Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

September 1, 2017

Small Press Storm Warnings: High Hill Press

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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

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

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

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

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

Writers, beware.

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

August 16, 2017

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

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

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

Very active trying to snag Tate authors was Legaia Books.


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

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

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

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

No. For the plagiarism and the intellectual property theft.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Writer beware.

August 9, 2017

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

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This post has been updated.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep watching this blog for updates.

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

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

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

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

July 25, 2017

Infringement by Galaktika Magazine: Authors Guild and SFWA Reach Settlement

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

On July 20, the Authors Guild and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced that they had together reached an agreement with Hungary-based Galaktika Magazine.

For at least a decade, Galaktika re-published stories by multiple authors without seeking permission or remitting payment. Galaktika claimed that, since the stories had been published online, they were in the public domain--which is contrary to copyright law.

From the joint press release:
Under the terms of the agreement, Metropolis Media, Galaktika’s publisher, promised to seek permission for any works they use in the future and to compensate the authors whose works were published without permission. Galaktika has agreed to pay each author whose work it infringed fair compensation, with the fee to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis....

The agreement comes as a result of efforts by the Guild, SFWA, literary agents, and authors to hold Galaktika’s publisher accountable for reproducing copyrighted works in print and online issues of the magazine in violation of the authors’ rights.
Complaints about non-payment by Galaktika date back to at least 2006, and infringement complaints go back to at least 2012.

The problems didn't get wide exposure, however, until March 2016, when journalist Pintér Bence conducted an investigation for Mandiner Magazine that found "blatant copyright infringement" of dozens of authors in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In the March 2016 edition, for instance, "of the five [English-language] authors published in the magazine, not a single one was informed of the publication; they had not consented, nor were they given royalty in exchange."

SFWA also became aware of the infringement in 2016, in part as a result of Bence's article, but also because of several complaints to the SFWA Grievance Committee and to Writer Beware. In September 2016, SFWA issued a statement on the situation, formally recommending "that authors, editors, translators, and other publishing professionals avoid working with Galaktika until the magazine has demonstrated that existing issues have been addressed and that there will be no recurrence."

SFWA and the Authors Guild joined forces in the fall of 2016, after literary agent Jonathan Lyons brought the problems to the Guild's attention.

The agreement, say the two organizations, "sets a benchmark for transparency and gives individual authors leverage in pursuing their claims." Metropolis Media won't be off the hook for infringement claims until all authors' claims have been settled to the organizations' mutual satisfaction. To assist with that, SFWA will make public a complete list of all authors who are owed money, and had not already come to an agreement with Galaktika as of June 1, 2017.

The complete list of infringed authors and estates is online at the SFWA website.

Authors (or agents representing authors) whose works have been infringed in Galaktika may contact Dr. Katalin Mund with their claims. She can be reached at mund.katalin@gmail.com. Authors Guild members can also contact the Authors Guild at staff@authorsguild.org for help negotiating their settlements.Affected authors can request the details of the unauthorized publication(s), including the names of stories and publication date by emailing settlement@sfwa.org. SFWA members who believe that Galaktika is not living up to this agreement should contact John E. Johnston III at griefcom@sfwa.org.

May 4, 2017

The Law Finally Catches Up With Tate Publishing & Enterprises

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware



Today, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed eight felony charges and one misdemeanor charge against Ryan and Richard Tate, respectively CEO and founder of vanity publisher Tate Publishing & Enterprises, for alleged fraudulent business practices.

According to local news station KFOR,
The charges include four felony counts of embezzlement, one felony count of attempted extortion by threat, two felony counts of extortion by threat, one felony count of racketeering and one misdemeanor count of embezzlement.

Since the businesses ceased operations in January, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit has received 718 complaints from authors or musicians who contracted with the companies.

Complaints from customers range from failure to deliver products and services that had been previously paid for; failure to pay royalty earnings, per contractual agreement; and refusal to return files unless the customer agreed to pay a $50 processing fee.

“The means by which Ryan and Richard Tate conducted business to defraud individuals from across the country is unconscionable and a blatant disregard for those who entrusted them to produce their work,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said. “I appreciate the dedication and hard work by the agents and the attorneys in the Consumer Protection Unit, who put this case together.”
Among other findings, investigators discovered that money received from authors was routed, via Tate's business accounts, directly to the personal accounts of Ryan and Richard Tate.

The Tates have been apprehended, with bond set at $100,000 each, and ordered to surrender their passports.

There's more coverage at the Journal Record.

