I don’t think there’s much dispute that the many “imprints” under the Author Solutions umbrella are among the most negatively regarded of all the author services companies.
From the predatory business practices that gave rise to two class action lawsuits, to the huge number of customer complaints, to the relentless sales calls and deceptive recruitment methods, to the dubious and overpriced “marketing” services that are one of the company’s main profit sources, AS’s poor reputation is widely known. Along with other factors, such as the competition from free and low-cost self-publishing platforms, this has pushed AS in recent years into steady decline.
Unfortunately, whatever gap AS’s contraction has created has been filled by a slew of imitators. Why not, when hoodwinking authors is as easy as setting up a website and opening an account with Ingram? In some cases, the imitators have first-hand experience: they’ve been founded and/or staffed by former employees of AS’s call centers in the Philippines (as well as ex-employees of other disreputable companies with operations in the Philippines, such as Tate Publishing and BookWhirl.)
Like AS, the clones rely on misleading hype, hard-sell sales tactics, a lucrative catalog of junk marketing services, and outright lies. Even if authors actually receive the services they’ve paid for (and judging by the complaints I’ve gotten, there’s no guarantee of that), they are getting stiffed. These are not businesses operating in good faith, but greedy opportunists seeking to profit from writers’ inexperience, ignorance, and hunger for recognition. They are exploitative, dishonest, and predatory.
CLONESIGN: HOW TO SUSS THEM OUT
The clones share a distinctive cluster of characteristics that can help you identify them. If the company that has contacted you exhibits three or more of the characteristics below, be extremely wary: it is likely a scam.
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, or represent you to Hollywood. Their phone solicitors frequently have foreign accents (most are based in the Philippines). Email solicitors use a recurring set of job titles: Book Scout, Executive Literary Agent, Senior Literary Agent, Senior Marketing & Publishing Consultant (or Senior Publishing & Marketing Consultant), Executive Marketing Consultant, Marketing Professional, Marketing Supervisor.
Solicitation is the number one sign of a scam. Real literary agents, publishers, and marketers do not typically reach out to authors they don’t already represent. For scammers, on the other hand, it’s their main mode of recruitment. Any out-of-the-blue solicitation, no matter what it’s for or who it’s from, should be treated with caution.
2. Offers to re-publish authors’ books. A big focus for the clones is poaching authors who are already published or self-published (often with Author Solutions imprints). They claim they can do a better job, or provide greater credibility, or even get authors in front of traditional publishers. Often, re-publishing is presented as a pre-requisite for pitching a book to traditional publishers or film studios.
3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that don’t check out. A clone may say it’s been in business since 2006 or 2008, even though its domain name was registered only last year. It may claim to be staffed by publishing and marketing experts with years or even decades of “combined experience”, but provide no names or bios to enable you to verify this. A hallmark of the clones’ “About Us” pages is a serious lack of “about.”
4. Poor or tortured English. The clones have US addresses, and purport to be US-based companies. Many have US business registrations. Yet their emails and websites frequently contain numerous (and sometimes laughable) grammar and syntax errors (see below for examples). Their phone solicitors appear to be calling from US numbers, but commonly have foreign accents, and may get authors’ names or book titles wrong.
5. Junk marketing. Press releases. Paid book review packages. Book fair exhibits. Ingram catalog listings. Hollywood book-to-screen packages. These and more are junk marketing–PR services of dubious value and effectiveness that are cheap to provide but can be sold at a huge profit. It’s an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of the enormous markup, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times.
This is a page right out of the Author Solutions playbook. AS basically invented junk book marketing, and most of the marketing services offered by the clones were pioneered by AS. If you follow the links below, you’ll see the same ones over and over, and if you hop on over to an AS imprint marketing section, you’ll see them there, too.
Authors are often serially targeted by the clones. For instance, I heard from an iUniverse-published author who bought an expensive re-publication package from Book-Art Press Solutions, and shortly afterward was solicited for marketing services by Stratton Press (fortunately she contacted me before she wrote a check). Another author bought a publishing package from BookVenture, plus extra marketing from Window Press Club–both as a result of solicitation phone calls.
UPDATE, 2021: When I first put this post online, publishing and marketing services were the main pitch for these scams. Over the years, however, they’ve shifted focus in an attempt to evade warnings about their tactics, and also to keep up with the changing realities of the day, including the pandemic. While they still solicit potential victims with marketing and re-publishing offers, they’re currently just as likely to pose as “literary agencies” that can transition writers to traditional contracts, or market books to major film studios and streaming services.
