Have you recently received a long, chatty, seemingly personal email from Lex Tallis or Sophia Arkin at The BookWalker? (Not to be confused with the game of the same name.)
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.
“This is a futile exercise with this group.”
You mean you realize no one is falling for your bullshit. Is your real name “Donald Trump?”
“In submitting a reply, they would either censor or block.”
Oh, so you’re more like Ted Cruz.
“They own this forum, so their rules.”
Here is a GREAT idea! POST YOUR ANSWERS ON YOUR WEBSITE! Go on: make a web page that holds your answers, then tell us what the URL is. Frankly, I am astonished you did not think of this. I mea, gosh! It is not as if you are lying, right?
This is a futile exercise with this group. In submitting a reply, they would either censor or block. We tried replying to several of their posts, and they wouldn’t post our reply that contains helpful information. They own this forum, so their rules. So be it.
Please email Ray for any legal inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nobody’s censoring or blocking you. All of your comments are clearly visible.
Not all. The second part of my reply was censored. Your blog, your server, your rules.
No censoring here. Every one of your comments has been approved. If one of your posts didn’t come through, the problem is not on my end. You’re welcome to re-post.
“Your blog, your server, your rules.”
Why did you ignore my helpful suggestion? PUT A WEB PAGE ON YOUR WEBSITE WITH THE ANSWERS. Or are “they” censoring your own website?
“You’re not allowing me to reply,” he wrote in a reply. The audience giggled in that “knowing way” that Juliet found so irritating. She hated “knowing laughter.”
You’re not allowing me to reply. It keeps bouncing off. Why?
You’re free to reply as much as you want. If your comments are bouncing, the problem is on your end, not mine.
“If your comments are bouncing…”
… or imaginary.
“Hello Victoria, thank you for the courtesy.”
Damn shame you forgot to answer the questions, Dude. By the way: “we” is used for more than one person, and your “business” is just one person. See how it works now? I thought English was popular in the Philippines.
Q: What are the names of your “freelance writers,” specifically?
Q: What books have your “freelance writers” written?
Q: Why is your “book club” page not a book club page? Why are the books displayed on your not-a-book-club page book club page not published by Book Walker Inc.?
Q: Who are the editors at Book Walker? What are their names, professional backgrounds, and achievements?
Q: Why is the email address “email@example.com” only found on the internet on this blog post, and never used before?
Q: Why does your “About us” page say nothing at all about you?
Q: Why is your “Bookish Events” page password protected?
Q: Why do you have “book trailers” (that are, by the way, just horrible) on your YouTube site for books published by different vanity presses?
Q: Why are the books listed as “Amazon Best Sellers” only found on these other vanity press websites, and not on Amazon?
Q: Where may I go to see your “hundreds of client reviews?”
Q: How often have you been in prison, and are you in one now?
Thank you in advance for your answers.
Hello Victoria, thank you for the courtesy.
We are not blind to what you are trying to do—like you and many others in the creative industry, we support the intention to provide information.
Our app is a web app, as mentioned in Christy’s reply email to your query dated October 21, 2022; unlike native apps, end users don’t need to install web apps on their devices. Web apps can not access the end user’s device information, making it easier for us and the developers to make updates.
We believe native apps will be a thing of the past five-ten years from now.
You are correct. Our web app plays a vital role in our marketing. A.I. is integrated with our app. The app was once available to our authors to test, experiment and run their marketing. After the integration of the A.I. and interest from outside investors in our app, end users are now limited to our partner publishers, their marketing teams, and ours. It is our experience that regular end users tend to abuse the use of our app.
The app is being developed in a constantly changing environment, ‘source codes,’ and the architecture of our app can no longer be made public this time due to possible intellectual issues, investor protections, and other legalities.
I am not a tech geek, but I’ll attempt to explain what source code is and how it is related to our A. I. and why it has to be protected.
Source code is a set of instructions written in a computer programming language. It’s like a recipe for baking a cake. Just like a recipe tells you what ingredients to use and how to mix them to make a cake, source code tells a computer what operations to perform and how to accomplish a specific task. On the other hand, A.I. is a type of computer program that can learn, reason, and solve problems like a human. Everybody knows why It’s called “artificial” because it’s not a real human brain but programmed to behave like one. Source code and A.I. are not the same, but they’re related.
A.I. is created using source code, just like a cake is made using a recipe. The source code is the set of instructions that tells the computer how to create and run the A.I. program. So, you could think of source code as the building blocks of A.I.
Since we are constantly developing our app, there are end users who copy or steal our source code. They can use it to create their own software, sell it, or distribute it without permission.
This can lead to financial losses for our investors and damage our reputation as the primary developer.
But, yes, you are correct, it plays an essential role in our marketing. Our app is constantly being developed and designed to understand the psychographics of readers, finding and matching readers to books.
We’d love to show you how our app processes information, but for the reasons mentioned earlier, access to the app is limited to partner publishers and their marketing teams and investors.
I can tell you’re not a tech geek, Asher.
So the web app’s existence can’t be confirmed because it’s only available to your (un-named) partner publishers. Got it.
How about the rest of my questions?
Since my reply is not getting through.
“Lastly, we noticed that you grouped us with scammers in one of your summary posts, and we believe it was a mistake….”
It appears you write Stand-up Comedy.
“You unintentionally, by mistake, ‘grouped us with others’ you called scammers….”
Goodness: I nearly coughed up a lung from laughing after reading that.
“You mentioned a client who is unhappy with our service; perhaps, their complaints never reached us—could you send them our way?”
Ah, so that you can send Guido “Thumbs” MacMurphy to tell the “client” it was a Big Mistake to complain?
“Please clarify, update, or remove the post.”
See? COMEDY GOLD!
“We appreciate you taking the time to write about us on your blog….”
Holy krap that is *HILARIOUS!*
Hello Victoria. It’s Asher Weinberg, Virtual Assistant of TBW. We appreciate you taking the time to write about us on your blog, but we would like to clarify some points you may have misunderstood.
Firstly, we want to explain the difference between web and mobile apps. We understand that not everyone has the technical knowledge, and it’s okay. Secondly, like everyone else, when you sign up for our mailing list, you agree to receive marketing emails, and we can only send emails with consent. We respect our client’s privacy and only send emails to those who signed up for our newsletters through our website or aggregators. We use various parameters to ensure that our emails are relevant and engaging. Welcome emails ( or all of our emails ) are scheduled using parameters that best position these emails for open/engagement rates.
We want our emails to be a welcome sight in inboxes, and because you feel it is not, we have removed your email address from all of our contact lists, but feel free to sign up anytime.
Regarding our freelancers, these are talented folks from the industry. For someone like you who has been in the business for a long time, the idea of freelancing is not nonsensical. On the contrary, it is even encouraged, especially how things are in the industry—the migration of talents from conventional presses to freelancing. While almost everyone in the business knows about this, some remain uninformed.
You mentioned a client who is unhappy with our service; perhaps, their complaints never reached us—could you send them our way? We love to hear from them and resolve their issues. We have no difficulty believing that you fully understand what professional jealousy can do to someone, and we would love to know if truly they/she/he was once our client.
Lastly, we noticed that you grouped us with scammers in one of your summary posts, and we believe it was a mistake (The Best of Writer Beware: 2022 in Review, posted 6th January 2023). You unintentionally, by mistake, ‘grouped us with others’ you called scammers ( Scammity Scam Scam Scam ). We have this impression that you’re not the kind of person who would benefit or profit from such a post or tone, and we believe it was a mistake.
Please clarify, update, or remove the post. For any business or legal inquiries, please get in touch with Ray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much for your comment!
Re: your elusive web app…thanks for confirming that it is indeed a web app (at least I think that’s what you’re confirming–surely you didn’t just mean to imply that I’m stupid?) A web app needs to be available for users, wouldn’t you agree? But it has no presence on your website, and there’s no link to it in your solicitation emails (despite your chatbot’s claim to the contrary). Is it perhaps not actually available “to readers”, as your chatbot claimed it was? If so, to whom is it available? Given what a major part the app seems to play in your marketing, this would be helpful to know.
I signed up for your newsletter in October of last year. I never received one. I also signed up for the Bookwalker book club. I received a welcome email from the book club in October, and a single email with book suggestions in November, but nothing since then, despite the promise of monthly emails and the many member perks mentioned on your website. I’d never assume that your book club is a sham–maybe you just removed me from your list a bit sooner than you imply above?
As to your freelancers, as I point out in my post it’s difficult to assess your statement that they are “talented folks from the industry”, since you don’t identify any of them. I’d say a good definition of “uninformed” is how one feels after visiting a website that makes claims but doesn’t support them with specifics, wouldn’t you?
Since we’re talking, maybe you can clear up a few things.
– On your homepage, you say you’ve been providing services for 10 years, yet your web domain didn’t exist before December 2017. Can you explain this apparent discrepancy?
– Your homepage claims a “4.7 out of 5 stars satisfaction rating from hundreds of client reviews.” But the reviews aren’t present on your website, and there’s no link to access them. This seems odd. Is it an oversight? Where are those reviews?
– Your homepage claims partnerships with agencies, studios, retailers, marketing professionals, and publicists, but provides no specifics. Can you share the names of some of those partners? (To refresh your memory, this is one of the questions I asked in my initial email to you.) I shouldn’t think you’d be reluctant to provide this information–it’s good PR for your services, don’t you think?
– Speaking of specifics, you appear to be highlighting some of your successes on your homepage–feature films for Netflix and Paramount, NYT bestsellers. I’m awfully curious–can you share the names of those films and books? As with your partners, this would be great PR for you.
– I’ve seen many examples of your solicitation emails, shared with me by authors, most of whom are self- or small press-published. Yet all of the books currently featured on your website are from Big 5 houses and larger independents. Can you share why you aren’t featuring any self-pubbed or small press books?
– Your homepage mentions your Green Sea Turtle Ocean Project, but sadly offers no details, and a Google search turns up no website or other information on the project. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist, but I’m sure that’s just down to my unfortunate lack of technical knowledge. I’m passionate about the environment, and would love to support you. Where can I find more information?
Thanks for anything you can share, Asher!
“3,200 subscribers on my mailing list….”
How many of them are imaginary?
“Nothing fancy, and I expected that….”
For US$1,470 I expect “fancy.”
“… and they sold more books than my publisher.”
Please, kind Ma’am or Sir, share here the title of one of your successful books.
My experience with them was pleasant.
I admit I was expecting them to fail, but they did better than my publisher! Way better.
There were setbacks in the early stages because I didn’t understand the process. Frances, my media manager, made me understand the time needed to funnel the right readers to my mailing list.
Nothing fancy, and I expected that, and I couldn’t complain. 3,200 subscribers on my mailing list, and they sold more books than my publisher. I am happy.
This is my second year with them. I’ll let you know.
I love the way they warn about all that generic marketing you’ve wasted your time and money on, then offer…. generic marketing!
PR firms definitely are not known for being modest–unless they have reason to be.
Not contacted by them thus far. But will keep an eye out and advise should they contact me. Thanks!
The first lesson writers who wish to be authors is: throw your ego under the bus before making any business decisions.
Thanks for the continued vigilance. The book selling market has become a Con-Game Daily.