This is good news. Tate is one of the most unscrupulous vanity publishers Writer Beware has ever tracked, and its callous disregard for authors, staff, and creditors was on full display long before it closed its doors last January, amid mountains of debt, hundreds of author complaints, and multiple seven-figure lawsuits. Just days before the Tates' apprehension, Tate Publishing had unexpectedly risen from the dead, claiming to be ready to "once again lead the publishing industry."

For a detailed account of Tate's deceptions, failures, sudden demise, and unexpected resurrection, see my previous blog post.

In a press conference on May 4, Attorney General Hunter promised that his office would seek reparations for Tate authors (though with the multi-million dollar judgments against Tate probably taking priority, I think it's unlikely that much, if anything, will turn out to be available). He also said that Tate Publishing's apparent re-boot, as well as the possibility that the Tates were working on starting up a new venture (possibly another publisher called Lux Creative, about which there have been rumors for some time) were factors in the timing of the arrests. Overall, it's clear that the AG is taking this very seriously.

Ryan Tate, buttonholed by reporters on his way to his arraignment, unsurprisingly declared his innocence.
“We’re looking for our day in court and fighting them and we’ll make sure the truth wins out,” he said.

When asked about the countless victims, he said, “That’s not true, we went out of business for about three months but we have about a thousand authors total so most of them are very, very happy."
Worth noting: in a January interview, Richard Tate was claiming 39,000 authors. I'm guessing that was a teeny bit inflated, but I'd also bet dollars to donuts that Ryan is lowballing. Even if he isn't...we know that 718 Tate authors have complained to the Attorney General since the beginning of this year. So if Tate does have only 1,000 authors, clearly most of them are nowhere close to happy.

The Tates are out on bail at present, and a preliminary hearing is set for September 6. They apparently now have an attorney (two previous attorneys quit for lack of payment).

What can Tate authors do now? You've already done a lot; your complaints to the Attorney General were instrumental in leading to Ryan's and Richard's arrests. The AG has heard from authors not just in the USA, but from all over the world.

But there's still more to be done. The AG is still looking for Tate victims. If you haven't yet filed a complaint, consider doing so now--more complainants will give the AG's office more to work with in building its case against the Tates, and you'll also get your name on the list for restitution, if there is any.

Here's the form to fill out to file your complaint with the AG's Consumer Protection Division. You can also visit the Attorney General's website at https://ok.gov/oag/.

And if you hear any news, please email me or post it here.

UPDATE 8/31/17: The preliminary hearing for Ryan and Richard Tate has been pushed back to November 27. Officials need additional time to investigate author and musician complaints, which right now stand at 1,674.

If you're a Tate author or musician and haven't yet filed a complaint with the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, you can still do so.

Lightning Source has reportedly stopped pursuing collection of the nearly $2 million Tate owes it, but Xerox is continuing its efforts to recover a similar amount.

February 16, 2017

Red Flag Alert: Loiacono Literary Agency, Swetky Literary Agency, Warner Literary Group

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


In the late 1990s, when Writer Beware first started up, the digital revolution was just peeking over the horizon. Traditional publishing was still the only path to publication, and literary agents were the principal gatekeepers.

As a result, there existed a huge and lucrative subculture of dodgy literary agents, who fed on writers' hunger for publication and turned the (false) promise of access into money. Upfront fees, editing referral schemes, vanity publishing scams: the list was endless.

No more. With the enormous growth of small presses and the expanding number of self-publishing options, agents are no longer the be-all and end-all of a writing career, and fewer writers decide to seek them. Writers are also more savvy these days about proper business practice. This has been bad news for the predatory agent subculture, which has shrunk to a sickly shadow of its former self. Fee-charging agents, once the most common of all literary pitfalls, are now relatively rare.

That's not to say they don't still exist.

LOIACONO LITERARY AGENCY

There's an impressively large list of book placements on the website of Loiacono Literary Agency (motto: "Where 'can't' is not in our vocabulary!"). In this case, though, size isn't everything, because apart from a handful of sales to larger publishing houses, most of the books have been placed with small presses that don't require authors to be agented. For most of the publishers Loiacono has worked with, the authors likely could have placed the books on their own and saved themselves a commission.

This isn't why you hire an agent. Another thing you don't hire an agent for: hooking you up with vanity publishers. A very large number of books on Loiacono's list have been placed with Argus Publishing. Argus, which has also done business as A Better Be Write, A Book 4 You, and A-Argus Book Better Book Publishers, has offered "investment" contracts requiring up to four-figure fees (Writer Beware has received a number of documented complaints). Its owner is a former tax preparer who in 2005 was permanently enjoined from tax preparing by the US Department of Justice, which found that he had filed fraudulent returns.