Below are the clones I’ve identified to date (several of which I found in the process of researching this post–I actually had to stop following links or I’d never have gotten this written). The list includes a few that, based on their websites and other public information, I suspect are clones but haven’t yet been able to document with complaints or solicitation materials.
One thing you’ll notice if you follow the links is how similar the clones’ websites are. It’s not just the characteristics mentioned above: the same terminology, menus, and products appear over and over again, as do distinctive English-language errors (many of the clones urge authors to “avail” of services, for instance). Also, of the 13 companies I looked at, ten are less than two years old, and seven started up in the past year. It really made me wonder, especially after I discovered that two apparently separate clones are in fact the same outfit, and two others appear to be connected.
I have no doubt there are many more clones out there. If you’ve encountered any I haven’t listed below–or if you’ve had an experience with the ones featured in this post–please post a comment.
- LitFire Publishing, also d.b.a. Amelia Book Company, Amelia Publishing, and GoToPublish
- Legaia Books
- Stratton Press
- Toplink Publishing
- Book-Art Press Solutions
- Window Press Club
- Westwood Books Publishing (formerly Greenberry Publishing), also d.b.a. Authors Press, Book Vine Press
- BookVenture Publishing
- Okir Publishing d.b.a. ADbook Press and Coffee Press
- Zeta Publishing
- Everlastale Publishing
UPDATE, 2021: There are definitely more clones out there. See my followup blog post for the full list of those I’ve discovered–more than 100 to date. The list also appears in the sidebar to the right.
LitFire Publishing is the first Author Solutions clone I ever encountered, and the one that alerted me to the phenomenon. My 2014 blog post takes a detailed look at its false or unverifiable claims, its illiterate solicitation emails, its plagiarism (it’s still doing that), and its Philippine/Author Solutions origins (its phone solicitors sometimes claim AS imprints are “sister companies”). See the comments for many reports of solicitation phone calls.
LitFire is a good deal more sophisticated now than it was in 2014, with a flashy website from which the English-language errors that marred it in the beginning have largely (though not entirely; its blog posts could use some help) been culled. But it’s still a solicitation monster, and its Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing services are still a major ripoff. Take a look at its insanely marked-up Kirkus Indie review package (you can buy reviews directly from Kirkus for less than half the price).
In 2018, perhaps to escape mounting complaints or maybe just to establish new revenue streams, LitFire started doing business under several new names: Amelia Book Company and Amelia Publishing, and GoToPublish.
LitFire claims it’s headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, and it is actually registered with the Georgia Corporations Division. Possibly to get ahead of negative discussion, it has admitted–partially–its Philippines connections. It’s also aware of my warnings about it, and has responded with some fairly incompetent trolling.
Legaia offers publishing packages, but its main schtick is Paperclips Magazine, an online rag that consists primarily of ads, reviews, and interviews sold to authors at gobsmackingly enormous prices, interspersed with plagiarized general interest articles and illiterate feature pieces written by Legaia’s English-challenged staff. Legaia’s website is full of howlingly funny (or cringingly awful, depending on your perspective) English-language mistakes. Keeping to its penchant for plagiarism, and incidentally acknowledging its roots, it has copied much of its FAQ from Author Solutions.
My blog post on Legaia goes into much more detail.
Like other members of clone club, Legaia claims to be headquartered in the USA, with a street address in Raleigh, North Carolina. But there’s no trace of any North Carolina business registration. When the Better Business Bureau attempted to contact it by paper mail, the mail was returned by the post office.
Stratton Press claims to offer “an experience that is one of a kind for both novice and veteran authors”. Oddly, it doesn’t display its publishing packages on its website; you have to go to its Facebook page to see them. Named after famous writers, they start at $1,800 and go all the way up to $10,500.
The website is replete with vague claims (“our team’s eight-year experience in the publishing industry), shaky English (“Since every book is unique and every story is special, it is just but right to have a team of experts behind your back.”), and plagiarism (here’s “How to Write a Novel” by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. Here’s “How to Write a Novel” by “Chuck Subchino” of Stratton).
Stratton is the one of the only clones I found that doesn’t actively try to conceal its Philippine/Author Solutions roots. A Cebu City address also appears on its Contact page; and per his LinkedIn page, Stratton’s co-owner, Aaron Dancel, worked for three years as a Sales Supervisor for Author Solutions’ Cebu call center.
