We’re sensible indie authors, we can often sniff a scam out. But scammers are getting smarter and it’s getting harder to tell a legitimate email from a scam. In today’s Alliance of Independent Authors Watchdog post, John Doppler explains how to tell the legitimate from the scam.
Your book has been on the market for a few months now, and maybe sales are starting to lag. Then one morning, you open your inbox, and a wondrous email springs forth with a fanfare of trumpets:
This is Joseph Monicker from Reputable Press Solutions, a traditional global publisher affiliated with Penguin Random House.
We are very interested in the book that you published and we would like to help you get a contract from one of the biggest traditional publishing companies…
Because you are a wise author, you immediately suspect a scam. But how can you know for sure? Are you passing up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?
The past few weeks, I got emails from ‘MainCrest Media,’ telling me that they have the greatest respect for my talent and summoning me to participate in their ‘Awards Program.’ They promise recognition and increase of sales. Their website is quite well designed, a professional invitation to step right into that well-created trap.
The moment I saw their submission fee of $99/per entry, reduced from $149, I got goosebumps, and I knew something didn’t seem right. I started my search about their practice and found several websites and articles warning from so-called ‘Award Profiteers.’
On the reedsyblog, I found a long article, warning of Author Scams and Publishing Companies to Avoid. In the middle of the page, you will find the following paragraph:
Writing Contests and Awards
Writing contests are a great way to reach an audience, solidify your writing credentials, and even make a little money in the form of prizes. There are, however, competitions that are little more than money-spinning enterprises. And you can usually sniff them out by the fact that their prizes are not really prizes.
Some contests will publish winning entries in a magazine or an anthology — which is great. But sometimes, ‘winning’ authors will be obliged to pay an ‘editing fee’ for that privilege — which is not great.
There are also some competitions in which the prize might be a trophy. The catch here is that the author will be expected to pay for the cost of the physical prize. This isn’t necessarily bad — unless you mind paying $80 for a slab of acrylic that dozens more have also ‘won’ that month.
According to John Doppler, the ‘watchdog’ criteria for contests and awards are the following:
Author Awards and Contests Rated and Reviewed: Guiding Principles
1. The event exists to recognize talent, not to enrich the organizers. Avoid events that are driven by excessive entry fees, marketing services to entrants, or selling merchandise like stickers and certificates.
2. Receiving an award is a significant achievement. An event that hands out awards like Halloween candy dilutes the value of those awards, rendering them meaningless. Beware of events that offer awards in dozens of categories. These are often schemes to maximize the number of winners in order to sell them stickers and other merchandise.
3. The judging process is transparent and clear. Watch out for contests whose judging criteria and personnel are vague or undisclosed.
4. Prizes are appropriate and commensurate with the entry fees collected. If a cash prize is offered, it should align with the size of the entry fee. “Exposure” is not an appropriate prize. Representation or publication are acceptable prizes, but only if offered by a reputable company without hidden fees.
5. Entrants are not required to forfeit key rights to their work. Avoid contests with onerous terms, especially those which require the forfeiture of publishing rights without a termination clause. When in doubt, have an independent professional review the terms.
Another clear warning I found on one of my favorite blogs: Victoria Strauss’ Writer Beware blog. She published her article about ‘Award Profiteers’ in 2015 already but re-blogged it in 2019. MainCrest Media was not specifically mentioned. But she tells us clearly where to keep our eyes open:
– Solicitation. To maximize entries, profiteering awards and contests often solicit entries. An out-of-the-blue email or an ad on Facebook urging you to enter a contest or awards program should always be treated with caution.
– High entry fees. Profiteers charge $60, $75, $100, or even more. There may be “early-bird specials” and multiple-entry discounts to tempt authors with the illusion of a bargain. And that’s not counting the books you’ll have to send for award consideration–a considerable expense if the profiteer only accepts print.
– Dozens of scores of entry categories.To maximize income, profiteers create as many entry categories as possible and encourage multiple entries.
– Anonymous judging. Profiteers promise expert judging by people with standing in the writing and publishing field but don’t reveal the identities of these purported experts. In fact, the judging may be done by the profiteer’s staff, who may simply pick winners out of a hat. One of the things that lend credibility to a contest or award is the prestige of its judges…which is why you always want to know who they are and should always be suspicious if that information is not provided.