Despite all of the above, I probably would not have bothered to post a warning about Loiacono, had it not been for a recent change in its author-agent agreement. From the email Loiacono sent to authors at the end of December:
In the current contract, the only charges are for any expenses that may incur (postage, foreign exchange, etc.), $250.00 per year, which has not been used for any author so far, and a $500.00 cancellation fee should the author wish to terminate contract before it expires or the publisher cancels, which breaches the LLA contract.

In the new contract, for any new Work(s) there will be an administrative fee of five hundred dollars ($500.00), made payable to the Agency upon signing. This is a one-time fee, unless the Work(s) do not contract with a publisher and require renewing after one year. Renewals are two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00) per year. Upon publication of the Work(s), only the LLA 15% shall apply.
Charging administrative fees is old-school predatory agenting. But the "cancellation fee" is a new wrinkle. I've gotten a lot of complaints about publishers that force authors to pay to terminate their contracts early (this is a potentially abusive practice)--but this is the first time I've encountered an agency that penalizes its clients for such termination--and does so even where the termination is not the author's fault. Wow.

Upfront fees, contract termination penalties, multiple placements with a vanity publisher: the Loiacono Agency is a trifecta of "writer bewares".

(Literary agent Janet Reid has also weighed in on Loiacono Literary.)

SWETKY LITERARY AGENCY

The 25 or so book placements claimed by The Swetky Literary Agency (don't you love that dawn-of-the-web vibe) is much, much smaller than the list claimed by Loiacono.

In other ways, though, it's similar. There's a handful of placements with reputable independent and specialty presses; the rest are "sales" to vanity publishers (Koehler Books) and small presses that authors can work with on their own. Also, even if every one of Swetky's book placements were impeccably reputable, 25 sales over the nearly 15 years the agency has been in business is a pretty sad track record (this blog post from a publisher to whom Swetky offered a completely inappropriate book offers some possible insight as to why).

The agency's apparent lack of commercial success is certainly reason for caution. But it's not why I'm posting a warning.

I've heard from multiple writers to whom Faye Swetky offered representation or the possibility of representation, and then told them that their manuscripts needed editing. Fortunately, she knew a terrific editor who might be willing to work with them: David J. Herda, a much-published author of nonfiction.

It's no secret that Swetky is Herda's agent; that info is right there on the agency's website. What is a secret--at least from the writers who contacted me with their stories--is that Swetky and Herda are either married or romantic partners. Among other things, they share an address (the image below is public record; note that it matches the address on the Swetky Agency logo, above):


This connection was not acknowledged to any of the writers who contacted me. To make matters worse, Herda charges enormous fees (I've gotten reports of low five-figures) and some of the writers I've heard from have not been satisfied with his services.

This is a textbook editing referral scheme--common in the old days, but something you almost never see anymore.

WARNER LITERARY GROUP

Sarah Warner, principal of the Warner Literary Group, has an impressive background as an acquisitions editor. It would seem to be the perfect set of qualifications for a successful literary agent.

And yet, Warner's track record is tiny. Since the agency's founding in 2011, she appears to have made just 12 deals. Seven of these are with solid publishers--but the rest are books by agency clients that have been placed with the agency's own publishing division, Hedgehog & Fox. In fact, with the exception of one book authored by Ms. Warner herself, the whole of Hedgehog & Fox's miniscule list appears to be made up of agency clients.

Something else agency clients have in common: lawsuits. Warner Literary Group has been sued by three of its authors--a huge percentage for such a small agency.

In 2012, Derek B. Miller sued for, essentially, what he described as substandard representation (his very detailed complaint can be seen here); he later won a motion for declaratory judgment terminating Warner as his agent (she had refused to allow him to cancel the agreement). Firoozeh Dumas sued in 2016 for similar allegations (her complaint can be seen here); ultimately the arbitration clause in Warner's agency agreement prevailed, and the parties were directed to arbitration. A third lawsuit filed last October is from client Karla M. Jay, whose books Warner published with Hedgehog & Fox. Jay alleges that Warner withheld royalties "in order to pay other expenses of WLG", and, as with Miller, refused to allow her to terminate the agency agreement.

That agreement, by the way, has a problem. Here's the first sentence of the agency clause that's supposed to be inserted into any book contracts the agency negotiates (my bolding):
The Author irrevocably appoints Warner Literary Group, LLC, as the Author’s sole and exclusive agent (the “Agent”) with respect to the Work for the life of the copyright (and all renewals and extensions thereof)
This is known as an "interminable agency clause," and it entitles the agent to represent a book not just for as long as a contract is in force but for the whole duration of the book's copyright (in the USA and most of Europe, the author's lifetime plus 70 years). Major authors' groups warn about such clauses; I've written about that here. This is red-flag language; you do not want to find it in an author-agent agreement.

January 18, 2017

The Continuing Decline of "Assisted-Self-Publishing" Giant Author Solutions

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

A little less than two years ago, I wrote a blog post that focused, in part, on Author Solutions' declining share of the so-called assisted self-publishing market.

According to a report by Bowker on ISBN output in the self-publishing market between 2008 and 2013, the number of ISBNs issued by AS dropped 15% between 2011 and 2013, from an all-time high 52,648, to 44,574.

(ISBN output is not a meaningful method for assessing the self-publishing market as a whole, because so many self-publishers don't bother with ISBNs. But it is an effective way of tracking Author Solutions' activity, because all AS publishing packages, even the ebook-only ones, include ISBN assignment.)

At the time, I speculated:

We'll have to wait for 2014 stats to know whether this trend will continue, but my guess is that it will. In part, ASI is reaping the fruits of its poor reputation and the large amount of negative publicity and commentary it has received in the past few years (see, for instance, David Gaughran's The Case Against Author Solutions). Beyond that, though, I think that its business model--print-centric, high-priced, with outsourced operations (much of ASI is based in the Philippines) and an extreme emphasis on upselling--is simply becoming less and less relevant in this age of free-to-cheap digital self-publishing solutions.

Well, Bowker recently issued another report, Self-Publishing in the United States, 2010-2015*--and boy, was I right. Here's a screenshot of part of the special section devoted to Author Solutions (Archway Publishing, which AS runs for Simon & Schuster, is missing from the list, but is included in the bigger listing of self-pub platforms):


Total Author Solutions ISBN output for 2015, including 657 Archway ISBNs not shown in this section: 24,587.

2015 output did grow slightly at WestBow, by 275, and at Archway, by 37. And Wordclay, defunct for years, inexplicably popped up again in 2015 with 14. But for all other AS brands, including its very first "imprint," AuthorHouse, issued ISBNs fell by hundreds or thousands. Overall, AS's 2015 ISBN output was less than half its 2011 high point, and represents a 45% drop over 2013.

Even allowing for some inconsistencies in the data, that is a really precipitous decline. Pearson, which bought AS in 2012 for the surprisingly low price of  $116 million (surprising because then, as now, AS was the largest of the assisted self-pub providers, and by all appearances was still growing), unloaded it in December 2015 to a private equity firm. Looks like that was a good decision.

Meanwhile, DIY platform Createspace--where authors don't have to use ISBNs or can provide their own--continues to be king, with 423,728 ISBNs issued in 2015, an increase of 131,545 over the previous year.

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

* Thanks to Jane Friedman for alerting me to this report, via her excellent article Looking Back at 2016: Important Publishing Developments Authors Should Know.

December 30, 2016

All Romance eBooks' Sudden Closing: Many Questions, Few Answers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

This post has been updated.

On Wednesday, December 28, All Romance eBooks--a romance-specific ebook distributor and publisher that also distributes general fiction and nonfiction through its OmniLit imprint--dropped a bombshell. In mass emails to customers and authors, ARe's owner, Lori James, revealed that her company was closing, and that in lieu of full payment, authors and publishers would be offered a fraction of what they were owed.

The exact why of the ARe closing remains a mystery (the emails make generic references to losses and poor financial forecasts, but provide no specifics). As to the what, here's what we know so far.

- The ARe website is going dark at midnight on December 31, 2016. Customers were given just four days to use their credits, download their purchases, and backup their libraries. Authors were given just four days to decide whether to accept ARe's offers of "settlement".

- ARe is offering just 10 cents on the dollar to authors whose books it distributed. Per the email, "We will be unable to remit Q4 2016 commissions in full and are proposing a settlement of 10 cents on the dollar (USD) for payments received through 27 December 2016."

- ARe is offering no payment at all--zip, zero--to authors whose books it published. In a different email, published authors are offered rights reversion on condition that they consider this "a negotiated settlement of your account to be 'paid in full'.

- In order to receive these settlements, ARe is requiring authors to waive their right to pursue legal redress. They must agree that "no further legal action be taken with regards to the above referenced commissions owed."