Stratton claims to be located in Wyoming, where it has a business registration as an LLC with an initial filing date of November 2016. It has an A rating at the BBB, but there’s also a number of complaints from unhappy authors, as well as this:
UPDATE 12/14/18: Stratton seems to be having some trouble paying taxes on time.
UPDATE 1/17/19: Stratton Press LLC has been administratively dissolved in Wyoming for tax delinquency. Not to worry: planning ahead, Stratton Press Inc. was incorporated in Delaware in June 2018, and has switched its US address to Wilmington, DE.
UPDATE 10/14/19: Stratton has overhauled its website, so much of what’s described above is gone (there’s still no verifiable info about the supposedly expert staff, though, or any mentioned prices). It also has a new Facebook page, and a new page at the BBB. The old BBB page is gone, and with it that pesky Alert.
UPDATE 2/12/22: Stratton Press’s BBB rating has dropped to A-, but its catalog of customer complaints now stands at more than 20, and it has an average review rating of two stars (based on nearly 30 reviews).
You can pay as much as $29,999 for a Premium Color Adult Book publishing package. On the junk marketing side, you can shell out $6,299 for an Online Brand Publicity campaign, or $2,799 for a Premium Dynamic Website, or $4,999 for a 90-second Cinematic Deluxe video book trailer.
In true clone style, ReadersMagnet is a tireless and prolific phone solicitor (hence the many complaints that can be found about it online). I’ve heard from many authors who have been repeatedly called and/or emailed by this outfit; one author told me that she got so annoyed that she blocked the caller’s New York number, only to be contacted a couple of days later by another ReadersMagnet solicitor, this time with a California number.
Writers have also told me that callers have foreign accents and Spanish surnames. A search on LinkedIn turns up two Philippines-based ReadersMagnet staffers. Oh, and ReadersMagnet apparently had a lovely Christmas party last year…in Cebu.
ReadersMagnet’s current website reads okay, with occasional lapses. But its original website, which came online in mid-2016, was full of howlers. Compare this early version of its About Us page (courtesy of the Internet Archive) with the current iteration, which isn’t high literature but at least is more or less grammatical.
The company hasn’t worked as hard to clean up its correspondence. Here’s a snippet from a recent solicitation email–it’s really kind of a masterpiece.
UPDATE 12/6/19: I’m a little miffed that this essay from ReadersMagnet protesting that it is not a scam names two people who’ve apparently posted negative comments about the company, but doesn’t mention me. What’s a girl got to do to get called out by a scammer? (Among other feeble attempts to prove legitimacy: “ReadersMagnet is a business listed in various business listings online.”)
Toplink Publishing bills itself as “the global leader in accessible and strategic publishing and marketing solutions”. It boasts every one of the warning signs identified above: Solicitation. Re-publishing offers. Unverifiable claims about staff and experience. Tortured English. Lots and lots of marketing.
Toplink’s publishing packages are categorized a la Author Solutions (black and white, full color, children’s book, etc.), and neither they nor the marketing packages provide any prices; you have to call to find out. Hard-sell sales tactics work better on the phone.
Also, no prices on an author services company’s website is nearly always a giant clue that they’re super-expensive. Here’s the marketing proposal one author received–note how Toplink wants the author to believe that the ridiculous amount of money he’s being asked to pay for his “compensation share” is more than matched by Toplink’s “investment” (a classic vanity publisher ploy).
Toplink claims addresses in North Carolina and Nevada, but there are no business registrations for it in either state. A number of complaints about it can be found online, including at its Facebook page. It also has an F rating from the BBB, based on its failure to respond to consumer complaints.
UPDATE 4/5/19: Toplink’s website appears to be gone, possibly as a result of proliferating complaints at the BBB and elsewhere. Its Facebook page is still extant, but that doesn’t mean much–there’ve been no posts for nearly a year.
UPDATE 10/14/19: Toplink has a new website, although most of the content is the same. Its Facebook page has vanished. It now has an F rating at the BBB.
Book-Art Press Solutions (not to be confused with the graphic design company of the same name, or with Book Arts Press) and Window Press Club present as different companies, but in fact they’re two faces of the same ripoff.
My recent blog post about this two-headed beast goes into more detail, including the identical website content that gives them away.
Book-Art Press employs an exceptionally deceptive approach to authors, portraying itself not as a self-publishing provider but as a group of “literary agents” who want to re-publish authors’ books in order to give them the “credibility” needed to “endorse” them to traditional publishers. The cost? Only $3,500! Authors are encouraged to believe is all they’ll have to pay. In fact, as with all the clones, the initial fee is just a way to open the door to more selling.
BAP/WPC is a pretty recent venture, with domain names registered just last year. BAP claims it’s in New York City, although its business registration is in Delaware. WPC doesn’t provide a mailing address, but its domain is registered to Paul Jorge Ponce in Cebu, Philippines.
Here’s one of BAP’s solicitation emails, reproduced in its entirety. It really tells you everything you need to know.
If you’re wondering how I could predict an event in March while writing this post in January, that’s because I’ve updated this section to reflect the fact Westwood Books Publishing is a brand-new name; the company, which started up last August, was originally called Greenberry Publishing. (Hmm. Could they have seen this post? Or maybe they just wanted to ditch their F BBB rating.)
To confuse matters further, Westwood/Greenberry also does business as Authors Press. A few examples of the links between these three entities: a book listed as both Greenberry and Westwood; a book listed with all three companies; also, as of this writing, nearly every book listed at Authors Press shows on Amazon as published by Greenberry.
Greenberry/Westwood/Authors Press’s M.O. is clone-standard. Out-of-the-blue solicitations (also see the comments, below). No names, vague claims. Shaky English (“ideal for manuscripts that needs more work on sentences structure and grammar”). Re-publishing offers (see the Greenberry solicitation below, which I’m reproducing because I think it’s so funny; what genius, looking for an enticing photo of a published book, thought it was a good idea to pick one in Cyrillic?). Budget-busting junk marketing.
Greenberry’s business registration shows a Pittsburg CA address, and lists its owners as Maribelle Birao and Aaron Gochuico. Birao and Gochuico now appear to reside in California but are originally from Cebu. Westwood’s business registration, filed in April 2018, claims a Los Angeles address and does not list owners’ names. Authors Press doesn’t appear to have filed a registration, but according to its website, it’s located in–surprise!–Pittsburg CA, and its BBB listing shows Maribelle Birao as CEO/Owner.
There’s some evidence that yet another company is running under the same roof: Book Vine Press. Testimonials on Book Vine’s website extol the wonderfulness of the authors’ publishing experience–but on further investigation, the authors turn out to be published not by Book Vine, but by Greenberry. And Book Vine’s book fair display packages are identical to those offered by Authors Press.
UPDATE: In solicitation emails, Authors Press touts its “physical bookstore”:
Local business records confirm the address:
Like some other clones, Authors Press also publishes its own “magazine”, called Authorial, which it claims to distribute at book fairs. Such magazines have no independent existence outside of the fairs, and are merely another way for the clones to make money by selling hugely expensive ad packages to writers.
UPDATE 8/21/19: Westwood Books Publishing is now claiming a Florida address, and has a Florida business registration filed in May 2019. Its California business registration is still in effect.
BookVenture started up around the same time as LitFire, in 2014. It’s got all the identifying characteristics of a clone: phone solicitations, no meaningful information about the company or its staff, a range of Author Solutions-style publishing packages with goofy names, a dizzying array of marketing, publicity, and add-on services.
Equally predictably, these are seriously overpriced: $2,399 for a Kirkus Indie review, which would cost a mere $575 if you bought it from Kirkus; $199 for US copyright registration ($35 if you DIY); $4,199 for a half-page magazine ad that actually costs $1,400. See also this angry blog post from Self-Publishing Review, which discovered in 2016 that BookVenture was offering its review services without permission and at steeply inflated prices.
BV’s website doesn’t display the same level of English-language lapses that are a giveaway for other clones–but someone should have done a better job of vetting its Publishing Guide.
Or this editorial services pitch:
Like other clones, BV claims a US location–Michigan, to be precise–but a search on LinkedIn turns up a lot of Philippines-based staff (who in some cases are Author Solutions alumni/ae). Although BV doesn’t acknowledge its parentage, I’ve gathered enough breadcrumbs to be certain that it is owned by eFox Solutions Inc. (formerly Yen Chen Support Corporation), which is registered in Wisconsin (where it’s listed as “delinquent), but is actually based in Mandaue City, Philippines.
eFox also owns notorious book marketing spammer BookWhirl, which in terms of hard-sell solicitation tactics and overpriced junk marketing services has been giving Author Solutions a run for its money since at least 2008.
BV has racked up quite a number of complaints about quality, timeliness, and customer service. The one complaint I’ve received about this company is very similar. I’ve also received reports of telephone solicitations (BookWhirl is infamous for phone soliciting).
If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can read one of BookVenture’s extremely deceptive (not to mention wordy) sales pitches here.
Okir Publishing says it started out as “a marketing services provider” in 2006, and transitioned to book publishing later–but according to its Wyoming incorporation data, its initial filing was just last September, and its domain was registered in October 2017 (to add to the confusion, its Terms of Service are governed by California laws).
Okir has overhauled its website since I started researching this post, and has scrubbed it of most of the English-language lapses, but clonesign still abounds: phone solicitation by “literary scouts” with re-publishing offers, an About Us page with, basically, no “about”, a large number of junk marketing services (check out the eye-poppingly costly “social media account management” program). As with so many clones, there are verifiable Philippine connections. There’s also this, from the BBB:
UPDATE 8/14/19: Okir’s website is still online, but it hasn’t been updated since 2018 and Amazon shows no published books since October 2018. My guess is that it’s defunct.
UPDATE 12/7/19: Okir’s website is gone.
“Are your [sic] ready to publish your book?” asks ADbook Press. “Grab this once in a lifetime oppurtunity [sic] and get yourself started by availing of the package and service that is a bang for your buck.” Registered in Nevada but claiming to be based in California, ADbook sports all the clone signs and signals. Its publishing packages carry no prices (and you know what that means). It offers a full complement of junk marketing, including the Author Solutions favorite, the Hollywood Book to Screen package. In fact, ADbook’s Hollywood package is an exact duplicate of Author Solutions’.
UPDATE 10/25/18: ADbook Press’s URL appears to be dead, and it hasn’t published anything since September (hence the archived links above).
UPDATE 8/14/19: ADbook is back online at a new URL. Its most recent pub date for a title is May 2019.
“Let’s Get Brewing Today” says Coffee Press. Purportedly located in New York, Coffee Press has its English pretty much under control, but other clonesigns tell the story: solicitation, unverifiable experience claims (“visionaries with over a decade of publishing expertise”), and the usual menu of junk marketing “starting at $2,499.”
Coffee Press’s Terms of Service are identical to those of Okir Publishing. Both companies are using a generic template that appears on many other websites, so that’s not really a smoking gun. What is: a telltale typo reproduced on both sites:
And that’s not all to suggest that Okir Publishing and Coffee Press–and ADbook Press as well–are good buddies. Check out the logos in the background of the photo below. I strongly suspect that many other clones are similarly interrelated.
Zeta Publishing is incorporated in Florida. English-language errors are apparent throughout its website, and the About Us page includes the usual non-information. There’s a full raft of Author Solutions-style marketing and add-on services, all insanely marked up. You can get your copyright registered for $189 (or do it yourself online for $35). You can pay $4,150 for a half-page ad in Bookmarks Magazine (or you can contact Bookmarks yourself and buy the ad for $1,400). You can also buy a 10-minute radio interview with internet radio personality Stu Taylor, who just happens to be Author Solutions’ favorite radio talk show host.
Clonesign is there as well at Everlastale Publishing: no concrete info about the company or staff, whimsically-named Author Solutions-style publishing packages, the familiar range of overpriced junk marketing services. Everlastale’s President, Don Harold, is an alumnus of BookVenture/BookWhirl, and Everlastale’s publishing agreement has been substantially copied from BookVenture’s. It’s a revealing demonstration of how these predatory companies seed imitators.
UPDATE 6/14/18: Everlastale is now defunct.
UPDATE 1/26/18: As noted above, LitFire Publishing is miffed at what I’ve written about it, and has been persistently (if infrequently and not very competently) trolling me. Here’s its latest English-challenged salvo, posted today in the comments section of my original article about it. Bad blogs, bad blogs, whatcha gonna do…
UPDATE 12/31/18: I’ve identified more than 20 additional clones. See my followup post: Army of Clones, Part 2: Twenty-One (More) Publishing and Marketing “Services” to Beware Of.
UPDATE 8/16/19: Since first putting this post online, I’ve identified well over 100 Author Solutions clones. My most recent blog post provides a roundup of the posts I’ve written about these scams, as well as a constantly-updated list of the scams I’ve discovered to date. I’ve also added a complete list to the sidebar of this blog.