– Non-prize prizes. To avoid cutting into their profits, profiteers offer prizes that cost them little or nothing: press releases, media announcements, database and website listings, features on satellite websites, or in self-owned publications. Some offer little more than the supposed honor of winning the award.
– Opportunities to spend more money. Profiteers’ profits don’t just come from entry fees. They also hawk stickers, certificates, critiques, and more.
I’ve written a number of posts about scammers impersonating literary agents and publishers. Writers should be aware that they’re also impersonating major motion picture studios.
Here’s one example, from a scam that does business under at least three names: Orions Media Agency, Fox Media Studios Agency (note the way these scam names reference real companies), and PageTurner Press and Media. Despite their apparent US addresses and phone numbers, all are based in the Philippines (you can read more about the huge proliferation of overseas scammers here).
This is the initial pitch–which arrives, as always with this type of scam, out of the blue:
This is not the way things work: literary agents aren’t “assigned” to represent you without your knowledge, and major film studios don’t randomly stumble on books and reach out to agencies you never heard of, which then cold-call you. In fact, real agents only very rarely reach out to writers directly. For scammers, on the other hand, it’s their main recruitment method.
Any out-of-the-blue solicitation or offer should be treated with suspicion.
The last three notifications from the ‘Writer Beware’ blog, by Victoria Strauss, left me shaken, like so many others she provided us with. I normally try to spread word about scam, fraud, and other warnings as good as I can, but I refuse to drown ‘Writer’s Treasure Chest’ readers in negativity.
However, I think, it’s important that, in particular new Indie Authors know what dangers they might face when putting their books and their work ‘out there’. I therefore decided to publish one post with links to all three of Victoria Strauss’ warnings. Thank you for your great work, Victoria!
I’ve been doing the Writer Beware thing for quite some time, and I Have Seen Some Shit. But this solicitation from a Philippines-based publishing and marketing scammer calling itself Right Choice Multimedia (among other names) is one of the most disgusting things that has come across my desk in a while…and that’s saying something.
Here it is in its entirety. Read it and boggle. You can also scroll down directly to my (far more grammatical) debunking. Be sure to read all the way to the end, because I have some things to say about why Big 5 publishers should care that their trademarks and reputations are being co-opted in this way.
This is an updated version of a post I published a couple of years ago.
It’s not all that common, but I do see it from time to time in small press publishing contracts that I review: a publisher claiming ownership of the editing and copy editing it provides, or making the claim implicitly by reverting rights only to the original manuscript submitted by the author.
Are there legal grounds for such a claim? One would think that by printing a copyright notice inside a published book, and encouraging the author to register copyright or registering on the author’s behalf, publishers are acknowledging that there is not. It’s hard to know, though, because the issue doesn’t seem to have been tested in the courts. There’s not even much discussion.
Once upon a time, there was a publishing and marketing scammer called Chapters Media and Advertising, owned by one Mark Joseph Rosario. Chapters pretended to be a US company–it even had dual business registrations in Wyoming and Florida, as well as a purported address in Nevada–but in reality, it operated out of the Philippines (much like its many brethren).
Like many other ladies nowadays, occasionally, I met a man online. I admit, so far, I haven’t been fortunate with online acquaintances. But you never know there might be one who is different than ‘all the others’, right? I decided to give it a chance instead of blocking the try before he can barely say more than a few words.
Number 1 – decided he’d rather play golf and watch movies than talking to me.
Number 2 – an excellent converser, highly intelligent, funny, humorous – and picky. He took me out on a date – outside dining right by the ocean on Santa Monica beach – we had a wonderful dinner, great conversation – and I got the worst flu I had in the past 28 years – and never heard from him again.
