Last week, I started hearing from writers who’d entered a contest sponsored by an outfit called Bookbzz, which describes itself thus:
Bookbzz.com was designed as a simple but powerful book marketing engine to enable authors and publishers to better market their books.
By gathering together basic information and enabling social sharing we are able to provide authors with a free marketing suite, reviews and tell-a-friend engine to promote their books.
While listing a book is free, Bookbzz pushes its Premium Membership option, which costs $7.50 per month (for one book) and offers the “opportunity” for writers to pay much more for additional promotional services.
The contest, Prize Writer Competition 2015, solicited entries in ten categories (children’s books, fantasy novels, etc.) and promised cash prizes to the top three finishers in each category, who were to be chosen by public vote. (Contest description and guidelines no longer seem to be present on the Bookbzz website, but you can still see happy posts from finalists.)
On March 5, Bookbzz announced the winners…and promptly vanished. Authors assumed it was a technical glitch. But as time went on and the website did not reappear, and emails and social media posts disappeared into the ether with no response from either Bookbzz owner Conrad Murray or his partner, Paige Doyle, writers got anxious–and then angry. Author Helen Hollick blogged about her experience:
The whole thing, the Bookbzz website, the offer to advertise books and running the competition it transpires, was very possibly all a scam. Or maybe the people running it, Conrad Murray and Paige Doyle didn’t make the money they had hoped for from eager punters and got fed up with it? Maybe the website is down because of computer problems – it’s possible, but many disgruntled authors who have been eagerly waiting to hear about our prize money since the beginning of March have not had emails responded to. No answers on Twitter or Facebook. No response from connections via Mr Murray’s other publishing ventures of Swan’s Nest Publishing Canada and Bookmarq. His contact e-mail on Linkedin bounces back as unknown.
Frustrated writers have begun filing Paypal disputes in order to get their entry fees back. Possibly in response to this, the Bookbzz website popped back into existence this week. But it (along with Bookbzz’s social media) hasn’t been updated since March 5…apart from this sad addition to Conrad Murray’s prizewinners announcement:
A few of you will be aware that a long-time relationship with someone I have lived with for 27 years has come to an end and I am taking some time to adjust to an empty, silent house with no laughter. It may take me some time to get back to being fully functional.
For the last month Paige has had to cope with pretty much everything on his own which is difficult enough at the best of times, let alone when we are trying to wrap up a competition. We will be writing to all Prize Winners and placed books within 2-3 days and adding flashes to your book pages plus sending you your winners’ publicity pack and prizes.
Authors, who are shedding no tears, also aren’t holding their breath.
Who is Conrad Murray? His social media profiles sound ever so impressive–though on a closer look they’re kind of vague, and if you decide to dig into them, you’ll have a hard time tracking down the companies where he says he’s worked. There’s also some confusing interpenetration: for instance, a book Murray claims to have been hired to market through his “marketing and production services” company, Bookmarq.net, actually appears to be a book he published through his publishing company, Swan’s Nest Canada (which does not appear to have published anything else).
I wrote last year about Bookmarq.net’s Finding a Publisher service, one of those worthless middleman services that–for a fee, of course–claims to market writers to literary agents. Other Bookmarq services are similarly dubious–a Rights Reversion Management scheme that offers no examples, editing and cover design services that provide no staff credentials. I can find no trace of any books ever published by Bookmarq (other than the one mentioned above), although it claims to provide self-publishing services. Bookmarq and Murray also ran afoul of the folks on Kboards when Murray (via his supposed partner Paige Doyle, whom many writers do not believe is a real person) tried to shill Bookmarq’s services (for the short version, see David Gaughran’s evisceration of Murray’s claims).
All of which makes the happenings at Bookbzz somewhat less surprising–though no less distressing.
Will Murray make good on his promise to contact prizewinners and release the prizes? No word as yet. Either way, I would love to hear from winners–either in the comments here or via email to Writer Beware.
I attempted to reach out to Conrad Murray for comment, via social media and the contact form on the Bookbzz website. As of this writing, I haven’t received a response.
UPDATE, 4/4/15: Murray has posted a rambling statement on the Bookbzz site, claiming that he has “lost control of Bookbzz content”, that “the business accounts were systematically emptied,” and that “In the absence of any money from the bookbzz.com business accounts [prizes] will have to be paid from my own resources,” a task he “hopes to have completed” by the end of April. A screenshot is below, in case the statement disappears.
Bookbzz winners, please keep me posted, whether you do–or do not–receive your prizes.