainant reported being asked to pay for corrections, designing the front and back covers and the additional cost of publishing an e-book. We asked United Publisher to comment on that and for details of the proportion of respondents who kept to the free of charge contract and the proportion that chose to pay for additional services, but that information was not forthcoming....Because United Publisher had not supplied information that showed other respondents had not incurred similar costs, we concluded that the claims that United Publisher published books free of charge were misleading.Online complaints that post-date the ASA's finding suggest that United P.C. hasn't changed its ways.
Novum's moneymaking efforts aren't limited to publishing books. It also publishes anthologies that charge by the page.
And at one point, it was attempting to sell franchises, at a cost of between €75,000-125,000.
Writer Beware, indeed.
UPDATE 10/11/18: I've heard from a number of authors who balked at paying Novum's fees and then were offered a "free" contract from United PC Publisher. I would guess that even if the basic contract is free, you'll be offered (and possibly pressured to use) add-on services for a fee; I would also imagine that the contract will include the same or similar problematic language that I've identified above.
Just as important--Novum and United PC are the same company, and vanity publishers--which make their profits from author fees and self-purchases, rather than from book sales to the public--are not set up to provide high-quality editing, design, marketing, or promotion (because that would cut into their up-front profit). At best, you'll get a service equivalent to self-publishing, only with a much more restrictive contract.Thu, 03 May 2018 15:37:00 +0000
Trademark Shenanigans: Weighing In On #Cockygate
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
If you're a writer, and you hang out on Twitter and Facebook, you've probably heard about #cockygate.
If you haven't....An author named Faleena Hopkins has registered two separate trademarks for the word "cocky", which is used in all the titles of her multi-book romance series. One of the trademarks is a design mark (the word "cocky" in a stylized font, as seen above); the other is a word mark (just the word "cocky"). Both refer to “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance” and “a series of books in the field of romance.”
That description is significant. Because over the past week, Hopkins has begun threatening other romance writers who use "cocky" in their titles--even where those titles are not part of a series, or the word is not used in a series title--with legal action unless they re-title and re-publish their books.
Hopkins says (according to private messages that have been shared with me) that she's "not after people's livelihoods". She also doesn't think what she's demanding is a big deal, because taking down and re-publishing a book is "very simple. So easy." Of course this is a ridiculous claim--especially where writers have multiple editions on multiple platforms, not to mention financial investments in swag, advertising, websites, and other branding efforts.
There's been plenty of coverage of this bizarre incident. Legal experts have weighed in as well. I spoke with trademark attorney Brad Frazer, who provided me with some clarifying information on a complex and confusing issue.Note that neither of [Hopkins' trademarks] is, for example, “a trademark on the word ‘COCKY’ as used in book titles.” The registrations cover a book series, and this is made evident if one looks at the 9-page specimen of use she submitted to the Trademark Office to support the registration: http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn87604968&docId=ORC20180416120311#docIndex=9&page=1. Note that “Cocky” appears in each of the titles in a manner that connotes that the book is printed as part of the “Cocky”-brand book series. Indeed, without the fact the word is used as part of a book series, it is unlikely Hop Hop Productions [Hopkins' company] could have obtained the registrations.Most legal commentary that I've read on l'affaire Cocky seems to agree that Hopkins' trademarks wouldn't stand up to a legal challenge. But authors who receive her threats--which admittedly are scary--may not realize this, or be able to afford legal counsel (at least some authors have already re-titled their books). Also, more concerningly, Hopkins is sending takedown requests to Amazon, which appears to be complying in at least some cases. Once Amazon takes down your book in response to a challenge, getting it reinstated is a nightmare.
This is because--and this is critical--in order for a trademark to exist and be registrable and enforceable, it must perform a “source identification function.” Here, Hop Hop was able to convince the Trademark Office that it has, since June of 2016, used the word “Cocky” to indicate the SOURCE of a series of romance books, and thus it was able to get it registered. There likely had to be a series of books for Hop Hop to convince the Trademark Office that the word “Cocky” performed this source identification function—one book with “Cocky” in the title would likely not have been enough to convince the Trademark Office, especially given that Hop Hop has ostensibly used the mark for less than two years. Just like when people see “Harlequin” on a book, they think of Harlequin Enterprises as the SOURCE of that book because “Harlequin” indicates more than just a book title. It indicates the SOURCE. See http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn72184920&docId=ORC20081030112630#docIndex=10&page=1.