Number 3 – Jackpot!! That was probably the sweetest guy I ever ‘met.’ Handsome too! Of course, there was the occasional flaw (like the same first name my ex-boyfriend had and a couple of other little things ), but I thought there was nothing intolerable. We were unable to meet right away since he had a big project going on and needed to go to Europe on a business trip – he had to prepare different things. And I got sick. Even though he wanted to ‘meet’ in a video call, I refused to do so. I want to meet a man for the first time when I’m fit, healthy, and styled… hair and makeup done – and so on… and not sitting home, sniffing with a stuffy nose and in my pj’s… We therefore texted, talked on the phone, and emailed. What a sweet man… We were talking about meeting after his return, seeing how it works out, things like that. There was nothing suspicious. I usually am immediately alarmed if a guy I never saw before talks about love, but he did nothing like that!
One day, about a week before Easter, he went on his business trip. I said I would miss the calls since his phone roaming would cost him so much, but he assured me he had the perfect international phone plan. I suggested connecting on Messenger or WhatsApp, which would make calls for free. However, he still insisted, everything was ok, and it wouldn’t cost him anything more to call me, nor would I have to pay. (Interesting. I know about the roaming costs in Europe with U.S. phones… international plan, or not, it sure as hell ain’t for free) Well, I figured, if he insists, fine. I still told a friend of mine, when it comes to me, he could sit somewhere around the corner – I can’t check that. He insisted he was in Eastern Europe somewhere in the forest – and still sounded like standing next to me.
Shortly before he was supposed to come back, something in his project went wrong. There was a machine failing; one of the workers got injured, he worked like a maniac and still couldn’t get things fixed. He had not calculated his budget with the last resort’s assets, and he needed big bucks to get his project going. Otherwise, he could lose everything. A while later, he tells me, his phone got damaged when he tried to make that machine work, and he can barely do much. He’s happy he still can text, but then, after a while, the call function worked too. He talked to a friend and a business associate, and they both are going to help him out financially.
I had never offered any help, and I was thinking by myself over and over again, “please, don’t ask me for money – please don’t ask me for money…”
In the last call, he tells me he couldn’t bring the price down any further. He was desperate – and he was still $5,500 short. Could I please…?
My answer was short and clear: “No.”
He was almost crying… “But you know how much that project means to me. And I’ll give it back to you as soon as I return.” I’m a bit firmer: “I cannot help you.” He is desperate now. “Can you not, or do you not want to…?” And I replied: “It doesn’t matter. I wish you had never asked.” He tells me. “I’ll keep you updated.” And I replied. “Sure… sure.” Convinced I’ll never hear from him again. Shortly after, his profile was gone from my list.
And that was that…
Now, am I surprised this happened? To my astonishment, no. If something seems to be too good to be true, it mostly is.
I was even asked once ‘…but sometimes things aren’t going as planned; what if he sits there, in Eastern Europe and does have a problem? And I had to answer: “Sorry… then it’s not my problem. It’s his project. I worked as a project manager. Your budget is supposed to entail a percentage for emergencies. Calling me ‘sweetheart’ does not give anyone access to my bank account. – And if he took the risk and it didn’t work out – find a way to solve the problem without my money.”
That doesn’t mean I cannot do my research. Apparently, the pictures the man sent me seemed accurate; at least they didn’t show up anywhere else. The phone number he gave me was connected to a company website that appeared to be his, but: There was no address, just a contact form, which seems weird to me, considering that it’s supposed to be a trading company. That only means that I might have heard half-truths and that this ‘company’ was only ‘founded’ for particular that purpose – for scams.
Also, the IP address was located about 18 miles Northwest of where he said his house and office were located. However, that doesn’t say much; after all, I’m using a proxy server too.
I did a little digging and found an article about Romance Scams on the ‘Better Business Bureau’ website. When I was done reading, I laughed. My case couldn’t have been more ‘typical.’ It was almost point-by-point following the original scheme. The article I relate to can be found here: BBB Tip: Romance Scams.
Now, please, don’t feel sorry for me! That isn’t a case where I need people to pity me. He tried and lost. I’m not heartbroken! I published this post for two reasons: Number 1 – as a warning!
Ladies – watch out there! This guy isn’t the only one to try.
Always keep in mind: if it seems to be too good to be true – it probably is!
Listen to your gut feeling. The slightest doubt – and you go digging. Please do it! It can save you from possibly making a bad mistake.
