You’re not alone. This company is a prolific email solicitor, sending out waves of spam that differ in content but are all designed to convince writers that they’ve been selected for a special offer. Here’s the lengthy preamble from a recent wave:
It goes on (and on) to tout the virtues of establishing a reader mailing list (no argument there), even offering a FREE guide to setting one up! Eventually, it gets to the point: money.
Assuming you haven’t already rolled your eyes and dismissed the email as spam, what happens if you click any of the links? Some lead to actual articles on The BookWalker website, such as this one about publicists, or this one about “why some books flop”. But most deliver you to automated quizzes about marketing or “A.I.-aided technology”, which seems to mean the “APP Listing” promised in the PR package above:
And most of the quizzes end up in the same place as the solicitation email: money. To be precise: $2,939.
So who is The BookWalker? What are its qualifications for crafting effective PR and developing brilliant apps? What (if anything) makes its services worth paying for?
Short answer: it’s not at all clear.
No address appears on The BookWalker’s website, but according to its Facebook page, it’s located in La Jolla, California. However, several clues suggest it’s not a US company, including the use of “advert” in the image above, and single quotes in the spam email and elsewhere. Both are UK conventions.
The BookWalker’s internet presence consists of a website, a low-engagement Twitter account, a Facebook page with fewer than 500 followers, and a YouTube channel (number of subscribers: 7) that includes book trailers for self-published books and one live author interview that has been borrowed from Crown Publishing Group and re-packaged with The BookWalker’s logos.
The website is slick, with nifty graphics, a BookRoom with links to Amazon, and a Blog page that appears to include publisher advertising. There’s a Book Club, which is free to join and promises lots of perks (scroll down to the bottom of this page), as well as a newsletter. I signed up for both a few days ago, and have yet to receive an acknowledgment, verification link, or any other response.
There are also some interesting claims.
“Over 10 years”? Hmmm. The BookWalker’s current web domain wasn’t registered until December 2017, and there’s no trace of it on the internet before that time (I started getting questions about it in 2018). Nor are there any specifics that would allow you to verify the existence of the feature films or the titles of the bestsellers.
Similarly, there’s nothing to back up the promotion and relationship claims: no client names, no examples of successful PR campaigns, no mention of who the partner literary agents, collaborating editors, etc. actually are.
No verifiable details grace The Bookwalker’s About Us page, either. The “independent booksellers, writers, authors, publicists, book designers, editors, vloggers, and bloggers who share the common goal of giving aspiring and established artists the chance to have the needed ‘visibility’ online and in print” aren’t named. Do they exist? Who knows? Ditto for the “Author Plaudits”: supposedly, “hundreds” of reviews granting The BookWalker an “Awesomeness Rating” of 4.7 out of 5 stars. If you want to actually see those reviews and ratings, though, you’re out of luck. They don’t appear on the website, and there are no links or other way to find them.
The only BookWalker staff I could identify are the senders of the spam emails: Sophia Arkin and Lex Tallis. Sophia isn’t mentioned on the website (though she runs the site’s chat bot–more on that below). As for Lex, he’s credited as the author of the publicist article mentioned above, where it’s said that he is “a bestselling ghostwriter turned acquisition editor and author mentor”. But when I ran a websearch to try and find out more (because surely someone with such accomplishments should have an online footprint), Google yielded a scant single page of results, with no mention of Lex other than in connection with The BookWalker.
What about the “A.I.-aided” bookfinding app that’s a prominent feature of the email money pitch and The BookWalker’s automated quizzes, which three (un-named) traditional publishers supposedly found so impressive that they’ve “signed contracts”? It’s nowhere to be found. Not on The Bookwalker’s website. Not in the Apple app store or on Google Play. Not anywhere.
I contacted The BookWalker earlier this week to ask about the app and the other issues discussed above. As of this writing, I haven’t received a response. I also attempted to inquire about the app using The BookWalker’s chat bot, which introduced itself as “Amanda” but appears to be Sophia Arkin herself (her name appeared as she was typing). You can read the whole conversation here, but the short version is that Sophia was pretty evasive. Initially she claimed that a link to the app was in “the email” (presumably the spam email), and attempted to engage me in a dialog about my reading preferences. When I told her there was no app link, either in the email or the automated quizzes, she said this (“interesting choice” refers to a book I told her I was reading):
Did “R&D” (or anyone else) send a link to my Inbox? Nope.
Finally, I’ve gotten one complaint about The BookWalker from an author who told me they bought a book feature in 2019 but never heard back after they paid.
One complaint–an old one at that–doesn’t necessarily indicate a pattern. It could be a glitch or an isolated mistake.
But there are multiple reasons to be skeptical of The BookWalker. From the solicitations, to the unsupported claims of partnerships and success, to the lack of verifiable credentials for the only identifiable staff members, to the curious absence of the app that’s such a major advertising feature, to the question of how long the company has really been in business, there is an overall lack of transparency that is troubling, and very little to suggest that The BookWalker is capable of providing effective PR.
A shiny box with, perhaps, very little inside.
Remember: a reputable marketing company will fully disclose its history, its staff, and its successes. If you can’t easily find this information, be very wary–especially if you’ve been solicited with an offer of service.
UPDATE 10/23/22: Yesterday (Saturday, the day after I published this post), I received a reply from The BookWalker to my email asking for comment. Here’s what I sent:
Here is the response. It confirms my hunch that they’re located in the UK, but nothing else: you’ll notice that she doesn’t answer any of my questions.
I also, on the same day, received a “Welcome” email from the book club.