Because source identification is necessary to create and register a trademark, in order for there to be trademark INFRINGEMENT, as Hop Hop has apparently alleged in certain cases, the allegedly infringing “thing” must also be performing a source identification function. Thus, not all uses of a word perform a source identification function, and if there is no such use, there likely can be no trademark infringement.
For example, imagine I titled my book, “The Apple Tree and the Pheasant.” Would a consumer realistically believe that Apple Computer was the source of that book? No. Or, imagine I titled my book, “The Harlequin Pleased the King.” Based strictly on that use of the word “harlequin,” would a consumer think that Harlequin Enterprises was the source of my book? No, and thus no trademark infringement.
This is supported by what is called in trademark law the “classic fair use defense.” It is well-settled that you may use a third party’s trademark in the ordinary, English-language sense of the word, and as long as it was not performing a confusing, source-identification function, there is likely no trademark infringement. For example, if I wrote a story about King Neptune and his trident and I titled it, “King Neptune’s Powerful Trident,” if I got sued by the owner of the “Trident” trademark (see http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn71653425&docId=ORC20110315095116#docIndex=18&page=1), I would have a very good classic fair use defense in that lawsuit since I am using the word “trident” in its normal, English-language construction (see https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trident) and NOT TO INDICATE THE SOURCE OF THE BOOK.
Thus, if you have one book and it is titled, for example, “The Gardener was a Cocky Lad,” I invite you to ask: is your use of the word “cocky” performing a source identification function such that people would be confused into thinking that Hop Hop was the source of your book? Is it being used only in a classic fair use sense to describe the gardener in your story as cocky, as defined by Webster? (See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cocky)
Now, trademark law is very fact specific, and each case must be decided on its relative merits. There may be some cases in which use of the word “Cocky” in a book title does create a likelihood that a consumer would be confused into believing that Hop Hop was the source of that book. But that is the test. Without that likelihood of consumer confusion, proving trademark infringement is very difficult. But please consider these factors if you receive an allegation of trademark infringement as to your book titles.
Romance Writers of America is gathering information to consult an IP lawyer, and is asking that RWA members who've gotten a threat letter from Hopkins contact Carol Ritter (email@example.com). Also, a petition has been filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office to cancel Hopkins' word mark (the design mark, with "cocky" in a stylized font, is apparently a copyright violation by Hopkins).And two lawyers at a prestitious IP law firm have offered to work pro bono on a legal challenge.Below is a link to my challenge to the "cocky" trademark. #CockyGate— Kevin Kneupper (@kneupperwriter) May 7, 2018
The highly respected Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the USPTO now has the issue before it and will decide whether the trademark of "cocky" should be invalidated!https://t.co/iNKCzPEtNR
Meanwhile, the #cockygate hashtag has been joined by #byefaleena. And Hopkins is taking refuge in that old, old claim of Writers Acting Badly: I'm being bullied!
Let there be ridicule.
UPDATE: RWA has successfully interceded with Amazon, which has agreed not to take down any more books and to reinstate any that were removed.UPDATE 5/30/18: Hopkins is doubling down: she has filed for preliminary injunctions and temporary restraining orders against Jennifer Watson, Tara Crescent, and Kevin Kneupper, claiming that Watson and Crescent are infringing her trademarks (Crescent is an author who uses "cocky" in some of her titles, and Watson is a member of the Cocky Collective, a satirical group that is producing an anthology called Cocktales: The Cockiest Anthology) and that Kneupper's petition to the USPTO to cancel the "cocky" trademarks is without merit.Amazon has responded to our request to say that they will not be removing titles from sale until this matter is resolved and have reinstated those they previously removed. We are still in discussion with counsel as to next steps and will report more as we are able. https://t.co/MCheapueye— RWA (@romancewriters) May 9, 2018
The temporary restraining order has been denied. A hearing on June 1 will address the preliminary injunction.
Kneupper has posted the legal documents (in which, among other things, Hopkins claims that it's easy to cause consumer confusion in the romance field because "romance novel series consumers do not exercise a high degree of care", and compares the alleged infringers to "a pack of blood-thirsty wolves") on Twitter.
UPDATE 6/3/18: Thanks to the Authors Guild and RWA, Faleena Hopkins' motion for a preliminary injunction against Tara Crescent and Jennifer Watson has been denied. The judge in the case found that "Hopkins was not likely to succeed on the merits because the word 'cocky' is a common and weak trademark, there was no evidence of actual confusion, and romance readers are sophisticated consumers—meaning that they are not likely to confuse Hopkins’ and Crescent’s books."
Kevin Kneupper has been dismissed as a defendant in the case.
Courtney Milan has posted the transcript of the hearing--it makes for interesting reading.
This doesn't mean the case is over, unfortunately. Discovery must be completed by September 7, and a status conference has been scheduled for September 14. Lawyers for the defendants plan to move to dismiss prior to those dates.
UPDATE 8/1/18: Faleena Hopkins is backing down. From the official statement of Jennifer Watkins and the Cocky Collective:Jennifer Watson and the Cocky Collective are happy to announce a settlement has been reached in Hop Hop Productions, Inc. v. Kevin Kneupper, Tara Cresent and Jennifer Watson. The plaintiff has surrendered her trademark registrations for COCKY and has withdrawn the lawsuit.Authors can now use "cocky" in as many titles as they please, without fear of harassment from Hopkins. Good news indeed.Wed, 25 Apr 2018 16:37:00 +0000
Contract Red Flag Alert: Perpetual License for Derivative Rights
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
This is a red flag for a number of reasons, even if these rights are licensed non-exclusively. A derivative work is defined by copyright law as "a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted." This sort of rights grab is by no means normal; magazines generally only take very limited first publication and archival rights for a limited time. Licensing the right to create derivative works can and mostly likely will interfere with the author's right to exploit their right to create or license derivative works to others.
The risks of signing such contracts can be serious. To give examples of some of the negative impact of these rights grabs.
1) Dramatic rights are compromised, limiting the author's ability to sell works for TV and film use because the author can no longer offer exclusive rights to the story, which means movie or TV producers who want exclusive dramatic rights are not likely to be interested in the work. The best case scenario is that the author may end up having to give the publisher of the magazine a cut of any income.
2) Marketing rights are compromised, in that any marketing deal could be undercut by the publisher, who would also have the ability to market those rights.
3) The ability of the author to publish sequels is compromised. The Publisher could commission sequels to the work from another writer, in competition with the author. Even if the Publisher were required pay a fee to the author for a sequel written by another writer, the existence of such competitive sequels would likely seriously hurt the author's own sequels.
4) The author would have a de facto business partner for the rest of the author's life and beyond for the life of copyright. Whether or not a clueless publisher would even realize what they've acquired or have any idea how to exploit it, the specter would hover over the author's further use of any elements in the original story. In addition, if the publisher files for bankruptcy, any rights the publisher held would likely become part of its assets sold during the bankruptcy process. The author would then end up with a completely unknown business partner.
5) Even with a perfectly drafted contract, which seems unlikely with a publisher who would propose such a contract in the first place, it could easily take years of legal action to unscramble the competing rights.
To the beginning writer, it may seem far-fetched that these rights would ever be worth anything, but a perpetual rights grab can extend far into a writer's career. It literally doesn't end until the copyright on the work expires, and for the US, that is life plus 70 years. Writers should be wary of any perpetual licensing deal, much less one that doesn't limit itself to specific derivative rights. The only rights that a writer should even consider licensing to a publisher are those rights that the publisher has a better chance of exploiting than the author, and only then when the income split is in the author's favor.
Whether these rights grabs stem from ignorance of the business or from greed, we believe they are unconscionable and indefensible. We urge writers to ask that such clauses be removed from contracts before they sign them and to avoid signing contracts with this language.
SFWA Contracts Committee
Legal Disclaimer: This contract alert should not be understood to be legal advice. The issues presented by aggressive rights grabs are complex, and if you are concerned about use of your material, you should consult a competent attorney familiar with the business of publishing as well as the law of the applicable jurisdiction for legal advice.Fri, 13 Apr 2018 17:21:00 +0000
Author Complaints Mount at Curiosity Quills Press
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer BewareThis post has been updated.
I first started hearing about Curiosity Quills Press in 2016, because of its unusual early termination fees. Not that early termination fees themselves are unusual (unfortunately): I see them fairly often in contracts I'm asked to evaluate (and they are always a red flag; here's why).
What makes CQ's fees unusual is that they're part of an annual event. This is outlined on CQ's website, and also in its contract:
On the surface this may seem like a publisher being flexible and author-friendly--a get-out-of-jail-if-not-exactly-free procedure that authors can follow in a guaranteed and orderly manner. In fact, such provisions often work to the detriment of both authors and publishers--publishers because escape clauses may incentivize early departure, including by authors they'd rather keep; and authors because the costs can be enormous (not to mention unverifiable, if the publisher charges a flat fee or provides no supporting invoices). Plus, publishers can and do abuse termination fees--for instance, by terminating the contracts of writers who've pissed them off and demanding the fee even though termination wasn't the writer's decision.
I have never heard that CQ does anything like that. But, based on documentation I've seen--and also by CQ's own admission in correspondence with me--CQ's termination fees can top $700 per book, which, for authors requesting multiple terminations, may add up to several thousand dollars. Also, because CQ charges the entire production cost back to the author--even though, in most cases, some of that cost has been recovered through book sales--the fees yield not just reimbursement for unrecouped expense, but some degree of profit...especially where the fees compensate cash CQ never actually had to lay out in the first place, such as design and editing work done by CQ's owners, Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus.
I've also gotten complaints about inconsistent editing (there are some public posts about this as well). In general, though, complaints about CQ were few through most of 2016, and many authors reported being happy with the publisher.
In late 2016, however, things started to change. A trickle of reports of additional problems began to appear online: errors introduced into proofs, missed deadlines (CQ's contract includes an elaborate set of deadlines for editing, proofing, cover art, etc.), poor communications, and a lack of marketing support (reportedly a change from CQ's early days when it had an active marketing department).
By 2018, the trickle had become a flood. Authors began reporting not just the troubling issues mentioned above, but a host of others: revisions that never made it into published books, books published with uncorrected errors, typos on the covers of printed books, cover art received just days before the pub date, unanswered emails, book shipping problems, and late royalty payments, with some authors reporting that they hadn't been paid in months. A number of these authors had been with CQ for years and were reluctant to criticize it, but felt compelled to speak out because of the decline they perceived in quality, timeliness, and responsiveness.
Via email, CQ's co-owner and CTO, Eugene Teplitsky, told me that he was aware of the problems, which he attributed to "an overambitious release schedule and small, dedicated, but overloaded team". He says that CQ is working to improve things by hiring a new staff member and scaling back its new releases (based on a search at Amazon, CQ has averaged 73 releases a year for the past few years--a lot for a small press).
Eugene acknowledged the late royalty payments, but denied that they were tardy by more than a few days. When I mentioned that I've seen documented complaints of royalties that were late by months, he responded that "I can only go by what I see in our ledger," and invited authors to reach out to him for resolution. (Several authors who contacted me indicated that they had done this, and were not satisfied with the results.) To make accounting easier, Eugene plans to shift CQ from a monthly (!) royalty payment schedule to a bi-annual one (though I've been told by authors that other CQ promises to re-vamp its contract have yet to come to fruition).
I also asked why, when calculating termination fees, CQ bills authors for their books' entire production cost without factoring in money made on sales. Eugene gave me a couple of responses--most of the authors exercising the escape clause have low sales so production costs "were not even close to being recouped", the chargeback is less than what authors would pay if they commissioned the work themselves (!)--but didn't really address my question.
The potential for a secret profit isn't the only concern here. If an escape clause can make money for a publisher, the publisher may be tempted to encourage its authors to use it. For instance:
The screenshot above is from one of CQ's updates about its mysterious WishKnish project (more on that below). Authors are being told that they will be expected to shoulder a major amount of marketing for this project--and if they aren't happy about that, are being invited to leave. Which, of course, they cannot do without handing over quite a lot of money. Either way, CQ benefits: enthusiastic author-marketers or cash payouts. For authors, the advantages are less clear.
WishKnish? It seems to have begun as an effort by CQ's owners to establish a non-Amazon marketplace for CQ sales, but has morphed into an e-commerce website where sellers of all kinds, including CQ authors, can establish storefronts and make "coin-agnostic" (i.e., cryptocurrency-friendly) sales and purchases (the "knish" is WishKnish's own currency token). There are also social media and crowdfunding components.
If you look through the jargon-heavy website, it's clear this is a major project for CQ's owners--and equally clear that it has nothing to do with publishing. Many of the CQ authors who contacted me fear that the problems they're experiencing are at least partly a result of WishKnish eating up CQ staff time (seven of eight CQ team members--including Eugene and his wife--are also listed as Wishknish team members). Eugene denies that this is the case. While his wife is working full-time on WishKnish, he says, "the vast majority of my time is dedicated to CQ," and CQ staff are not double-timing. They're only listed at WishKnish "because eventually we will be operating both sides of the coin jointly."
I don't know how comforting--or convincing--CQ authors will find this.
The complaints I've received and seen leave me in no doubt that there are serious problems at CQ. It's also clear that Eugene is aware of the complaints, and his responses to me indicate a willingness to address them--but he and authors aren't completely in agreement on the nature of the problems (for instance, on the late royalties issue), and I'm skeptical that WishKnish is as minimal a distraction as he claims. I'm also--as I have been since 2016--concerned about what I consider to be the exploitative nature of one of CQ's core business practices, the escape clause and early termination fees.
I hope CQ can turn things around. In the meantime, writers who are thinking of submitting to CQ need to carefully consider the issues outlined above.
UPDATE 9/26/28: Months after putting this post online, I'm continuing to receive complaints from CQ authors who say they haven't been paid their royalties and are experiencing ongoing communications problems. It's disappointing to see that these issues are continuing.
UPDATE 10/24/18: Complaints of nonpayment are continuing, and authors cite almost complete silence from Eugene Teplitsky and Alisa Gus. Extremely disappointing, especially in light of the assurances Eugene gave me about addressing the problems.
Meanwhile, WishKnish is still in beta, and Curiosity Quills, which was issuing anywhere from two to five books every month, has published nothing since last August, and has just one release scheduled for December. It remains open to submissions.
UPDATE 11/27/18: CQ appears to be selling audio rights without notifying authors. I've seen statements from several CQ authors who say they only found out that their books were being, or had been, made into audiobooks through outside sources. CQ authors would be well-advised to check to see if their books are available at Audible and Tantor.
UPDATE 12/17/18: "My publisher is a mess. 'Stealing my money' a mess." CQ author Richard Roberts speaks out.
UPDATE 1/4/19: Things are not looking good. I'm hearing from authors that Clare Dugmore, the Marketing Director, and Andrew Buckley, the Acquisitions Manager, have left the company because of lack of payment, and that Eugene Teplitsky has completely stopped responding to emails, messages, and posts in the CQ Facebook group. Editors and designers are telling authors that they haven't had new assignments--or been paid for assignments they did do--in months.
CQ's website is still live. But authors tell me that as of today, emails to CQ addresses have begun bouncing, and putting that together with the other reports, it really looks as if CQ is effectively closed, or on the verge of closing. As yet, though, there has been no announcement, nor have authors had any response to their increasingly desperate requests and questions about rights reversion.
If indeed CQ is done, Eugene Teplitsky needs to do the honorable, professional thing: terminate all current in-force contracts, and revert all rights. Hopefully that's what will happen. Hopefully CQ won't just go dark, leaving its authors in legal limbo, like so many other small presses have done.
UPDATE 1/5/19: Through a staff member, CQ's owners are denying that there are problems--no bouncing emails, no plans to shutter CQ--in fact they're planning a "transition" that will focus CQ on ebooks rather than print. Meanwhile, CQ authors and staff continue to report that they aren't being paid and are not getting responses to their questions.
And another CQ author goes public with her experience.The worst part about the ending of this story is what feels like unprofessional and disrespectful behavior of the company towards me and the other writers. They've been ghosting the entire group....I'm so sad that what started as a grand adventure has ended with me feeling like I have an especially lousy ex-boyfriend who didn't have the balls to end it properly and let us both move on.UPDATE 1/8/19: Publishers Lunch has picked up the CQ story (a subscription is required). They contacted Eugene Teplitsky by email:[C]o-owner Eugene Teplitsky has confirmed to PL that the publisher is behind on authors' royalty payments and temporarily shutting down print operations with the exception of middle grade novels, citing "month after month" of dwindling sales as the cause. All authors now have the option to terminate their contracts, "no strings attached" (including the waiving of their contractual "termination fees"), Teplitsky wrote in an email. Authors who wish to terminate should "simply email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will revert rights to all who ask for it, no questions asked," he wrote. He is also giving authors the ability to shop their own subrights, "greatly relaxing" existing terms.Teplitsky says he is focused on building "a leaner, more effective business model." He denies that CQ is shutting down.To cut costs, a content strategist, marketing assistant, social media marketer, and acquisitions manager have all been let go. The remaining core team includes Vicki Keire (marketing), Tanya Yakimenko (production), Hans Tjakra (production), and Vladimir Makarov (development).This all sounds very similar to what Teplitsky told me more than 8 months ago, when I first put this post online, and I don't imagine it will inspire much confidence in the many authors I've heard from who've been waiting weeks or months for payments or reversion letters promised to them. Or to the authors who found that their audio rights had been sold without notice--or payment--to them.
And why, despite what's clearly a crisis situation, and what sounds like a major reorganization of CQ's business model, is CQ still open for submissions?
UPDATE 3/4/19: Another CQ author speaks out: "Sheer and gross incompetence...and what the hell is WishKnish?"
Publishers Weekly Includes Two Vanity Publishers in its List of Fast-Growing Independent Presses
Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware
Once again, Publishers Weekly's annual overview of fast-growing independent publishers features not only innovative indies, but publishers whose business model is largely built on author fees: Morgan James Publishing and Austin Macauley. Seriously, PW? Why do you keep doing this?----------------------------------
Billing itself as "The Entrepreneurial Publisher", Morgan James Publishing requires its authors "to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2." (Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that writers are asked for a "deposit" of up to $5,000 on contract signing; we've also had reports that additional fees may be due for editing and PR.)
To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP falsely claims on its "compare" page that "Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release", and that even with self-publishing, "[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public." (It also--again falsely--suggests that "old school traditional publishers" take possession of authors' copyrights.)
Despite all of the above, MJP declares that "No Publishing Fee [is] charged, hidden or otherwise."
MJP has made PW's fast-growing indie publisher list several times in addition to this year, including 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2008 (when another pay-to-play publisher, Greenleaf Book Group, was also featured). Of all those articles, only the 2016 one mentions MJP's book huge purchase requirement.--------------------------------
I've written before about Austin Macauley--and I'm not the only one: others have called AM out on its business model as well.
AM bills itself as a "hybrid" publisher*, and does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts. However, it presents itself as an "innovative independent trade publisher" and states that "we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal." This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer. But Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for, while we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers. Obviously this represents just a fraction of those who've submitted to AM; still, the proportion of non-fee to fee-based offers certainly suggests that the bulk of AM's business is fee-based.
Fees in AM contracts Writer Beware has seen range from