Among the interesting phenomena of the universe of failed and dodgy people in and around writing and publishing (at least, interesting to me) is how often they just can’t quit it.
Agents outed for scammery start new agencies under new names. Ditto for disgraced publishers. This is one of several reasons why it’s so important to know who owns and works for publishers and agencies, and why it’s problematic if that information isn’t present on company websites.
Here are two individuals previously covered on this blog who appear to be attempting a comeback.
Formerly: Genius Media
Now: Eli Bear Company
Wid Bastian, aka Widstoe T. Bastian, was the founder of Genius Media, which–among other activities–recruited writers to participate in various themed box sets. In exchange for a buy-in of $750, writers were promised placement on the USA Today bestseller list plus a pro-rated share of sales income, the bulk of which was to go to charity.
But it was all a bait-and-switch. Via creative accounting, the projects were made to show a loss–so there were no donations and no royalties, and the only person who received any money was Bastian himself. This was not out of character: Bastian, it turned out, was a convicted felon, with a long history of embezzlement, money laundering, and bankruptcy fraud.
You can read my December 2019 writeup of all of this here.
Fast forward to today. Thanks to a tip from an alert Writer Beware reader, I learned that Bastian has started a new writing-focused business: Eli Bear Company, which provides copywriting and content writing (examples of its stylings can be seen here). Bastian lives in Utah, but it’s no accident the business is incorporated in Wyoming.
The company was initially incorporated in November 2019–just before the sh*t with the box sets hit the fan–as Genius Publishing Inc. (note the similarity to Genius Media, Bastian’s box set promo company), and switched to its current name in March 2020. The Eli Bear domain name was registered shortly thereafter, in May 2020.
It’s interesting timing, given that Bastian filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in January 2020…
…and received a bankruptcy discharge in May 2020, releasing him from personal liability for most of his debts. Creditors included a number of box set participants.
Bastian is nothing if not a multi-tasker: in addition to the writing-focused Eli Bear Company, there’s the real estate management Eli Bear Company, which promises to buy your crappy house for cash and solve all your annoying landlord problems.
Not surprisingly, Bastian’s name doesn’t appear anywhere on any of these websites. There is, however, a bear.
Formerly: Filles Vertes Publishing
Now: Star Alley Press
Myra Fiacco started Filles Vertes Publishing in 2016 or 2017. As is often the case with small press founders, she didn’t have an abundance of relevant professional experience.
FVP managed to publish just 18 books over the course of four years, with big, irregular gaps between pub dates. While you don’t want a small press to bang out books willy-nilly, author mill-style, a slow and irregular publishing schedule can also be a warning sign. And indeed there was trouble at FVP, as the author complaints I began to receive in 2020 indicated: non-payment of royalties (of long standing), multiple missed pub dates and deadlines, poor communication, contract breaches, and more.
Authors began demanding their rights back (for several, Fiacco attempted to impose onerous liability releases and confidentiality terms). FVP staff departed en masse (some were asked to sign multi-page NDAs). I unpacked the whole saga in this blog post in August 2020. Less than three weeks after my post went live, FVP closed for good.
Fiacco wasn’t done, though. As I recently learned via a tip from another Writer Beware reader, she has started a new publishing venture called Star Alley Press. Star Alley’s focus is “Hollywood, film, TV, stage, and other performing arts”, and its business plan is unusual:
Fiacco’s name doesn’t show up on Star Alley’s website, domain registration, LinkedIn page, or the press release for the single forthcoming book (and there’s no reference to Star Alley on Fiacco’s own LinkedIn page). But Star Alley’s business registration tells the tale:
Worth noting: Star Alley was incorporated just a month after FVP closed down–allegedly without paying staff or authors the salaries or royalties they were owed. Star Alley’s current book offering was originally contracted to FVP; according to former staffers, work had already started on it when FVP folded.