And number 2: to the scammers out there:
Yes, I would love to be in a relationship and have someone by my side but make no mistake: I’m not desperate.
Apparently not even traditionally published authors are safe from crooks. Victoria Strauss on her ‘Writer’s Beware’ blog describes one particular case on her blog. Please read it and be careful. Thank you.
Earlier this month, the book industry website Publishers Marketplace announced that Little, Brown would be publishing “Re-Entry,” a novel by James Hannaham about a transgender woman paroled from a men’s prison. The book would be edited by Ben George.
Two days later, Mr. Hannaham got an email from Mr. George, asking him to send the latest draft of his manuscript. The email came to an address on Mr. Hannaham’s website that he rarely uses, so he opened up his usual account, attached the document, typed in Mr. George’s email address and a little note, and hit send.
“Then Ben called me,” Mr. Hannaham said, “to say, ‘That wasn’t me.’”
Mr. Hannaham was just one of countless targets in a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts. It isn’t clear who the thief or thieves are, or even how they might profit from the scheme. High-profile authors like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan have been targeted, along with celebrities like Ethan Hawke. But short story collections and works by little-known debut writers have been attacked as well, even though they would have no obvious value on the black market.
I’ve written several posts about a fairly new phenomenon in the world of writing scams: scammers that falsely use the names of reputable publishing professionals, including literary agents and publishers, to lure writers into paying large amounts of money for worthless, substandard, and/or never-delivered services.
This time, I’m breaking down a very similar scam that, capitalizing on the pandemic-fueled popularity of Netflix and other streaming services (as well as the eternal writerly dream of having one’s book translated into film), is appropriating the name of Clare Richardson, Senior Scout for film and TV at the New York office of Maria B. Campbell Associates, to hoodwink writers in an unusually complicated–and expensive–scheme.
Victoria Strauss, who provides us on the ‘Writer’s Beware Blog’ with information of all kinds, warns us on October 16 and October 19 about two more ‘bad eggs’ that I would like to share with as many writers as possible. Thank you so much, Victoria Strauss, for all your efforts and work to help us!
OCTOBER 16, 2020
BAD CONTRACT ALERT: EMP ENTERTAINMENT AND A&D ENTERTAINMENT
Lately, I’ve been hearing from writers who’ve been solicited by one or another of two companies offering to distribute their books to Webnovel, a Wattpad-like platform based in Asia: EMP Entertainment and A&D Entertainment. (Note: there are many companies with similar names focused on concert invites, event schedule, and DJ services.)
EMP and A&D are both based in Singapore, and both are just 11 months old (which raises interesting questions about whether they’re really different companies, though their contracts differ enough to suggest that they are). They present themselves as Webnovel partners, authorized to offer non-exclusive contracts that allow authors to continue to publish on other platforms (such as Wattpad, where both companies are actively approaching writers) if they choose.
Stories must be 750 words or fewer, and the contest is accepting submissions through Friday, October 23. Three winners will receive prize packages consisting of books, games, swag, and/or gift cards.
The catch? You guessed it. It’s in the fine print of the contest guidelines. (I wasn’t able to provide a direct link to these, but if you scroll down to the bottom of the contest post, there’s a link you can click to see them.)
On the ‘Writer’s Beware’ blog I found the article below, written by Victoria Strauss. I think, it really is important we all are aware of the scams and we share the information to help many others keeping their eyes open. Thank you, Victoria.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about scammers impersonating reputable literary agents. These are not isolated incidents: I have a growing file of reports and complaints about this growing phenomenon–including from writers who’ve lost large amounts of money.
Now publishers are being impersonated as well. Here are a couple of examples of the kind of thing I’m seeing.
Here’s the pitch one author received from “Michael Smith” of “HarperCollins” (see the email address):
To pass the “1st stage of the acquisition” of their book, and move on to “an exclusive contract,” the author had already been persuaded (by “agent” Arial Brown, who is as fake as this offer) to hand over more than $8,000 for a new website and YouTube video. Now, in order to proceed to the next stage, they must shell out still more cash for “Developmental Editing and Content Editing.” But not to worry–all that spending is in aid of big rewards down the line: