The Media Really Needs to Fact-Check Those Heartwarming Stories About Publishing Deals

Reported in the UK newspaper the Mirror, and subsequently picked up as a news item by PW, GalleyCat, the Bookseller, and the Times of India, among others:

A boy of six has won a book deal worth thousands.

Leo Hunter was awarded a 23-story contract with an American company after they read his first tale, Me and My Best Friend.

Leo started the book – about a little boy called Liam and his make-believe adventures with his dog Henry – when he was five.

It is now hitting bookshelves in America and is available online in the UK.

There’s just one problem. Although the deal probably is worth thousands, the money isn’t flowing in the direction the news coverage assumes–from publisher to author. It’s going the other way. Because little Leo’s publisher, Strategic Book Publishing, charges fees.

A minimal amount of research would have revealed this fact, had the various news outlets thought to fact-check a story that is improbable on its face (when was the last time you heard about anyone getting a 23-book deal, let alone a six-year-old child?). Do a websearch on Strategic, and the second listing is a link to Writer Beware’s Alert on the company (which includes not just a publishing operation, but an editing service, a marketing service, and a complex of fee-charging literary agencies), about which we’ve been collecting complaints since 2001and which is currently being sued by the Florida Attorney General for deceptive business practices.

Strategic charges $995 for its “joint venture” contracts. Often further fees are due for editing (done by the associated editing service), and the author is later given the opportunity to purchase marketing from the associated marketing service. If, as often happens, the author is referred to Strategic by one of the associated literary agencies, they’ve already paid $70 to $90 for a critique, and, in some cases, even more for editing (again, courtesy of the associated editing service) and/or for submissions to unrelated publishers.

According to the Mirror, Leo’s books were given by his mother to her own literary agency, which passed the books on to Strategic–the agency isn’t named, but since reputable agencies don’t work with fee-charging publishers, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that Leo’s mother’s agency is part of the Strategic complex.

Leo’s book (published under a pseudonym with a photo of a woman whom I’m guessing is his mother) can be seen here. It’s likely that the illustrations had to be paid for, too.

This is a sad story of inexperience, ignorance, false hopes, and, probably in the end, dashed dreams. It’s also a story (much like this one, a couple of years ago) of how the media can be led astray by the lure of a tasty headline. If a story sounds too good to be true, there’s a fair chance it is.


  1. This feels like the beginning of an urban legend. It sounds good and speaks to some fear or desire of the person heaing the story. And now it's being passed around the same way spammy urban-legends go from emailbox to emailbox, without anyone ever stopping to check to see if it's true. A quick internet search, not even of the publisher, which people outside the industry, but just of the pseudonym, would reveal dozens of inconsistent claims about the book, which would suggest the need to do some more in-depth research.

  2. An additional cause for doubt is that name. "Leo Hunter?" Hmm-m-mmm. Would it make me a conspiracy theorist if I considered the poetaster Mrs. Leo Hunter from Dickens' PICKWICK PAPERS, author of "Ode to an Expiring Frog"?


  3. One article quotes the mother as saying that because of her son's youth, "Of course they can't have him sign a contract or put his name on the cover."

    Since when? I mean, yes, the contract would need to be co-signed by a responsible adult, but we could come up with dozens of *legitimately* published books that were by minors, *all* of whom had their names on the cover of their works.


  4. Ahhhh, thanks Victoria, I obviously didn't read far enough through the legal papers posted describing the charges.

  5. Christine, the lawsuit is against Fletcher and several others, and includes all the businesses, including the publishers. If he loses, the Attorney General is seeking to have him barred from conducting literary agenting or publishing business in Florida, or targeting Florida residents. Until then, he's free to do business as usual. That's the way things work in these kinds of cases.

    Strategic and PublishAmerica aren't comparable, in my opinion, for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, law enforcement tends to view literary fraud on a case by case basis, so while every success does help, we're a long way from building any kind of momentum that would result in wide attention being paid to publishing schemes.

    I did a post a while back on why literary fraudsters are hard to put away.

  6. Hey everyone! Long time lurker, first time poster here 🙂

    I just noticed in the ThisIsDerbyshire article it says that "Jamie wrote a novel based on domestic violence, Nick Twisted Minds, which was published by AuthorHouse in 2008."

    That explains a few things eh?

    And since this is my first comment I just have to say… Thank you so much for all you do!

  7. Victoria, the Attorney Gen of Florida has a lawsuit against Strategic Publishers owner (and his girlfriend etc) but only against his literary service. In your opinion, what's the reasoning that allows him to still TAKE unsuspecting writers with his printing company?
    Strategic Pub is just like Publish America, though on a smaller number of victims scale, if the Florida lawsuit wins, could this be the start of taking down all bogus publishers as well? Or, is an agents service not looked on as the same business to business transaction that a writer to publisher is?
    I can't believe this "mirror" reporter didn't do one once of research on the supposed American publisher this child and his mom have…and to think the reporters profile shows he is one of the papers most experienced and long time staff.

  8. Perhaps it's all a smart marketing trick by his parents to try to haul a bit of that money back by getting a lot of media coverage?

  9. This from the bottom line at the Strategic web site:"AEG Publishing Group (Strategic Book Publishing and Eloquent Books are imprints) is proud to be a member of The Association of American Publishers"

    Yet I find no mention of AEG or Strategic on the member list for The Association of American Publishers. (Easy to check as Strategic's web site provides the link.)

  10. Thanks for setting us straight and for all the great linkage to back it up. I was one who RT-ed this story hastily. What's not to love about a 6-yr-old signing a publishing contract? Unless it's THAT kind of publishing contract. Yikes.

    I don't know how to feel about a mom who so blatantly advertises her own books (which are NOT children's books) inside her son's picture book. I want to believe she was duped into vanity publishing, but the marketing is just too self-serving to be accidental. They say he was too young to use his real name, so he used a pen name–but it's her pen name. If this was all about the kid, wouldn't it be by Ralph Miggykins, or some other six-year-old name creation?

    Just sad. If I do print-on-demand for my kids, it will be through lulu (or some such printer) for the sole purpose of printing books for the family, and the story will not appear in the paper.

  11. If these reporting agencies had done a bit of research on the publisher, this would have taken a whole different tone. But I guess these folks can't let research and facts get in the way of a story.

  12. I wonder if it's not the mom who's using this as a publicity stunt, but Bobby Fletcher and Strategic Book Publishing?

  13. Marian, thanks for the URL to your post–and for catching something I completely missed, that Leo's supposed book, Me And My Best Friend, has a publication date of July 2009–over a year ago. (And a sales rank that doesn't seem to have benefited from the hoopla of the past day or so.)

    So it's looking more and more as if this was all some kind of attempted publicity stunt by Leo's mom. If so…pretty sleazy.

  14. This feels like the beginning of an urban legend. It sounds good and speaks to some fear or desire of the person heaing the story.

    And now it's being passed around the same way spammy urban-legends go from emailbox to emailbox, without anyone ever stopping to check to see if it's true.

    A quick internet search, not even of the publisher, which people outside the industry, but just of the pseudonym, would reveal dozens of inconsistent claims about the book, which would suggest the need to do some more in-depth research.

  15. One thing that should be mentioned. Most con artists of all stripes always use the names of major media groups to sucker in the marks because the poor souls figure an ad using the names of such respectable magazines and newspapers would have to be honest. No way in Hell! I've seen this kind of fraud used in emails and some infomercials. The minute I see a name I'm familiar with in an ad that promises the moon and stars, a red flag goes up in my head and I bolt!

    Thanks for the informative article.

  16. I must admit, at first glance I assumed the mother had written the books. There's no detail on who she was published by but I think we can assume it was a self-pub.

    As you say, sad.

  17. Looks like the whole thing is some sort of publicity stunt, and apparently it worked if PW and GalleyCat actually ran it. Though something tells me this won't lead to huge book sales.

  18. This makes me sad on many levels. Whether or not the mom is being exploited, the child is. If he's been led to believe "his" stories are publishable, he now has false expectations that are bound to be dashed.

  19. Genie, I didn't even think of that, but you may well be right. All the more reason to publicize the true story.

  20. Wow, that is so weird. The book is being sold as written by the mother, when the son was four. The story is so off it's ridiculous. I wonder if the mom just made it up for the free publicity after she realized she had thrown away thousands of dollars.

  21. The photo you linked to seems to suggest that the mom is the "author", not the six year old: "Huntlands is a full-time writer, as well as a mom to a wonderful four-year-old boy. This book is dedicated to her son in hopes that he never forgets his best friend." They need to get their story straight.

  22. Look on the bright side… maybe this means that the bad self-pubbed books are all published by 6 year olds. 🙂

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