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 Spark? 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.)
The copycats employ spoofed phone numbers and fake addresses (virtual offices, PO Boxes, randomly-selected residential addresses) to convince authors that they are located in the USA or Canada. Their primary targets are self- and small press-published writers, whom they attempt to poach from whatever platform or press the authors are currently with; and the elderly.
The copycats’ approaches aren’t merely deceptive, but blatantly false: claiming writers’ books have been recommended by Amazon, or spotted by a literary scout, or discovered by a Big 5 publisher, or given a favorable review by a conveniently unnamed industry expert. Like Author Solutions, they hawk overpriced publishing packages and deceptively-described junk marketing services (services that cost little to provide and can be sold at an enormous markup). They also approach potential victims by posing as literary agencies and film companies. In a number of instances, they’ve impersonated well-known and reputable traditional publishers, literary agents, and production companies. Some have even gone as far as faking letters and contracts from Big 5 publishers and major movie studios.
Many of the services the copycats sell are completely fictional: for example, book insurance (there’s no such thing), an international book seal (ditto), or retrieving a book’s “license” so it can be re-published (again, no such thing). Nor do the scammers have any connections with Big 5 publishers or Hollywood producers: promises to “endorse” or represent are just window dressing to convince you to shell out money. Marketing services, such as book trailers or press releases, may be delivered, but are frequently of substandard quality.
Often the copycats simply take authors’ money and run. I’ve heard from writers who’ve spent thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars with these scams, in many cases for goods and services they never received.
I’ve written dozens of posts about these scams and their fraudulent operations, especially their brazen (yet curiously shoddy) efforts to impersonate reputable agents, publishers, and film producers. You can see them all here.
Fortunately, the scams share a set of reliably recurring markers that can help to identify them.
– Cold-call solicitations by phone and email. Like the Author Solutions imprints, the copycats 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, or evaluated by a literary organization or traditional publisher. Sometimes they’ll claim to be literary agents looking to transition you to a traditional publishing contract or represent you to Hollywood, or film companies that have discovered your book and think it would be great on the silver screen.
Solicitation is the number one sign of a scam these days. Real literary agents, publishers, and production companies only rarely reach out to authors they don’t already represent. For scammers, on the other hand, it’s their main way of acquiring clients. Any out-of-the-blue solicitation related to publishing or movie rights, no matter what it’s for or who it appears to be from, should be treated with caution.
Copycat sales reps can be insanely persistent and aggressive (another page from the AS playbook). I’ve heard from authors who are being driven mad by incessant phone calls (that can’t be blocked because the callers’ numbers are spoofed) or repeated emails. Some copycats do business under multiple names, and will solicit authors separately under each name; or if they strike out under one name. will solicit again using another.
– Re-publishing or “re-branding” offers. A big focus for the copycats is poaching authors who are already published or self-published (often with Author Solutions imprints–I’ve long suspected that AS sells customer information, and it’s pretty clear that copycats’ staff either maintain contacts with Author Solutions workers who feed them information, or, if they themselves formerly worked for AS, took customer information with them when they departed). They claim they can do a better job, or price the book better, or provide greater credibility.
Often, re-publishing/re-branding is presented as a pre-requisite to representing writers’ books to traditional publishers; traditional publishers, the scammers claim, scorn self-published books, and your book needs to be re-published to remove the stigma. Beyond the fact that the “self-publishing stigma” no longer exists, re-publishing an already-published book so it can be published a third time makes absolutely no sense, and is not how the legitimate publishing business works.
Re-publishing/re-branding may have a price tag–anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars–or may be offered “free” with the purchase of something else, such as a PR campaign. Either way, it’s a gateway to the writer’s bank account. By demonstrating that they’re willing to pay, writers make themselves fair game for escalating sales pressure to buy more services, and/or fraudulent publishing and movie rights offers involving large upfront fees. Writer Beware has heard from writers who’ve lost enormous amounts to these schemes.
We also regularly get complaints from writers who bought a re-publishing package and have never received royalty reports or payments. When writers get suspicious, start asking too many questions, or the copycat judges that they’re tapped out, the copycat simply cuts off contact, leaving authors with no way to access and control their re-published books.
– Claims of expertise that can’t be verified (in the absence of staff and owner names), or that can be easily refuted (for example, if the scammer claims years of experience but their web domain was only registered a few months ago). Some scammers include fake staff on their websites, using stock or AI-generated photos and made-up biographies. Always make sure you can independently verify any claims of accomplishments or success. If you can’t, or if the company’s website makes it impossible to do so because it provides no specifics, move on.
– English-language errors on websites and in emails. The scams are owned and staffed primarily by people for whom English is a second language. Although the advent of ChatGPT and other AI-assisted writing tools is making grammar and colloquial errors much less common on websites and in written text than they used to be, this is still an important marker that too many writers are willing to overlook.
– Phone solicitors with foreign accents. Callers are in the Philippines, and speak fluent but accented English.
– A catalog of junk marketing services, and heavy pressure to buy. Not all the copycats offer publishing services, but most offer “marketing”: press releases. Paid book review packages. Book fair exhibits. Ingram catalog listings. Hollywood book-to-screen packages. Vanity radio and TV interviews. These and more are junk marketing: PR services of dubious value and effectiveness that are cheap to provide and can be sold at a huge markup.
It’s an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of its enormous profitability, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times. The copycats’ marketing services are right out of the Author Solutions playbook: AS basically invented junk book marketing, and most of the marketing services offered by the copycats were pioneered by AS. AS also pioneered the high-pressure sales tactics the copycats use. Prices range from a few hundred to multiple thousands–and as noted above, each time you buy, you tell the copycat they can come back for more.
Are you looking for the list of 200+ copycat scammers that used to be here?
Now you can find it here.
Given how often I have to update the list–several times a week on average–it was just too time-consuming to maintain it in two places.
I know my warnings are having an effect, not just because I’m hearing from writers who’ve found my posts or my list and have been able to avoid being ripped off, but because some of the scams are getting…a little defensive. Book-Art Press now includes this in its solicitation emails:
The links are to anti-Writer Beware screeds from people WB has exposed.
The grievance is definitely on display in this one, from MatchStick Literary (it also showcases the scams’ trademark fractured English):
See ya at Writer Beware, scammers!
UPDATE 12/10/19: I want to highlight this recent comment, which illustrates how ubiquitous and persistent these scams are. Bottom line: if you self-publish, you can pretty much count on being solicited. Be on your guard. (By “GoTo”, I’m assuming the commenter means GoToPublish.)
UPDATE 11/13/20: The latest scammer love note, left as a comment here. Good to know I’m still hitting a nerve!
UPDATE 12/30/20: They still love me! I didn’t let these comments through, but I did memorialize them.