- ARe is staying open until December 31, but is offering settlement only on payments received through December 27. Romance Writers of America, in a statement on the closing, calls this four-day no-payment zone "unconscionable."

- ARe is saying nothing--publicly at least--about reimbursing 2017 advertising purchases. Just days before the closure announcement, ARe sent out an email soliciting ad buys. Many authors took advantage, or had already bought ads.

- ARe is doing all of this because, it claims, it wants to avoid filing for bankruptcy. "It is [our] sincere hope that we will be able to settle this account and avoid filing for bankruptcy, which would undoubtedly be a prolonged and costly process." Yes, it would--and it would also make ARe accountable to its creditors.

I've been contacted by a lot of ARe authors over the past couple of days. By all accounts, the company's implosion came completely out of the blue. Some authors did tell me that they'd noticed sales declines and ad price increases over the past year, but others saw their sales go up, and there were none of the classic warning signs--no late payments, no payment errors, no communications problems, no website glitches. Until Wednesday, ARe authors and customers had no reason to suspect there was anything wrong.

It looks like there is a lot of money involved. ARe claims close to 1.2 million titles across its two retail sites, and works with hundreds of publishers as well as individual authors. A few authors told me that they are owed relatively little--less than $100--but the majority of those I heard from are owed in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. For many, ARe was their largest source of sales after Amazon.

I've also heard from a publisher that used ARe to distribute its books; it told me that it is owed five figures, and is planning on making its affected authors whole out of its own pocket. A number of other publishers are reportedly planning to do the same.

It's worth remembering that editors and other staff are caught up in the implosion too. As are readers, whom ARe will not reimburse for purchases or pre-orders. Some authors and publishers are offering to honor pre-orders or purchases themselves, for readers who send them receipts.

Many of the authors who've emailed me plan on refusing ARe's settlement offer on principle--even if it means they get nothing, or risk having their ARe-published titles assigned to another publisher, as Lori James has apparently said she may do. On a private Facebook group, ARe refugees are talking, among other things, about the possibility of legal action.

So what to think about all this?

Even if we give ARe the benefit of the doubt--assume it is really in dire financial straits, and that its pennies-on-the-dollar offer is a good faith effort to provide at least some payment, rather than to stockpile cash by lowballing authors--it has handled the situation in a notably arrogant and unprofessional manner. I'm reminded of Booktrope, which also went out of business abruptly with few signs of trouble beforehand, leaving its authors high and dry--but Booktrope at least gave authors and customers a month to tie things up.

Can we give ARe the benefit of the doubt, though, considering that it's proposing to pay its published authors nothing (this, which hasn't been much noted in the general outcry, is for me one of the most disgraceful aspects of the whole affair), appears to be ignoring the issue of ad buy reimbursement, is expecting authors to waive their right to legal redress without knowing any of the reasons behind the closing, and is giving them less than a week decide whether to say yes or no? Not to mention that troubling four-day gap during which ARe will continue to sell books, but will not remit payment.

I am not saying there is dishonest intent here. We don't know that. But the lack of professionalism and care is really troubling.

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

The ARe author private Facebook page: P*ssed Off (former) ARe Authors

ARe authors are collecting data on money owed to authors and publishers. You can fill out a survey here. You can see results here; amounts range from less than $5 to more than $14,000.

UPDATE: SFWA members with books at ARe are urged to contact Griefcom at griefcom@sfwa org.

Other coverage of the ARe closing:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
The Digital Reader
Lilith Saintcrow
Mary Winter
Liana Brooks
KT Grant
Marilyn Vix

UPDATE 12/30/16: I don't know what this means, or if it means anything, but in March 2015, ARe co-owner and CFO Barbara Perfetti sued Lori James for a variety of causes, including breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment, alleging that James had improperly forced her out of the company in November 2014. Among other things, Perfetti alleged that James started paying herself a salary shortly after Perfetti was locked out of the company (previously, Perfetti and James had taken distributions, but had not drawn salaries).

According to court records, James never responded to Perfetti's complaint, and the case was dismissed in August 2016 for lack of prosecution.

The complaint can be seen here. To see the full court record, click here, select All Case Records Search, and enter the plaintiff's name: Barbara Anne Ulmer.

UPDATE 1/2/17: Just days before the closure announcement, Lori James contacted multiple ARe authors with an offer to market their foreign and audio rights (another "click here if you agree" email), and was also contacting agents about representing those rights at book fairs. These really don't seem like the actions of a company on the verge of shutting down. Curiouser and curiouser.

UPDATE 1/3/17: At least some authors report receiving full refunds for 2017 ad purchases. And the story has spread beyond the writing/publishing community: the Guardian did an article today.

UPDATE 1/14/17: A class action lawsuit on behalf of writers and publishers has been filed in the Circuit Court in Pinellas County, Florida, against All Romance eBooks and its owner, Lori James, by the law firm of Byrd Campbell P.A. The press release is below; you can read the complaint here.


UPDATE 1/23/17: The Tampa Bay Times covers the ARe story.

David Vandagriff, a Utah lawyer who represents writers around the world (none selling on All Romance), said...authors are probably out of luck if they think James was legally obligated to avoid commingling royalties with business accounts.

"That would certainly be a good business practice," he said. "But it's not required.

"What happens in these cases, the owners have a good quarter, so they assume the next quarter is going to be as good or better and they pre-spend money they don't have yet," he said, acknowledging he has no firsthand information on All Romance.

UPDATE 1/31/17: Multiple sources are reporting receiving the following email from Lori James (reproduced exactly as sent):
I wanted to take this opportunity to update all contracted publishers on some key elements involving the winding down of All Romance eBooks, LLC. First, we have completed the process of refunding all 2017 Pre-orders and Advertising. Next, all book files and images have been deleted. On Saturday, February 4, 2017 the remaining server content will be wiped. Once the server content is erased, you will no longer have access to the publisher portal (https://www.allromanceebooks.com/publishers/index.php). Please make sure to log in and download any reports you might need prior to that date. We remain on schedule to remit payments by February 28, 2017 of payment of the settlement amounts for those who agreed to accept our 10 % settlement offer. Finally, those who are due to receive a 1099 for the 2016 tax year will be receiving them via the post. Those who are due to receive a 1042 for the 2016 tax year will be receiving password-protected files via email. We will be sending a password protected document to the email address we have on record. The password to unlock the document will be sent via a separate email. As per our terms of agreement, we will be using the information that was in our database as of December 31, 2016. If you need to update any information for the 2017 tax form distribution, please send a request to allromanceebooks@mac.com.
Sincerely,
Lori James
All Romance eBooks, LLC

December 21, 2016

Questions for Vanity Publisher Austin Macauley Yield Few Answers

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware



This post has been updated.

Over at The Writers Workshop, Harry Bingham is taking a look at UK-based vanity publisher Austin Macauley.
Are they legit? Or are they scammers?

I don’t know. I honestly have no idea. But I’ve heard some concerns raised about the firm and I think the fairest thing to do is ask the question.

If it turns out that the firm is an honourable one, seeking to do the very best for its authors, then fair play to them. I will take this post down and offer the WW as a platform for the firm to market itself. I will make it absolutely clear that we have no bad word to say about them, in public or in private.

And if they’re scammers – well, then, I hope they perish. I hope they perish soon. And I hope that those responsible for the company are deeply injured, financially and reputationally, by that collapse.
To try and solve this conundrum, Harry has formulated a list of questions that he has invited AM to answer.

Now, not to steal AM's thunder, but Writer Beware has gotten a lot of reports, complaints, and questions about AM over the years, and we've gathered a good deal of information and documentation. I thought it might be illuminating to share some of that, using a few of Harry's questions as a template. (Note that I'm not attempting to speak for AM, nor am I accusing them of doing anything illegal; I'm just sharing data that I've collected.)

Question 1: What proportion of AM’s titles are ‘traditional mainstream’ and what proportion are via ‘partnership agreement’?

This is an important question. AM does reveal on its website that it offers "contributory" contracts (using the newly trendy euphemism, "hybrid," to describe its publishing model), but it also 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 do they? Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn't have to pay for. By contrast, we've gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers (along with lots and lots of inquiries about AM's reputation and business practices; it's one of the publishers we receive the most questions about). Now, I'm sure that the writers who've contacted me represent only a fraction of those who've submitted to AM. Even so, the proportion of fee offers to no-fee offers does suggest--to me, at least--that the bulk of AM's business is pay-to-play.

You can see many many many many many many other author reports of Austin Macauley's fees online.

Question 3: What is the median cost to the author of these partnership agreements?

Fees in contracts Writer Beware has seen range from £1,275 to £7,700 (the heading of fee disclosure section is "Advances," except that this is an "advance" the author has to pay the publisher). Some authors are offered a choice of fees depending on which book formats they pick.

Speaking of AM's contracts, I've seen a number, both "contributory" and not. In my (non-legal; I'm not a lawyer) opinion, they are substandard. There's no stated term for the grant of rights, and discontinuance of publication is "entirely at the discretion of the publisher." In effect, this is a life-of-copyright grant, with completely inadequate provisions for rights reversion. (I've written before about the vital importance of having a good rights reversion clause in a life-of-copyright contract.)

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

Question 4: Partnership implies some joint sharing of risks and rewards. So, do you contribute a sum broadly equivalent to that contributed by your authors? If, for example, your launch costs for a book are expected to be £6,000, do you ask the author for £3,000 and contribute the other support yourselves? And if not, then, please, how does it work?

Obviously, I can't answer for Austin Macauley, nor would I attempt to do so. Speaking generally, however, many pay-to-play publishers promise or imply that they are contributing part or most of the expense, and the author fee is just a portion--but in fact, what authors pay is far more likely to cover not just the whole cost of publication, but the publisher's overhead and profit as well.

Also, since fee-based publishers' profit typically comes primarily from author fees and book purchases, rather than from book sales to the public, most have little reason to invest in professional-quality editing, marketing, and distribution. In fact, they have substantial incentive to skimp on these things, since they reduce profit.

-----------

AM has responded to Harry (sort of) in an email that can be seen at the bottom of Harry's post, and also in a post on its own blog. Neither response comes close to addressing Harry's questions. Here's AM explaining why. (UPDATE: AM has objected to Harry reproducing its email verbatim, so what appears now is a paraphrased version.)
We would like to be as transparent as possible in answering your questions. However, as I am sure you understand, many of the details you ask for could potentially require us to break confidentiality, in terms of both our business and of our authors. We plan to discuss these issues fully with Austin Macauley’s lawyers, who will tell us precisely how much information we are able to divulge to you.
Color me unimpressed. I can kinda sorta maybe understand that AM might not want to spotlight particular authors (though if their books are bestsellers, I doubt they'd mind)--but there's no confidentiality attached to most of the information Harry is asking for. Other publishers have no problem providing public information about sales and revenue.

Harry isn't impressed, either. He sums up his opinion in a followup blog post, concluding: "I think [Austin Macauley] is a vanity publisher that trades on the legitimate hopes and excusable ignorance of its clients...if you’re considering entering into a partnership agreement with Austin Macauley, then don’t. Just don’t."

I agree.

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

A few more observations:
  • Coming to America! AM is UK-based, but it is expanding into the USA. It has a glitzy new US website, and a brand new office in New York City--a virtual office, that is, on the 28th floor of 40 Wall Street. Basically, a PO box. (Am I alone in finding it hilarious that this is a Trump-owned building?) Just 73 AM books are listed on Amazon US for 2015; for 2016, the number is 474. 
  • The morning after I did the research for this blog post, I clicked into a couple of news sources I like, and discovered, yet again, the power of tracking cookies.


UPDATE 12/22/16: Harry Bingham's two posts have resulted in a demand by Austin Macauley's solicitors that he remove all mention of them from his website. He is not backing down. "In our view, the instant resort to threat is a classic telltale sign of firms whose business practices fall on the wrong side of the ethical tracks."

Author and writing teacher Jurgen Wolff also received threats of legal action as a consequence of posting information about Austin Macauley.

UPDATE 4/25/17: Harry Bingham has posted copies of and commentary on Austin Macauley's contract (which is seriously substandard in a number of respects, notably its complately inadequate termination/reversion language) and its cut-and-paste acceptance letter (the several I've seen aren't precisely identical to this one--there are minor variations--but follow the same structure and include whole swaths of identical text). His conclusion:


UPDATE 6/5/17: Oh dear. Austin Macauley has decided that it's being bullied by big bad SFWA.

First, it reached out to fellow victim The Write Agenda--an organization with impeccable credentials (snert)--to ask for support (apparently not noticing that TWA hasn't been active on Twitter for over a year):
Next, it posted a long, long (long) screed accusing me, Writer Beware, and SFWA of "Bullying, Insults, and Lies"...and worse. With footnotes.
Then, to make absolutely sure the world (well, Twitter) got the point, it spammed a link to its screed to people who mentioned SFWA, including recent Nebula Award Weekend attendees:





Eventually causing SFWA to take exasperated action:
Finally, AM reached out once more to its good friend The Write Agenda, with a plaintive plea:
So far, no RTs.

UPDATE 8/16/17: A general rule of thumb: if you have to devote an entire blog post to denying (among other things) that you "trick and swindle authors," you've already lost the PR war.

Austin Macauley is currently running a contest, for which the prize is a "traditional" book contract. The contest guidelines indicate that authors are subject to "behavioral guidelines" and must refrain from "abusive language toward AMP staff at any stage in the process"--provisions you don't normally find in contests from reputable publishers (and why are they anticipating that authors might become abusive, anyway?)

The winner will receive AM's "standard traditional contract," which has serious defects, as outlined above. Also, as outlined above, pay-to-play publishers don't have much reason to invest in quality editing, marketing, distribution, etc., so even if you don't have to pay, publication may not be a prize worth winning.

UPDATE 8/24/17: AM is doubling down on its defamation of SFWA (among other things) in a new essay defending its business practices. If you have to devote an entire article to denying that you "trick and swindle authors", claiming that you don't work in a virtual office, and debunking negative employee comments on Glassdoor, you've already lost the PR war, in my opinion.

December 13, 2016

Torquere Press Is Closing

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware


This post has been updated.

Troubled publisher Torquere Press is closing. Owners Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot announced their decision yesterday in an email that will doubtless infuriate many authors, but probably won't surprise them:
We have thought long and hard about where things are with Torquere and made the very hard decision that we need to begin the process of closing this chapter of our lives....We have done everything we could to turn things around but with the saturation in the industry, the financial hardships we are in, my health in constant decline along with the negativity we have had hurdled our way. We feel like we are currently fighting an uphill battle.
Trouble at Torquere (which had been in business since 2003 with no problems) surfaced in early 2016, a little more than a year after Boulware and Talbot took it over. Reports of royalty payment problems began to proliferate, even as Torquere participated in Twitter pitch contests to find new manuscripts. During the summer, Boulware was arrested on a hot check charge, allegedly after payment to one author bounced. (UPDATE: the charge was dismissed on December 13 after Boulware posted a cash bond of $10,150.50.) In November, communication stopped completely, with neither Boulware nor Talbot answering authors' emails or responding to Facebook messages. Ominously, both co-owners removed "Torquere" from their Twitter handles and bios.

Now the other shoe has dropped. According to the email, which was sent to all Torquere authors, writers will receive rights reversions, a process Boulware anticipates will take at least 90 days. As for when (or whether) they'll get the royalties they're owed...well, on that issue Boulware is vague. "We are still looking at options on how to get everyone paid," she says. Hmmm.

The rights reversions will revert rights only to authors' originally-submitted text. "You will not be allowed to keep your cover art, ISBNs, or final edited versions of the books." Obviously ISBNs can't be re-used, and most publishers keep copyright to cover art (which they furnish at their cost)--but claiming copyright on edits is not the norm. Unfortunately, it's something I'm seeing more and more of in small press contracts--even though it's a pointless (how does the publisher benefit by keeping a death-grip on editorial revisions?), burdensome (since the author must re-edit an already-edited work), predatory (since revisions are typically done by authors themselves at editors' suggestion), and likely not even legally defensible practice. I consider it a contract red flag.

Is the copyright claim on editing even in the Torquere contract? I've heard of publishers that have made this claim on reversion, despite no contract clause allowing them to do so. Looking back through my files, I see that I've never actually seen a Torquere contract. Anyone want to share? I'd be interested to know if that language is in there.

Torquere authors, please let me know if you are receiving reversions--and if you are getting paid. All information shared with Writer Beware is held in confidence.

I'll update this post with any new information.

UPDATE 12/15/16: I've now seen several Torquere contracts, which do not include any copyright claim on edits.

I've also been informed by several authors that Kristi Boulware has offered some clarification on what's meant by "final edited versions of the books." Responding to questions in Torquere's Yahoo group, she confirmed that this doesn't mean the text, but rather the formatting--in other words, Torquere is not claiming copyright on edits, just the final formatting of the book. I don't know why this wasn't made clearer in the "we're closing" email, but there you go.

UPDATE 12/18/16: Per documentation that I've seen, Boulware is not claiming copyright on the final edited text of published books whose rights she is reverting. She is, however, forbidding writers to use edited text if their reverted books haven't yet been published.
If your book is NOT released and you have received edits from your editor. [sic] Then you are expected to not use those edits. We are being billed for edits on manuscripts under contract and those edits should not be taken elsewhere when that contract was voided since it was never finalized with Torquere.
UPDATE 2/18/17: I'm hearing from authors who are still waiting to receive their rights reversions.
 
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